One City, One Church & Witness Lee’s Groundless Take on Romans 16

One City, One Church

Witness Lee’s Groundless Take on Romans 16

OCOC, Romans 16, and Witness Lee

In just a few verses, Romans 16 single-handedly deconstructs “one city, one church” doctrine (OCOC), which was addressed in the first blog of this series.

What did Witness Lee have to say about Romans 16? What was his counter argument against the Bible?

Witness Lee and Cenchrea

According to OCOC doctrine, a church should only take the name of “the church in [city name] city,” and any other kind of name is a denomination, which the Lord’s Recovery OCOC teaching equates to division in the Body of Christ, “Babylonian” in nature (more on this and its elitist byproduct in The Thread).

As discussed in the prior blog in this series, Cenchrea (modern Kechries) was a port town of Corinth, a satellite of Corinth, having its own settlement. The church in Cenchrea was recognized in Romans 16:1. Paul recognizing the church in Cenchrea, the church in a port town, exposes the falsehood of the OCOC doctrine.

In his book Truth Life, the Church, and the Gospel–The Four Great Pillars in the Lord’s Recovery, Witness Lee explained that the church in Cenchrea fit the OCOC mold, glossing over the fact that Cenchrea was a port town of Corinth:

Hence, if we had been in Cenchrea, we would have had to meet with the church in Cenchrea. If we had been in Rome, we would have had to meet with the church in Rome. If we had been in Ephesus, we would have had to meet with the church in Ephesus.


Witness Lee was wrong about Cenchrea fitting the OCOC teaching. Based on OCOC, he probably should’ve said something like, “If we had been in Cenchrea, we would have had to meet with the church in Corinth since Cenchrea was a port town of Corinth. Paul was wrong in Romans 16:1 to call the church in Cenchrea anything other than the church in Corinth.”

But because Romans 16:1 is God’s Word, Paul was not wrong to go outside the bounds of OCOC. The Bible trumps the Recovery’s doctrine of OCOC.

Witness Lee and “the Church in Their House”

In Romans 16:5, Paul addressed the church that met in Prisca and Aquila’s house as “the church in their house.” Although this debunks the OCOC naming standard, Witness Lee interpreted the Scriptures to fit the OCOC narrative:

In verse 5 Paul sends greetings to the church in the house of Prisca and Aquila. Using this verse as a basis, some say that the church in a house is different from the church in a city. However, if you consider this matter carefully in context, you will see that the church in the house of Prisca and Aquila was actually the church in the city of Rome. The church in Rome held its meetings in Prisca and Aquila’s house.


Witness Lee said you should “consider this matter carefully in context,” and that in doing so, you should find the “the church in Rome” to be that context. That’s not true. The context of the book of Romans is Romans 1:7, “To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints.” Paul literally did not address the book of Romans to “the church in Rome” by name. Lee’s context argument has no basis; it’s made up, not backed up.

What grounds did Witness Lee have to say Prisca and Aquila’s house church was actually just the church in Rome? What evidence did he offer? None. He just said so. Simply because their house was in Rome, Lee’s OCOC logic meant that their house church was actually called the church in Rome. This isn’t evidence based. It’s purely subjective, loose, and inconsistent interpretation.

In Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 189-204), Witness Lee couldn’t address “the church in their house” biblically. He attempted to make the Bible fit his narrative, but he did so without the Bible as evidence:

The church in their house was the church in Rome. There were not two churches in Rome, one called the church in Rome and another which met in the house of Aquila and Prisca. The church in Rome simply met in the house of this couple, so there was a church in their house.


Witness Lee didn’t use the Bible to prove his point. He just made a declaration. He used OCOC doctrine, a non-biblical teaching, to declare “there were not two churches in Rome.” Actually, lines earlier, Witness Lee taught that there was a church called “the church in Rome,” using a Scripture that actually defeats his own argument:

Eventually, the establishing of the churches spread to Italy, and a church was raised up in Rome—the church in Rome. The fact that there was a church in Rome is indicated by Paul’s words in Romans 1:7: “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints.”


