By Titus Chu
The Testimony of Oneness
Who are we, and how do we go on? What is the church, and what does it mean to say we are the testimony of oneness in a given locality? How are we different from other Christian groups where we live? If the church includes all the believers in our locality, how do we practice an inclusive church life? I am concerned that we may not be clear about these basic things ourselves, and thus convey the wrong understanding to our second generation and to those around us.
If we say our group is the local church, then we become exclusive. If we imply that only we are right, then we are both exclusive and proud, and God will never bless us. If this is not clear, we will go nowhere.
We can learn a lot from those who have gone before us. God has raised up many Christian groups over time. They almost all began with a lot of zeal and genuinely sought the Lord that His will would be done through them, but most have faded away. Those that remain are only poor, religious shadows of what they once were. If we are observant and humble, God will show us a lot.
There are at least five ways a Christian group can try to survive.
The first way to go on is to set up an organization or institution. Some consider this to be the best solution, and many Christian groups have done it. If the leaders are spiritual, God may bless them with great revivals. This happened in the late 19th century among the Presbyterians. Their missionary work reached Korea, Taiwan, the coastline of China, and probably much farther. The Gospel was preached, and the effect is still with us today. If we go to Taiwan, the cities appear to be filled with Buddhism, but if we go into the deep mountains, it is all Christian. This is because there was once a great revival among the Presbyterians that caused so many to consecrate everything to the Lord to serve Him. So organization sometimes works, but it comes with a great danger. It is too easy to rely on the organization and totally bypass Christ. If the leaders are spiritual, something can happen, but if not, it will quickly become dead.
Second, we can rely on good speakers. Speaking means a lot. Those who can minister well will quickly gather a group of followers who enjoy hearing them. Countless groups have been raised up this way. Even if the speakers know very little truth, their eloquence will hold the group together. But this works only as long as the speakers are there. Once they retire or the Lord takes them, it is over. Often those who were the helpers fight over what is left and divide the congregation among themselves. It is sad. This is why I never envy someone who has raised up a large congregation like this. God desires to build something that is lasting, which even the gates of Hades cannot overpower.
Third, we can use programs. A good program surely helps, but the program must match the age. This is why programs should always be changing. Christian groups that continually rely on programs that used to work will eventually stop growing and die. A young person’s thought is very different from mine. My logic is very different from theirs. Using programs is not as easy as we may think.
Fourth, if we can acquire enough money, we can rely on that. Most large denominations have enough funds to keep them going for many years. The Catholic Church is the wealthiest of all and, according to Watchman Nee and others, will still be here at the Lord’s return. Money can seem like a real blessing.
We will never have a well endowed fund because we practice the church life. We do not recruit the rich, but just take whoever the Lord sends us. Those with us are as generous and faithful as they can be, but no one person can give a lot. Just look at the cars in our parking lot and it is clear that we are not wealthy. We must trust Him every month for the maintenance of our properties, the work He has called us to in Africa and China, the living of the serving ones, the spread of the gospel, and any other expenses. To trust the Lord in these things is far better than to have a big bank account to rely on. The Lord Himself is our fund.
Fifth, we can go on by truth. Truth never changes and it always builds up the church. Truth is not simply correct doctrine. John wrote, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17). The Lord himself said, “I am…the truth” (14:6). We do not know truth unless we know the Lord Himself and what is on His heart. He revealed His heart when he prayed for us just before His crucifixion: “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (17:21). He did not pray that we would correctly understand prophesy or memorize the Bible. At His last hour, He prayed that the people for whom He was about to die would be one, and as such would be a testimony to the world. Thus, according to truth, we are to be a testimony of oneness.
Once we see this truth, we can no longer go on by relying on organization, speakers, programs, or finances. No doubt we have some of each of these, but once we have seen what God wants, we are bound to practice it. We can give up anything else, but if we give up this stand of oneness, we cease to be the church according to what the Lord has shown us. We will have become something else. Our start in the 1970’s was exciting, and now we are much more subdued, but none of that matters as long as we are going on according to the truth God has shown us.
Practicing the Truth
The Apostle Paul practiced this as he traveled on his missionary journeys. He established one and only one church in each city he visited, and the believers in each city were charged to meet together and practice a unique church life. When there were problems with their oneness, Paul addressed them (1 Cor. 1:11–13; Phil. 4:2). The Lord Himself reinforced this when He identified one church with one city (Rev. 1:11).
Practicing the truth of the one church being a testimony of oneness is not as easy as it may seem at first. There are many problems and complications, but the desire of God is unchangeable.
