What is your view of lawsuits between Christians?

This question is prompted by the fact that in three cases over the last forty years, some of the local churches have found it necessary to take legal action against false and defamatory accusations advanced by a few closely-associated authors. Some believers have expressed the opinion that our actions were not scriptural—specifically, that they contradicted Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 6 concerning lawsuits between believers. We have considered this matter very carefully and seriously and firmly believe that we have not violated any scriptural principles. We agree that the most desirable way to resolve conflicts between Christians is reconciliation and that dialogue should always be pursued to the fullest extent possible. We have always sought to follow the principle set forth by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. There the Lord charged His disciples to take the way of fellowship to resolve any offenses, initially approaching the offending party in private.

In 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 Paul strongly rebuked a brother in the church in Corinth for taking a fellow believer to court over a personal financial dispute. Instead of resolving the problem by way of fellowship, first individually with the offender and then, if needed, together with other believers, the offended party initiated a lawsuit. The reason for Paul’s rebuke was the failure to first address the problem as brothers in the Lord, a violation of the principle of fellowship in Matthew 18.

In Matthew 18:17, the Lord Jesus Himself anticipated that situations would arise between believers in which the principle of fellowship would be rejected by one of the parties: “If he [the offending brother] refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile [unbeliever] and a tax collector” (NASB). This word implies that such a situation has deteriorated beyond the scriptural bounds of reconciliation through fellowship.

“…such an appeal was neither for personal gain nor to avoid personal mistreatment, but purely to defend and preserve the ministry entrusted to him by the Lord.”

Another principle can be seen in the account of Paul’s “appeal to Caesar” (the ultimate civil authority of his time) in Acts 25:10-12 when unlawful actions by unbelieving Jews threatened his ministry. In contrast to the case in 1 Corinthians 6, such an appeal was neither for personal gain nor to avoid personal mistreatment, but purely to defend and preserve the ministry entrusted to him by the Lord. The Lord vindicated Paul’s use of the civil legal system for this purpose: it resulted in a period of peace for his ministry (Acts 28:30-31) and allowed him to write eight more New Testament Epistles.

In a few instances, the local churches have been the subject of libelous publications. The slanderous accusations in these books not only jeopardized the ministry that the Lord has entrusted to us and adversely affected our relationships with other Christians, but they were used as justification to persecute, imprison, and even execute members of the churches in countries that do not have the same guarantees of religious freedom that we enjoy in the United States. As the damages from these false accusations grew, brothers in the local churches sought repeatedly to meet with the books’ authors and publishers in hopes of achieving an amicable resolution, but these requests for fellowship were ignored and the publication of these defamatory books continued.

The rejection of repeated attempts at fellowship and reconciliation left no recourse but to follow Paul’s example of appealing to Caesar for the sake of the ministry’s continuation. Libel suits were filed against The Mindbenders and The God-Men in 1980 and against Harvest House’s Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions in 2001. These were not cases concerning doctrinal disputations or personal gain, but concerning widely disseminated false and defamatory publications alleging gross illegalities. Having made every possible effort to solve the problem according to the pattern of fellowship in Matthew 18 and receiving no response, the local churches took the necessary step of appealing to the law courts in order to make known the truth so that our service to the Lord would not be annulled.

As a result of the legal action taken by the local churches in the 1980s, The Mindbenders was retracted with a public apology, and The God-Men was determined by the court to be “in all major respects false, defamatory and unprivileged, and, therefore, libelous,” and written with “actual malice.” Following this retraction and judgment, the local churches experienced many years of peace in which to minister.

In 1999, however, there was a resurgence of false and libelous material with the publication of Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR) by John Ankerberg and John Weldon, who had a close association with the defendants in The God-Men case. ECNR‘s accusations were even more serious than those that had previously been proven false and libelous. Although the district court that heard all the evidence in the case consistently ruled in favor of the local churches, the Texas Court of Appeals decided in a pre-trial summary judgment that the book’s accusations were protected as religious “free speech” and were sufficiently ambiguous as to whom they applied that they were not actionable. This judgment was based in part on the defendants’ false representation that the book’s definition of cult encompassed only beliefs so that any statements made about the groups in the book were matters of protected religious opinion. It is significant that the Court of Appeals did not rule that the book’s representation of the local churches was factually accurate, which it was not.

