The Speciality, Generality, and Practicality of the Church Life, by Witness Lee


Romans 16:17 says, “Keep a watchful eye on those who make divisions and causes of falling contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and turn away from them.” This verse can only be applied where the church life is proper. If a Christian group is divisive already, it does not have the standing to use this verse. It must practice the church life with the proper and balanced teachings of the Apostle Paul—the tempered teachings, not the untempered teachings. To use this verse, a local church must be properly balanced. Otherwise what it teaches will not be proper, and it will be hard for a believer to listen to that church. Every local church must be very careful not to over-emphasize anything outside the realm of the faith.

Let me illustrate this point. Suppose a local church overemphasizes head covering, telling everyone that the head covering is a specific thing in the church life and all the sisters must have their head covered. If this is done, some of the sisters might become dissenting. Then someone might say, “Let us apply Romans 16:17 to them.” This would be a wrong application because the church is wrong in overemphasizing head covering. The over-emphasis of head covering is what caused the dissension.

Now let us consider a further point. Suppose a local church stresses the oneness, the unity. It stresses one city, one church all the time. One city, one church even becomes the church’s slogan. As a result, some of the saints become dissenting, even undermining the church by going from member to member and saying, “This is really too much. The church here is a one city, one church sect. It is a local church sect.” If this were the case, Romans 16:17 has to be applied to the dissenting saints. This is the same in principle as with our Christian faith when we say that the Bible is God’s Word, divinely inspired word by word. Regardless of how much we say this, it does not mean that we over-emphasize it. Day by day we may say this; yet, still we are not over-emphasizing it because this is something specific in our Christian faith. But if someone says, “Only say the word of the Bible is inspired by God. Do not emphasize word by word. Just take the Bible in a general way. The Bible is good, but probably some of the verses, at least some of the words, are not inspired by God. Some are only spoken by the writers themselves.” In such a case we must apply Romans 16:17.

We must be clear and exceedingly balanced. According to history, being unbalanced, over-emphasizing certain things, is the cause of all divisions. The Apostle Paul’s teaching was very much balanced, so he could say anyone that causes division contrary to his teaching has to be avoided, has to be turned away from, has to be marked out. However, in some of the so-called churches, this verse could never be applied, because they do not have the standing to apply it. They are a division already. To apply this verse, we must absolutely not be divisive. We must fully be a genuine, proper local church with much balance.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14 the principle is the same as in Romans 16:17. Paul says that some walk disorderly and not after the tradition they received from him. He also says that if someone does not obey his word in this epistle, we should note that man and have no company with him. We should note these, withdraw ourselves from them, and not keep company with them. To keep company with them would strengthen their divisive spirit. It will help them cause more dissension. Only a local church that is proper, genuine, and normal has the position to apply verses such as Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14.


Now let us consider 1 Corinthians 5. These verses cover sinful things such as idolatry, fornication, railing, drunkenness, and extortion. All these things are exceedingly evil and either insult God’s divinity or damage humanity. Idolatry is something that blasphemes the Person of God. Fornication, railing, drunkenness, and extortion damage humanity. God cares very much for His divine Person. He is a jealous God. He also cares for humanity. So God will not tolerate any of these things. No one who practices idolatry or is a fornicator should be allowed in the church life. The local church also should not tolerate any person who is a railing one, a drunken one, or an extorting one. All these things damage humanity and also damage the Lord’s testimony on this earth among human beings. Therefore, Paul told us that a Christian brother or sister who practices any of these things has to be put away from among the church (v. 13). But as long as something is not sinful and as long as it is not related to idols, or to any kind of fornication, railing, being drunken, or extortion, we must tolerate it.

(The Speciality, Generality, and Practicality of the Church Life, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)