The Difference between the Ground of the Local Church and the Foundation of the Local Church
In speaking of the scriptural ground of the local church, we refer to the locality, the zone, the boundary, even the site of the local church, and we intentionally distinguish between the ground of the local church and the foundation of the local church. Christ Himself is the one unchanging foundation of the church in both its universal and local aspects (1 Corinthians 3:11); the proper local church is built upon Christ as its eternal foundation. Actually, Christ is not only the foundation but also the very content and essence of the church; from its intrinsic depths to its fullness in manifestation, the church as God's organic building is the New Testament fulfillment of Eve as Adams complete counterpart. The church is to Christ bone of His bone, flesh of His fleshHis very Body. In life and nature, the church is spiritually and intrinsically constituted with Christ (1 Cor. 12:12), and Christ must certainly be her unique foundation. Yet, as we shall see especially from Witness Lee's writings, it is not enough to speak only of the foundation of the local church as such in a spiritual intrinsic sense, for the local church must also be practical today. Witness Lee points out that the practical local church with Christ as its foundation by definition requires a practical ground upon which the local church life can be lived out. Christians may casually decide to establish yet another church on a basis or ground of their own choosing, inadvertently introducing yet another divisive element in Christ's one Body. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the ground of the local church, scripturally defined as the locality of that local churchwith the necessary geographical separation among the local churches in different citiesis the only biblical, and therefore, valid criterion for distinguishing one local church from another. Concerning the fundamental distinction between the ground of the local church and the foundation of the local church, Witness Lee writes:
The ground of the church is not the foundation of the church. The foundation of the church is Christ. Another foundation no one is able to lay besides that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). The ground is completely different from the foundation. The foundation is a basic and integral part of the construction of a building, whereas the ground is not. The ground is a piece of land, called the site, upon which the foundation is laid. It is not part of the construction but simply a lot upon which the construction is placed. We must not mistake the ground for the foundation or the foundation for the ground. They are two vital, yet distinct entities for the construction of a building. Although the foundation may be deeply embedded in the ground, it is still distinct and separate from it. The ground is the standing on which the foundation is laid.
(Witness Lee, Ground of the Church, 2-3)
Witness Lee goes on to illustrate the importance of the ground of the local church to the very standing and existence of the local church:
If we want to have a particular building, we must also have the lot on which the building stands, for the lot is the ground of the building. However, some may feel that the lot is earthly and has many problems and is too troublesome; therefore, they want the building without the lot. If you say that you like the building but will not take the lot, the ground, how can you have the building? In such a case, it would be impossible to have the building. This illustrates the attitude of some believers toward the ground of the church. They want to have the church, but they do not want to have the church ground. The result is that they do not have the church. Those who want a building without the lot cannot have the building. In like manner, those who want the church without the ground of the church cannot have the church.
(Witness Lee, Heavenly Vision, 24)
In the following passage, Witness Lee observes that the general confusion in todays Christendom is due not to different foundations, but to different grounds.
There are many so-called churches established in Los Angeles. One, the Roman Catholic Church, claims to be built upon Christ as its foundation.... The Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Nazarenes, and many others claim the same thing. In fact, there is not one so-called Christian church which does not.... What is the ground of the Roman Catholic Church? Without a doubt, it is Rome. The Roman Catholic Church claiming Christ as its foundation is built upon the ground of Roman Catholicism.... What about the Baptists? They with Christ as their foundation are built upon the ground of baptism, baptism by immersion. Then there are the Lutherans. They have laid their foundation upon the ground of Luther and his teachings. You see, all the churches claim the same foundation, which is Christ; but they all stand upon different grounds. It is the different grounds that create the problem for the unity of the church, not Christ as the foundation.
(Witness Lee, Ground of the Church, 3-4)
The distinction between the ground of the local church and the foundation of the local church is more than merely technical. The realization that Christ is the foundation of the church constrains the believers from introducing elements other than Christ which would mar the church (1 Cor. 3:11-13), thus preserving the intrinsic purity of the church. And as shown here from Witness Lee's ministry, the realization that the city is the ground of the local church saves the believers from division and preserves the practical oneness of the church. Witness Lee has always affirmed that the oneness among the believers, though spiritual, must not be relegated or confined to the ethereal. Rather, according to Witness Lee, this spiritual oneness must find practical expression and physical substantiation. At its most basic and tangible level, Christian unity is the keeping of the ground of the local church.
© 2001-2002. Living Stream Ministry. All Rights Reserved.