Scriptural Justification and Summary of the Vision for the City Church

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from Doug Perry - January 2006
Verses quoted from King James Version.
Other quotes from Watchman Nee’s “The Normal Christian Church Life”.
What God was doing through us in Liberty, Missouri was initiated and set on course well before we ever read Watchman Nee’s book on this subject, but it is such a great treatment of the issue and he has proven to be such a pillar of the Church throughout the last 80+ years that it’s just a lot easier to quote him directly, rather than rewriting the same arguments.

Beyond any doubt, God has been teaching us the same lessons and we believe the New Wineskins that are going to be necessary to hold His coming glory are actually the return to the way “church” was designed in the first place.  That is, we seek to be Pre-Denominational – corporately transformed by the renewing of our minds back to His mind, under His headship, back the way it was before we ever started dividing up into factions at all!

We would encourage EVERYONE to read his book in full as these are only excerpts of these two chapters and there are other really important chapters about management of the church, finances, roles and authority and others. (The full text is available free online at But for our purposes here, we’re specifically focused on the concept of the City Church, or “local church” as Brother Nee describes it. For readability and emphasis, some italics or bolds were added by us along with our comments interspersed.

We believe that the church in America is clearly in chaos. There is no growth, just transfers from small churches to mega-churches. There is rampant fraud and debt and mismanagement. Only a tiny percentage of our revenue is being spent on the poor and hungry and lost. There are now 37,000+ denominations inside the Christian church.  We are way off mission by every measure.

Jesus prayed that we would be One as He and the Father are One. We are as far from ONE as we can get. Maybe it’s time we all prayed that prayer with Jesus and really meant it. But how could it ever possible happen?

We believe that the fundamental problem is the division within the Body of Christ. We believe that Christ showed us the model and it’s all right there in the Bible. We believe that a return to that model under His headship IS possible and it’s urgent that we try. We believe that this booklet will present some things you may never have heard before, but you will likely yearn for a return to this, since it is the way we were designed all along. You can be sure that the Holy Spirit in us yearns for a return to community and oneness!

(Please take careful note of Nee’s use of the capitalized “Church” for the universal Church and the lower-case “church” for the local church.)

From Watchman Nee’s “The Normal Christian Church Life” - Chap. 4

“The Word of God teaches us that the Church is one. Why then did the apostles found separate churches in each of the places they visited? If the Church is the Body of Christ, it cannot but be one. Then how does it come about that we speak of churches?

The word “church” means “the called-out ones.” (Greek: Ekklesia) The term is used twice in the Gospels, once in Matthew 16:18 and once in Matthew 18:17, and we meet in quite frequently in the Acts and the Epistles. In the Gospels the word is used on both occasions by our Lord, but it is employed in a somewhat different sense each time.

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). What church is this? Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and our Lord declared that He would build His Church upon this confession—the confession that as to His Person He is the Son of God, and as to His work He is the Christ of God. This Church comprises all the saved, without reference to time or space, that is, all who in the purpose of God are redeemed by virtue of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, and are born again by the operation of His Spirit. This is the Church universal, the Church of God, the Body of Christ.

“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). The word “church” is used here in quite a different sense from the sense in Matthew 16:18. The sphere of the church referred to here is clearly not as wide as the sphere of the Church mentioned in the previous passage. The Church there is a Church that knows nothing of time or place, but the church here is obviously limited both to time and place, for it is one that can hear you speak. The Church mentioned in chapter sixteen includes all the children of God in every locality, while the church mentioned in chapter eighteen includes only the children of God living in one locality; and it is because it is limited to one place that it is possible for you to tell your difficulties to the believers of whom it is composed. Obviously the church here is local, not universal, for no one could speak at one time to all the children of God throughout the universe. It is only possible to speak at one time to the believers living in one place.

We have clearly two different aspects of the Church before us—the Church and the churches, the universal Church and the local churches.The Church is invisible; the churches are visible. The Church has no organization; the churches are organized. The Church is spiritual; the churches are spiritual and yet physical. The Church is purely an organism; the churches are an organism, yet at the same time they are organized, which is seen by the fact that elders and deacons hold office there.

All Church difficulties arise in connection with the local churches, not with the universal Church. The latter is invisible and spiritual, therefore beyond the reach of man, while the former is visible and organized, therefore still liable to be touched by human hands. The heavenly Church is so far removed from the world that it is possible to remain unaffected by it, but the earthly churches are so close to us, that if problems arise there we feel them acutely. The invisible church does not test our obedience to God, but the visible churches test us severely by facing us with issues on the intensely practical plane of our earthly life.


In the Word of God we find “the church of God” spoken of in the singular (1 Cor. 10:32), but we find the same Word referring to the “churches of God” in the plural (1 Thes. 2:14). How has this unity become a plurality? How has the Church which is essentially one become many? The Church of God has been divided into the churches of God on the one ground of difference of locality.  Locality is the only scriptural basis for the division of the Church into churches.

The seven churches in Asia, referred to in the book of Revelation, comprised the church in Ephesus, the church in Smyrna, the church in Pergamos, the church in Thyatira, the church in Sardis, the church in Philadelphia, and the church in Laodicea. They were seven churches, not one. Each was distinct from the others on the ground of the difference of locality. It was only because the believers did not reside in one place that they did not belong to one church. There were seven different churches simply because the believers lived in seven different places. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are clearly all the names of places. Not only were the seven churches in Asia founded on the basis of locality, but all the churches mentioned in Scripture were founded on the same basis. Throughout the Word of God we can find no name attached to a church save the name of a place, for example, the church in Jerusalem, the church in Lystra, the church in Derbe, the church in Colosse, the church in Troas, the church in Thessalonica, the church in Antioch. This fact cannot be overemphasized, that in Scripture no other name but the name of a locality is ever connected with a church, and division of the church into churches is solely on the ground of difference of locality.

Spiritually the Church of God is one; therefore, it cannot be divided—but physically its members are scattered throughout the earth; therefore, they cannot possibly live in one place. Yet it is essential that there be a physical gathering together of believers. It is not enough that they be present “in the spirit”; they must also be present “in the flesh.” Now a church is composed of all “the called-out ones assembled” in one place for worship, prayer, fellowship, and ministry. This assembling together is absolutely essential to the life of a church. Without it, there may be believers scattered throughout the area, but there is really no church. The Church exists because of the existence of its members, and it does not require that they meet in a physical way; but it is essential to the very existence of a church that its members gather together in a physical way. It is in this latter sense that the word “church” is used in 1 Corinthians 14. The phrase “in the church” (vv. 19, 23, 28) means “in the church meetings.” A church is a church assembled. These believers are not separated from other believers in any respect but that of their dwelling places. As long as they continue in the flesh, they will be limited by space, and this physical limitation, which in the very nature of things makes it impossible for God’s people to meet in one place, is the only basis sanctioned by God for the forming of separate churches. Christians belong to different churches for the sole reason that they live in different places. That division is merely external. In reality the church as the Body of Christ cannot be divided; therefore, even when the Word of God refers to the different assemblies of His people, the places named vary, but it is still “the church” in every one of these places, such as “the church in Ephesus,” “the church in Smyrna,” “the church in Pergamos.”

In the New Testament there is one method and one alone of dividing the Church into churches, and that God-ordained method is division on the basis of locality. All other methods are man-made, not God-given. May the Spirit of God engrave this truth deeply on our hearts, that the only reason for the division of God’s children into different churches is because of the different places in which they live.

What is a New Testament church? It is not a building, a gospel hall, a preaching center, a mission, a work, an organization, a system, a denomination, or a sect. People may apply the term “church” to any of the above; nevertheless they are not churches. A New Testament church is the meeting together for worship, prayer, fellowship, and mutual edification, of all the people of God in a given locality, on the ground that they are Christians in the same locality. The Church is the Body of Christ; a church is a miniature Body of Christ. All the believers in a locality form the church in that locality, and in a small way they ought to show forth what the Church should show forth. They are the Body of Christ in that locality, so they have to learn how to come under the headship of the Lord, and how to manifest oneness among all the members, guarding carefully against schism and division.


We have seen that all the churches in Scripture are local churches, but the question naturally arises, What is a scriptural locality? If we note what places are mentioned in God’s Word in connection with the founding of churches, then we shall be able to determine what the extent of a place must be to justify its being regarded as a unit for the forming of a church. In Scripture the localities which determine the boundary of a church are neither countries, nor provinces, nor districts. Nowhere do we read of a national church, or a provincial church, or of a district church. We read of the church in Ephesus, the church in Rome, the church in Jerusalem, the church in Corinth, the church in Philippi, and the church in Iconium. Now what kind of places are Ephesus, Rome, Jerusalem, Corinth, Philippi, and Iconium? They are neither countries, nor provinces, nor districts, but simply places of convenient size for people to live together in a certain measure of safety and sociability. In modern language we should call them cities. That cities were the boundaries of churches in the apostolic days is evident from the fact that on the one hand Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23), and on the other hand Paul instructed Titus to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).

In the Word of God we see no church that extends beyond the area of a city, nor do we find any church which does not cover the entire area.A city is the scriptural unit of locality. Any place is qualified to be a unit for the founding of a church which is a place where people group together to live, a place with an independent name, and a place which is the smallest political unit. Such a place is a scriptural city and is the boundary of a local church. Large cities such as Rome and Jerusalem are only units, while small cities such as Iconium and Troas are likewise units.

Questions will naturally arise concerning large cities such as London. Are they counted as one unit-locality, or more than one? London is clearly not a city in the scriptural sense of the term, and it cannot therefore be regarded as a unit. Even people living in London talk about going “into the city,” or “into town,” which reveals the fact that, in their thinking, London and “the city” are not synonymous. The political and postal authorities, as well as the man on the street, regard London as more than one unit. They divide it respectively into boroughs and postal districts. (Or School Districts in our day. ed.) What they regard as an administrative unit, we may well regard as a church unit.

As to country-places which could not technically be termed cities, they may also be regarded as unit-localities. It is said of our Lord, when on earth, that He went out into the cities and villages (Luke 13:22), from which we see that country-places, as well as towns, are considered to be separate units.

