ANSWER TO BROTHER HSIEH TIEN EN
(This letter is very long, so we will print it in sections in different issues of this publication.)
Greetings to the brother in the Lord, Mr. Tien En:
Mr. Nee has already returned. He has read your two letters carefully, but because the work is busy, he asked me to answer them for him.
In your first letter you asked the following:
Question 1: Regarding denominations.
Answer: The Lord Jesus wanted to lead the Jews and the Gentiles who believed in Him together to become "one flock" (John. 10:3, 16). We have been "called in one Body" (Col. 3:15). "In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and were all given to drink one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). The Lord’s prayer also expressed the desire that all believers "be one" (John 17:20-21). The apostle commanded us to be "diligent to keep the oneness of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3). Therefore, denominations—divisions like "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ"—are rebuked by God (1 Cor. 1:12-13) and are the fruit of the flesh (1 Cor. 3:3-4). They are a matter of lusts (Gal. 5:20).
According to the Bible verses quoted above, denominationalism is contrary to the Bible and is condemned by God. This is very clear. But we should clearly know what a denomination is. We should thoroughly recognize what denominations are and the elements of a denomination. A denomination must have:
(1) its particular name,
(2) its particular truth,
(3) its particular fellowship.
Its Particular Name
In the Bible, we do not see churches with a particular name. The Bible uses three kinds of ways to describe whom the churches belong to: (1) "the church of God" (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 10:32), "the churches of God" (1 Cor. 11:16), (2) "the churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16), and (3) "all the churches of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:33).
These are not the names of the church. They are three ways of describing whom the church belongs to. The church of God means that the church belongs to God. The church of God includes all of God’s children. The churches of Christ means the church was purchased by Christ for Himself through the shedding of His blood. The church of Christ includes all those sprinkled by Christ’s blood. The churches of the saints means that the church is the union of all the saints. It includes all the saints.
The Bible also describes the church as being located in one place, like "the church of God which is in Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2). This means that "the church of God" is "in Corinth." This does not mean that "Corinth" is the name of that church. Therefore, the Bible does not have churches named for a locality.
With the exception of these four ways to describe whom the church belongs to and what place it is in, the Bible does not mention anywhere that the church has a special name. Today people disobey the Bible, give in to their flesh, and follow man’s will to have many names. Some are named for their system, like the Presbyterian Church; some are named for a doctrine, like the Holiness Church or the Methodist Church. Some are named for people, like the Lutheran Church. Some are named for a country, like the Church of England or the Church of Christ in China. Some are named for a ritual, like the Baptist Church. These names are man-made, and they are all divisions. They separate a small portion of God’s children under a certain name and set them apart from the rest of God’s children. Hence, they are all denominations!
It is true that the Bible commands us to be baptized by immersion. But using the ritual of baptism as a name to set ourselves apart from all the children of God is not in the Bible. On the contrary, this makes us a denomination which is condemned in the Bible! The Holy Spirit, through the apostle, not only rebuked those who said, "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas," but He also rebuked those who said, "I [am] of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:12-13). Using "Christ" to set oneself apart from other children of God is equally condemned. If this is true, how much more should denominating oneself with baptism be condemned! Therefore, if a name can denominate us, that is, set us apart from all the other children of God, it is a denomination. If a name does not include all of God’s children, it is a denomination.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 25: Collection of Newsletters (1), Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)