THE LESSONS OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
If I am in a certain city, regardless of how I feel about those who are meeting there as the unique local church and regardless of how they treat me, I have no choice. I have to learn the lesson of the cross. I must learn the lesson of brokenness and self-denial. I have no ground, no right, and no standing to start another church in that locality as long as a unique one is there already. I must be restricted and limited. This is the real lesson.
The first year I went to Shanghai was in 1933. At that time there was a brother in the church who was exceedingly active. He invited me to his home, and we had some fellowship. For a short time I thought this brother was quite good, but not long after, I discovered that he was exceedingly ambitious to be one of the elders. But he was not the right person to be an elder, so he was not confirmed as one. Then he became a real problem to the church life because he was ambitious to be one of the elders. The church was very patient with him for fifteen years. But in 1948 he established a meeting in his home and turned his back upon the church.
Thus, we see that without the limitation of the unique local church, we are free to behave as we like, and there is no lesson for us to learn.
We must read Matthew 18:15-20 again and see not only the church but also the authority of the church. There is restriction and limitation. How I thank the Lord for His restriction and limitation through the church. Many times we wanted to do something, but because of the limitation and restriction of the church, we could not do as we pleased. We felt somewhat unhappy at the time, but later, when we looked back, we had to say, “Lord, how we thank You. That was a real protection and blessing to us.” It was not only an outward blessing but also a subduing and reducing of the self. We all must be reduced and restricted.
By the Lord’s wisdom and sovereignty, wherever there is a local church, that must be the unique expression of the Lord’s Body in that city. If we are going to stay in that locality, we must be one with that church. Then we will learn the lessons, and there will be no divisions, back doors, or “fire escapes.” Every side will be closed. We must be restricted. But praise the Lord, it is by these restrictions that we are protected. The expression of the church is the local churches, and a local church is always unique. It is this unique expression of the church in every locality that is a lesson and restriction to us as well as a protection.
We must not be confused by today’s situation but simply come back to the pure light of the Bible. Christians today have not seen clearly and definitely that the expression of the church is the local churches. Some always consider that wherever and whenever Christians meet together, it is good enough. This kind of consideration has been much encouraged by many Christian teachers and writers. Many messages and books encourage people to meet freely in their homes, on the campus, in the factories, and in so many quarters. People simply do not have the concept of the local church as the unique expression of the Lord’s Body in their locality.
We need to have our eyes opened, for if we have not seen the local church, we are in darkness and under a blindfold. We may think that we are right, but in reality we are entirely wrong. We need a clear vision of the Lord’s way concerning the church—that is, the local church is the unique expression of the church in every locality. If we see this vision, all problems will be solved.
THE LORD’S TWOFOLD RECOVERY
The Lord’s recovery is mainly twofold: the spirit and the local expression of the church. We must have these two sides, these two aspects. The aspect of the spirit is for life, and the aspect of the local church is for the way. We need the life within, and we need the way without—the Lord will recover both.
In the past forty years the Lord has shown the church the need for the expression of the Body. But we must point out that the expression of the Lord’s Body is only in one unique way: the local church. Regardless of how much you talk about the expression of the Body and are for the expression of the Body, until you have a unique, proper, practical, and living local church in your locality, you can never have the proper expression of the Body.
Today we are in the recovery of the Lord. On one hand, the Lord has shown us that we must experience Him as the life-giving Spirit in our spirit all the time, and at the same time He has also directed us to come together as the proper expression of His Body on the unique ground of the locality where we live. This is the local church. It is so real, so practical, so living, yet so simple. We must not be influenced by the present situation of today’s Christianity but come back to the pure word of the Lord.
In the training meetings at Los Angeles in 1965, the Lord impressed us with two little phrases which we have never forgotten: in the spirit and on the ground. The one must be our life, and the other must be our standing.
(The Practical Expression of the Church, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)