We Must Advance from Knowing the Church in a General, Universal Way to Knowing the Church in a Specific, Local Way

Since the church is the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8) and the goal of His economy in the present age, we must progress from knowing the universal church in a general way to knowing the local church in a specific way. Witness Lee’s writings make this need abundantly clear:

We all must improve from knowing the church in a general way, or a so-called universal way, to knowing it in a local, specific, and practical way. Many Christians do not know anything about the church. Some Christians know something about the church, yet they know only about the universal church. But there is a small number of Christians who not only know the church but also know the local churches.
The universal church is more or less something in doctrine, in teaching, and in theory. But the churches are the practicality of the universal church. Many Christian teachers have spoken many messages and have written many expositions on the book of Ephesians regarding the church. Of all the expositions that have been written regarding the church, the majority are on Ephesians. But when we move from Ephesians to 2 Corinthians, we move from the church to the churches. There are very few expositions on the book of 2 Corinthians. The church, we may say, is the ABCs, while the churches are more advanced. Some have said that 2 Corinthians shows us the sufferings of the apostle Paul. This is true, but they do not see the reason that Paul suffered. Paul was suffering for the churches. You may have been taught about the church, but have you ever been taught about the churches? To know the churches is a great improvement. Some of us may know the church only in a doctrinal, general, weak, and even vague way. But we do not know the churches in a practical, particular, and specific way. We need to go on from knowing the church in Ephesians to knowing the churches in 2 Corinthians.
The word churches, in the plural number, is used many times in the book of 2 Corinthians. In Ephesians there is only the church in the singular number, not the churches. In 2 Corinthians 1:1, the church is mentioned in the singular number, but that is the church which is at Corinth, not in the universe. Besides this verse, all the references to the church in this book are in the plural number—churches. Verse 1 of chapter eight refers to the churches in Macedonia. Verse 18 of the same chapter mentions a brother who was praised in the gospel throughout all the churches, and verse 19 says that this brother was chosen by the churches. In verse 23 we read of the messengers, or apostles, of the churches, and in verse 24 the Corinthians were exhorted to show before the churches the proof of their love. In 11:8 Paul said that he robbed other churches, and in verse 28 that he bore anxiety for all the churches. He had many burdens that pressed upon him daily, and they were the care for all the churches. In 12:13 Paul asked the Corinthians if they were inferior to other churches. It is all the time the churches, not the church.
We cannot find one instance of the word church in 2 Corinthians in the sense of the universal church. There are altogether eight verses with the word churches. Have you ever noticed them? I venture to say that many have not. They have noticed the church, but not the churches. They have begun, but they have not advanced. Second Corinthians is not the beginning; it is the advance in the local churches.

(Witness Lee, Christ as Life, 115-116)

If by the Lord’s mercy we progress to knowing the church in a specific, local way, then the church will no longer be to us a mere doctrine or theory, but something that we can practice, experience, and enjoy as the local church in the locality where we live. In his book The Genuine Ground of Oneness, Witness Lee remarks:

We have seen that the church is firstly revealed as universal in Matthew 16:18 and then as local in Matthew 18:17. In Acts the church was practiced in the way of local churches, such as the church at Jerusalem (8:1) and the church at Antioch (13:1) and the churches in the provinces of Syria and Cilicia (15:41). Without the local churches, there is no practicality and actuality of the universal church. The universal church is realized in the local churches. Knowing the church universally must be consummated in knowing the church locally. It is a great advance for us to know and practice the local churches. Concerning the church, the book of Revelation is in the advanced stage, for it is written to local churches. If we would know this book, we must advance from the understanding of the universal church to the realization and practice of the local churches.

(Witness Lee, Genuine Ground, 127)

Witness Lee exhorts believers to advance in their understanding of the church from the vague, general aspect of the universal church to the specific and practical aspect of the local church. He explains that the book of Ephesians only reveals the Church, singular, but 1 and 2 Corinthians are full of references to local churches, plural. We all must make progress from merely knowing the doctrine of the Church to having the practice and practicality of the Church in the local church in the city in which we live.




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