This division of churches according to locality is a demonstration of the marvelous wisdom of God.Had God ordained that the Church be divided into churches with the country as their boundary, then in the event of one country being vanquished and absorbed by another, the church would have to change its sphere. Were a province to mark the limit of a church, the sphere of the churches would be frequently altered because of the frequent change of provincial boundary. The same holds true in respect of a district. The most stable of all political units is a village, a town, or a city. Governments, dynasties, and countries may change, but cities are seldom affected by any political change. There are cities that have passed from one country to another and still have their original name, and there are cities in existence today that have retained the same name for centuries. So we see the divine wisdom in decreeing that a locality should fix the boundary of a church.

Since the limits of a locality mark the limits of a church, then no church can be narrower than a locality, and none wider. The Word of God recognizes only two churches, the universal Church and the local churches; there is no third church whose sphere is narrower than the local, or else wider than the local and yet narrower than the universal Church. A local church admits of no possible division, and it admits of no possible extension. You cannot narrow its sphere by dividing it into several smaller churches, nor can you widen its sphere by linking several local churches together. Any church smaller than a local church is not a scriptural church, and any church larger than a local church, and yet smaller than the universal Church, is not a scriptural church either.”

We see also some really deep wisdom here as it applies to the possibility of persecution in a given locality. Since local leaders, local funds, and local assets are used, it is much harder to eliminate Christianity widely in one blow. This kind of “compartmentalization” not only limits the chances of accumulation of assets and control by one individual, but it makes it very hard for any enemy to actively stamp out the work of the Church. When wide-spread persecution of Christians comes to America (which it WILL as soon as enough Christians are acting like Jesus), the local church model will provide lots of redundant systems and leadership and people that can take the reigns at a moments notice and even shift between localities if necessary.

This model also is ideal for general emergency management. If a natural disaster comes to a city, if the Body of Christ in that town is really talking to each other well and communicating about needs and available resources, there is probably nothing they can’t do. Very high on our priority list is the creation and application of an internet portal that connects the Body of Christ in each town to itself and to all the other local churches. If there is a war between good and evil, shouldn’t we have some kind of central communication network that’s accessible to all?  God designed it and it’s in the process of being built now.

Additionally, if a pillar of fire descends on a denominational “church” it will take exactly 12 seconds for that denomination to send out press releases gloating about how this proves that they were the right ones all along. If a pillar of fire descends on a whole town, no one will be able to claim it and bottle it and try to sell it. God is NOT going to allow anyone to individually promote and package what’s coming. The Body of Christ in a whole town working together will make it very difficult for any single congregation, leader or denomination to take the credit for any miracles, signs, wonders or other blessings.


“We read in 1 Corinthians 1:2 of “the church of God which is in Corinth.” Corinth was a unit-locality, and the church in Corinth, a unit-church. When discord crept in and its members were on the point of splitting the church into four different factions, Paul wrote, rebuking them: “Each of you says, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ.&ldots;Are you not men of flesh?” (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4). Had these people formed four different groups, they would have been sects, not churches, for Corinth was a city, and that is the smallest unit which warrants the forming of a church. The church of God in Corinth could not cover a lesser area than the whole city, nor could it comprise a lesser number of Christians than all the Christians who lived there. This is Paul’s definition of the church in Corinth—“to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, the called saints” (1:2). To form a church in an area smaller than a unit-locality is to form it on a smaller basis than a scriptural unit, and it follows that it cannot be a scriptural church. Any group of believers less than all the believers in a place is not qualified to be a separate church. The unit of the church must correspond with the unit of the locality. A church must cover the same area as the locality in which it is found. If a church is smaller than a locality, then it is not a scriptural church; it is a sect.

To say, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Cephas,” is obviously sectarian; but to say, “I am of Christ,” is sectarian too, though less obviously so. The confession, “I am of Christ,” is good as a confession, but it is not an adequate basis for forming a separate church, since it excludes some of the children of God in a given locality by including only a certain section who say, “I am of Christ.” That every believer belongs to Christ is a fact, whether that fact be declared or not; and to differentiate between those who proclaim it and those who do not, is condemned by God as carnal. It is the fact that matters, not the declaration of it. The sphere of a church in any place does not merely include those in that place who say, “I am of Christ,” but all in that place who are of Christ. It extends over the entire area of the locality, and includes the entire number of the Christians in the locality.

To take one’s stand as belonging to Christ alone is perfectly right, but to divide between Christians who take that stand and Christians who do not, is altogether wrong. To brand as sectarian those who say, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Cephas,” and feel spiritually superior as we separate ourselves from them and have fellowship only with those who say, “I am of Christ,” makes us guilty of the very sin we condemn in others. If we make non-sectarianism the basis of our fellowship, then we are dividing the church on a ground other than the one ordained of God, and thereby we form another sect. The scriptural ground for a church is a locality and not non-sectarianism. Any fellowship that is not as wide as the locality is sectarian. All Christians who live in the same place as I do, are in the same church as I am, and I dare exclude none. I acknowledge as my brother, and as a fellow member of my church, every child of God who lives in my locality.

There were a great number of believers in Jerusalem. We read of a multitude who turned to the Lord; yet they are all referred to as the church in Jerusalem, not the churches in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a single place; therefore, it could only be counted as a single unit for the founding of a single church. You cannot divide the church unless you can divide the place. If there is only one locality, there can only be one church. In Corinth there was only the church in Corinth; in Hankow there is only the church in Hankow. We do not read of the churches in Jerusalem, or the churches in Ephesus, or the churches in Corinth. Each of these was counted as only one place; therefore, it was permissible to have only one church in each. As long as Jerusalem, Ephesus, and Corinth remain unit-localities, just so long do they remain unit- churches. If a locality is indivisible, then the church formed in that locality is indivisible.“

We are absolutely committed to this, as should be all Christians! We’re not calling people to leave their denominations in order to be a part of the Body of Christ. That’s just goofy! Either you are or you aren’t. What building you happen to be in on Sunday morning is irrelevant. We CANNOT continue to divide the Body of Christ, even by an insistence that only those who agree with us about that can be a part of what we’re doing. Some of the people that tried to restore the City Churches in the past fell into this trap – ”we’re the true church and you’re not.” It just denies the reality of the situation.

It’s ultimately about Pride, isn’t it? Surely that’s how we got to 33,000 denominations. That just CAN’T have been God’s desire for us, can it?


“We have just seen that the boundary of a church cannot be narrower than the locality to which it belongs. On the other hand, its boundary cannot be wider than the locality. In the Word of God we never read of the church in Macedonia, or the church in Galatia, or the church in Judea, or the church in Galilee. Why? Because Macedonia and Galilee are provinces, and Judea and Galatia are districts. A province is not a scriptural unit of locality; neither is a district. Both include a number of units; therefore, they include a number of separate churches and do not constitute one church. A provincial church or a district church is not according to Scripture, since it does not divide on the ground of locality, but combines a number of localities. It is because all scriptural churches are local churches that there is no mention of state churches, provincial churches, or district churches in the Word of God.

“Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria” (Acts 9:31, KJV). The Holy Spirit did not speak here of the church, but of the churches. Because there were a number of localities, there were also a number of churches. It was not God’s plan to unite the churches of different places into one church, but to have a separate church in each place. There were as many churches as there were places.

“He passed through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (Acts 15:41). Again the reference is not to one single church, because Syria and Cilicia were vast districts, each comprising a number of different places. It is permissible in political circles to unite many different places into a district and call it Syria or Cilicia, but God does not unite the believers in a number of different places and call them the church in Syria, or the church in Cilicia. There may be unions or mergers in the commercial or political world, but God sanctions no combinations among the churches. Each separate place must have a separate church.

“All the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom. 16:4). The churches of God were not formed on national lines but on local lines; therefore, there is no mention of the church of the Gentiles, but of the churches of the Gentiles.

“The churches of Asia greet you” (1 Cor. 16:19). “The churches of Macedonia” (2 Cor. 8:1). “The churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2). “I was still unknown by face to the churches of Judea, which are in Christ” (Gal. 1:22). Asia, Macedonia, Galatia, and Judea were all areas comprising more than one locality-unit; therefore, the Word of God refers to the churches in these areas. A church according to the divine thought is always a church in one locality; any other kind of church is a product of the human mind.

God sanctions no division of the church within any one locality, and He sanctions no denominational combination of the churches in a number of localities.In Scripture there is always one church in one place, never several churches in one place, nor one church in several places. God does not recognize any fellowship of His children on a basis narrower, or wider, than that of a locality.

Nanking is a city, and so is Soochow. Because each is a separate unit, each therefore has a separate church. The two places are both in the same country, and even in the same province, but because they are two separate cities, they must form two separate churches. Politically Glasgow and Nanking do not belong to the same province, or even the same country; yet the relationship between Nanking and Soochow is exactly the same as between Nanking and Glasgow. Nanking and Soochow are as truly separate units as Nanking and Glasgow are. In the division of churches the question of country or province does not arise; it is all a question of cities. Two cities of the same country, or the same province, have no closer relationship than two cities of different countries or different provinces. God’s intention is that a church in any one locality should be a unit, and in their relationship one to the other the different churches must preserve their local character.

When God’s people throughout the earth really see the local character of the churches, then they will appreciate their oneness in Christ as never before.The churches of God are local, intensely local. If any factor enters in to destroy their local character, then they cease to be scriptural churches.



It was never God’s purpose that a number of churches in different places should be combined under any denomination or organization, but rather that each one should be independent of the other. Their responsibilities were to be independent and their government likewise. When our Lord sent messages to His children in Asia, He did not address them as “the church in Asia,” but “the seven churches which are in Asia.” His rebuke of Ephesus could not be applied to Smyrna, because Smyrna was independent of Ephesus. The confusion in Pergamos could not be laid to the charge of Philadelphia, because Philadelphia was independent of Pergamos. And the pride of Laodicea could not be attributed to Sardis, because Sardis was independent of Laodicea. Each church stood on its own merits and bore its own responsibility. Since God’s children lived in seven different cities, they consequently belonged to seven different churches. And since each was independent of the other, each had its own special commendation, or exhortation, or rebuke.

