THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH
The book of 1 Corinthians tells us something about the local church, but it is not very extensive, and it is mostly in the way of teaching. In 2 Corinthians, however, we do not have the teaching of the church, but the real practice of the church. We do need the teaching, but we cannot do without the practice. In certain high school and college courses, there is first a lecture and then a lab. The lab is where the lecture is put into practice, and it is certainly an improvement, practically speaking, upon the lecture. One is in theory, and the other is in practice. Let us see the practice of the church in the book of 2 Corinthians.
In 1:1 there is a compound subject—the apostle Paul and Timothy. It is not the apostle Paul with Brother Timothy, but the apostle Paul and Brother Timothy. They are writing unto the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints. They did not write to the church and all the saints, but to the church with all the saints. The saints cannot be on the same level as the church. The saints belong to the church and are included in the church; therefore, the apostle used the word with. The saints are not the unit; only the church is the unit. It is not the church at Corinth and all the saints, but the church at Corinth with all the saints. Timothy could be on the same level as the apostle Paul, but the saints could not be on the same level as the church. You are not a unit; you are part of a unit. You belong to the church; the church is the unit. Second Corinthians is for the local church and for those in the local churches.
Beginning from chapter eight, all the references to the church are plural in number. Verse 1 of chapter eight says that the grace of God was given in the churches in Macedonia. Macedonia was a province of the Roman Empire, just as California is a state of the United States. In one province there were many churches. In the one state of California, there must also be many churches, such as the church in Los Angeles, the church in San Francisco, the church in Sacramento, etc. The churches in California are not the churches in Los Angeles, just as the churches in Macedonia were not the churches in Thessalonica, one of the cities of Macedonia. Corinth was a city belonging to Achaia, which was another province, south of Macedonia. In one city there could be one church; but in one province there must be many churches, because in one province there are many cities.
The grace of God given in the churches refers to the giving of material things. If we give something for the need of other saints or for the need of other churches, this is giving grace. Sometimes we think that as far as our giving is concerned, it has nothing to do with the church, but I am burdened to tell you that even this should be related to the church. It must not be an independent thing. By this we may realize how much the saints in the early days were possessed by the churches. They did not do their giving by themselves; they did it in the churches and through the churches.
In 8:18 we read of a brother whose praise in the gospel was throughout all the churches. Not only the church in one place would say that this brother was marvelous, but also all the churches. If you are praised by only one church, there may be a problem. The church in Los Angeles may praise you, but what about the church in San Francisco and the church in Sacramento? Your praise must be throughout all the churches. One church could be wrong, but it is hard for all the churches to be wrong. If all the churches say that a certain brother is not good, it certainly means that this brother is not good. If all the churches speak well of a certain brother, it is real proof that this brother is good in the Lord. It is not an individualistic matter; it is a real Body matter.
Verse 19 of this same chapter says that this brother was chosen by the churches. It is easy to be chosen by the Lord, for the Lord is the only one. But it is rather difficult to be chosen by the churches. Some church may like you, but some may not. Some may say amen to you, but some may not. Yet here it says that this brother was chosen by the churches. It is really a Body matter.
Brothers and sisters, have you seen such a thing on the earth today? Here is the improvement from the church to the churches. Yes, every local church has its own administration, but still the churches are one. What a beautiful and marvelous sight! This is a real improvement.
Some may say, "We are the church in Los Angeles. Let us alone. You are the church in San Francisco. Don’t interfere with us; don’t bother us." In a sense, each of the churches is local in its administration, but we need to realize that all the churches should be one. We are not unified or organized to be one, but if we mean business to practice the real church life, all the local churches will be one. There is no organization, no control, no center, yet the many local churches are one. This is indeed marvelous!
(The Experience of Christ as Life for the Building Up of the Church, Chapter 14, by Witness Lee)