B. The Fellowship of the Local Churches
Now we come to another aspect of the fellowship, that is, the fellowship of the local churches. It seems that there is no problem with the universal fellowship of the Body of Christ; however, when we put this fellowship into practice, immediately it becomes a local fellowship, the fellowship of the local churches.
The local churches are many in different localities (Rev. 1:11). The Body of Christ as the church, the unique universal church, is expressed through the local churches. It is impossible for the Body of Christ to be expressed without the local churches. The local churches, which are the expressions of the unique Body of Christ, are scattered on this earth in the localities where the local churches exist to express the Body of Christ.
The local churches are locally kept away from one another by their being in different localities. I do not say that they are separated from one another; the word separated may carry the connotation of division. I have used the term kept away because to be kept away is not to be divided. The churches are kept away from one another only by their localities, not by anything else. However, they are not divided universally (121-122).
1. Each Local Church Needing to Fellowship with All the Genuine Local Churches on the Whole Earth
Because there are so many local churches across the earth there is the need for much fellowship among them. Witness Lee says,
The local churches should fellowship with all the genuine local churches on the whole earth to keep the universal fellowship of the Body of Christ. Any local church that does not keep this universal fellowship of the Body of Christ is divisive and becomes a local sect. Some so-called local churches are not genuine and have become divisions; we do not need to fellowship with such churches. But we should have fellowship with all the genuine local churches on the whole earth to keep the universal fellowship of the Body of Christ. If not, we are no longer a church but a sect. A church is one that remains in the Body; a sect is a group of believers who divide themselves from the Body. When my arm remains in the body, it is a part of my living body. If it is cut off and separated from the body, it becomes a dead thing (122).
Earlier in this chapter, Witness Lee encourages the believers in each of the local churches to make an effort to travel among the other local churches for the sake of fellowship:
The reason why many people are weak physically is because they sit too much. They do not move. It is the same spiritually. We are sick and weak because we remain with ourselves, in ourselves, and for ourselves. We are sick because we are so much in ourselves. We need to get out of ourselves by fellowshipping with the other churches. If we want to get helped, the secret is to go to see some brothers in another locality. The brothers in Texas should not have traffic among themselves only. They need to go to Chicago, Cleveland, and Seattle, and break the boundary of Texas.
I would like to make a proposal to the leading brothers. Perhaps ten days from today, fifty brothers from fifty cities can go to a certain church to be in their Lords Day morning meeting at 10 a.m. I can assure you that you will receive the help and that the church will be helped. Today there are many opinions among the churches concerning the churches. Other churches have opinions concerning the church in Cleveland and the church in Anaheim. The church in a certain city may have many opinions about other localities. Each local church may have some opinions about other local churches. All of these opinions need to be thrown away. How can they be thrown away? They can be thrown away by the circulation, the fellowship. If the waste in our physical body is not discharged regularly, we will die. The circulation of blood within our body is like a river that always carries away the waste in our being so that it can be discharged. In like manner, the fellowship in the Body carries away all the negative things.
Some brothers may be afraid for others to come and visit them. But what we need today among the churches is more divine circulation, more fellowship. There are about fifty churches in California, but there is not much fellowship among them. This is where our shortcoming is, and this is why we are weak. The circulation helps us and helps others. It helps everyone in the Body. We need the fellowship. This fellowship is the fellowship of the apostles, which is today the fellowship of the recovery. The fellowship today among us is the recovered apostles fellowship (119-120).
2. Every Local Church Needing to Receive All Kinds of Genuine Believers in Christ
In the course of the fellowship among many believers from many local churches, there will inevitably arise differences in doctrines and practices. Therefore, Witness Lee points out what the Bible has to say concerning how believers should interact with one another:
Every local church should receive all kinds of genuine believers in Christ (Rom. 14:1-6; 15:1-7). We have no right to give up any believer, unless he is divisive. When a believer becomes divisive, he is divided from the church already. But as long as a believer is not divisive, we should not give him up. If a believer prefers to keep the Sabbath whereas we take the Lords Day, or if he eats only vegetables whereas we eat every kind of food, we still must receive him. We must receive him because God has received him (Rom. 14:3) and because Christ has received him (Rom. 15:7). We must receive every believer in Christ according to Christ (Rom. 15:5).
We should not receive the believers according to their diet or according to our preference. Whether we like a particular believer or not, we have no choice but to receive him. Suppose you were born into a family of twelve brothers. You might like only yourself and one of your brothers and not like the rest. However, the fact that the other ten are in the same family is not up to you; it is up to your parents. They begot those peculiar ones. Therefore, you have no choice but to receive them as your brothers. Likewise, in the church a particular brother may have certain characteristics that are offensive to us. But we need to realize that our Father has begotten him and has received him. If we give up this brother, we would give up our Father. Thus, we must receive all kinds of genuine believers, not according to anything of ourselves but according to Christ. We must receive them because they have Christ; Christ is in them. If a church does not receive all kinds of genuine believers, it is divisive and becomes a sect (122-123).
3. A Believer to Be Kept Away from the Fellowship of a Local Church if Committing Gross Sins and Living in Them
Although believers are charged to receive one another impartially, the Bible does warn that the believers fellowship with the local churches can be affected by certain factors, one of which is committing gross sins and living in them. Witness Lee states,
The third thing for which a believer can be kept away from the fellowship of a local church is the committing of gross sins and living in these sins, not being willing to repent of them and forsake them (1 Cor. 5:9-13). A person who commits gross sins in this way should be removed from the fellowship of the church. But once such a one would repent and forsake his sins, the church should forgive him and receive him into the fellowship of the church, that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan (2 Cor. 2:5-11). In his first Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul charged the church in Corinth to remove a sinful brother from the fellowship of the church. Later, this one repented, and the news came to Paul. Immediately, Paul wrote the second Epistle, charging the church to forgive this one and to receive him back. If we do not do this, we may be taken advantage of by Satan in that he might devour such a repentant one (125).
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