Suppose we move to a city which has 100,000 believers. All of them, including us, make up the church in that city. Some claim to be Presbyterian, some Baptist, some Pentecostal, and some Catholic. Some claim none of these but belong to a non-denominational mega church, or to a small home Bible study. Every group can call itself a local church because only local people go there. What should we do?
We cannot join the one with the best organization, speaker, program, or financial strength. Nor can we become just another group like the rest. We have seen something of the truth, of God’s heart, that will not allow us to do either, because we know that God includes all 100,000 in His church.
We could try visiting every congregation, going from place to place each week, but we might not get to them all in our lifetime, especially since new ones keep popping up all the time. We could try having Bible studies with the seeking ones from each place, but that has the same problem. Neither would allow us to get built up with any other Christians to practice a church life.
While we can’t join them in their groups, we can include them. This is a subtle difference that I fear many among us miss. We can’t join them because each group is only a subset of the whole church that automatically excludes the rest. Most don’t even hide this fact, because outsiders must agree with all their doctrines to join their group as members. Thus some believers are members and others are not. This is not inclusive. We should have no such test.
Paul told the Church in Rome to “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). If Christ has accepted someone, we have no way to do otherwise. This is our only test. Everyone who is truly regenerated, born of God, now has the same divine life we have. We are all children of God, members of Christ’s body, and therefore automatically included in His church.
We may have our own hall and our own meetings, but our stand must be generous. In our heart and mind, we include every believer. When we break bread, we must discern the body and have the whole church in view. Our practices must be general so as to not intentionally scare people off. If we convey anything narrow, exclusive or superior, we must repent. Our testimony is of the oneness of the body of Christ.
Although we would surely welcome it, it is unlikely that any of the Christian groups around us will adopt the same inclusive attitude and drop what they have to join us. How then are we to interact with these believers? While we cannot join their groups, we see every dear believer as our brother or sister in the Lord and as a gifted member in the body of Christ. Watchman Nee said that, while their church does not include us, ours surely includes them.
Whatever they have of Christ, we want to learn, and if they are open, we want to offer them what we have as well. Paul wrote, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19) In love, we draw and learn from “all the saints.” Only in this way can we be “filled up to all the fullness of God.” This is true fellowship.
We are not exclusive. We should be desperate to seek out fellowship with seeking Christians as much as our time allows. If we are at work or on campus and we meet some Christians who love the Lord, we should not care what denomination they are in as long as we can love the Lord together. We are not out to get them to join our group. Such a thought means we have already denominated ourselves. If there is only one church in the city, they are already with us. We should seek fellowship without motive.
Eventually, it is not a matter of how many meet with us or of what we do. It is entirely a matter of what testimony we bear. If we don’t bear the testimony of oneness, nothing else matters. We cannot be responsible for any division and we try our best to love all the brothers. The oneness must include every believer in the locality. If we make it smaller, there is no real oneness.
When asked, we often say that we belong to the local church. This confuses our testimony in the eyes of others because all Christians today consider their church as local. According to their understanding, the term local church is a name that makes us just as narrow as they are, and I fear it does the same in many of our minds as well. Such an exclusive understanding violates the principle of oneness. It is far better to say we are part of the church in [our city]. This expresses our true testimony, that we are one with all the believers where we live as an expression of the one body of Christ.
The Lord has one body in the universe, and all who are in it are already one based on the life of Christ that they share (Eph. 4:3). This one body should be expressed locally in cities and towns for people to see. In the city of Cleveland, all the Christians are one spiritually, but there is a need for a practical, visible testimony of this one body. In the city of Shanghai, there is also such a need. There should be such a testimony of oneness in every locality where believers are found.
Questions and Answers
Question: Do you have any experience with two congregations coming together to stand as the church in the city?
Answer: Yes, we do. Actually it is not a coming together, but a recognition of what we already are. We are already members of the same body of Christ. We are already children of God, brothers and sisters who share the same divine life. We are already the same church, because there is only one church. Our problem was that we were captured by different leaders. This leader says these people are my group, and that leader says those people are my group. So if the leading ones realize that we all should be one, coming together is normal. There is no reason we should be divided.
A problem often arises when this happens because the two groups may have very different practices. For instance, one may bring a spiritual background with an emphasis on Bible truth and high vision. The other may like excitement, tongues, and emotionalism. Neither is wrong, but they are very different. When the first group tries to give a deep teaching, the other group looks at the floor in silence. When the second group rises up to shout “Hallelujah!” and speak in tongues, the other group can hardly take it. It can be so awkwardly funny.
