If anyone wants to set up an assembly in a place and does not want to fellowship or communicate with other assemblies, he is not standing on the ground of the church. None of the churches in the Bible ignored the other churches. In other countries, among all the so-called churches, we have not yet found an assembly that is standing on the same ground of the church as we are. If there are such assemblies and we care only for the churches in China and refuse to communicate with these churches in foreign countries, we are wrong. With God, there is no difference between the churches in China and the churches in other countries. If we only care for the churches in China and cut off the churches in other countries, we are not walking according to God’s will. The church of God can be found anywhere in the world. It is a different matter for a person to be unable to find an assembly that is meeting on the ground of the church. But if we try to limit our fellowship only to China, we have lost the ground of the Body.
WHAT IS A SECT?
I am afraid that some lawless believers will rise up among us, hoping to gain a name for themselves or to assume the authority of an elder. If they do not achieve their goal, they will go to another place like a village or an island and lead some people to salvation. They may eventually preach the gospel successfully in another place and lead many to salvation. They may proceed to help the saved ones to have meetings, break bread, and have elders and deacons. They may do all of these things according to the Bible, yet not fellowship with us. Instead, they will only care for their own meeting and hold tight to their "turf." They may think that they can ignore us and let each go his own way. Little do they realize, however, that they will become a sect by doing this; they are not an assembly that stands on the ground of the church. As mentioned in the Bible, they are actually a sect because their fellowship is limited to only the one or two hundred people among them. Even if the meetings, the breaking of bread, and the appointment of elders and deacons are all done according to the Scripture, it is still a sect if their fellowship is restricted to only one place. Therefore, in the future, if there is an assembly that has fellowship that is limited to only one locality, not based on the Body of Christ, and not inclusive of all the believers, it is a sect.
Why is Presbyterianism a sect? It is a sect because Presbyterians can fellowship only with the Presbyterians in Nanking, Soochow, England, or America. If a fellowship includes only the Presbyterians in Nanking, Soochow, England, or America and does not include the whole Body of Christ, that fellowship is a sect. Therefore, any fellowship that includes only a few local believers but does not include the whole Body of Christ at all times and in all places is a sect. If some lawless ones among us depart, set up another assembly, and restrict the believers’ fellowship to their meetings alone, they will become a sect.
If the brothers in Chefoo adopt a closed attitude, work diligently, and ask the brothers to do everything according to the Bible, but do not fellowship with others, then sectarianism has to be dealt with all over again in Chefoo because they have become a sect. Every sect has its distinctive marks. If a man takes localism as a mark of distinction, he has become a sect. In considering whether an assembly is a sect or not, it is not enough to see whether its practice is scriptural. The main question does not involve whether or not the practice of an assembly is scriptural but whether the assembly itself is a sect. If it is a sect, we should depart from it. If an assembly is not of the Body of Christ nor for the Body of Christ, it should be forsaken because it is a sect. Therefore, if we want to serve God properly, we must learn how to not disobey God’s commands and how to be restricted by the brothers and sisters. We cannot care for one place alone. All the churches should have the same practice toward certain matters. Yet the standard of our conduct is not according to the approval of the majority but according to the decision of the brothers in oneness. Oneness and one accord are the works of the Holy Spirit, while the consent of the majority emerges from man.
The principle of the Open Brethren is to care only for their own local assemblies, while ignoring the assemblies in other places. If a man is excommunicated from the assembly in Nanking, he can still break bread in the assembly in Shanghai. They even boast that they never argue with another assembly. If we follow their practice, Shanghai will care only for Shanghai, and Nanking will care only for Nanking. Of course, there will not be any arguments, and everyone will coexist in peace, doing their own work. Actually, the Open Brethren are not free from arguments. If a few have divergent views concerning some doctrines within an assembly, they will split. Perhaps by the following Sunday, they will have already separated into two meetings. One group may rent another place to meet. In some localities, the brothers are divided into several assemblies, and no assembly communicates with another assembly. Yet they still tell others that they do not argue! Those who prefer one kind of practice go to the assembly with that kind of practice, and those who prefer another kind of practice go to another assembly that has their preferred kind of practice. This is no different than the way of the denominations. The only difference is that the denominations are larger sects, while they are smaller sects. However, this is not the way or the teaching of the Bible.
ONENESS IN ADMINISTRATION
If the assembly in Shanghai excommunicates a brother, and the assembly in Nanking receives such a brother, we cannot cut off the assembly in Nanking altogether; we can only negotiate with the assembly in Nanking. A person excommunicated from one local assembly is excommunicated from all the assemblies, and a person received by one assembly is received by all the assemblies. Not only do the assemblies which stand on the ground of the church practice this way; even the denominations practice this way. All those who are excommunicated by the Presbyterians in Shanghai are excommunicated by the Presbyterians in Nanking. If the denominations do this, should not we, who are standing on the ground of the church and expecting the life of the Body of Christ to be expressed, have mutual relationships which are more intimate and more in oneness than those in the denominations?
However, we also have to pay attention to another side of the truth. The administration of the assemblies is completely local. Shanghai cannot overturn or interfere with the decisions of Tsinan, and Tsinan cannot overturn or interfere with the decisions of Shanghai. However, in making decisions, both Shanghai and Tsinan have to consider how their decisions will affect the other assemblies. Therefore, we have to be careful and need to be bound for the sake of the other assemblies. The administration of one assembly cannot be affected by other assemblies. But if this assembly is seeking after God’s will in a definite way, it will not act presumptuously, using the excuse that the administration of churches is local; instead, it will consult the other assemblies, hoping to walk scripturally and according to the Lord’s desire. All questions relate to whether or not our flesh has been dealt with and whether or not we are spiritual. In this way, we will be able to care for the other assemblies.
Suppose the assembly in Tsinan receives an unsaved person by mistake, and he is recommended to the assembly in Shanghai. On the day we receive the letter of recommendation, he becomes a person in Shanghai and has nothing to do with the administration in Tsinan anymore. From that point on, it is up to the assembly in Shanghai to deal with him or excommunicate him. The assembly in Shanghai does not have to ask the assembly in Tsinan concerning this matter. If the assembly in Shanghai excommunicates a brother by mistake, and the brother goes to Tsinan, the brothers in Tsinan may realize the mistake, but they cannot receive the brother excommunicated by Shanghai immediately. First, they have to write to Shanghai and check with the assembly in Shanghai. If the assembly in Shanghai does not agree with this matter, the assembly in Tsinan cannot receive that brother. But if the assembly in Shanghai consents, the assembly in Tsinan can receive that brother.
Therefore, it is a question of our flesh being put to the cross. Even between assemblies, this principle applies. If we are wrong, we have to submit to the brothers. But if we care only for our own proposals, the situation will become impossible, and we will become a sect. If a brother thinks that he can never be wrong, he has become a sect already. Therefore, we have to judge the flesh properly and put it to death so that we can live in the Holy Spirit and handle the affairs of the church in a proper way. If the flesh is not judged, and one wants to do one thing while another wants to do another, there will be no way to carry out the affairs of the church. All of us should deal with our self. This is true between persons, and it is also true between assemblies. This is the teaching of the Bible.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 22: The Assembly Life & The Prayer Ministry of the Church, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)