The Ground of Oneness
The generality and speciality of the church: All believers are members of the one Body of Christ, and we must receive every genuine believer whom Christ receives; that is, those who receive the common faith received and believed by all the saints (1Co 15:1-5,11)—this is the generality of the church. The only exceptions (that is, genuine believers whom Christ does not receive) are of three categories only (this is the speciality of the church):
- certain specific, gross, unrepentant sins (1Co 5:9-11);
- those who teach antichrist teachings (1Jo 2:18-23; 2Jo 1:7-11); and
- those who repeatedly cause division after being warned (Rom 16:16-18; Tit 3:9-11; Act 20:28-31).
- The reality of the oneness: The oneness of the Body of Christ is the oneness of the Spirit (Eph 4:1-6). In short, when we are in spirit, we are one with the Spirit of God and spontaneously one with the Body of Christ in reality. When we are not in spirit, we are spontaneously in division, no matter where we might be outwardly. The New Testament ground of oneness is the mingled spirit—God's Spirit with our spirit—and not any physical place of meeting (John 4:19-24).
- The practicality of the oneness: All the Christians in a city (locality) are spontaneously the unique church in that city. This is what we call "the local church" (Rev 1:11; Act 8:1; 13:1; 1Co 1:2; 1Th 1:1; etc.). There is only one church in a city, and a local church encompasses the whole city (that is, is not smaller than the entire city, e.g. a house, building, street or district: Col 4:15-16) and is restricted to the bounds of the city (that is, is no larger than a city, e.g., a province or country: Gal 1:2). The church is administered by one eldership; there is only one eldership in the city (Act 14:23; Tit 1:5).
The practice of one-city one-church is where the rubber hits the road. I've met so many Christians who agree with all these three points, all except for one eldership in a city. They still think it is OK to meet in their own divided congregation because somehow "we're all really one." But when there is not one eldership administering the church together in oneness (which is not the same as one accord), then the situation is, in practicality and in actuality, divided.
I recommend the following sources of further reading on this crucial, crucial item of the Lord's recovery (all available for free online at www.ministrybooks.org, and most available for purchase from Amazon):
Quick Reads: Recommended Chapters
- Watchman Nee's classic chapter "The Unity/Oneness of the Church" in Further Talks on the Church Life. Here he describes and contrasts four kinds of "unity" or "oneness" that Christians today practice: 1) the unity of Roman Catholicism, which is the church as one organization that controls all churches on the whole earth; 2) so-called "spiritual unity," where we acknowledge that we are divided/separate, but say that that's OK because "in spirit we are really one"; 3) the biblical unity based on the practice of one church in one city and 4) the practice of one church in one congregation—that is, any group that sets itself up as a "church" should not be condemned, as long as "two or three are gathered together in [the Lord's] name." This chapter makes it very clear what is the difference between the vision of oneness that the Lord has recovered among us (whether we are practicing it or not is another matter) versus the so-called "unity" of Christianity.
- An absolute must-read is Life-Study of Genesis message 34. Based on Gen 10, brother Lee expounds on the key reasons why Christians divide from each other. However, the most valuable part of this chapter is brother Lee's personal testimony on how, in China, the church in Chefoo offered to be one with the denominations as long as they would drop their names; and how the church in Taipei offered to hand everything over to the free groups (so-called "nondenominational" congregations) as long as they would all agree to no longer be separate and become genuinely one. (In both cases, the offers were declined.) Here we see how large brother Lee's heart was and how faithful and pure he was to the vision of the ground of oneness.
- The Normal Christian Church Life (Watchman Nee) is the most foundational book that exists on the ground of the church. This is the key manual on this matter. In fact, whenever there are Christians or Christian groups not in the Lord's recovery who claim to practice the ground of the church (and I've met quite a few), it is pretty much always directly from this book that that they saw this light. Moreover, this book deals with important items such as the difference between the church and the work of the ministry, and what apostles and elders are.
- Further Talks on the Church Life (Watchman Nee) further develops some important aspects of the truth of the ground of oneness, and addresses some aspects not covered in detail by the first book. These two books together cover virtually every aspect of this topic.
- The Speciality, Generality and Practicality of the Church Life (Witness Lee) is a classic that distinguishes what all Christians must believe for us to receive them; how we cannot reject any genuine believer in spite of our great differences; and how we should go on practically as the church, regardless of differences in view, opinion or practice.
- The Practical Expression of the Church (Witness Lee) covers all the main truths in the Normal Christian Church Life concerning the ground of the church, but it has many more practical examples of how to live out the church life, especially in face of conflict and disagreement. It also has a lot on how to function in the church so that the church life on the ground of oneness is a living expression of Christ, not just a doctrine that we practice.
This is a lot of reading, but it would be good to at least begin by reading all the verses that I cited above, and then the two chapters I recommend above. One thing that these books help us to see is that differences and disagreements among Christians are normal and will never go away, not before the Lord comes back. However, oneness and one accord is also normal, in spite of our differences, and the Lord must and will gain this in the church before He comes back. Division is NEVER, NEVER a permissible option for us. This is one of our most fundamental visions in the Lord's recovery.