And not only were there these seven churches on earth; there were seven lampstands representing them in heaven. In the Old Testament there was only one lampstand with seven different branches, but in the New Testament there were seven distinct lampstands. Had the New Testament representation been the same as the Old, then believers in the seven Asiatic churches might have united to form one church; but there are now seven separate lampstands, each upon its own base, so that the Lord is able to walk “in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1). Therefore, though all churches stand under the authority of the one Head and express the life of the one Body (for they are all made of gold), still they are not united by any outward organization, but each stands on its own base, bearing its own responsibility, maintaining its local independence. “

Please note that there are not JUST seven golden lampstands. There are clearly other local churches in existence at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation. For example, the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch and others are not listed. Certainly the Lord had His reasons for choosing these seven, but it should be clear that there were others at the time and that each local church in divine order has a Lampstand.

But what IS a Lampstand? In Rev. 2, the Lord threatens the church in Ephesus that they are at risk of losing their Lampstand if they don’t repent and change their ways. So what would happen if a city church lost it’s Lampstand? Does that mean the Holy Spirit leaves the town? Surely not. Does that mean there are no more Christians there? Surely not. Does that mean they stop gathering and fellowshipping? No. It means the Body of Christ in that town is not really under Christ’s headship anymore. They’re on their own. They lose the “Seal of Approval” and their access to the really big lights that push back the darkness. What’s the fastest way to lose your Lampstand? Allowing division inside the Body. 

Consider it this way, “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16) So the prayer of slightly-righteous man probably availeth practically nothing.  The prayer of a righteous town availeth a LOT. In fact, it you look at the Great Awakenings (which were always focused on towns) and other examples, when a town comes together and seeks God, it doesn’t just change lives, it can change economies and crime rates, affects the course of wars and can even alter ecologies! But the prayer of a slightly-righteous town availeth practically nothing. In fact, it might even be hard to tell whose side they were on.

If the City Churches mean access to the really BIG weapons of war, then it is VERY much is the enemy’s best interest to keep us from having any. That’s why the Body of Christ in EVERY town in America has been methodically and systematically divided up into little pieces. And we fell for it. If we’re going to keep praying “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” then maybe we ought to start being One Body – you know, like we will be in heaven.

So it seems to us that the entire focus of EVERY town should be, “What is it going to take to get our Lampstand back?” We believe that God has shown us the formula for that. We believe that the Church of Liberty, Missouri has a Lampstand now. More on that below.


“This does not imply that the different local churches have nothing to do with one another, and that each can simply do as it pleases without considering the rest, for the ground of a church is the ground of the Body. Although they are unit- churches in outward management, still their inner life is one, and the Lord has made their members the members of one Body. There is no outward organization forming them into one big combined unit, but there is a strong inward bond uniting them in the Lord. They have a oneness of life which knows nothing of the bounds of locality, and which leads the separate churches to uniform action despite the absence of all outward organization. In organization the churches are totally independent of one another, but in life they are one, and consequently interdependent. If one church receives revelation, the others should seek to profit by it. If one is in difficulty, the others should come to its aid. But while the churches minister one to the other, they should always preserve their independence of government and responsibility.

On the one hand, each church is directly under the authority of the Lord and responsible to Him alone; on the other hand, each must listen not only to His direct speaking, but to His speaking through the others. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” is our Lord’s injunction to all (Rev. 2 and 3). In the introduction of His letters to the seven churches we find our Lord addressing the angel of each church, but at their close we find that His message to one particular church was also a message to all the churches. From this it is clear that what one church ought to do, all the churches ought to do. The responsibility of the churches is individual, but their actions should be uniform. This balance of truth ought to be carefully preserved.

We find the same teaching in the Epistles. “Because of this I have sent Timothy to you&ldots;who will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). What Paul has taught “everywhere in every church,” the Corinthians are called upon to lay to heart. There is not one kind of instruction for Corinth, and another kind of instruction for another place. What the apostles have been teaching to some of the churches, the believers in other churches must also note. And that applies to commandments as well as to matters of doctrine. “As the Lord has apportioned to each one&ldots;so let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17). The Lord could never give a command to one church which in any way contradicted His command to another church. His requirements for one group of His children were His requirements for all His children. “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we do not have such a custom of being so, neither the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16). The church in Corinth was apt to strike out on individual lines. All the other churches were going on together with the Lord. It was only Corinth that was out of step; therefore, Paul sought to bring it into line with the others. Today, alas! it is not just one church that has departed from God’s way, but the majority of the so-called churches. It is a tragedy that today an injunction to follow “all the churches” would lead, not into, but away from, the will of God!

“Now concerning the collection for the saints, just as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also do” (1 Cor. 16:1). Paul is saying in effect, “Although you are independent of other churches, yet you must not disregard their example.” A willingness to help one another, and to learn from one another, should mark the relationship between the various churches. What the more mature churches have learned from the Lord, the less experienced should be ready to learn from them. “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Thes. 2:14). The church in Thessalonica was younger than the churches in Judea; therefore, it was only fitting that they should learn from them.

There is a beautiful balance in the teaching of God’s Word regarding the relationship between the various churches. On the one hand, they are totally independent of one another in matters relating to responsibility, government, and organization. On the other hand, they are to learn from one another and to keep pace with one another. But in everything it is essential to have both the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the pattern in God’s Holy Word. “

Imagine if there had been a communication network across the whole of the Body of Christ in place before the hurricane hit Mississippi. The Church in New Orleans (and every other town in the Gulf) could have sent out an alert across the internet to every other town and made requests for shelter and supplies and volunteers and there could have been national and global coordination and communication with no loss or duplication of resources. If we were not divided, then each local church could inventory their assets and pray and seek God on how they were to help. Those with much could share with each as they had need.

The life of the first century Christians described in Acts 2 is to be the same kind of relationship as that of the local churches with each other. Ultimately it’s a one-on-one relationship with Christ, but we are known by our love and self-sacrifice for each other. Each town with true community. Each connected to every other community, but each reporting directly to God. Full participation and efficient delivery of resources and skills. The world would be transformed in a matter of months if the Christians actually started working together seamlessly! That’s the goal. Not about authority or control, all about love and being under His headship. And He is NOT a God of confusion – we made this mess ourselves!


“Since the churches of God are local, we must be careful to preserve their local character, their local sphere, and their local boundary. Once a church loses these, it ceases to be a scriptural church. Two things call for special attention if the local nature of a church is to be safeguarded.

In the first place, no apostle(one who is sent, see Chapter 1) exercise control in any official capacity over a church. That is contrary to God’s order, and destroys its local nature by putting the imprint of an extra-local minister upon it. No apostle has the authority to establish a private church in any place. The church belongs to the locality, not to the worker. When people are saved by the instrumentality of any man, they belong to the church in the place where they live, not to the man through whom they were saved, nor to the organization he represents. If one or more churches are founded by a certain apostle, and that apostle exercises authority over them as belonging in a special sense to him or to his society, then those churches become sects, for they do not separate themselves from other Christians (saved through the instrumentality of other apostles) on the ground of difference of locality, but on the ground of the difference of instrumentality of salvation. Thus apostles become the heads of different denominations, and their sphere the sphere of their respective denominations, while the churches over which they exercise control become sects, each bearing the particular characteristic of its leader instead of the characteristic of a local church.

The Epistle to the Corinthians throws light on this subject. There was division among the believers in Corinth simply because they failed to realize the local character of the church and sought to make different apostles—Paul, Apollos, and Cephas—the ground of their fellowship. Had they understood the divinely-ordained basis for the division of the Church, they could never have said, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” for, despite their especial love for certain leaders, they would have realized that they belonged not to any one of them, but to the church in the locality in which they lived.

No worker may exercise control over a church or attach to it his name or the name of the society he represents. The divine disapproval will always rest on “the church of Paul,” or “the church of Apollos,” or “the church of Cephas.” In the history of the Church it has frequently happened that when God has given special light or experience to any individual, that individual has stressed the particular truth revealed or experienced, and gathered round him people who appreciated his teaching, with the result that the leader, or the truth he emphasized, has become the ground of fellowship. Thus sects have multiplied. If God’s people could only see that the object of all ministry is the founding of local churches and not the grouping of Christians around any particular individual, or truth, or experience, or under any particular organization, then the forming of sects would be avoided. We who serve the Lord must be willing to let go our hold upon all those to whom we have ministered, and let all the fruits of our ministry pass into local churches governed entirely by local men. We must be scrupulously careful not to let the coloring of our personality destroy the local character of the church, and we must always serve the church, never control it. An apostle is servant of all and master of none. No church belongs to the worker; it belongs to the locality. Had it been clearly seen by the men who have been used of God throughout the history of the Church that all the churches of God belong to their respective localities, and not to any worker or organization used in their founding, then we should not have so many different denominations today.

Another thing is essential for the preservation of the local character of the church—its sphere must not become wider than the sphere of a locality. The current method of linking up companies of believers in different places who hold the same doctrinal views, and forming them into a church, has no scriptural foundation. The same applies to the custom of regarding any mission as a center, linking together all those saved or helped by them to constitute a “church” of that mission. Such so-called churches are really sects, because they are confined by the bounds of a particular creed, or a particular mission, not by and within the bounds of locality.

The reason God does not sanction the establishing of churches which combine companies of believers in different places is that the divinely-ordained basis for the forming of churches is thereby destroyed. Any “church” formed with a mission as its center is bound to be other than local, because wherever there is a center, there is also a sphere; and if the center of the church is a mission, then obviously its sphere is not the scriptural sphere of locality but the sphere of the mission. It clearly lacks the characteristic of a church, and can only be regarded as a sect. In the purpose of God, Jesus Christ is the center of all the churches, and the locality is their sphere.

