THE FAMILY—THE GROUP
Let us now consider these six points in more detail. Based upon the principle that everything in the book of Genesis is a seed, we may say that Abraham’s tent, in which he had intimate fellowship with God on the human level, was a miniature of the tabernacle which God commanded Abraham’s descendants to build as His dwelling place on earth. Abraham’s tent was the seed, and the tabernacle erected in the wilderness by the children of Israel was the growth. The temple built in the good land of Canaan was a further development of this seed. Today’s church, as the real dwelling of God on earth, is the fulfillment of what has been portrayed in the Old Testament by Abraham’s tent, the tabernacle, and the temple. Eventually, the New Jerusalem will be the ultimate harvest of this seed. Revelation 21:3 says that “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall tabernacle with them.” Thus, in Genesis 18 we have the seed, and in Revelation 21 we have the harvest.
In the same principle, during the time of Abraham and Lot, God had a people on earth. His people were composed of two families, the families of Abraham and of Lot. This was a seed, a miniature, of God’s people in the following ages. Firstly, the children of Israel were the development of the seed of God’s people, and now the church today is the continuation of this development. Eventually, in the New Jerusalem we shall see that all the redeemed ones throughout the generations will be the full harvest of God’s people on earth. Once again we have the seed, the development, and the harvest. By this we see that what is present with the seed should also be found with the development.
At the beginning, Abraham’s family and Lot’s family, being God’s people, were one. At a certain time, however, division came in and they were divided. When they were one, they were not a group; they were the people of God, God’s one people. When division came in, it produced a free group. That ancient free group was the seed and the miniature of today’s free groups. The free groups among God’s people today are actually a further development of this seed. The division which was sown by Lot was developed after the time of Solomon when the children of Israel were divided and a free group was produced. That free group, the nation of Israel, was never recognized by God. God only recognized Judah because Judah was on the proper ground. The principle is the same in the church age. The whole church should be God’s one people. In the early days, the church was uniquely one. But division after division came in, producing many free groups. We praise the Lord that this division will not continue into the new heaven and new earth. It will be terminated by the Lord’s coming back.
APART FROM GOD’S WITNESS AND TESTIMONY • We have seen that Lot’s separation from Abraham was the seed both of division and of today’s free groups. Who was the cause of that division? The fault was not on Abraham’s side; it was on Lot’s side. The members of Lot’s family might have argued, “Aren’t we also God’s people? Why do you, the members of Abraham’s family, always say that you are the people of God?” Yes, Lot’s family was a part of the people of God, but they had left God’s witness and testimony, which were Abraham and what he was testifying. God’s witness and testimony were at the tent of Abraham by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron, not with Lot in the city of Sodom. In chapters eighteen and nineteen we see that God and the two angels were happy to stay with Abraham, enjoying dinner and intimate fellowship with him. But when the angels went to the wicked city of Sodom, God did not go with them; He remained with Abraham. While both groups were God’s people, where was God’s presence? Only with Abraham’s family. God’s presence was with Abraham’s family because his family was the typical people of God and had the proper standing of God’s testimony. Although Lot was one of God’s people, he was not on the proper ground by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron; he was in Sodom, on the ground of division and free groups. All God’s people, being His family, should dwell by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron, where God can pay them a friendly and intimate visit. Here we can see the difference between the church and the free groups: all the free groups are God’s people, but the church is by the “oaks of Mamre” in “Hebron,” continually enjoying God’s intimate presence. What then about the free groups? As it was with the case of Lot’s family, God does not meet with them. They are His people, and He cares for them and does not forget them, but His presence is not with them. After the angels left for Sodom to rescue Lot and his family, God’s presence was with Abraham, His dear friend. Where are you—with Abraham’s family in Hebron or with Lot’s free group in Sodom?
Does not the Bible say that Lot was a righteous man? Yes, we are clearly told in 2 Peter 2:7 and 8 that Lot was righteous. Are not the people in the free groups saved? Certainly they are. But look at the situation: the people in the free groups are in a place which is under God’s condemnation. This is clear in the enlightenment of the divine revelation. Suppose you were alive during the days of Abraham and Lot. With which group would you have been? Perhaps you would have said, “You say that Lot’s group is a division. Isn’t Abraham’s group also a division? Neither Abraham’s group nor Lot’s group is the whole body. They both are the same. Why do you make so much of the difference between Abraham’s family and Lot’s family when both of them are God’s people? Since both are God’s people, today I will be with Lot and tomorrow I will visit Abraham.” Although you might stay with Lot, God would not. This makes a great difference.
Besides the family which was on the ground where they could have intimate fellowship with God, there was a free group. Today’s situation is a further development of this seed. Be honest and fair about the free groups. Is there the testimony of God among them? No, God is not expressed in the free groups. They do whatever they like, and there is no witness or testimony with them. Lot’s family became such a free group because it was apart from Abraham and what he was testifying. If I had been Lot, having the light which we have today, I would have said, “Uncle Abraham, even if you force me to leave you, I would refuse to go. If you don’t like me, I would still embrace and kiss you. I would stay with you because you are God’s witness and because the testimony of God is with you. I will never forsake this testimony.” We should have this attitude today. Although we may not be happy with the brothers in the church, we should say, “Brothers, although I don’t feel happy with you and although you may mistreat me, I will never leave God’s testimony.” The source, the root, of the problem of the ancient free group was its departing from God’s witness and testimony.
As many of us can testify, when we departed from the denominations, we were happy and felt as though we were in the heavens. But it is quite a different matter to leave the church. If you forsake the church, your joy will disappear and will not return until you return to God’s testimony. I do not say this lightly. Without exception, those who have left the church have lost their joy. Once a person leaves the church, it is very difficult for him to come back. Look at Lot: although he was rescued after the slaughter of the kings, he refused to return to Abraham. Even after he had been delivered from the destruction of Sodom, he still did not go back to him. Later on, we shall see that Lot still had his self-choice. That we are joyful after leaving the denominations but joyless after leaving the church proves what is the church, which has God’s presence, and what is a denomination, which does not have God’s presence. Although we may not be able to discern the difference between them by our thought, we can discern it by the sense of life deep in our spirit.
(Abraham—Called by God, Chapter 18, by Witness Lee)