Witness Lee on the local church: The Testimony of Church History concerning the Ground of the Church
Witness Lee on the local church: Oneness





Watchman Nee 

Witness Lee 



Testimony of Church History from 1846-1900

This page is devoted to four 19th century seekers of the Lord who saw the practice of the local churches as presented in the Scriptures and stood firm for this revelation in the face of centuries of church history to the contrary. They began to realize that all the believers in any given city should meet as the one, unique local church in that place. Although the history of the church was one of division upon division, these believers knew the testimony of Scripture to be consistent: one city, one local church.

August Neander in General History of the Christian Religion and Church (1846):

But we here go on the supposition, that in each town, from the beginning onward, one single community formed itself under the guidance of a senate of elders.…Everywhere in the epistles of the New Testament, Christians of the same city appear as members associated together to form one ecclesia. This unity never represents itself as something which is yet to take place, but as the original form, having its ground from the beginning in the essence of the Christian consciousness; and the party divisions which threatened to dissolve this unity, appear rather as a morbid affection [feeling] which had crept in later, as in the Corinthian church. (185)

Augustus Neander in History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles (1889):

But the Epistles of the apostle Paul give the clearest evidence that all the Christians of one city originally formed one church. (N. pag.)

John Nelson Darby in The Faith once delivered to the Saints and various papers (1975):

John Nelson Darby, the most prolific writer among the great Brethren teachers of the last century and author of the classic Synopsis of the Books of the Bible and A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures, had this to say about the ground of locality in his booklet The Faith once delivered to the Saints and various papers.

What were churches or assemblies? These were local. The apostle could say, “To the church of God which is at Corinth.” It represented the whole unity of the body in that place. “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Two bodies of Christ, even in one place representatively there could not be. In Galatia, which was a large province, we read of the churches of Galatia. So in Thessalonica, a city of Macedonia, we have the assembly of the Thessalonians. So in the seven churches; so John writes to the assembly. So everywhere there was God’s assembly in any given place which could be distinctly addressed as such. In Acts 20:17 he calls for the elders of the assembly. (83)

Darby further clarifies this matter below:

We have (Acts 11:22) the assembly which was in Jerusalem, though it was exceedingly numerous; in Acts 13:1, the assembly that was at Antioch. So Paul (Acts 14:21-23) returns to Lystra, Derbe and Iconium, and chooses for them elders in every assembly. All Scripture clearly shows there was one assembly in a place, which was God’s assembly. Churches as buildings, they had none; the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; and hence they met in houses where they could; but all formed one assembly. God’s assembly in that place, the elders being elders in the whole as one body. The local assembly represented the whole assembly of God, as I Corinthians shows us plainly. (84)

He concludes:

Elders were elders in a given city of God’s assembly there. Gifts were exercised as set in the whole body, wherever the gifted member was, according to scriptural rules. The result of the examination of Scripture is that there was one assembly of God in each town where there were Christians; that these were members of the body of Christ—the only membership known in Scripture; and gifts were exercised in the whole church, or one assembly of God in the whole world, as members and servants of Christ by the operation of the Spirit, according to rules given in Scripture. (85)

Henry Cotterill in The Genesis of the Church (1872):

Henry Cotterill, bishop of Edinburgh, authored an excellent work on the church entitled The Genesis of the Church. In this 1872 publication he writes concerning the church’s local aspect:

In the Apocalypse we find “the churches in Asia,” and (according to the best MSS) each of the local churches is the church in the city in which it is planted. It appears therefore that when the churches in a country are spoken of as a whole, they are often called the churches of that country; otherwise the preposition is generally used which implies local habitation. (565-566)

He continues his commentary on the local church below:

We have observed that whilst, in the language both of Christ Himself and of the apostles, the whole body of disciples or Christians everywhere is spoken of as “the Church,” yet apostolic writers speak of Christians in a particular country as “the Churches” in that country. But whenever they would describe the body of Christians in a single city,—even in Jerusalem where, shortly after the day of Pentecost, there were five thousand disciples, it is always “the Church,” never “the Churches,” in that city: the use of the singular indicating that common corporate life of Christians dwelling in the same place. (567)

Robert Govett in Are Dissenters from the “Church of England” Guilty of Schism? (1882):

Let a word now be addressed to believers who dissent from “The Church Establishment.” While our position of separation from that, and every other national and worldly system, is wholly right on Scripture grounds, are we justified, or must we not rather plead wholly guilty, when we look at the divisions which in every city reign among those who are the children of God? Of old there was but one church in a city: it was a united body, assembling in one place (I Cor. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; Rev. 2:1, & c.). Now we have many Lord’s tables, many party-names, much separation of spirit one from another. The Lord give us that oneness of heart which would be so glorifying to Him. (N. pag.)

Yes, may the Lord give us that oneness of heart, and may He also grant us that oneness in practice. Although it has been over a century since these brothers testified concerning the practice of the local church, few have responded. In these days, may many more rise up to stand in oneness on the proper ground! Surely, before His return, the Lord will have gained a group of His seekers standing as the local church in their city outside of any division—in city after city, local church after local church, all standing on the scriptural ground of oneness. What a beautiful scene: Many local churches, with all the believers standing on the ground of oneness!