Whenever a special leader, or a specific doctrine, or some experience, or creed, or organization, becomes a center for drawing together the believers of different places, then because the center of such a church federation is other than Christ, it follows that its sphere will be other than local. And whenever the divinely-appointed sphere of locality is displaced by a sphere of human invention, there the divine approval cannot rest. The believers within such a sphere may truly love the Lord, but they have another center apart from Him, and it is only natural that the second center becomes the controlling one. It is contrary to human nature to stress what we have in common with others; we always emphasize what is ours in particular. Christ is the common center of all the churches, but any company of believers that has a leader, a doctrine, an experience, a creed, or an organization as their center of fellowship, will find that that center becomes the center, and it is that center by which they determine who belongs to them and who does not. The center always determines the sphere, and the second center creates a sphere which divides those who attach themselves to it from those who do not.

Anything that becomes a center to unite believers of different places will create a sphere which includes all believers who attach themselves to that center and excludes all who do not. This dividing line will destroy the God-appointed boundary of locality, and consequently destroy the very nature of the churches of God. Therefore, the children of God must see to it that they have no center of union apart from Christ, because any extra-local union of believers around a center other than the Lord enlarges the sphere of fellowship beyond the sphere of locality, and thus the specific characteristic of the churches of God is lost. There are no other churches in Scripture but local churches!


The divine method of making locality the boundary line between the different churches has various obvious advantages:

(1) If each church is locally governed, and all authority is in the hands of the local elders, there is no scope for an able and ambitious false prophet to display his organizing genius by forming the different companies of believers into one vast federation, and then satisfy his ambition by constituting himself its head.Rome could never sway the power it does today had the churches of God maintained their local ground. Where churches are not affiliated, and where local authority is in the hands of local elders, a pope is an impossibility. Where there are only local churches, there can be no Roman Church. It is the federation of different companies of believers that has brought such evils as dabbling in politics into the Church of God. There is power in a federated “church,” but it is carnal power, not spiritual. God’s thought for His Church is that she should be like a mustard seed on earth, full of vitality, yet scarcely noticed. It is federation that has brought the Church of today to the state of Thyatira. The failure of Protestantism is that it has substituted organized churches—State and Dissenting—for the Church of Rome, instead of returning to the divinely-ordained local churches.

(2) Further, if the churches retain their local character, the spread of heresy and error will be avoided, for if a church is local, heresy and error will be local too. Rome is a splendid illustration of the reverse side of this truth. The prevalence of Romish error is because of Romish federation. The sphere of the federated churches is vast; consequently the error is widespread. It is a comparatively simple matter to quarantine error in a local church, but to isolate error in a vast federation of churches is quite another proposition. (Consider that the Purpose Driven network may already rival the number of Roman churches.)

(3) The greatest advantage of having locality as the boundary of the churches is that it precludes all possibility of sects. You may have your special doctrines and I mine, but as long as we are out to maintain the scriptural character of the churches by making locality the only dividing line between them, then it is impossible for us to establish any church for the propagation of our particular beliefs. As long as a church preserves its local character, it is protected against denominationalism, but as soon as it loses that, it is veering in the direction of sectarianism. A believer is sectarian when he belongs to anyone or anything apart from the Lord and the locality. Sects and denominations can only be established when the local character of the church is destroyed.

In the wisdom of God He has decreed that all His churches be local. This is the divine method of safeguarding them against sects. Obviously, it can only protect the Church against sectarianism in expression. It is still possible for a sectarian spirit to exist in a non-sectarian church, and only the Spirit of God can deal with that. May we all learn to walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh, so that both in outward expression and inward condition the churches of God may be well-pleasing to Him.

One of the other errors that has done great damage to the reputation and desirability of the City Church is a certain current group that is intent on “restoring” the role of the Apostles and Prophets, but they describe it in terms of a tiny handful of men sitting in authority OVER all the local city churches and directing their actions. That’s just TOO close to a One World Government and Church for comfort! It’s likely that any strategy about autocratic control under any headship other than Jesus’ is dangerously likely to be coopted. Since a one world government and church is predicted in Revelation - and the leaders aren’t on our team - this should be strongly resisted.

Clearly, the local churches MUST remain independent and should fight at ALL costs the imposition of outside autocratic authority models. This is another great defense against a (coming) One-World Church, since the towns are autonomous bodies with no outside dependencies for programs or processes or funds or leadership. They can’t be co-opted and they can’t have their resources syphoned off to some central command and control structure with leaders that aren’t truly accountable to anyone. The error of Peter Wagner and others is not that they want to unite the body of Christ, it’s that they misunderstand the nature of authority and heirarchy and servanthood within the church of God. (And that they think they can have that much authority without it wrecking their heads.) The true prophets and apostles called by God don’t need restoring. They are out there doing as they’re told without drawing too much attention to themselves. They are known by their deeds, not by their titles or their bank accounts or their big ministry budgets. And they know enough to not want autocratic control over anything. The real ones are servants at heart and know that absolute power corrupts absolutely. They don’t trust themselves, only Jesus.

Here we begin “The Normal Christian Church Life” Chapter Five - “The Basis of Union and Division”


“In the previous chapter we observed that the word “church” was only mentioned twice in the Gospels. It is used frequently in the Acts, but we are never explicitly told there how a church was formed. The second chapter speaks of the salvation of about three thousand men, and the fourth chapter of a further five thousand, but nothing whatever is said about these believers forming a church. Without a single word of explanation they are referred to in the following chapter as the church—“And great fear came upon the whole church” (5:11). Here the Scriptures call the children of God “the church,” without even mentioning how the church came into being. In Acts 8:1, immediately after the death of Stephen, the word is again used, and the connection in this case is clearer than before. “There occurred in that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem.” From this passage it is obvious that the believers in Jerusalem are the church in Jerusalem. So we know now what the church is. It consists of all the saved ones in a given locality.

Later on, in the course of the apostles’ first missionary tour, many people were saved in different places through the preaching of the gospel. Nothing is mentioned about their being formed into churches, but in Acts 14:23, it is said of Paul and Barnabas that “they had appointed elders for them in every church.” The groups of believers in these different places are called churches, without any explanation whatever as to how they came to be churches. They were groups of believers, so they simply were churches. Whenever a number of people in any place were saved, they spontaneously became the church in that place. Without introduction or explanation of any kind, the Word of God presents such a group of believers to us as a church. The scriptural method of founding a church is simply by preaching the gospel; nothing further is necessary, or even permissible. If people hear the gospel and receive the Lord as their Savior, then they are a church; there is no need of any further procedure in order to become a church.

If in a given place anyone believes on the Lord, as a matter of course he is a constituent of the church in that place; there is no further step necessary in order to make him a constituent. No subsequent joining is required of him. Provided he belongs to the Lord, he already belongs to the church in that locality; and since he already belongs to the church, his belonging cannot be made subject to any condition. If, before recognizing a believer as a member of the church, we insist that he join us, or that he resign his connection elsewhere, then “our church” is decidedly not one of the churches of God. If we impose any conditions of membership upon a believer in the locality, we are immediately in an unscriptural position, because his being a member of the local church is conditioned only by his being a believer in the locality. All the saved ones who belong to the place in which we live belong to the same church as we do. I mean by the church a scriptural church, and not a man-made organization. A local church is a church which comprises all the children of God in a given locality.

Let us note well that the ground of our receiving anyone into the church is that the Lord has already received that one. “Him who is weak in faith receive&ldots;for God has received him” (Rom. 14:1, 3). “Therefore receive one another, as Christ also received you” (15:7). Our receiving anyone is merely our recognition that the Lord has already received him. Our receiving him does not make him a member of the church; rather, it is that we receive him because he is already a member. If he is the Lord’s, he is in the church. If he is not the Lord’s, he is not in the church. If we demand anything beyond his reception by the Lord before admitting him to fellowship, then we are not a church at all, but only a sect.


In any place where the gospel has been proclaimed and people have believed on the Lord, they are the church in that place, and they are our brethren. In the days of the apostles the question of belonging or not belonging to a church was simple in the extreme. But things are not so simple in our days, for the question has been complicated by many so-called churches that exclude those who should be in the church, and include those who should be outside. What sort of a person can be rightly considered a constituent of the church? What is the minimum requirement we can insist upon for admission to church fellowship? Unless the qualifications for church membership are clearly defined, there will always be the danger of excluding from the church those who truly belong to it and including those who do not.

Before we proceed to discover who really belongs to a local church and who does not, let us first inquire who belongs to the universal Church and who does not, since the condition of membership in a church is essentially the same as in the Church. When we know what kind of persons belong to the Church, then we know also what kind of persons belong to a church.

How can we know who is a Christian and who is not? “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not of Him” (Rom. 8:9). According to the Word of God, every person in whose heart Christ dwells by His Spirit is a true Christian. Christians may differ from one another in a thousand respects, but in this fundamental matter there is no difference between them: one and all have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within them. If we wish to know who belongs to the Lord, then we only need to discover whether he has the Spirit of Christ or not. Whoever has the Spirit of Christ is inside the Church circle, and whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ is outside the circle. A participant of the Spirit of God is an essential part of the Church of God; a non-participant of the Spirit of God has no part in the Church. In the Church universal this is true; in the church local this is also true. “Test yourselves whether you are in the faith; prove yourselves. Or do you not realize about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are disapproved?” (2 Cor. 13:5). There is a subjective line of demarcation between the Church and the world; all within that line are saved, and all without that line are lost. This line of demarcation is the indwelling Spirit of Christ.


"The Church of God includes a vast number of believers, living at different times, and scattered in different places throughout the earth. How has it come about that all have been united into one universal Church? With such differences in age, social position, education, background, outlook, and temperament, how could all these people become one church? What is the secret of the oneness of the saints? By what means has Christianity caused these people, with their thousand differences, to become truly one? It is not that, having a grand convention and agreeing to be one, Christians become united. Christian unity is no human product; its origin is purely divine. This mighty mysterious oneness is planted in the hearts of all believers the moment they receive the Lord. It is “the oneness of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3).

The Spirit who dwells in the heart of every believer is one Spirit; therefore, He makes all those in whom He dwells to be one, even as He Himself is one. Christians may differ from one another in innumerable ways, but all Christians of all ages, with their countless differences, have this one fundamental likeness—the Spirit of God dwells in every one of them. This is the secret of the oneness of believers, and this is the secret of their separation from the world. The reason for Christian unity and for Christian separation is one.

