THE LOCALITY OF THE CHURCH—
THE PRACTICAL EXPRESSION OF THE CHURCH
Next, we need to see that the practical expression of the church must be local. It must be in the place where we Christians are. This is extremely important. If we would have the practice of the church and therefore have the practicality of the church, we must have the local expression of the church. There is no other way. This means that we need to see the locality of the church.
Can you find a verse in the New Testament telling us that the church is in the heavens? There is no such verse. The New Testament speaks of the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), the church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1), and the church in other cities (Rom. 16:1). All these churches may be called local churches. At the end of the New Testament, we have a picture of seven churches in seven cities (Rev. 1:4, 11; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). In the New Testament it is very clear that the practical expression of the church must be local. We need to see this.
Because the situation today regarding the church is very complicated and confusing, we need to pray that we would see the church in a proper way according to the New Testament. We should avoid the complications and all the confusion and simply pay attention to what is revealed in the New Testament.
We may use driving a car as an illustration. If you drive on the highway, you will be clear about your direction. However, if you drive into the woods, you will not be clear but rather will be in a complicated situation. Concerning the church, some brothers who regard themselves as smart like to get into the “woods,” into the complications. Eventually, they become very complicated and cannot get out of the “woods” of their complications. We need to learn to be simple and keep ourselves away from the complications. Simply read the New Testament, which speaks again and again about the locality of the church. Those who refuse to be simple in this matter but raise questions about the locality of the church end up in the “woods.” Instead of raising questions and being complicated, we need to see a vision of the locality of the church.
THE UNIQUE ONENESS OF THE CHURCH—
THE PROPER GROUND OF THE CHURCH
We also need a vision of the unique oneness of the church. When we speak here of the oneness of the church, we speak of the unique oneness, the only oneness. In the Presbyterian denomination there may be a certain kind of oneness, and in the Methodist denomination there may be a different kind of oneness. But neither of these is the unique oneness of the church. What we need to see is the unique oneness, not any other kind of oneness.
The unique oneness of the church involves what we call the ground of the church. In ancient times the people of Israel had a unique unity in the good land of Canaan, with Jerusalem as its center. The unique unity of the people of Israel is a picture of the unique oneness of the church. At that time the people of Israel were one people. With them there was not more than one kind of unity—there was a unique unity. The situation changed when the people of Israel were carried away into captivity. Most of them were carried away to Babylon, but some were carried away to Assyria and to Arabia. The people were scattered, and as a result they lost their unique unity. Suppose some of those in Babylon had said, “As the people of God, we have to be one. Let us come together to practice unity.” Although they would have had a certain unity, it would have been not the unique unity but the unity in Babylon. Suppose those who had been carried away to Assyria and to Arabia had done the same thing. Then in addition to the unity in Babylon there would have been the unity in Assyria and the unity in Arabia. Each group would have had its own unity, but none of these unities would have been the genuine, unique unity. After seventy years some faithful ones, who stood with the Lord and took His word, went back to Jerusalem, and there they started to practice, to recover, the lost unity. The unity they practiced was the unique unity, the only unity. Thus, after the dispersion of the people of Israel and the return of the faithful ones, there were many unities, but only the unity in Jerusalem was the unique unity. The others were not the real unity; they were unities as divisions. Actually, those so-called unities were divisions. Only the unity in Jerusalem was the unique, the only, unity.
From this we see that there is only one ground for the oneness of the church. If we have more than this one ground, the oneness will be broken. The only ground for oneness is the proper ground of oneness. The proper ground of the oneness of the church, therefore, is the ground of the unique oneness. This oneness is not the oneness of the various denominations or groups; it is simply the unique oneness of the church expressed in the places, the localities, where the saints are.
When we say that the unique oneness of the church is expressed in the place where the saints are, we need to define what we mean by place. What is the limit of this place? The limit is not a house or a street. In the New Testament there are no street churches or avenue churches. Today, however, so-called churches are designated by a street or an avenue. Some might say, “In the Bible there are no street churches, but there are house churches.” Concerning house churches or home churches we need to be careful. Yes, the New Testament does mention the church in the house of certain saints (Rom. 16:5a; Col. 4:15-16). If we read the New Testament carefully, we will see that in these cases the church in the house was the same in limit as the church in the city. In other words, the limit of the house church was equal to the city. The church in that house was the church in that locality, in that city. Therefore, we cannot have a street church, an avenue church, a church on a college campus, or a church in a house that is not also the church in the city. According to the New Testament, we can have only a city church, that is, the church in the city where we are.
