Archived Post: One City, One Church & Witness Lee’s Groundless Take on Romans 16 (Version 1)
This is an archive of the version 1 of this blog post, which was originally published 01/02/2020. You can find the revised version of this post here.
This version of this post was innaccurate about Cenchrea being within the city of Corinth. Cenchrea being “within” the city of Corinth is inaccurate. Cenchrea was certainly a port of Corinth, and it had its own settlement, a town, but it was not “within” the city of Corinth.
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. The church in Cenchrea was recognized in Romans 16:1. Paul calling the church in Cenchrea anything other than “the church in Corinth” 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 Cenchrea’s actual geography:
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; Truth Life, the Church, and the Gospel–The Four Great Pillars in the Lord’s Recovery; Chapter 9; Section 3 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
Witness Lee was wrong about Cenchrea fitting the OCOC teaching. Based on OCOC, he should’ve said something like, “If we had been in Cenchrea, we would have had to meet with the church in 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. Cenchrea was within Corinth.
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.Life-Study of Romans, Chapter 59, Section 3 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
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; Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 189-204); Chapter 10; Section 4 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
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; Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 189-204); Chapter 10; Section 4 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
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.