It is this inherent unity that makes all believers one, and it is this inherent unity that accounts for the impossibility of division between believers, except for geographical reasons. Those who do not have this are outsiders; those who have it are our brethren. If you have the Spirit of Christ and I have the Spirit of Christ, then we both belong to the same Church. There is no need to be united; we are united by the one Spirit who dwells in us both. Paul besought all believers to endeavor “to keep the oneness of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3); he did not exhort us to have the oneness, but merely to keep it. We have it already, for obviously we cannot keep what we do not have. God has never told us to become one with other believers; we already are one. Therefore, we do not need to create oneness; we only need to maintain it.

We cannot make this oneness, since by the Spirit we are one in Christ, and we cannot break it, because it is an eternal fact in Christ; but we can destroy the effects of it, so that its expression in the Church is lost. Alas! that we have not only failed to preserve this precious oneness, but have actually so destroyed the fruits of it, that there is little outward trace of oneness among the children of God. ”

Did you get that? We were supposed to KEEP the Oneness. What are you doing in your current situation or congregation that actively works to assure the KEEPING of the Oneness of the Spirit? How much are you reaching out? How much are you forgiving and overlooking so that peace can reign. Are we not the most hypersensitive, error-seekers on the planet? Even the slightest hint of a difference of opinion, we call it heresy and split off. We might even split a church because we didn’t like the way a business meeting went. Or take sides in a personnel dispute and allow it to split the Body.

If it weren’t so devastatingly painful to millions and insulting to God, it would almost be funny how we thought so much of ourselves that we could just do our own thing and the rest of the Body can go take a flying leap.

“How are we going to determine who are our brothers and our fellow members in the Church of God? Not by inquiring if they hold the same doctrinal views that we hold, or have had the same spiritual experiences; nor by seeing if their customs, manner of living, interests, and preferences tally with ours. We merely inquire, Are they indwelt by the Spirit of God or not? We cannot insist on oneness of opinions, or oneness of experience, or any other oneness among believers, except the oneness of the Spirit. That oneness there can be, and always must be, among the children of God. All who have this oneness are in the Church.

In your travels has it not sometimes happened that on a boat or train you have met a stranger, and after only a few moments of conversation you have found a pure love for him welling up in your heart? That spontaneous outgoing of love was because of the one Spirit dwelling in both hearts. Such inner spiritual oneness transcends all social, racial, and national differences.

How can we know whether or not a person has this oneness of the Spirit? In the verse immediately following Paul’s exhortation to keep the oneness of the Spirit, he explains what those have in common who possess this oneness. We cannot expect believers to be alike in everything, but there are seven things which all true believers share, and by the existence or absence of these we can know whether or not a person has the oneness of the Spirit. Many other things are of great importance, but these seven are vital. They are indispensable to spiritual fellowship, and they are at once the minimum and the maximum requirements that can be made of any person who professes to be a fellow believer.


“One Body and one Spirit, even as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). A person is constituted a member of the Church on the ground that he possesses the oneness of the Spirit, and that will result in his being one with all believers on the above seven points. They are the seven elements in the oneness of the Spirit, which is the common heritage of all the children of God. In drawing a line of demarcation between those who belong to the Church and those who do not, we must require nothing beyond these seven lest we exclude any who belong to the family of God; and we dare not require anything less, lest we include any who do not belong to the divine family. All in whom these seven are found belong to the Church; all who lack any of them do not belong to the Church.

(1) ONE BODY. The question of oneness begins with the question of membership of the Body of Christ. The sphere of our fellowship is the sphere of the Body. Those who are outside that sphere have no spiritual relationship with us, but those who are inside that sphere are all in fellowship with us. We cannot make any choice of fellowship in the Body, accepting some members and rejecting others. We are all part of the one Body, and nothing can possibly separate us from it, or from one another. Anyone who has received Christ belongs to the Body, and he and we are one. If we do not wish to extend fellowship to anyone, we must first make sure that he does not belong to the Body; if he does, we have no reason to reject him (unless for such disciplinary reasons as are clearly laid down in the Word of God).

(2) ONE SPIRIT.If anyone seeks fellowship with us, however he may differ from us in experience or outlook, provided he has the same Spirit as we have, he is entitled to be received as a brother. If he has received the Spirit of Christ, and we have received the Spirit of Christ, then we are one in the Lord, and nothing must divide us.

(3) ONE HOPE. This hope, which is common to all the children of God, is not a general hope, but the hope of our calling, that is, the hope of our calling as Christians. What is our hope as Christians? We hope to be with the Lord forever in glory. There is not a single soul who is truly the Lord’s in whose heart there is not this hope, for to have Christ in us is to have “the hope of glory” in us (Col. 1:27). If anyone claims to be the Lord’s, but has no hope of heaven or glory, his is a mere empty profession. All who share this one hope are one, and since we have the hope of being together in glory for all eternity, how can we be divided in time? If we are going to share the same future, shall we not gladly share the same present?

(4) ONE LORD.There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus, and all who recognize that God has made Jesus of Nazareth to be both Lord and Christ are one in Him. If anyone confesses Jesus to be Lord, then his Lord is our Lord, and since we serve the same Lord, nothing whatever can separate us.

(5) ONE FAITH.The faith here spoken of is the faith—not our beliefs in regard to the interpretation of Scripture, but the faith through which we have been saved, which is the common possession of all believers; that is, the faith that Jesus is the Son of God (who died for the salvation of sinners and lives again to give life to the dead). Anyone who lacks this vital faith does not belong to the Lord, but all who possess it are the Lord’s. The children of God may follow many different lines of scriptural interpretation, but in regard to this fundamental faith they are one. Those who lack this faith have no part in the family of God, but all who possess it we recognize as our brothers in the Lord.

(6) ONE BAPTISM. Is it by immersion or by sprinkling? Is it single or triune? There are various forms of baptism accepted by the children of God, so if we make the form of baptism the dividing line between those who belong to the church and those who do not, we shall exclude many true believers from our fellowship. There are children of God who even believe that a material baptism is not necessary, but since they are the children of God, we dare not on that account exclude them from our fellowship. What then is the significance of the one baptism mentioned in this passage? Paul throws light on the subject in his first letter to the Corinthians. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1:13). The emphasis is not on the form of baptism, but on the name into which we are baptized. The first question is not whether you are sprinkled or immersed, dipped once or three times, baptized literally or spiritually; the important point is this: Into whose name have you been baptized? If you are baptized into the name of the Lord, that is your qualification for church membership. If anyone is baptized into the name of the Lord, I welcome him as my brother, whatever the manner of his baptism. By this we do not imply that it is of no consequence whether we are sprinkled or immersed, or whether our baptism is spiritual or literal. The Word of God teaches that baptism is literal, and is by immersion, but the point here is that the manner of baptism is not the ground of our fellowship, but the name into which we are baptized. All who are baptized into the name of the Lord are one in Him.

(7) ONE GOD.Do we believe in the same personal, supernatural God as our Father? If so, then we belong to one family, and there is no adequate reason for our being divided.

The above seven points are the seven factors in that divine oneness which is the possession of all the members of the divine family, and they constitute the only test of Christian profession. They are the possession of every true Christian, no matter to what place or period he belongs. Like a sevenfold cord the oneness of the Spirit binds all the believers throughout the world; and however diverse their character or circumstances, provided they have these seven expressions of an inner oneness, then nothing can possibly separate them.

If we impose any conditions of fellowship beyond these seven—which are but the outcome of the one spiritual life, then we are guilty of sectarianism, for we are making a division between those who are manifestly children of God.If we apply any test but these seven, such as baptism by immersion, or certain interpretations of prophecy, or a special line of holiness teaching, or a so-called Pentecostal experience, or the resigning from any denominational church—then we are imposing conditions other than those stipulated in the Word of God. All who have these seven points in common with us are our brothers, whatever their spiritual experience, or doctrinal views, or so-called church relationships. Our oneness is not based on our appreciation of the truth of our oneness, nor on our coming out from all that would contradict our oneness, but upon the actual fact of our oneness, which is made real in our experience by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.


Now what is true of the universal Church is also true of a local church. The universal Church comprises all those who have the oneness of the Spirit. The local church comprises all those who, in a given locality, have the oneness of the Spirit. The Church of God and the churches of God do not differ in nature, but only in extent. The former consists of all throughout the universe who are indwelt by the Spirit of God; the latter consists of all in one locality who are indwelt by the Spirit.

Anyone wishing to belong to a church in a given locality must answer two requirements—he must be a child of God, and he must live in that particular locality. Membership in the Church of God is conditioned only by being a child of God, but membership in a church of God is conditioned, firstly, by being a child of God and, secondly, by living in a given locality.

In nature the Church is indivisible as God Himself is indivisible. Therefore, the division of the Church into churches is not a division in nature, life, or essence, but only in government, organization, and management. Because the earthly church is composed of a vast number of individuals, a measure of organization is indispensable. It is a physical impossibility for all the people of God, scattered throughout the world, to live and meet in one place; and it is for that reason alone that the Church of God has been divided into churches.

We must realize clearly that the nature of all the local churches is the same throughout the whole earth. It is not that the constituents of one local church are of one kind, and the constituents of another local church are of another kind. In nature there is no difference whatever. The only difference is in the localities that determine their respective boundaries. The Church is indivisible; therefore, in nature the churches are indivisible too. It is only in outward sphere that there is any possibility of dividing them. Physical limitations make geographical divisions inevitable, but the spiritual oneness of believers overcomes all barriers of space.

Locality is the divinely-appointed ground for the division of the Church, because it is the only inevitable division.Every barrier between all believers in the world is avoidable, except this one. As long as believers remain in the flesh they cannot exist apart from their dwelling places; therefore, the churches which consist of such believers cannot but be restricted by their dwellings. Geographical distinctions are natural, not arbitrary, and it is simply because the physical limitations of the children of God make geographical divisions inevitable, that God has ordained that His Church be divided into churches on the ground of locality. Such division is scriptural, and all other divisions are carnal. Any division of the children of God other than geographical implies not merely a division of sphere, but a division of nature. Local division is the only division which does not touch the life of the Church.

