FOUR ASPECTS OF THE PRACTICALITY OF THE CHURCH
There are four main aspects regarding the practicality of the church. First of all, the practical building up of the church is in the local churches. Without the local churches, how could the church be built? Suppose we do not have local churches, but we plan to build up the church in the heavens. How could we do it? It is impossible. Without the local churches there is no practical building. If we are not built with others in the local churches, we have never been built up in the church. The practicality of the building of the church is in the local churches.
Then there is the administration, or the government, of the church. In the church there is the need of the government. Even in Matthew 18 the government of the church is mentioned. If we have a problem with a brother which we cannot solve with two or three, we must bring it to the church. The church has government.
In the book of Acts and in all the Epistles, the government of the church is mainly centered in the elders. But without the local church, how could there be any elders? If two or three are the church, you will be an elder to yourself, and I will be one to myself. Everyone will be an elder. Then how could the elders be appointed?
In the first local church in Jerusalem, there were elders taking care of the government (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22; 16:4; 21:18). Later, the apostle Paul appointed elders in every church (14:23). Thus, there were elders in the church in Ephesus (20:17). Afterward, Paul ordered Titus to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5)—not in every home but in every city. There should only be elders in a city according to the Scriptures. If just two or three meet in a home as the church, there is no need of having any elders in the city. But the local church in a city has the practical need of elders.
The administration, or government, of the church is in the local churches. If we do not have the local churches, we do not have this government. This is why so many prefer to say that two or three meeting together are the church. They do not want the government.
In the local church there is the government which is a real restriction and real test to our flesh and our natural self. If we know how independent our natural self is, we will be so willing to have the church. Then we will have a government to which we can submit. We all need to learn submission because of our independent self. This is why we need the government and restriction of the local church.
The book of 1 Peter also has something regarding the government of the church with the elders. Verse 1 of chapter 1 says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the sojourners of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Altogether, there are five provinces mentioned in this verse. Two of these five are very familiar to us, Galatia and Asia. Were there not churches in Galatia? Yes, for we have the book to the Galatians, which mentions the churches of Galatia (1:2), as well as 1 Corinthians 16:1. The book of Revelation also lists the seven local churches in Asia (1:4, 11). Therefore, according to the record of the Bible, there were many local churches in the provinces of Galatia and Asia.
Some have used 1 Peter 1:1 as ground to oppose the concept of the local church. The dissenting thought is that this is not a letter to the local churches, but to the sojourners dispersed throughout so many places, and since this is so, how could all these scattered ones be the living stones built up into one spiritual house (2:5) as a local church? This sounds reasonable, but 1 Peter is not only of two chapters. We must read on until we come to chapter 5. Verse 1 says, “The elders among you...” The elders among whom? It must be the elders among the scattered saints who were in the local churches. If the scattered saints were just the scattered ones without meeting with the local churches or just meeting by two or three, there would be no need of elders. According to the teaching of the New Testament, the elders among the Christians are in the local churches. If there were no local churches, there was no need of elders. If the scattered saints never met together, there was no need for them to have elders.
I do believe that Peter was writing to the scattered Hebrew Christians, yet they were in the local churches. They were scattered in Galatia, Asia, and other provinces, but they must have been in some local churches, since we have seen that there were many local churches both in Galatia and in Asia. We have a similar situation with the Chinese brothers and sisters scattered throughout America. If a brother in Taiwan wrote a letter to all the Chinese brothers and sisters in the U.S.A., this does not mean that there are no local churches in the U.S.A. In fact, most of them are in the local churches here in this country in which there are elders. The practical administration of the church with the elders is in the local churches.
(The Practical Expression of the Church, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)