THE VISION OF THE GROUND OF LOCALITY
Beginning in 1922 many local gatherings were raised up by the Lord in China. By 1933 Brother Watchman Nee, realizing the confusion among the Brethren assemblies and being greatly concerned regarding the boundary, or limit, of a local church, read through the New Testament again in order to be clear concerning this matter. By so doing, he came to see that the boundary of a local church is the boundary of the city in which the church is located. That was a real deliverance to us. We became very clear that the church in Shanghai covered everything within the city limits of Shanghai.
From 1934 Brother Nee became more and more clear, not only concerning the boundary of the local church but also concerning the ground of the local church. Then in 1937 he delivered a number of messages to us regarding this matter, which are now contained in the book entitled The Normal Christian Church Life. The most emphasized point in these messages is the local ground of the church. From the boundary of the local church, Brother Nee went on to see the ground of the local church. It was by 1937 that this became clear to us all, and it was at this time that the term the ground of the church was first used. Not only is the city limit the boundary of the local church, but the city itself is the ground of the church. The ground of the church is the city in which the church stands. If a vase stands on a table, the table is the ground upon which the vase stands. A local church stands in a city, so the city in which it stands becomes its very ground.
Since then, the Bible, and especially the New Testament, has been opened to us in this matter. From that time until now, there has been no further improvement in this simply because it cannot be improved upon. It is exceedingly clear that the church ground is the city, the very locality in which the church stands.
Some say that we have learned concerning the local church ground from the Brethren. But the Brethren did not see this. If they had seen the unique ground of the church, they could not have many assemblies in one city.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GROUND
Why is the church ground important and necessary, and why do we stress this matter so much? We must all realize that the church in the entire universe is one Body; thus, regarding the church, there is a real oneness. The church should not be divided. How could your body be divided? You can divide anything else, but you can never divide your body. As the Body of Christ, the church must be one.
This oneness of the church is expressed in many localities. It was expressed in Jerusalem, it was expressed in Antioch, and it was expressed in Corinth. But the many local expressions of the church do not mean that the church is divided. There is only one United States of America. But the United States has many expressions. In Toronto the United States has one consulate, or one expression; likewise, in Vancouver there is one, in Mexico City one, in Hong Kong one, in London one, in Tokyo one, and in Paris one. There are many expressions but only one United States. The many consulates of the United States throughout the world as her many expressions do not mean that she is divided. But there can never be more than one consulate of the United States in any one city. If in London today there were two consulates of the United States, it would mean that the United States is divided. Regardless of the size of a city, as long as a consulate of the United States is there, that consulate must be uniquely one. It may have many offices, but it must only be one consulate. Tokyo is the largest city on earth today, but it has only one American consulate. If there were more than one, it would mean division.
The church is one; she should not be divided. But the church must be expressed in many places. Therefore, in every city, if there is an expression of the church, that expression must be uniquely one. If it is otherwise, there is division, and that cannot be.
As an American citizen in Tokyo, would you need to choose to which American consulate you should go? Of course not; you have no choice in the matter, for there is only one American consulate in Tokyo. All you need to know is the address and how to get there.
The church today has been divided simply by many different kinds of expressions in one locality. After the Second World War, Christians became so free, especially in this country. They were dissatisfied with the denominations; so they left and formed many smaller groups. Formerly, the number of different kinds of expressions of the church was smaller, but now it has been greatly increased. I was told that in Southern California alone there are at least one thousand small Christian groups. Those who are in these smaller groups do not sense that they are divisive. They claim to be groups which are seeking the true way, but in fact they are many small divisions.
So many know that the large denominations are divisive and sectarian, but they simply do not realize the divisiveness of the small groups. If you point this out to them, they will say that they are all one in Christ. This sounds good, but it is just a kind of saying; in fact, they are not one, but divisive.
Suppose the United States were divided into three separate countries. What weakness would result! This is just the subtlety of the enemy with the church. He has divided the Body of Christ not only into parts but into many pieces. This is why the church today is so weak.
(The Practical Expression of the Church, Chapter 8, by Witness Lee)