Most believers of today are so utterly blind to the scriptural basis of a church that if one asks another, “To what church do you belong?” The first thought of the one questioned is of the specific line of teaching he approves of, or the group of people with whom he has special fellowship, or how his group of Christians is different from others, or perhaps the name that particular group bears, or the form of organization they have adopted—in short, anything but the place in which he lives. Few would answer that question with, “I belong to the church in Ephesus,” or “I belong to the church in Shanghai,” or “I belong to the church in Los Angeles.” It is our being in Christ that separates us from the world, and it is our being in a given locality that separates us from other believers. It is only because we reside in a different place from them that we belong to a different church. The only reason I do not belong to the same church as other believers is that I do not live in the same place as they do. If I wish to be in the same church, then I must change my residence to the same place. If, on the other hand, I wish to be in a different church from others in my locality, then the only solution to my problem is to move to a different locality. Difference of locality is the only justification for division among believers.


On the positive side we have just seen the ground on which God has ordained that His Church be divided. Now, on the negative side, we shall see on what ground the Church ought not to be divided.

(1) SPIRITUAL LEADERS.“Now I mean this, that each of you says, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). Here Paul points out the carnality of the Corinthian believers in attempting to divide the church of God in Corinth, which, by the divine ordering, was indivisible, being already the smallest scriptural unit upon which any church could be established. They sought to divide the church on the ground of a few leaders who had been specially used of God in their midst. Cephas was a zealous minister of the gospel, Paul was a man who had suffered much for his Lord’s sake, and Apollos was one whom God certainly used in His service, but though all three had been indisputably owned of God in Corinth, God could never permit the church there to make them a ground of division. He ordained that His Church be divided on the basis of localities, not of persons. It was all right to have a church in Corinth and a church in Ephesus, and quite all right to have several churches in Galatia and a number in Macedonia, for difference of locality justified division into these various churches. It was also all right for the believers to esteem those leaders whom God had used among them, but it would have been quite wrong to divide the churches according to the respective leaders by whom they had been helped.

Paul, Cephas, and Apollos were true-hearted servants of God who allowed no party-spirit to separate them; it was their followers who were responsible for the separation. Hero worship is a tendency of human nature, which delights to show preference for those who appeal to its tastes. Because so many of God’s children know little or nothing of the power of the cross to deal with the flesh, this tendency to worship a man has expressed itself frequently in the Church of God, and much havoc has been wrought in consequence. It is in keeping with God’s will that we should learn from spiritual men and profit by their leadership, but it is altogether contrary to His will that we should divide the Church according to the men we admire. The only scriptural basis for the forming of a church is difference of locality, not difference of leaders.

(2) INSTRUMENTS OF SALVATION. Spiritual leaders are no adequate reason for dividing the Church; neither are the instruments used of God in our salvation. Some of the Corinthian believers proclaimed themselves to be “of Cephas,” others “of Paul,” others “of Apollos.” They traced the beginning of their spiritual history to these men, and so thought they belonged to them. It is both natural and common for persons saved through the instrumentality of a worker, or a society, to consider themselves as belonging to such a worker or society. It is likewise both natural and common for an individual, or a mission, through whose means people have been saved, to consider the saved ones as belonging to them. It is natural, but not spiritual. It is common, but nevertheless, contrary to God’s will. Alas! that so many of God’s servants have not yet realized that they are servants of the local church, not masters of a private “church.” Churches are divided on the ground of geography, not on the ground of the instruments of our salvation.

(3) NON-SECTARIANISM. Some Christians think they know better than to say, “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos.” They say, “I am of Christ.” Such Christians despise the others as sectarian, and on that ground start another community. Their attitude is—“You are sectarian; I am non-sectarian. You are hero worshippers; we worship the Lord alone.”

But God’s Word condemns not only those who say, “I am of Cephas,” “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos.” It just as definitely and just as clearly denounces those who say, “I am of Christ.” It is not wrong to consider oneself as belonging only to Christ; it is right and even essential. Nor is it wrong to repudiate all schism among the children of God; it is highly commendable. God does not condemn this class of Christians for either of these two things; He condemns them for the very sin they condemn in others—their sectarianism. As a protest against division among the children of God, many believers seek to divide those who do not divide from those who do, and never dream that they themselves are divisive! Their ground of division may be more plausible than that of others who divide on the ground of doctrinal differences, or personal preference for certain leaders, but the fact remains that they are dividing the children of God. Even while they repudiate schism elsewhere, they are schismatic themselves.

When you say, “I am of Christ,” do you mean to say others are not? It is perfectly legitimate for you to say, “I am of Christ,” if your remark merely implies to whom you belong; but if it implies, “I am not sectarian; I stand quite differently from you sectarians,” then it is making a difference between you and other Christians. The very thought of distinguishing between the children of God has its springs in the carnal nature of man, and is sectarian. If we look on other believers as sectarian and consider ourselves to be non-sectarian, we are immediately differentiating between God’s people and thereby manifesting a divisive spirit even in the very act of condemning division. No matter by what means we distinguish between the members of God’s family—even if it be on the pretext of Christ Himself—we are guilty of schism in the Body.

What then is right? All exclusiveness is wrong. All inclusiveness (of true children of God) is right. Denominations are not scriptural, and we ought to have no part in them, but if we adopt an attitude of criticism and think, “They are denominational; I am undenominational. They belong to sects; I belong to Christ alone”—such differentiating is definitely sectarian.

Yes, praise God I am of Christ, but my fellowship is not merely with those who say, “I am of Christ,” but with all who are of Christ. What is of vital importance is not the confession, but the fact. Although these other believers say they are of Paul, of Cephas, and of Apollos, yet in fact they are of Christ. I do not so much mind what they say, but I very much mind what they are. I do not inquire whether they are denominational or undenominational, sectarian or unsectarian; I only inquire, “Are they of Christ?” If they are of Christ, then they are my brethren.

Our personal standing should be undenominational, but the basis of our fellowship is not undenominationalism. We ourselves should be non-sectarian, but we dare not insist on non-sectarianism as a condition of fellowship. Our only ground of fellowship is Christ. Our fellowship must be with all the believers in a locality, not merely with all the unsectarian believers in that locality. They may make denominational differences, but we must not make undenominational requirements. We dare not differentiate between ourselves and them, because they differentiate between themselves and others. They are the children of God, and because they make distinctions between themselves and other children of God, they do not on that account cease to be the children of God. Their denominationalism or sectarianism will mean that severe limitations are imposed upon the Lord as to His purpose and mind for them, and this will mean that they will never go beyond a certain measure of spiritual growth and fullness. Blessing there may be, but fullness of divine purpose never.

All believers living in the same locality belong to the same church. This is an unchanging principle. We dare not alter “all the believers in a locality” to “all the undenominational believers in a locality.” If we make undenominationalism or unsectarianism the boundary of our church, instead of locality, then we lose our local standing as a church and become a sect. It is not a denominational church, nor an interdenominational church, nor even an undenominational church we are after, but a local church. The difference between a local church and an undenominational church is as vast as the difference between heaven and earth. A local church is undenominational, but an undenominational church is denominational. “The church in Corinth” is scriptural, but “the church of all those who say, ‘I am of Christ’ in Corinth” is unscriptural. Our work is positive and constructive, not negative and destructive. We are out to establish churches, not to destroy denominations. Human nature is prone to go to extremes; it is so easy for us either to be undenominational ourselves and demand undenominationalism of others, or else to tolerate denominationalism in others and gradually become denominational ourselves. We ourselves must be undenominational, but we must not demand undenominationalism of other Christians as the basis of our fellowship.

Therefore, if we come to a place where Christ is not named, we must preach the gospel, win men to the Lord, and found a local church. If we come to a place where there are already Christians, but on various grounds these believers separate themselves into denominational “churches,” our task is just the same as in the other place—we must preach the gospel, lead men to the Lord, and form them into a church on the scriptural ground of locality.All the while we must maintain an attitude of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, towards those believers who are in different sects, for they, as we, are children of God, and they live in the same locality; therefore, they belong to the same church as we do. For ourselves, we cannot join any sect or remain in one, for our church connection can only be on local ground, but in regard to others we must not make leaving a sect the condition of fellowship with those believers who are in a sect. That will make undenominationalism our church ground, instead of locality. Let us be clear on this point, that an undenominational church is not a local church. There is a vast difference between the two. A local church is undenominational, and it is positive and inclusive; but an undenominational church is not a local church, and it is negative and exclusive.

Let us be clear as to our position. We are not out to establish undenominational churches, but local churches. We are seeking to do a positive work. If believers can be led to see what a local church is—the expression of the Body of Christ in a locality—they will certainly not remain in any sect. On the other hand, it is possible for them to see all the evils of sectarianism, and leave them, without knowing what a local church is. We must help those, to whom God has been pleased to use us, to understand clearly the truth regarding local churches, and not to lay emphasis on the question of denominations. They must realize that whenever they use the term “we” in relation to the children of God, they must include all the children of God, not merely those who are meeting with them. If when we say “our brethren,” we do not include all the children of God, but only those who continually meet with us, then we are schismatic.

I do not condone sectarianism, and I do not believe we should belong to any sect, but it is not our business to get people to leave them. If we make it our chief concern to lead people to a real knowledge of the Lord and the power of His cross, then they will gladly abandon themselves to Him, and will learn to walk in the Spirit, repudiating the things of the flesh. We shall find there will be no need to stress the question of denominations, for the Spirit Himself will enlighten them. If a believer has not learned the way of the cross and the walk in the Spirit, what is gained by his coming out of a sect?

(4) DOCTRINAL DIFFERENCES. In the Greek the word rendered “heresies” in Galatians 5:20 [KJV] does not necessarily convey the thought of error, but rather of division on the ground of doctrine. The Interlinear New Testament translates it as “sects,” while Darby in his New Translation renders it “schools of opinion.” The whole thought here is not of the difference between truth and error, but of division based upon doctrine. My teaching may be right or it may be wrong, but if I make it a cause of division, then I am guilty of the “heresy” spoken of here.