All this awkwardness can be overcome if we simply love one another and make Christ, not our practices, our common goal. When the one group stands to shout “Hallelujah,” the others should learn to touch the Lord by shouting with them. When someone stands to give a deeper teaching from the word, everyone should learn to give an “Amen!” even if they don’t understand the teaching. At least they can appreciate that the word is being spoken and enjoy the speaker’s spirit. Everything can be overcome if we have brotherly love.
Most often the congregation will not have problems—it is the leaders. Generally leaders do not want to give up their leadership. If the leaders are very pure and are genuinely following the Lord, they may be willing to lead their groups this way. Once they see that this is what the Lord wants, they will want it too.
Another possibility is that the leaders are so defeated that they see joining us as their last resort. They tried many things in the past but nothing worked, so they just give up. To them, meeting with us is a defeat, not a victory. Once they taste the blessing of the Lord, they often want to try something on their own again.
While we might desire to see all the Christian groups come together, it is rare and it often doesn’t last. Meanwhile we continue to labor in the gospel to see people get saved and then raise them up. When they are begotten through us and raised up among us the whole thing is different.
Question: The ground of oneness is a beautiful picture, but how can I see it lived out around me?
Answer: There is no way we can reach out to everyone. If our city has 100,000 Christians, how would we find the time to do it? But the ground of oneness is already with us if we see it. We simply have to stand there. If we are pure in heart, attitude, and mind toward all the Christians around us and express brotherly love toward them, we have it. Then, as time allows, we fellowship with whoever the Lord brings to us who is open to our fellowship.
John wrote, “the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). If we do not love the brothers we have seen, who are right beside us, how can we love the brothers far away? It doesn’t even make sense to tell the Lord we love the Christians who are distant from us but not involve ourselves in the church life where we are. We must first love the brothers beside us, whom the Lord placed right with us.
Question: What are some practical ways we can serve with other congregations in our locality?
Answer: Actually, unless it is a very unusual congregation, there is no way. Their goal is to build up their small congregation. Ours must be to uplift the entire body of Christ.
Let me give an illustration. When we first went to east Africa, I told the brothers very strongly that they must work with all the pastors of the various Christian groups there. We set up trainings to help them to know basic truths, such as what it means to be born again. From this we hoped to raise the experience of all the Christians there. Once the pastors knew we weren’t there to steal their sheep, they really welcomed us and even brought some of their congregation to hear us. We helped to raise their understanding even though we didn’t do anything to specifically build up their groups.
Christian leaders are just like little children playing with toys. Whatever toys children have become their treasure. They will let you play with it, but you cannot take it home. In the same way, Christian groups can come together and even work together, but in the end each congregation belongs to it’s leaders. They must be very pure leaders if they are going to surrender their leadership.
If we want to take the higher road of serving the body of Christ, then we must each make the investment required to develop our own ministries. Paul told Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it” (Col. 4:17), and he told Timothy “Fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). It is our ministry that will uplift the body of Christ, not some activity or work.
Consider Watchman Nee, who elevated all of Christianity. At his time, many of the basic truths we take for granted today, such as the assurance of salvation, were unclear. In 1952 he was put in prison in China for his faith. Even though he could no longer do anything, his ministry began to flourish through his books. Translations of all his books flooded the English world and all of Christianity was uplifted. Christians didn’t all come together, but they were all positively effected. This is ministry.
When I first started going to China I was surprised that I was already somewhat well-known there. I later discovered that during a time of persecution in China when very little Christian literature was available, one brother brought in one of my Chinese books. This book was copied over and over again, often by hand, and circulated among all these hungry Christians. It became their main diet and met their need during this very hard time. I was so happy that even my early immature ministry could be such a blessing to God’s people.
We shouldn’t aim at how many groups we can work with. The value of that is very low. We should instead aim at gradually developing and enlarging our ministry. Then we will one day be able to fulfill our ministry and be a genuine help to many, even to the entire body of Christ. Without any organization, even those who don’t meet with us will be helped. The richer we are ourselves, the more help we will be to others. To be for all Christians in this way is to stand on the ground of oneness to bear the testimony of oneness.
We should not overly consider how to do this and that, or how to put groups together. Even if our work increases the number from 100 to 150, it means little in the long run. Instead, we should develop ourselves. We should cause our own lives to become valuable. Eventually it’s what the Lord has put in us that will effect so many Christians. It is not too much to think that we can uplift many, even all of Christianity, with what we have been given. As the apostle Paul said, this is to fulfill our ministry.