The Principle of the RemnantEzra and Nehemiah
The New Testament clearly indicates that there can only be one church in each city. This is the local church. However, this is an inclusive rather than an exclusive onenessit does not exclude any genuine believer in Christ. Every believer in any given city is, by regeneration, a member of the local church in that city. This does not mean, however, that all believers will choose to meet as such. Many, in fact, may choose either to remain isolated at home or to remain in a divisive group, alienated from the rest of the Body of Christ by having denominated themselves. Does this mean that they are not children of God? Certainly not! Does this mean that they are not saved? Absolutely not! Witness Lee and the local churches have been accused of this teaching, but the following quote in which Witness Lee discusses the principle of a remnant shows that this accusation is far from the truth.
The Body is one. Some Christians may argue with us and say, You say that the Body is one. But the Body is divided. How can you be the unique Body? We do not say that we are the unique Body. But we are the recovered Body. At least, we are the recovered part of the Body.
Consider the illustration of the children of Israel in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 12, 14, 15, and 16 the Lord charged them again and again to worship Him at the unique center, which preserved the oneness of God's people. Eventually, many were captured, and some were taken to Syria, others to Egypt, and the rest to Babylon. Thus, they were captured and divided. To be divided means to be captured. Today nearly all Christians have been captured, some to the Presbyterian denomination, some to the Baptist denomination, and a great many to the Catholic Church. When the children of Israel were dispersed and scattered, their oneness was lost. After seventy years, God commanded them to return to Jerusalem. But according to history, only a small remnant returned under the leadership of Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Nehemiah. They were a group of recovered Israelites. After the return from Babylon, there were four groups: one in Syria, one in Egypt, one in Babylon, and one in the holy land. Apparently, each group was a division. But although the groups in Egypt, Syria, and Babylon were divisions, the group of the recovered ones in Jerusalem was not a division. Yes, they were a group, but they were not a division. Rather, they were the recovered Israel. Likewise, we in the Lord's recovery are the recovered Body.
Let us also consider the situation of the nation of Israel today. The nation of Israel is recognized as a nation by the United Nations. But there are more Jews in New York City than in the nation of Israel. But are they the nation of Israel? Certainly not. Those who returned to the land of their fathers are the nation of Israel. The Jews in New York City may say, You in the nation of Israel are Jews, and we are Jews also. Furthermore, we in New York outnumber you in Israel. Why then do you call yourself the nation of Israel? Are we not the nation of Israel too? No, they are not. The Jews in Israel should say to the Jews in New York, Brothers, you are certainly part of the nation of Israel. Please come back to the land of our fathers. Don't stay in New York. We see by this illustration that it is absolutely correct for those who have returned to Palestine to call themselves the nation of Israel, for they are the nation of Israel. But the Jews in New York City are not in the position to be the nation of Israel. Although they are Jews by blood, by position they are Americans, not Israelis.
When those in the denominations have inquired of me regarding the church, I have said, If we are not the church of Christ, then what are we? Give us a name. When they claimed that they also were the church, I replied, Since you are also the church, you need to drop your denominational labels, such as Presbyterian and Baptist. They said that they were not able to do this. To this I answered, As long as you cannot drop your labels, you are not the church, but a division, a denomination. This is confusion.
If the Jews living in New York would claim to be part of the nation of Israel, I would tell them to go back to Jerusalem. But they may say, I love Israel, but I still want to live in New York City so I can make more money. I may live in New York, but I give money to support the nation of Israel. No matter how much money they give, still they are not the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel is the nation of Israel. As long as they are in the land with the proper government, they are the nation of Israel. The number of people is not the determining factor.
Let us also use the illustration of the Smith family. Suppose there are twenty-eight members in the Smith family, but most are scattered all over the country and just three remain at home. Are these three not the Smith family? Certainly they are. Those members of the Smith family living in Hawaii may say, Does not the Smith family also include us? You three are not the only members of the Smith family. Yes, the Smith family does include those in Hawaii, but they need to return home to be with the other members of the family. As long as they are in Hawaii, they are away from the family. If those members of the Smith family living at home are not the Smith family, then what are they? In like manner, we are the church. If we are not the church, then what are we? Yes, the church in Cleveland should include all the real Christians in Cleveland. But the majority of genuine Christians will not come back home. Rather, they prefer to stay in their divisions, and only a small number have returned. Those who have returned are the church in Cleveland. For them to take a name would be a mark of division. They should not call themselves anything other than the church in Cleveland.
(Witness Lee, Spirit and the Body, 182-184)
The local church is simply the church in the city where the believers live. The New Testament gives no ground for division among the believers, but on the contrary, teaches strongly against it. All the believers in each city are members of the local church in the city in which they reside. How wonderful it would be if all believers left all the divisions and simply met in the local churches! Unfortunately, however, just as only a remnant of the children of Israel returned from captivity to Jerusalem, only a fraction of genuine believers have been willing to come back to the proper oneness of locality in the local churches.
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