Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, by Witness Lee


The seventh point which we will consider is the content of the church. We must remember well that the content of the church cannot be and should not be anything other than the Lord Christ Himself. The church is a container to contain Christ, not anything else. Only the Lord Christ is the content of the church. If we realize this well and keep this well in mind and in spirit, that would be wonderful. The church is the Body of Christ. A body is a container, a vessel, to contain the life of the head. In the same way, the church is the container to contain Christ. We may have teachings, gifts, and knowledge, but all these teachings, gifts, and knowledge must be a help to people that they may realize Christ more and more. As long as we encounter any kind of teaching, any kind of gift, or any kind of knowledge that detaches people from Christ, we must depreciate it because the content of the church is Christ Himself. We can use many means, including teachings, gifts, and knowledge, to bring people to Christ, to help people, to prompt people, even to urge people to Christ, but we must realize that nothing can be a substitute for Christ.

I do not like to say something to criticize anyone or any Christian organizations, but certain groups of Christians have certain systems, which apparently are their contents. Some groups of believers have certain doctrines, and other groups of Christians have certain gifts. We must be clear that all the doctrines, gifts, and knowledge are good as long as they help people to realize Christ and do not take people away from Christ. We need to realize very clearly that the church is a corporate vessel as a container to contain Christ, and Christ is the very content of the church.

When we come together, what do we express? We need to express Christ, either by prayer, by work, by a hymn, by a testimony, or by a teaching. What we have must be an expression of Christ. If we have something else as a center, we are sectarian. We often say that we have to be general Christians. Do you know what a general Christian is? A general Christian is a person general with Christ and with nothing else. We are so general with Christ. We have Christ and nothing else as the center. We can keep everything, or we can lay everything aside. If this everything is a help to take Christ as the center, we keep it. If this everything is a damage, a hindrance, to have Christ as the center, we set it aside. We should not insist on anything but Christ.

In the Christian meeting I attended when I was young, I was taught that a man should not have long hair but should cut his hair very short. People there were also taught not to wear leather shoes but to wear the old style of Chinese shoes, and the sisters were taught not to wear certain kinds of dresses. If one of us today were to go there, they might tell us not to come back until we cut our hair and change our shoes. These people studied the Scriptures daily, taught the Scriptures, and were very strict. I was with them for quite a period of time, but later I realized that their strictness was not Christ.

If you travel over the whole world, you will see how many different kinds of Christian churches there are, with many different kinds of peculiar emphases. Many groups stress certain things other than Christ. Recently I traveled along the west coast of the United States. Wherever I went, I often met some Pentecostal saints who asked me, “Do you speak in tongues? What about speaking in tongues?” I do not oppose speaking in tongues, but I must tell the Lord’s children that if we insist too much on speaking in tongues, we are sectarian. If we classify ourselves as “Spirit-filled persons” in a “Spirit-filled church,” we are sectarian. This is to make ourselves too special. We should not make ourselves special among the Lord’s children. We are general children of God. I believe in speaking in tongues in the right way, but I cannot believe that all the so-called tongues throughout the world today are the genuine ones. Perhaps only a small percent are genuine. Nevertheless, we should not insist even on the genuine speaking in tongues.

I have had many talks with the saints in the Far East and in the west, including Europe, about this matter. I pointed out to those dear ones who insist on speaking in tongues that many spiritual, powerful, and prevailing persons in the past never spoke in tongues. Brother Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, was a very powerful and spiritual man. We can even say that he was a spiritual giant, but he never spoke in tongues. George Müller was also a very spiritual man in the last century, but he never spoke in tongues. I do not oppose speaking in tongues, but you must realize that it is not our center. It is not something that is everything to us.

We should insist on nothing but Christ being everything to us. I agree that we must have baptism by immersion in water, but I do not insist on it. If some brothers or sisters do not agree with it, we can still go along with them. We must be careful not to insist on anything other than Christ. Christ is the center, and Christ is the everything of the church. If anything helps people to realize Christ, let us take it. If it is not helpful, let us drop it. We may keep all things, and we may lay all things aside, but we insist on Christ as the center and as everything. Christ is the content of the church.

(Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)