God forbids any division on doctrinal grounds. Some believe that rapture is pre-tribulation; others, that it is post- tribulation. Some believe that all the saints will enter the kingdom; others believe that only a section will enter. Some believe that baptism is by immersion; others, that is by sprinkling. Some believe that supernatural manifestations are a necessary accompaniment to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, while others do not. None of these doctrinal views constitute a scriptural basis for separating the children of God. Though some may be right and others wrong, God does not sanction any division on account of difference as to such beliefs.  If a group of believers split off from a local church in their zeal for certain teaching according to the Word of God, the new “church” they establish may have more scriptural teaching, but it could never be a scriptural church. To bring error into a church is carnal, but to divide a church on account of error may also be carnal. It is carnality that so often destroys the oneness of the church in any place.

If we wish to maintain a scriptural position, then we must see to it that the churches we found in various places only represent localities, not doctrines. If our “church” is not separated from other children of God on the ground of locality alone, but stands for the propagation of some particular doctrine, then we are decidedly a sect, however true to the Word of God our teaching may be. The purpose of God is that a church should represent the children of God in a locality, not represent some specific truth there. A church of God in any place comprises all the children of God in that place, not merely those who hold the same doctrinal views.

Should we arrive at a place where a church has already been established on clear local ground, and discover that its members hold views which we consider unscriptural, or that they consider the views we hold as unscriptural, if we then refuse to recognize them as the church of God in that locality and withdraw from fellowship, we are divisive. The question is not whether they agree with our presentation of truth, but whether they are standing on clear church ground.

If our hearts are set to preserve the local character of the churches of God, we cannot fail to come up against problems in our work. Unless the cross operates mightily, what endless possibilities of friction there will be if we include in one church all the believers in the locality with all their varying views. How the flesh would like just to include those holding the same views, and to exclude all whose views differ from ours. To have constant and close association with people whose interpretation of Scripture does not tally with ours, is hard for the flesh, but good for the spirit. God does not use division to solve the problem; He uses the cross. He would have us submit to the cross, so that through the very difficulties of the situation, the meekness and patience and love of Christ may be deeply wrought into our lives. Under the circumstances, if we do not know the cross, we shall probably argue, lose our temper, and finally go our own way. We may have right views, but God is giving us an opportunity to display a right attitude; we may believe aright, but God is testing us to see if we love aright. It is easy to have a mind well stored with scriptural teaching, and a heart devoid of true love. Those who differ from us will be a means in God’s hand to test whether we have spiritual experience, or only scriptural knowledge, to test whether the truths we proclaim are a matter of life to us, or mere theory.

Romans 14 shows us how to deal with those whose views differ from ours. What would we do if in our church there were vegetarians and Sabbatarians? Why, we should consider it almost intolerable if in the same church some of the believers kept the Lord’s Day and others the Sabbath, and some ate meat freely, while others were strict vegetarians. That was exactly the situation Paul was facing. Let us note his conclusions. “Now him who is weak in faith receive, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his considerations” (v. 1). “Who are you who judge another’s household servant? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will be made to stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (v. 4). “Therefore let us judge one another no longer, but rather judge this: not to put a stumbling block or cause of falling before your brother” (v. 13). Oh, for Christian tolerance! Oh, for largeness of heart! Alas! that many of God’s children are so zealous for their pet doctrines that they immediately label as heretics, and treat accordingly, all whose interpretation of Scripture differs from theirs. God would have us walk in love toward all who hold views contrary to those views that are dear to us (v. 15).

This does not mean that all the members of a church can hold whatever views they please, but it does mean that the solution to the problem of doctrinal differences does not lie in forming separate parties according to the different views held, but in walking in love toward those whose outlook differs from ours. By patient teaching we may yet be able to help all to “the oneness of the faith” (Eph. 4:13). As we wait patiently on the Lord, He may grant grace to the others to change their views, or He may grant us grace to see that we are not such good teachers as we thought we were. Nothing so tests the spirituality of a teacher as opposition to his teaching.

The teachers must learn humility, but so must all the other believers. When they recognize their position in the Body, they will know that it is not given to everyone to determine matters of doctrine. They must learn to submit to those who have been equipped of God for the specific ministry of teaching His people. Spiritual gifts and spiritual experience are necessary for spiritual teaching; consequently not everyone can teach.

“Make my joy full, that you think the same thing, having the same love, joined in soul, thinking the one thing, doing nothing by way of selfish ambition nor by way of vainglory, but in lowliness of mind considering one another more excellent than yourselves; not regarding each his own virtues, but each the virtues of others also” (Phil. 2:2-4). When the churches have laid to heart what Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, then it will be perfectly possible to have only one church in one locality with no friction whatever among its many members.

(5) RACIAL DIFFERENCES. “For also in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and were all given to drink one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Jews have always had the strongest racial prejudice of all peoples. They regarded other nations as unclean, and were forbidden even to eat with them; but Paul made it very clear, in writing to the Corinthians, that in the Church both Jew and Gentile are one. All distinctions in Adam have been done away with in Christ. A racial “church” has no recognition in the Word of God. Church membership is determined by place of residence, not by race.

Today in the large cosmopolitan cities of the world there are churches for the whites and churches for the blacks, churches for the Europeans and churches for the Asiatics. These have originated through failure to understand that the boundary of a church is a city. God does not permit any division of His children on the ground of difference of color, custom, or manner of living. No matter to what race they belong, if they belong to the same locality, they belong to the same church. God has placed believers of different races in one locality, so that, by transcending all external differences, they might in one church show forth the one life and the one Spirit of His Son. All that comes to us by nature is overcome by grace. All that was ours in Adam has been ruled out in Christ. The whole matter hinges here—are all carnal differences done away with in Christ, or is there still a place for the flesh in the Church? Are our resources in Christ sufficient to overcome all natural barriers? Let us remember that the church in any locality includes all the believers living there and excludes all who live elsewhere.

(6) NATIONAL DIFFERENCES. Jews and Gentiles represent national as well as racial distinctions, but in the Church of God there is neither Jew nor Greek. There is no racial distinction there, and there is no national distinction either. All believers living in one place, no matter what their nationality, belong to the one church. In the natural realm there is a difference between Chinese, French, British, and Americans, but in the spiritual realm there is none. If a Chinese believer lives in Nanking, he belongs to the church in Nanking. If a French believer lives in Nanking, he also belongs to the church in Nanking. The same holds good for Britishers, Americans, and all other nationalities, provided they are born again. The Word of God recognizes the church in Rome, the church in Ephesus, and the church in Thessalonica, but it does not recognize the Jewish church, or the Chinese church, or the Anglican church. The reason the names of cities appear in Scripture in connection with the churches of God is that the difference of dwelling place is the only difference recognized by God among His children. Their life is essentially one, and is therefore indivisible, but the place in which that life is lived cannot but vary as long as they remain in the flesh.

Since the churches are all local, if a believer—whatever his nationality—moves from one place to another, he immediately becomes a member of the church in the latter place, and has no church connection in the place of his former residence. You cannot live in one place and be a member of the church in another. There is no extraterritoriality in connection with the churches of God. As soon as you exceed the city limit, you exceed the church limit. If a Chinese brother moves from Nanking to Hankow, he becomes a member of the church in Hankow. In like manner, a British brother coming from London to Hankow immediately becomes a member of the church in Hankow. A change of residence necessarily involves a change of church, whereas naturalization has no effect on church membership.

Our fellow workers who have gone from China to the South Sea Islands must be careful not to form an Overseas Chinese church there. It is possible to have an Overseas Chinese Chamber of Commerce, or an Overseas Chinese College, or an Overseas Chinese Club. Anything you like can be Overseas Chinese, but not a church. A church is always local! If you go to any city in a foreign land, then it follows as a matter of course that you belong to the church in that city. There is nothing Chinese about the churches of God.

How glorious it would be if the saved in every city could overlook all natural differences and only consider their spiritual oneness. “We are the believers in Christ in such-and-such a place” is the finest confession a company of Christians can make. Whether Christ is in you or not, determines whether or not you belong to the Church; where you live determines the particular church to which you belong. The question put by God to the world is, “Do they belong to Christ?” The question put by God to believers is, “Where do they live?” Not nationality but locality is the question raised. The churches of God are built on city ground, not on national ground.

The usual conception of an indigenous church, while quite right in some respects, is fundamentally wrong at the most vital point. Since the divine method of dividing the Church is according to locality, not nationality, then all differentiation between Christian and heathen countries is contrary to God’s thought. The Church of God knows neither Jew nor Greek; therefore, it knows neither native nor foreigner, neither heathen country nor Christian country. The Scriptures differentiate between cities, not between countries, heathen and Christian. So if we would be in full accord with the mind of God, we must make no difference whatever between the Chinese and foreign church, between Chinese and foreign workers, or between Chinese and foreign funds.

The thought of the indigenous church is that the natives of a country should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, while the thought of God is that the believers in a city—whether native or foreign—should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. Take, for instance, Peking. The theory of the indigenous church distinguishes between Chinese and foreigners in Peking, whereas the Word of God distinguishes between the believers in Peking—whether Chinese or foreign—and the believers in other cities. That is why in Scripture we read of the churches of the Gentiles, but never of the church of the Gentiles. The attempt to form all Chinese believers into one church shows a lack of understanding in regard to the divine basis of forming churches.

On the one hand, there is no church of the Gentiles in Scripture; on the other hand, we read of “the church of the Thessalonians.” It is suggestive that this is the only expression of its kind used in the New Testament. The Word does not speak of the church of the Greeks (a race, or nation), but of the church of the Thessalonians (a city). There is no such thing in the thought of God as the church of the Chinese, but there is such a thing as the church of the Pekinese. Scripture knows nothing of the church of the French, but it does recognize the church of the Parisians. A clear apprehension of the divine basis of church formation—according to the difference of cities and not of countries—will save us from the misconception of the indigenous church. There should be no distinction whatever between Chinese and foreign Christians, between Chinese and foreign workers, or between Chinese and foreign money in any given locality.