Witness Lee’s take on Romans 1:7 in the context of OCOC is conveniently inconsistent. Take a look at the verse. Based on OCOC-type thinking, why shouldn’t the church be called “all who are in Rome?” Why shouldn’t the church be called, “beloved of God” or “called saints?” Instead, Witness Lee essentially pretends that Romans 1:7 not saying “the church in Rome” actually means “the church in Rome.” And he ignores the fact that the Bible never mentions “church” and “Rome” in the same sentence.

For OCOC, the Bible isn’t the driving factor — for the Lord’s Recovery, OCOC wins no matter what. Any discrepancies are explained by OCOC rather than the Bible itself.

OCOC doctrine addresses how to name a church and the boundaries of a church based on descriptions of churches and their locations as written in the Bible. But “the church in Rome” is not a phrase in the Bible. Witness Lee had to make that name exist by implication alone.

For argument’s sake, even if God’s Word is addressing church names in these passages, then the name “the church in their house” is explicit and should, by OCOC’s own description interpretation standard, be a part of that standard. That it doesn’t fit OCOC just proves OCOC’s self-contradiction.

Conclusion: OCOC is Inconsistent and Logically Flawed

OCOC doctrine uses verses like 1 Corinthians 1:2 which says, “to the church of God that is in Corinth,” to declare that the name and boundary of a church should only be a city. However, Romans 16:1 breaks that logic since Cenchrea is recognized as a church and is a port town of Corinth yet is biblically recognized as the church in Cenchrea.

OCOC doctrine uses verses like 1 Corinthians 1:2 to declare that “the church of God that is in Corinth” is describing a church-naming pattern, even when no Scripture supports that description is somehow declaring a naming pattern. If the pattern is biblically sound true, this kind of logic should at least be consistent. But when it comes to Romans 16:5, Lee conveniently changed his logic; all of the sudden, “the church in their house” was somehow not related to a naming pattern. All of the sudden, the implicit name “the church in Rome” was more important than the explicit name “the church in their house.”

The Lord’s Recovery’s “one city, one church” doctrine is a logical fallacy. It ignores Scripture whenever it contradicts Scripture and takes a subjective and inconsistent approach to Bible interpretation. To believe it, you have to ignore Scripture and believe that God’s Word is not logically sound.

This Post Has Been Revised for Accuracy

Revised 02/10/2020

Publication 1: 01/02/2020

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Kenyari Martin
Kenyari Martin
4 years ago

yeah, I think Witness Lee made a pattern of trying to put TOO much emphasis or description on almost every single detail or word in the Bible and his conceptual patterns about homes meetings and house churches kind of put a lens over his eyes when it came to his understanding or revelation of the Bible. It’s sad that it spread like a fire. We should continue praying for them.

3 years ago

The Word of God says

Acts 18:18 Paul, having stayed after this many more days, took his leave of the brothers, and sailed from there for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila. He shaved his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow.
Romans 16:1 I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a servant of the assembly that is at Cenchreae,

CEN’CHREA, was the eastern harbor of Corinth and 5 miles from the city, the remains of which are called Kenkris. Therefore, there cannot be two churches according to Witness Lee’s paradigm of one church per city.

3 years ago
Reply to  Jordan

Let me take back what I just said. Since Cenchreae is part of Corinth, I do not think there are two churches at Corinth. There is no historical evidence of more than one church in Corinth, however, Corinth was perhaps considered a region more than a specific city, but still that does not prove Witness Lee’s OCOC.

3 years ago

Very interesting and well explained post. I have been curious on this subject and many others I have read on this website and others. My question now is, if there is no biblical theme of OCOC, then what do you think the Lord thinks about denominations, Catholic Church, etc.? I am now confused if I choose to pick a church to grow in my Christian life, how can I be sure I made the right choice? Which denominations should we avoid? I see hypocrisy in a lot of different places since I’ve been to many churches in the past. Overall, I believe that as long as we go by the Word and love the Lord and God with our hearts, we can find a place where we can worship in a pure and honest way. Feel free to message me or email me, I am desperately needing more fellowship on this matter. Much grace.