THE WAY TO SUBDIVIDE MEETINGS WITHIN A CITY
We have seen that the Bible takes a city or a village as the unit for an assembly. In Shanghai, we now have a meeting in Wen-teh Lane and another in Gordon Lane. What is the relationship between these two meetings? This is the question we have to study tonight. But we have to set this question aside for the moment and consider how the Bible divides the believers when the number meeting in a city becomes too large. At Pentecost, three thousand and then five thousand people were saved in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41; 4:4). The number was large. Jerusalem was different from Corinth. There were not many saved ones in Corinth. First Corinthians 14 mentions the whole church coming together. This means that its number was small and could come together. The church in Jerusalem could not have the whole church come together. If the whole church were to come together, they would have three thousand plus five thousand plus many other saved ones. The number was too large, and they would not have an adequate facility. Hence, we see that in Jerusalem, although the believers were together, they broke bread in the homes. There is a slight difference between the assembly in Corinth and the assembly in Jerusalem. The number meeting in the city of Corinth was small, and the believers could come together in one place. The number meeting in the city of Jerusalem was large, and the believers could not meet in one place; they could only meet from house to house. Hence, when the number in a local assembly becomes large, the one assembly can have meetings in many "homes." This is what is shown in Acts 2:46.
A church can have meetings in various "homes," but there is still just one church. Suppose there were a few dozen meetings in the city of Jerusalem. Was there one church in Jerusalem, or were there a few dozen churches? The biblical answer is "one church" because God has made the city the sphere of the church. The unit of the church is the city. In the city of Jerusalem, there was only one church. Although there were a few dozen places where the church met, the administration of the church in Jerusalem was the same among all the dozens of places. They had the same elders and deacons. An elder in the church in Jerusalem could serve as an elder in one home or in another home. He was an elder in all the meetings in Jerusalem. But he could not go to Samaria to be an elder, because the church takes the city as its boundary. This is the situation of our meetings here in Shanghai.
Politically speaking, as long as the ceded territories in the city of Shanghai exist, including the French Concession, the British Concession, and the Chinese territory, these could be considered as three cities because the three areas were under three different sets of laws. But now that all these concessions have been reclaimed, the whole of Shanghai is one city again. Although there are still different police authorities in the former French Concession and the Common Concession, legally speaking there is no further distinction. The whole city of Shanghai is now considered as one city. As such, there is only one church. Hence, the meetings in Wen-teh Lane and Gordon Lane belong to one church; there is only one table, not two tables.
When the number meeting in a place becomes large, the meetings can be held in several places. Some brothers and sisters may ask how large the number has to be before they should subdivide. What are the limitations? I have mentioned the story of the Lord distributing the loaves to the brothers. Before the Lord distributed the loaves to the four thousand and the five thousand, He ordered the disciples to divide the crowd into fifty a row or one hundred a row. After that He had the disciples distribute the loaves (Mark 6:40). According to my personal view, we all are the Lord’s flock. In order to feed the Lord’s flock, it is easier if we divide the sheep into fifty or one hundred per group. There are a few additional advantages to this kind of subdivision.
First, the apostles at that time did not have the money to build big meeting halls. They could only practice according to the principle of meeting in the homes, though they might not have divided into fifty a group or one hundred a group. To subdivide themselves in this way would not pose any problem as far as the place of meeting was concerned. We would rather not have a great central place of meeting and would rather meet separately in groups of fifty and one hundred.
Second, if a few thousand or a few hundred people gathered together in one place, we would not have much time to break the bread at the bread-breaking meeting on the Lord’s Day evening, and there would not be a large enough cup or bread. This shows us clearly that, at the beginning of the church age, saved ones were not breaking bread in one place. Sometimes when we have two or three hundred people breaking the bread together, we have to wait for one or two hours before we can have the bread. Some can wait, but others may not be able to wait that long. This is not a question of whether or not we should wait. It is a question of some not having the energy to wait for that long.
Third, if two or three hundred people gathered together in one place, some brothers would find it difficult to come to the meeting because of the limitation of time. If all the brothers tried to know one another, they could communicate with only one or two brothers each time. If they wanted to have more opportunity to know each other and communicate with each other, they could do it only once every few months. If that was the case, the meeting would not be able to advance. If there are only fifty or a hundred meeting in a place, it is easy for the people to communicate with each other and for the meeting to go on. It is also easy to care for the members, and the care will be adequate. If the number is too large, it is difficult to care for one another, and there is the danger of negligence. This is why we should maintain this principle.
It is for this reason that we started another meeting in Gordon Lane. The reason for starting that meeting is based on this ground. Please remember that the meeting in Gordon Lane and the meeting in Wen-teh Lane are not two churches but one church with one fellowship. We are merely subdivided into two "home" meetings. The responsible ones in Wen-teh Lane and the responsible ones in Gordon Lane are the same group of people. The serving brothers here and the serving brothers there are the same brothers. If a brother meeting in Shanghai wants to go to the meeting in Nanking, he has to have a letter of recommendation. But if he goes from the meeting in Wen-teh Lane to the meeting in Gordon Lane or vice versa, there is no need for a letter of recommendation. We hope that in the near future, there will be another meeting in Bao-shan. Bao-shan is in a different county than the county that Shanghai is in. If some brother goes to the meeting in Bao-shan, he must have a letter of recommendation because Bao-shan is another city, and the church administration in that city belongs to another unit. This situation is different than the meetings in Wen-teh Lane and Gordon Lane, which are only one unit. The offering from these two places is distributed by the same group of people, and all affairs are considered to be under one unit. The ones received by either place are approved by the same brothers and announced in both places.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 22: The Assembly Life & The Prayer Ministry of the Church, Chapter 7, by Watchman Nee)