(7) SOCIAL DISTINCTIONS.In Paul’s day, from a social point of view, there was a great gulf fixed between a free man and a slave; yet they worshipped side by side in the same church. In our day, if a rickshaw coolie and the president of our republic both belong to Christ and live in the same place, then they belong to the same church. There may be a mission for rickshaw coolies, but there can never be a church for rickshaw coolies. Social distinctions are no adequate basis for forming a separate church. In the Church of God there “cannot be slave nor free man.”

In Scripture we have at least seven definite things referred to which are forbidden by God as reasons for dividing His Church. As a matter of fact these seven points are only typical of all other reasons the human mind may devise for dividing the Church of God. The two millenniums of Church history are a sad record of human inventions to destroy the Church’s oneness.


The sphere of the church is local, and the local church should on no account be divided. The question naturally arises, if the spiritual life of a local (not denominational) church is very low, can a few of the more spiritual members not gather together and form another assembly? The answer from the Word of God is emphatically, No! God’s Word only warrants the establishment of churches on local ground. Even lack of spirituality is no adequate reason for dividing the church. Should local methods, government, and organization be far from ideal, that still constitutes no reason for division. Even wrong teaching (2 John 9 excepted) is no ground for those who know better to form a separate church. We must lay it to heart that the difference of locality is the only ground for dividing the Church of God. No other ground is scriptural.

We who live in the same locality cannot but belong to the same church. This is something from which there is no escape. If I am dissatisfied with the local church, the only thing I can do is to change my locality; then automatically I change my church. We can leave a denomination, but we can never leave a church. To leave a sect is justifiable, but to leave a church—whether on account of unspirituality, wrong doctrine, or bad organization—is utterly unjustifiable. If you leave the local church and form a separate assembly, you may have greater spirituality, purer teaching, and better government; but you have no church; you have only a sect.

In the second and third chapters of Revelation we see seven different churches in seven different localities. Only two were not rebuked but actually praised by the Lord. The other five were all definitely censured. Spiritually those five were in a sad state. They were weak, defeated churches; but they were churches for all that, not sects. Spiritually they were wrong, but positionally they were right; therefore, God only commanded those in them to be overcomers. The Lord said not a word about leaving the church. A local church is a church which you cannot leave; you must remain in it. If you are more spiritual than the other members, then you should use your spiritual influence and your authority in prayer to revive that church. If the church does not respond, you have only two alternatives; you must either remain there, keeping yourself undefiled, or else you must change your dwelling place. But this does not apply to a sect. It is futile to seek by a wrong application of these two chapters to keep Spirit-taught believers within a sect, for the seven churches referred to are local churches, not sectarian “churches.” However weak they may have been, they were still on the scriptural ground of the Body in the locality. The Word of God has never authorized anyone to leave a church. All groups of believers who base their fellowship on other ground than that of locality are sects, even though they may term themselves churches. It is all right to leave a sect, but it is never right to leave a local church. If you leave a local church, you do so without the authority of the Lord, and you become guilty of the sin of schism in the Body.

What a tragedy it is when a few spiritual members leave a local church, and form another assembly, simply because the other members are weak and immature. Those stronger members should remain in that church as overcomers, seeking to help their weaker brothers and sisters, and claiming the situation there for the Lord. Oh, how prone we are to despise the believers we consider inferior to us, and how we delight to associate with those whose fellowship we find specially congenial. Pride of heart, and a selfish enjoyment in spiritual things, causes us to overlook the fact that a church in any given place should consist of all the children of God in that place; so we narrow down Christian fellowship and make selection among the children of God. This is sectarianism, and it is a grief of heart to the Lord. ”

Again, please read the whole book by Watchman Nee – for that matter, read ALL the books by Watchman Nee! He makes more sense than just about anybody we can find. Never heard of him? Probably because satan doesn’t want you to. Plenty of fluffy books about Chicken Soup and prosperity gospel in the Christian bookstores, but it’s hard to find the books by guys like Tozer and Spurgeon and Nee and Chambers and Wigglesworth and others that actually know how to push back the darkness! Yet more evidence that there is a war between good and evil and we’re letting evil get the better of us.

Final Summary and Action Plan

The Body of Christ in each town IS one body, whether you like it or not. The whole point is to KEEP the oneness and not do things that divide it up into pieces. If there are no believers in a town, a new church should be planted on the basis of oneness and stay that way at all costs. If there are Christians there and the town is already divided, someone can still come in and begin a work of unity that can restore it.

In America it’s highly likely that every locality already has or has had a church planted. It’s not a matter of introducing Christianity to a new field as much as restoring the local church to oneness. So is it even possible? How would a person or group go about doing it? How do you get a Lampstand?

We believe that there is an action plan set forth in the Bible for just such a situation as this. In fact, we see the nation of Israel repeatedly go through this cycle in the book of Judges and throughout the Old Testament. For the purposes of this discussion, we’d like to focus on the book of Joel.

In the first twelve verses of Chapter 1 we see a description of and lamenting for the land that has been devastated. Particularly verse 4: (NIV)

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.

These are the ultimate consumers. They have devoured everything that is useful and left nothing behind. 

Then the solution is proposed in verse 13 and 14:

Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.

Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.

Then in verses 15 through 20, the situation is described again, particularly in 16-18:

Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes— joy and gladness from the house of our God?

The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up.

How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; 
even the flocks of sheep are suffering. 

That’s as good a picture of the church in America as I can find. There may be milk, but very little meat. The people are hungry, the churches are in debt. The money and resources leave faster than they come in. Whatever seed is planted is wasted in the ground. Any growth we see is transfer growth as the herds mill about seeking green pasture and can find none. People will fly across the country and even move their families if they sense a real move of God. They’ll latch onto any Jesus fad or manifestation that comes along because they are so desperately hungry.

Then again in chapter 2 is the same recommended solution shown:

12 “Even now,” declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 

13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

14 Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 

16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.

17 Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD.  Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ “

Then, if you do these things, the Lord shows how He will respond:

18 Then the LORD will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people. 

19 The LORD will reply to them: “I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations.

And in the verses following, there are some other amazing promises and expressions of His mercy and loving kindness.

But it boils down to this, when then land is desolate and there is no food, when the people mill around from place to place seeking anything edible and find none, you need to:

1. Declare a Holy Fast.

2. Call a Sacred Assembly and summon the Elders.

3. Repent and weep and mourn before the altar.

THEN He will turn.

So, what’s a “Holy Fast”? That’s in Isaiah 58. The kind of fast the Lord wants; that you break the chains, lift the yokes, free the captives, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take in the poor wanderer, stop the malicious talk and the pointing finger and THEN He will turn and good stuff starts happening.  You take it to the Lord and have Him show you what application that might have to your own situation. These also happen to overlap with Matthew 25:31-46 (which is kind of like the final exam). Basically practice extravagant giving to the poor - the poor in spirit and the poor in money.

So, what’s a “Sacred Assembly”? That would be those people who are walking in holiness and are consecrated before the Lord. That doesn’t necessarily mean the pastors of all the churches. There’s no guarantee they’re walking in holiness just because they went to seminary. Ultimately, we’re going to have to let God call the meeting because we don’t know who is and who isn’t consecrated at any given moment. How many need to be there? Don’t know. Who are the Elders? Don’t know. Just commit to Him that you want to call one and He’ll tell you how and arrange to have all the right people there. This is VERY important to Him and He doesn’t mind helping.

So how do we repent for a town? Can an individual or a small number actually repent on behalf of others? Shouldn’t we just repent for our own sins?

There are LOTS of Biblical examples of people offering to take on the sins of others - the greatest of which is Jesus. But there are others like Daniel and David and Moses and Paul.

These verses in Ezekiel 22 are particularly relevant:

30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

Here we not only see that God shows the possibility that one man could save a town, but that God is actually actively seeking one! In fact, we also see that if someone doesn’t show up, God’s going to have to flatten the place because of their sinfulness!

Consider that even ONE person can stand in the gap for a town and repent on it’s behalf.  But you better REALLY mean it and you better be armored up and know how to keep your cup full of Jesus. Take a look at Exodus 32:31-32:

31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

Or Romans 9:2-4a where Paul offers himself for his Jewish brothers:

2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.

Clearly, as the ultimate Apostle this is the model that Jesus set forth for us when He offered Himself as the scapegoat for all the sins of everyone for all time.

We believe intercession and repentance is required to restore a divided body. Preferrably lots of people, but even one will do if they are sanctified before the Lord and willing to stand in the gap for the rest of the Body.  Are you willing to pray the prayer of Paul and Moses? Even that you would be blotted out of the Book if only they would be forgiven and the Body would be One again? You better have a lot of Jesus in you to pray THAT prayer!

Who are the Elders? Not necessarily the pastors of the institutional churches, there could be all kinds of people in town that hear God a lot better and are better intercessors. It will be different in every town and the Lord will have to lead you to them. But if you start doing “Jesus-looking” things, like extravagant giving to the poor, everyone that knows Jesus really well will probably come running to help. That’s our experience here.

In John 17, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gesthemane that we would be one as He and the Father are one. God loves His Son desperately, and yet that ONE prayer has remained unanswered. Maybe because none of us are praying it in agreement with Jesus. Can there be anything more urgent or more important than the restoration of the Body of Christ? Maybe we should all hit our knees and repent for the mess we’ve made and start praying that one prayer with Jesus until God answers it.

And when the Body of Christ begins to assert itself in your town, the weapons of war will be turned first against the other Christians so as to bring them into obedience, THEN you can turn them against the rest of the town.

Set yourselves to the task of getting a Lampstand in your town. Commit everything to it. If there is anything standing in the way between you and God, get it out of the pipeline so you can hear Him really well and He can direct your paths. Surely there is nothing higher on His list right now than to have a pure spotless Bride - individually, locally and universally.

He’ll show you how and guide your steps. And when you get a Lampstand, hold on! The ride gets REALLY crazy!

May the Lord grant you wisdom and discernment. May the wiles of the enemy be as cobwebs before your advance. May the help come and may they be mighty. May the Lord teach you to rest, even as He advances onto the battlefield. Amen.


If we can help or advise, let us know.  -

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