The Spirit and the Body, by Witness Lee

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Every sect or denomination has a special fellowship. But we Christians should have just one unique and common fellowship, the fellowship of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9). When we were saved, we were brought into the fellowship of the Lord. Therefore, as Christians we can have fellowship with one another. The denominations, however, have a special fellowship. For example, when certain Southern Baptists learn that others are Presbyterians, they would stop having fellowship with them. They may talk with them about business or politics, but they will not have fellowship in common concerning spiritual things. Those who insist upon the practice of foot washing also have a special fellowship, for they limit their fellowship to those within their own circle. Others limit their fellowship to those who have the same practice regarding the wine or juice used at the Lord’s table. All this is sectarian, and we must abandon it. We must abandon all special names, special teachings, special practices, and special fellowship.


In a particular locality there may be a group of Christians who have no special name, special practice, special teaching, or special fellowship. However, they may still have an administration separate from the church in that city. If so, that group is a sect. In addition to the local church in a city, an independent group may come into being that in nearly every respect is the same as the church. But that group may still insist upon having a separate administration. This is like having two city halls in the same city. But there should be just one city hall in a city. If there is more than one, it is a sign of division. If a group of Christians has truly seen the ground of unity, they will say, "We cannot have a separate administration. We must have one administration with the church that is already in this city." As long as there is a city hall, it is impossible to have another one. If you insist upon a separate city hall, you are a division.


Perhaps there is a group that has no special name, teaching, or fellowship and that does not insist upon its own administration. We still need to examine whether or not they are willing to open themselves to have fellowship with all the other local churches on earth. Suppose those in this group say, "We have nothing special and we do not have a separate administration, but we don’t like to have fellowship with the other churches." If they say this, then they have become a local sect. They are no longer a local church, for a local church is part of the Body, one among many other local churches. Thus, a genuine local church must be open to the other churches. If they isolate themselves from the other churches, they are a local sect.

We need to study any group according to these five items. Today is a day of division and confusion, and we should not accept any group blindly. Rather, we must check whether or not they have a special name, a special teaching, or a special practice. We need to see whether or not they insist upon their own administration, and we must inquire if they are open to all the local churches throughout the world. If they pass all these tests, then they are a genuine local church. But if they cannot pass them, we must hesitate as far as recognizing them as a church is concerned.

(The Spirit and the Body, Chapter 20, by Witness Lee)