Third, we must see that the practical expression of the church must be local. Since it is practical, it must be local; it must be in the place where we are. If we would put the church into practice, if we would make it practical, we must have a local expression. There is no other way. Do not expect to have the church in a better place. The place where you live is the right place. Wherever you go, wherever you are, is the right place to practice the church life. The church life must be local. Any place, however pleasant from an earthly standpoint, is hell without a church. And on the contrary, any place with a church is heaven. Do not think that these are my words or my opinion. You remember, when Jacob dreamed and saw the ladder set up from earth to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, he called the name of the place Bethel. Bethel, we know, means “house of God,” and the house of God is the church today (1 Tim. 3:15). Jacob said, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17). Wherever the house of God is, that place is a gate of heaven. The only place that is good for us is the place where there is a church. And, praise the Lord, wherever we are and wherever we go, there can be a church.
Can you find a verse in the New Testament telling us that the church is in the heavens? You cannot. But we do have the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), the church in Antioch (13:1), the church in Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1), the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and the church in so many other cities. They are the local churches. Eventually, at the end of the New Testament, in the book of Revelation, we have a picture of seven churches in seven cities. It is so clear. The practical expression of the church must be local. We need to see this.
In Christianity today there are some people who have a so-called “university church.” There are others who have what they call “the church in the home.” Some, on the other hand, have a national church or even a world church. And still others insist that there should not be any kind of church on this earth. In Japan there is a movement which is called the non-church movement. The situation everywhere is indeed complicated and confused.
What shall we do? We need to forget the confusion and the complications. If you get involved in them, you will certainly miss the way. Do not ask: How about this? How about that? The more you do that, the more you will be in the woods. Learn to stay away from complications and make yourself very simple. Read the simple words of the New Testament: “the church which was in Jerusalem,” “in Antioch, in the local church,” “the church which was in Cenchrea,” “the church of God which is in Corinth,” etc. It is so clear—the church must be local.
Finally, we must see the oneness, the unique oneness of the church. Today in so many denominational churches there may be a unity, but it is not the unique oneness. These unities are unities of divisions. For example, the Presbyterians have a unity among themselves, the Methodists have a unity among themselves, and the Lutherans have a unity among themselves; but these are not the unique oneness. The unique oneness must be the one on the proper ground. There is only one proper ground for the church—the ground of the unique oneness. All the denominations have their own ground; therefore, the oneness is broken by them. We cannot stand upon the ground of certain denominations or the ground of certain groups. The only ground upon which we can stand is the ground of the unique oneness of the church. It must be the general ground which makes it possible for all the believers in one locality to gather as the one church in that place.
In the Bible we find the principle of one church for each city—no more, no less. In the entire New Testament this principle is never violated. Whenever a church in a certain city is mentioned, it is always in the singular number. Whenever reference is made to the churches, in the plural number, it is always in relation to an area or district that is larger than a city, such as a province. There is nothing in the Bible about street churches, school churches, churches in a home, or, on the other hand, national churches or world churches. There are only churches in cities. You may say that there are some instances recorded in the Bible of a church in a home. But if you read carefully, you will see that in every case these simply refer to the home in which the entire church in that city met. The boundary of the church is not limited to a home; neither is it expanded to a district or nation. In the Bible it is always according to the size of the city. A church that encompasses the whole city meets the qualification of the unique oneness.
This is God’s sovereignty and wisdom. Suppose that today, for example, we were all living in Los Angeles. We could not have the home churches or the street churches; we could only have the city church. As long as we have the city church, all the saints in Los Angeles will be one. If we could have the street churches, we would be immediately divided. There could be a church on First Street, another on Second Street, and another on Third. If we could have home churches, it would be worse yet. The city keeps the oneness so that the saints may be one. If you move from Los Angeles to San Francisco, you need not be concerned as to which “church” you will go. It is so clear. You will go to the city church, the local church. You will not go to a church called by the name of some street but to the local church in the city, not the church of some home or of some campus but of the city. If you get into anything other than the local church of the city, you get into a division; if you get into the church of that city, you get into oneness.
If we are not clear regarding the unique ground of the church, we have no way to go on for a practical, local expression. We will either persist in a division, or we must give up the matter of the church altogether. This latter course is just what many have been forced to follow. They have talked much about the church, but they did not take the unique ground of the church, the ground of oneness. Eventually therefore, they have been disbanded and dissolved. There was no way for them to go on. Do not despise the matter of the church ground; it has momentous implications and consequences. You may protest that if you take the definite standing of the ground of the church, you will be involved in trouble and problems. But, I tell you, if you do not take the ground of the church, you will be involved in considerably more trouble and problems. We must take a definite stand upon the original ground of the church, the local ground of oneness in the city in which we live.
We need to pray regarding these four points: (1) the church is God’s heart’s desire, (2) the church must be practical, (3) the church must be local, and (4) the church must have the definite local ground of oneness. We need to see this vision; otherwise, we will go astray. Regardless of how much we talk about the Body life or the church life, without this vision we will not know where we are.
These words are not merely a teaching but a strong testimony to what I have been practicing and experiencing for more than thirty-five years. I have been captured by this vision. By the mercy of the Lord I have never changed my way or my tone. And I have seen truly local churches raised up in many cities as an incontrovertible testimony that this is the way of the Lord.
We must see this vision, and we must be ready to pay the price, even the price of our life, for it. I can say with full assurance that until the day you are clear in this vision and settled with the saints upon the unique ground of oneness, your Christian life will never be settled. You will be continually wandering and changing your position. In the morning you will have one position, and in the evening you will have another. You must come to the place where you can say, “I see the heart’s desire of God, I see that the church is so practical and so local, and I see in the midst of so many divisions and so much confusion the proper standing, the local ground of the unique oneness. I do not care if others despise and refuse this ground. I will take it, and I will stand upon it.” Ask the Lord to give you a clear vision regarding the church.
(The Vision of the Church, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)