The Church Is One
The Church and the Work I: Assembly Life, 49-52, by Watchman Nee
The Bible teaches that the Church is one. The Church which Paul belonged to is the same Church to which we all belong. Our Church is the Church also of the apostle John, Martin Luther, Calvin [I know you are probably thinking that is odd for Watchman Nee to mention Luther and Calvin since Nee is clearly OSAS Arminian, but I think he was just using them as alleged giants of the faith, just as he used Wesley below also, even though Wesley was not Arminian]
and all the other regenerated people throughout Church history. The Church of the Bible has no distinction as to time, geography, or race. In the eyes of God, from the beginning to the end, past and present, at home and abroad, there is only one Church, not two or more Churches. The Bible recognizes the body of Christ, which is one and one only. There can never be two bodies of Christ because there is but one Head. Though the members are many, the body is one. Hence all the saved people, ancient and modern, at home and abroad, form one Church, one body.
Why, then, are there “the churches” in various places? Since the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God (Eph. 4.4-6), why do the Scriptures mention the churches? Is there any contradiction in the Bible? For it speaks of one body on the one hand and the churches on the other. This tells us of the different aspects of the Church. Actually, there is only one Church, for the body of Christ is one. But in different localities, there may be as many as three to five thousand believers gathered together or as little as two or three (Matt. 18.20). In any city or village where a group of believers is gathered together, those believers there are the church in that city or village. The Scriptures most emphatically employ the phrase “the church in (or at)” such and such a place. The word “in” shows us that the Church is one, even though its various members are scattered and sojourn in many, many localities. The Bible treats all the believers who sojourn in a given locality as constituting the local church, a miniature representative of the one and only Church.
One thing is exceedingly precious: “We, who are many, are one bread” (1 Cor. 10.17). The “we” here includes all the believers. There is only one loaf. Hence do not imagine that there is one loaf in Shanghai and another loaf in Peking, and so forth. From the physical viewpoint, there may be tens of thousands of loaves throughout the world; from the spiritual viewpoint, however, there is but one bread loaf before God. Why is there but one loaf? Because being in the flesh we are restricted by time and space. If it were possible, all the believers in the entire world would break one loaf of bread together. But we know that that is not possible. Even so, though all the believers in all the different places throughout the world break the bread respectively, before God there is but one bread loaf being broken. The bread which the hands of the brethren in Shanghai touch is the same bread which the brethren in Peking and the brethren in Hanchow touch. The bread which is broken everywhere represents the one body of Christ. For God has only one Church in the world. And this Church is spread out throughout every city and every village world-wide. And the churches which are thus spread out are called the churches in these cities and villages. For the sake of convenience, these churches in the many cities and villages of the world are called “the churches of God” (2 Thess. 1.4; 1 Cor. 11.16; cf. also 1 Thess. 2.14). In actuality, the churches of God are the Church of God. The Lord calls us to break bread lest we forget the churches at various places. We are not to be an independent church, but to be joined with others as one Church. This is why we use one bread loaf to aid us in recognizing that though there are many believers—past and present, at home and abroad—and many local churches, there is nevertheless but one loaf of bread.
The bread which we believers world-wide break may amount to tens of thousands of loaves, yet the body of Christ which the bread represents is only one. The Lord that the bread speaks of is also one.
So that all the miniature local churches stand for the entire body of Christ. A local assembly may have only fifty people gathered together, but what it represents is the entire body of believers, both past and present, at home and abroad. The bread which any local assembly breaks, however small that assembly may be, represents Peter, Paul, Martin Luther, Wesley, and you and me. Wherever the local assembly is, it is a representation of the body of Christ. Therefore no church may take independent action. In all its actions it must take the entire body into consideration. In the meeting, you should not see just the few brothers and sisters who sit by you; instead you should see the entire body of Christ. What you do is not only related to the brothers and sisters immediately around you but it is also related to the whole body of Christ. Because we are one body, what you as a member do is what the body of Christ does. One member may affect the whole body.
The Chinese who live in the South Seas are mainly Fukien and Kwangtung∗ in origin. In many cities and villages in the South Seas there are Overseas Chinese Fraternities. Though the number of the members of these fraternities varies, wherever the fraternities are in power, the Chinese which they represent are in power; and wherever these fraternities are under oppression, the Chinese they represent also come under oppression. Now just as these fraternities represent China throughout the South Seas, so we in the place where we sojourn represent the Church. From this we can readily perceive the relationship the action of each local assembly has to that of the entire body of Christ, as well as the mutual relationship that obtains among these local assemblies themselves. Though you may be only a miniature church in a single locality, God will nonetheless use this miniature church to manifest the universal Church. So that the small local assembly here is to represent the all-inclusive body of Christ.
∗Two southern mainland Chinese provinces.—Translator
For this reason it cannot but maintain relationship with other local assemblies as well as with brothers and sisters in other places.