LOCAL CHURCHES AND MISSION CHURCHES
Permit me to mention a personal incident. Some time ago I met a certain missionary in Shanghai who asked me if it would not be possible for me to cooperate with his mission. Not knowing quite what to say, I did not commit myself. Later on I came across him in another part of the country, and again he repeated his question and asked if I had anything against the mission. I answered, “I dare not criticize your mission, though I do not believe it is according to the full thought of God. I believe it was God’s will to establish it so that the servants of God in Western lands could come to China to preach the gospel. I have nothing to say regarding the mission as a body, for the Scriptures speak of companies of workers, and if you feel it should be organized, should have officers, and should bear a specific name, you must answer to God and not to man for that. Who am I that I should criticize the servants of the Lord? But while I do not criticize, I cannot copy, because God has not revealed that as His will and way for me. Regarding the mission as a mission, I have nothing to say, but I have serious questions regarding the churches formed by the mission. To illustrate, you represent the ‘X’ Mission. Now, do those saved by your instrumentality become the ‘X’ Church, or do they become the church of the particular locality in which they live? It may be all right for missionaries to belong to the ‘X’ Mission, but it is all wrong for them to form the fruits of the mission into the ‘X’ Church. The Word of God has not definitely forbidden the forming of an ‘X’ Mission, but it clearly does not sanction the founding of other than local churches.”
Then I mentioned the apostolic examples, pointing out that they always sought to found or build up churches in the locality of their labors with the fruit of such labors. They never used such fruit to form branches of the companies in which they worked; otherwise, the Church of God would have been rent by numerous factions from its very inception.
I then took as an illustration the work at T——. “There at T——,” I said, “God has used you to win many souls. If the people saved by your instrumentality are the church in T——, then if I come to T—— I shall certainly join them, no matter what their spiritual state, or what their form of organization; otherwise, I should be guilty of sectarianism. But if you build up an ‘X’ Church in T—— with the people saved there, then you are not building the Church of God in T——, and such a ‘church’ I regret to say I cannot join. I shall be obliged to work separately in T—— unless there is a church there standing on the scriptural ground of locality.
“If we are all out to establish local churches, then there is every possibility of cooperation. It is permissible to establish an ‘X’ Mission, but it is not scriptural to establish an ‘X’ Church. Suppose your ‘X’ Mission coming to T—— establishes an ‘X’ Church; thereafter, various other missions come to T——, each establishing a separate mission ‘church.’ That would be the same as Paul establishing an Antiochian church in Corinth, and Peter coming along shortly after and establishing a Jerusalemic church there. On such a basis cooperation is impossible, for we should be disregarding the pattern which God has clearly shown us in His Word—the establishment of local churches.
“If we come to a place to found a church, then it must be local, intensely local, without anything extraneous to rob it in the slightest of its local character. If you come to T—— with the establishing of the church in T—— as your one aim, and I come to T—— with the establishing of the church in T—— as my one aim, then cooperation will be no problem. Even if a hundred and one missionaries, representing a hundred and one missions, all come to T—— with this as their one aim, to establish the church in T——, then there will be no possibility of sectarianism, and cooperation will be a matter of course. If the aim of the ‘X’ Mission is only to preach the gospel, then it is possible for us to work together; but if there is a twofold aim—the preaching of the gospel and the extension of the mission—then cooperation is not possible. If a worker seeks on the one hand to preach the gospel, and on the other hand to extend his own society, it is impossible for us to work together.” Whether or not a man is out to establish local churches determines whether or not we can cooperate with him. No matter to what mission a man may belong, if he comes to a place not seeking to establish his own “church,” but a church in the locality, then we are perfectly willing to work with him. Although we are not a mission, we are quite prepared to cooperate with any mission if they have no private end in view, but only the one end which God has shown as His will regarding His work.
May God grant us grace to see that His churches are all local churches.
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 7, by Watchman Nee)