All the Local Churches Together Constitute One Universal Church
The church, the Body of Christ, is universally one, yet this unique Body is expressed practically through each particular local church. Moreover, the many local churches throughout the earth collectively constitute the one universal church. Witness Lee explains:
In Gods plan, He desires to have a Body for His Son in the universe. Yet in a practical way, God desires those who are part of this Body to become churches in the different localities. God desires that each one of these churches be a miniature and a representation, in the different localities, of the mystical Body of the Son of God.
Never consider the universal Church to be one kind of church, and the local church to be another kind of church. There is only one Church. Collectively speaking, it is the universal church, and locally speaking, it is the local churches. Strictly speaking, the local churches are the universal Church. The universal Church is simply the sum total of the local churches, and the local churches are simply the local manifestations of the universal Church. Without the local churches, there cannot be the universal Church
Gods plan is to have a Church in the universe as the Body of His Son for His expression. However, to carry out this plan, He has to set up local churches in the different localities. If He does not set up churches in the different localities, Gods universal plan for the church will be only an empty ideal with no way to be carried out. In order to carry out this plan, God has to set up churches in the different localities.
(Witness Lee, Elders Management, 11-12)
For their practical existence, the local churches are separated into different localities, according to the city in which each is located. However, since all the local churches share the same one Spirit, they are still one Body universally. Witness Lee understood this principle clearly:
The Body is unique in the whole universe. There may be thousands of local churches, but there is still just one Body. All the local churches are the one, unique universal church, the one Body of Christ.
Furthermore, all the local churches possess the same one Spirit. The Spirit is uniquely one. There is no local Spirit; there is no local Christ; there is no local God; and there is no local Bible. Moreover, the apostles teaching is not local, and the apostles fellowship is not local (Acts 2:42). All the basic things for the Body are not local. Some of the business affairs may be merely local matters, but we need to realize that all the local churches are the one, unique universal church, and they all have the same one Spirit.
We also need to know the Body in practice. Locality as the church ground of a local church separates the church in existence but does not divide the church in essence. The existence of the churches is separated, but their essence is inseparable .For the sake of existence, the local churches are separate. The saints who live in Atlanta have to be the church there, and the brothers and sisters in Anaheim have to be the church here. This is a separation for the purpose of existence, but this has nothing to do with the essence. The church in Atlanta, the church in Anaheim, and all the local churches are one Body in essence. Essentially, we are still just one Body on the entire globe.
(Witness Lee, Further Consideration, 15)
Because all the local churches share the same life of divine oneness, collectively they constitute only one church. Watchman Nee remarks on this testimony of oneness:
Although the churches in various localities are different as far as their localities are concerned, there is nevertheless only one church. The church exists for the testimony of oneness. When we say the local church, our emphasis is the church, not the localness. The life that all the churches possess is a life of oneness. For this reason all the churches should be one among themselves. Although there were the manifested churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and other places, they were all one church. This is the normal situation.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 3, Vol. 57, 37)
To summarize, God's plan to have a universal Body for His Son, the Church, requires that He have local churches in a number of localities across the earth to realize His Body practically. Since all the local churches possess the same one Spirit, one Lord, one God, one fellowship and one Bible, they are the one universal church. The essence of the church, therefore, can never be divided; only the existence of the local churches is separated by the different locations. This is clearly taught in the Bible and expounded by both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.
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