The reason for this limitation is that the church in the city, the local expression of the church, keeps the oneness, the unique oneness, of the church. As long as we have the city church in Los Angeles, we are one. But if instead of the church in Los Angeles we have street churches or avenue churches, we will be divided. There will be a Westmoreland Avenue Church and an Elden Avenue Church. We will also be divided if we have churches in different houses, for there will be a church in the house of one brother and a different church in the house of another brother.
In God’s wisdom and sovereignty the city keeps the oneness, whereas streets and houses divide. If you go to San Francisco, you must go to the city church, the local church, the church in San Francisco. You should go not to a church on a street or in a house but to the church in the city. Likewise, you should go not to a church on a college campus but to the church in the city. To go to a so-called local church in a house is to enter into division, but to go to a local church in a city is to enter into oneness.
We need a vision of this matter. Otherwise, we will have no way to go on with the church and eventually will have to drop the matter of the church. If we are not clear concerning the ground of the church, we will have no way to practice the church life. This has been the situation with a number of dear brothers. They talked much about the church, but eventually, because they would not take the ground of the church, they had no way to go on with the matter of the church and had to forsake this matter.
We should not despise the ground of the church or think that it is an insignificant matter. If we do not have the ground of the church, there is no way for us to have the proper practice of the church. Then we will have to give up the matter of the church. Some say, however, that if we take the church ground, we will have problems. But if we forsake the ground of the church, we will have even more problems and troubles. If we are to have the practice of the church, we must take a definite standing, and this standing must not be a wrong standing but the right standing—the standing on the ground of the church, the ground of oneness. We need to come back to the original standing, the original ground, of the church.
We need to pray about the four matters we have covered concerning the vision of the church: the church being God’s heart’s desire, the practicality of the church, the locality of the church, and the definite local ground of oneness. These four matters are a simple “map” for our “driving.” If you are not clear about these matters, you will be lost as far as the church is concerned. No matter how much you talk about the church life and the Body life, you will be lost.
CAPTURED BY THE VISION OF THE CHURCH
AND PAYING THE PRICE FOR IT
We need to be caught, captured, by these points concerning the vision of the church. By the Lord’s mercy I can testify that since I was caught by this vision more than thirty years ago, I have never changed my tune. From the first day until now, my tune has been the same. But those who are not willing to take the way of the ground of the church often change their tune. For example, several years ago I was told by a particular group that they were the same as we are—a local expression of the church. In their writings they even used the words local church. But now they oppose the matter of the church ground. Another example concerns a brother who, in response to our question of whether his meeting was on the ground of the church, said, “I cannot say that the meeting here is on the church ground, but we are working toward this goal.” Now this person, who has been exposed as being two-faced, is absolutely opposed to the church ground. This is not the way for the children of God to conduct themselves. Our yes should be yes, and our no should be no.
Regarding the church, we need to have a clear vision, and then we must be ready to pay the price for it, even the price of our life. Then from the beginning to the end we will not change our tune. If we are willing to take the proper way concerning the church, our tune will always be the same. But those who are not willing to take this way will change their tune. They may talk about the church, but eventually, they will give up the church and may even oppose it.
THE GROUND AND THE BUILDING
If we want to have a particular building, we must also have the lot on which the building stands, for the lot is the ground of the building. However, some may feel that the lot is earthly and has many problems and is too troublesome; therefore, they want the building without the lot. If you say that you like the building but will not take the lot, the ground, how can you have the building? In such a case, it would be impossible to have the building. This illustrates the attitude of some believers toward the ground of the church. They want to have the church, but they do not want to have the church ground. The result is that they do not have the church. Those who want a building without the lot cannot have the building. In like manner, those who want the church without the ground of the church cannot have the church.
ASKING THE LORD FOR A CLEAR VISION OF THE CHURCH
We need to pray that we may see clearly the four matters that we have emphasized in this chapter. We need to see that the desire of God’s heart is to have a church for His Christ. We need to see that the church is practical, that the church is not a matter in theory or merely in teaching. We also need to see that the church is local and that the church must have the proper ground. I would urge you to pray in a definite way about these four points. Otherwise, there will be no way for us to go on. Concerning these matters, you need to be simple. Do not be complicated, but in simplicity ask the Lord to show you a clear vision of these four points.
(The Heavenly Vision, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)