IV. The Lessons of the Local Church
Throughout the New Testament the church consistently manifests itself in its practical expression through local churches. This practice of meeting in oneness according only to locality protects believers living in the same city from being divided from each other due to any types of ambition or differences, thus preserving the unity of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:3). In this way, believers are restricted and thereby learn the lesson of the cross. Witness Lee elaborates:
If I am in a certain city, regardless of how I feel about those who are meeting there as the unique local church and regardless of how they treat me, I have no choice. I have to learn the lesson of the cross. I must learn the lesson of brokenness and self-denial. I have no ground, no right, and no standing to start another church in that locality as long as a unique one is there already. I must be restricted and limited. This is the real lesson.
The first year I went to Shanghai was in 1933. At that time there was a brother in the church who was exceedingly active. He invited me to his home, and we had some fellowship. For a short time I thought this brother was quite good, but not long after, I discovered he was exceedingly ambitious to be one of the elders. But he was not the right person to be an elder; so he was not confirmed as one. Then he became a real problem to the church life. Why? Just because he was ambitious to be one of the elders. The church was very patient with him for fifteen years. But in 1948, he established a meeting in his home and turned his back upon the church.
Thus we see that without the limitation of the unique local church, we are free to behave as we like, and there is no lesson for us to learn .How I thank the Lord for His restriction and limitation through the church. Many times we had something we wanted to do, but because of the limitation and restriction of the church we could not get through. We felt somewhat unhappy at the time, but later, when we looked back, we had to say, "Lord, how we thank Thee! That was a real protection and blessing to us." And it was not only a kind of outward blessing, but also a subduing and reducing of the self. We all must be reduced and restricted.
By the Lords wisdom and sovereignty, wherever there is a local church, that must be the unique expression of the Lords Body in that city. If we are going to stay in that locality, we must be one with that church. Then we will learn the lessons, and there will be no divisions, back doors or "fire escapes." Every side will be closed. We must be restricted. But praise the Lord, it is by these restrictions we are protected. The expression of the church is the local churches, and a local church is always unique. It is this unique expression of the church in every locality that is a lesson and restriction to us, as well as a protection. (30-31)
Witness Lee concludes his discussion of this point by encouraging the believers to forsake the divisive situation and return to the Lords clear speaking in His Word regarding the oneness of His Body in the local church.
We must not be confused by todays situation, but simply come back to the pure light of the Bible. Christians today have not seen clearly and definitely that the expression of the church is the local churches. Some always consider that wherever and whenever Christians meet together, it is good enough. This kind of consideration has been much encouraged by many Christian teachers and writers. Many messages and books encourage people to meet freely in their homes, on the campus, in the factories and in so many quarters. People simply do not have the concept of the local church as the unique expression of the Lords Body in their locality.
We need to have our eyes opened, for if we have not seen the local church, we are in darkness and under a blind-fold. We may think that we are right, but in reality we are entirely wrong. We need a clear vision of the Lords way concerning the churchthat is, the local church is the unique expression of the church in every locality. If we could see this vision, all problems will be solved. (31-32)
In this portion, Witness Lee encourages the believers to remain in the local church to learn the lesson of the cross, and to come back to the pure revelation of the Bible: the expression of the universal church is found uniquely in the proper local churches
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