The Spirit and the Body, by Witness Lee

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In this message I want to give you all, especially the young people, a clear map for your driving in the church life. I have been driving on this road for more than forty-five years. I can even tell you the way in my sleep. For our map, we shall use certain cities mentioned in the New Testament: Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Corinth. As we all know, the church began in Jerusalem, and it was wonderful. There were not twelve churches in Jerusalem, one named after each of the twelve Apostles. No, there was just one church that included everyone. Acts 8:1 proves that the church in Jerusalem was uniquely one, for this verse speaks of "the church which was at Jerusalem." There were not many churches at Jerusalem, but one church, the church, at Jerusalem. The testimony of the church eventually spread north to Antioch through some saints who moved there from Jerusalem. Later Barnabas went there to edify them and brought Paul with him. As in Jerusalem, there was just one church in Antioch. Acts 13:1 says, "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers." From Antioch the church spread to Asia Minor, where there were several churches in various cities. In Ephesus, for example, there was just one church. We know that in Ephesus there was not more than one church because Revelation 2:1 speaks of the church, not churches, in Ephesus. Through the ministry of Paul, the church spread from Asia Minor to Europe, and a church was established at Corinth. First Corinthians 1:2 says, "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth." Again we see the matter of one church in one city. According to the Bible, there was one church in Jerusalem, one in Antioch, one in Ephesus, and one in Corinth.


However, the time came when the saints in the city of Corinth were divided into four groups. One group said that they were of Cephas; another, of Paul; another, of Apollos; and another, of Christ. These four groups were four divisions. If you read 1 Corinthians carefully, you will see that the Apostle Paul even called them sects. First Corinthians 11:19 says that there were sects among them (Gk.). We need to understand what a sect is. Suppose fifty Christians were meeting together. Due to the various choices, tastes, and preferences, they were divided, like the Corinthians, into four groups. One group was especially fond of Peter because he was the leading one of the twelve Apostles. Another group preferred Apollos because he was a scholar in the Scriptures. This group acknowledged that Peter was the leading apostle. But, they said, he was an uneducated fisherman, whereas Apollos was a scholar. Those in this group enjoyed Apollos’s expounding of the Scriptures. The third group liked Paul better than Apollos because he had a direct contact with the Lord on the way to Damascus. The fourth group said that they were of Christ. Although these fifty Christians were divided into four groups, they continued to meet together. At first, their choices, tastes, and preferences simply made them four groups. But later these groups became divisions and after that, sects. However, they were not yet denominated. They were sects, but not denominations. Notice the development here. It goes from preferences to divisions to sects. Sects are like political parties. When the sects give themselves a name, they denominate themselves. In this way, the sects become denominations. Suppose the sect of Peter chose the name the church of Peter or the Petrine church. If they did this, they would immediately become a denomination. The same would be true of the sects of Paul, Apollos, and Christ. Thus, they would no longer be sects without a name, but denominations with a name. Hence, the development is firstly divisions, then sects, and finally denominations. If the four groups at Corinth had become denominations, they would have been exactly the same as the denominations which abound in today’s Christianity. Christianity is filled not only with divisions and sects, but also with denominations.

We all need a clear understanding of divisions, sects, and denominations. In 1 Corinthians 11:18 and 19 Paul says, "For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also sects among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (Gk.). The King James Version has the word "heresies" instead of "sects." "Heresy" is an anglicized form of a Greek word which means schools of opinion. Thus, in Greek, heresies means schools of opinion which form parties. A party, of course, is a sect. Therefore, we first have divisions and then sects. At the time of 1 Corinthians, however, there were no denominations.

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