The Spirit and the Body, by Witness Lee

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Now we need to see how a group of Christians becomes a denomination. The most striking feature of all denominations is their special names. Every denomination has a particular name, such as the Church of Christ, the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church, or the Lutheran Church. Once a group assumes a special name, it has become a denomination, for taking such a designation separates that group from all other groups.

At this point I need to say strongly that the term local church is not a name. We do not have a name. When people ask you what kind of church we are, you should simply say, "We are just the church. To ask me what kind of church we are is like asking what kind of moon we are. The moon is uniquely one. When the moon is in London, it is called the moon in London. When the moon appears over Cleveland, it is called the moon in Cleveland. In the same way, we say that we are the church in Cleveland or the church in Los Angeles." But such terms are not a name. Rather, they are a description of a fact. Thus, we should never use the term the local church in a way that others might regard it as a name. The local church denotes the nature of the church. We do not have a sectarian church or a so-called universal church. The churches in the Lord’s recovery are churches in localities. For this reason they are referred to as local churches. But the words "the local church" are not a name, and we are not a denomination. Do not use these terms as if they were a name. At most we should say, "We are the church in Cleveland. The church in Cleveland, of course, includes all the believers in Cleveland. However, because most Christians in Cleveland will not be recovered back to the proper ground of the church, we are the only ones still remaining as the church in Cleveland. But we do not have a special name."


Every denomination also has a special teaching or practice. For example, the Southern Baptists practice baptism by immersion and insist that you be baptized by them. If you are not willing to be immersed by them, they will not accept you as a member. For them, the receiving of the believers is not based upon the faith, but based upon the baptism they practice. Likewise, certain Pentecostal groups will not receive those believers who do not speak in tongues. Hence, their kind of so-called church is built upon the ground of speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is their special practice and teaching. This special practice constitutes them a sect. Regarding baptism, the Church of Christ is even stronger than the Southern Baptists. They claim that if you are not immersed by them, you are not even saved and thus cannot be accepted by them. In like manner, if you would join the Seventh-day Adventists, you must agree to keep the Sabbath day and to tithe. Otherwise, you will not be accepted as a member. This particular practice constitutes them a sect.

Today there are a great many independent groups. Nearly every group has particular terms as a requirement for being accepted into that group. Although some would not say this, they hold such a particular term in secret. Eventually, when you desire to become a member, they will reveal the terms for being received by them. They may say, "It is very good that you want to join us. But in order to be a member of this group, you must agree to this teaching or practice." Any group like this is a sect.

There are no such terms for being accepted into the churches. The only condition is that we believe in the Lord Jesus and are saved by faith. As long as you have been saved through faith, you have already been received. The church receives the saints whom God has received without imposing on them any particular terms. If you believe in the Lord Jesus and are saved, you are a saint. A saint is a saved one. As long as you have been saved, justified, redeemed, and regenerated, you are a saint, a holy one. Because you are a saint already, the church receives you without requiring any special conditions or terms. You were accepted by the church when you believed in the Lord Jesus.

We need to be careful of the independent groups that are imitating the churches. These groups claim that they have no special terms for receiving the believers. However, if you examine these groups carefully, you will find some hidden conditions for being accepted by them. But we in the churches can testify that we have no particular terms whatever for acceptance. Some may ask whether calling on the name of the Lord is a term. No, it is not a condition of being accepted. If you enjoy calling on the name of the Lord, then call on His name. But if you do not like it, then do not call. As long as you believe in the Lord Jesus, you are a saint, and we receive you. Others may claim that pray-reading is a term for being accepted into the church. No, pray-reading is not necessary for salvation, and thus it is not a condition of acceptance. I repeat, the churches have no special terms. Any group that has a special condition, either a special teaching or practice, for the receiving of the saints, is a sect.

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