THE LOCAL CHURCHES
Now we must proceed from the Acts through the book of Revelation. Here we see not only God, Christ, and the church; we also have the churches. In Matthew 16 the Lord says, "I will build My church." This church is the unique, universal church typified by Zion. But just as Zion has many peaks, so the universal church has many local expressions. In Matthew 18, where the Lord speaks of taking a matter to the church, we see one of these local expressions. We may also liken the universal church to a tree and the local churches to the branches of the tree. In Matthew 18 we see one of the branches of this universal tree. Here is a local church to which we can go with our problems. Furthermore, such a church can also deal with certain ones and even cause them to be regarded as heathen or publicans.
In the book of Acts we read of the church in Jerusalem (8:1) and of another church in Antioch (13:1). According to Acts 14:23, the apostles ordained elders in every church. The churches referred to here are those established in the provinces of Asia Minor. First Corinthians 1:2 speaks of "the church of God which is at Corinth." Furthermore, in Galatians 1:2 Paul refers to "the churches of Galatia," a region of the Roman Empire that included many localities. Just as there are many local churches in the state of California today, so there were a number of churches in the region of Galatia at the time of Paul.
In the book of Revelation the divine revelation in the Bible reaches its consummation. The universal church as the Body of Christ is expressed through the local churches. The local churches, as the expressions of the one Body of Christ (Rev. 1:12, 20), are locally one. Revelation 1:4 says, "John to the seven churches which are in Asia." Asia was a province of the ancient Roman Empire in which were the seven cities mentioned in 1:11. The seven churches were in those seven cities respectively, not all in one city. Revelation does not deal with the universal church, but with the local churches in various cities. We have seen that the church is firstly revealed as universal in Matthew 16:18 and then as local in Matthew 18:17. In Acts the church was practiced in the way of local churches, such as the church at Jerusalem (8:1) and the church at Antioch (13:1) and the churches in the provinces of Syria and Cilicia (15:41). Without the local churches, there is no practicality and actuality of the universal church. The universal church is realized in the local churches. Knowing the church universally must be consummated in knowing the church locally. It is a great advance for us to know and practice the local churches. Concerning the church, the book of Revelation is in the advanced stage, for it is written to local churches. If we would know this book, we must advance from the understanding of the universal church to the realization and practice of the local churches.
(The Genuine Ground of Oneness, Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)