THE BOUNDARY OF A LOCAL CHURCH
I would like you to pay attention to the fact that in the New Testament, the boundary of the local church is the city in which that church is located. Hence, the maximum reach of a local church is the city; no boundary can be larger than the city. In the Bible we cannot find a church that rules over one province or county. The Bible shows us that the city is the boundary of the church. In the beginning the city was the community where men aggregated. We should remember that in the complicated situation of our modern life, there are many towns and villages. At the beginning, when families bound themselves together and set up protection, there were cities (Gen. 4:17). Due to various reasons, men began to dwell in cities. In the first half of the book of Genesis, we see no unit smaller than the city. By the time of Joshua, men still lived in cities. Of course, by then, there were neighboring villages. When the Lord Jesus sent the disciples to preach the gospel, He charged them to go into the cities and villages (Matt. 10:11). This is because a city or a village is the smallest unit of human habitation in the Bible.
The scriptural boundary of a local church is the boundary of a city. Ephesus, Corinth, and Thessalonica were all cities. The boundary of a local church cannot be larger than a city. Asia was a big area, and it had seven churches. Galatia was a region, and it had churches. Corinth was one city, and therefore, the Bible mentions the whole church coming together in one place (1 Cor. 14:23). The church in Corinth was one church. All the other local churches mentioned in the Bible had the city as their boundary. This is God’s wise way to preserve the believers from much confusion. If God were to make the nation the boundary of the church, such a boundary would be changing all the time because nations often fall. If a nation fell, the boundary of the church would be changed. If God made a province the boundary of the church, the provincial boundaries would change often also. If the boundary of a province changed, the boundary of a church would have to change as well. Would this not cause some problems? This is why God has not made a province the unit of the church, nor has He made a nation or other political units the boundary of the church. Dynasties, nations, and provinces all change easily. God has made the city or village the boundary of the church because the names and boundaries of these places do not change easily. National boundaries constantly change, and the names of provinces constantly change. But the boundaries and names of cities and villages are least likely to change with political shifts. They are least affected by political changes; we can almost say that they are never affected by political changes. In many instances, a village was called by a certain name a few hundred years ago, and it is still called by the same name today. Many cities change hands from one nation to another, yet the cities themselves remain the same. The city (and to a greater extent the village) is the most stable unit politically. This is why God ordained the city to be the boundary of a local church.
There are advantages to God making the city the unit of a local church, separating the churches by the cities, and not establishing higher, supervisory institutions above the cities. If one local church becomes sinful or has failed, the sin and failure will not affect other churches. If God placed seven or eight churches under the rule of a few people, as soon as one or two of these few people fell, the seven or eight churches would fall as well. If God had established a headquarters in Asia to rule over the seven churches, as soon as the headquarters failed, the seven churches would have failed also. The seven churches in Asia were directly responsible to the Lord. Although five of them failed and fell, Smyrna and Philadelphia, who served as God’s remnant, did not fail. God did this in order to avoid such danger. It protects weak and good churches from infiltration by sin and improper things.
THE DETERMINATION OF BOUNDARY BY THE CITY
The concept of the city was not originally in the Bible. In the beginning God created the garden of Eden, but it was not a city. In the end God will gain the New Jerusalem—a city. Hence, the concept of a city came in after man’s fall. Before man fell, everything, including the tree of life and all the fruits, was in the garden of Eden. The living water flowed out of the garden of Eden. After man fell, God’s work was changed from a garden to a city. A garden does not seem to have a boundary; there is no protection. God made the city for the purpose of protection, so that there were city walls for its boundary and it could be separated from other things. This separation keeps sin out. Not only does God care for the city today, in the millennium His concern will be only for the city. In the future, some will rule over five cities, while others will rule over ten cities. Not only will God care for the city in the millennium, but He will care for the city even in the new heaven and new earth. Then there will be the New Jerusalem. God exalts the city because a city has a boundary which separates it from other places. This distinction has less likelihood of confusion, and it is easy to manage.
Although we have said that the church sometimes takes a village as its boundary, a village is a miniature city in reality. God’s concept is still the city. When there are a few believers meeting in a city, that meeting becomes the local church in that locality. Another church from another city cannot come and interfere with this meeting. The boundary of the church in a city is the boundary of the city. The boundary of a local church is determined by the political boundary of the city. God has not left the decision of the boundary of a local church to the brothers or the elders. The responsibility of the church is to follow the division of the government and to take the political boundary as the boundary of the church. The sphere of a local church is as big as the political boundary of the city. There are big cities and small cities. A city as big as Nineveh took three days to circle once (Jonah 3:3). But a city like Jerusalem is only six miles in radius. Bethany is a place which does not belong to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is next to Bethany (John 11:18). Jerusalem is a city; it has its boundary. Bethany is a village; it also has its boundary. This is the way the Bible distinguishes the churches—according to the political boundary. Although some places are big and some places are small, the church cannot mark its boundary according to its own idea; it must mark it according to the political division. God has not given the church the liberty to have its own way. God uses the boundary established by the government. This is the basis that the church should accept today. There is no need to have another way.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 22: The Assembly Life & The Prayer Ministry of the Church, Chapter 7, by Watchman Nee)