“For Christians in America, being labeled a cult member may only result in humiliation; for Christians in Asia, it can result in persecution to an extent we never have to worry about here.”

An article in the Christian Research Journal by its editor-in-chief, Elliot Miller, faulted the reasoning of the court’s decision, saying, “Whether the court agreed to it or not, this reasoning is simply false. Every definition that ECNR offers for ‘cult’ includes practices as well as beliefs” (Christian Research Journal, vol. 32, no. 6, 2009, p. 43). Miller stated that he shared evangelicals’ concerns over the use of litigation to remedy the false accusations made in ECNR but added, “After my tour of China, however, I understood. I shared meals with Christian brothers who served prison terms after authorities were emboldened to take action against them by ECNR and the Appeals Court’s ruling. For Christians in America, being labeled a cult member may only result in humiliation; for Christians in Asia, it can result in persecution to an extent we never have to worry about here” (p. 44). Miller also examined the accusation that the local churches are litigious and stated, “To sum up: what the countercult community perceives to be litigious behavior on the part of the LC can in most cases be documented to be merely an effort to meet with and appeal to countercult writers and publishers to correct false allegations that they have published against a Christian group” (p. 46).

For more information, please see:

For Elliot Miller’s article reviewing the litigations involving the local churches, see “Part 5: Addressing the Open Letter’s Concerns: On Lawsuits with Evangelical Christians,” beginning at page 38 in Christian Research Journal, vol. 32, no. 6, available at http://www.equip.org/PDF/EnglishOpt.pdf#page=38.

Why do some people accuse you of being a cult?

Sources of Accusation

The local churches are composed of genuine redeemed and reborn believers in Christ. Our beliefs and practices center on the unique Person and work of Jesus Christ the Savior, and our teachings are based solely on the Bible as God’s infallible Word. Although the local churches reject all heresy and espouse the genuine Christian faith common to all believers, a relatively small group of people initiated the accusation that we are a cult, either out of a sense of religious rivalry or because of a deficient understanding of the strong biblical basis of our teaching. Sadly, some believers who have no personal, direct knowledge of the local churches or our beliefs have also spread this accusation. Thus, even though these accusations were answered more than forty years ago, some still unknowingly pass on unsubstantiated rumors as truth.

The Portion of Those Who Follow the Lord

“…a genuine move of God among any group of believers should expect to encounter opposition, for whatever God loves, His enemy hates and specifically targets for persecution and slander.”

Those who seek to follow the Lord purely have always had to endure rumors and opposition. The Lord Himself endured much persecution, due primarily not to what He taught, but to the envy of zealous religionists whose disciples were drawn away to follow Him (John 9:22; 11:45-48, 53; 12:10-11, 19). The Lord warned His disciples that they would suffer persecution—not only from the world, but even more at the hands of the most zealous religionists (John 16:2). This pattern of false accusation was repeated among the Lord’s followers: John the Baptist (Luke 7:33), the apostle Paul (Acts 5:17; 17:5), and many significant Christian groups throughout history often suffered from the opposition of their religious contemporaries.

The pattern of the Lord’s persecution, His warning to His own disciples, and the testimony of church history confirm that while persecution alone is not an indicator of orthodoxy, many crucial moves of God have been subjected to opposition based on religious envy and even silenced by it. Spiritual warfare is a stark reality; history testifies that God’s enemy strategically rises up to damage or destroy that which the Lord most desires and cherishes. Thus, a genuine move of God among any group of believers should expect to encounter opposition, for whatever God loves, His enemy hates and specifically targets for persecution and slander.

Taking the Way of Christian Fellowship Yields Understanding

Of course, as much as depends on us, we as Christians should all pursue understanding and fellowship with our fellow believers in the interest of truth and the building of the Lord’s Body. For this reason, in recent years members of the local churches have engaged in extended dialogues with representatives of Fuller Theological Seminary and of two respected apologetics ministries—Christian Research Institute (CRI) and Answers in Action (AIA). All three have come to recognize the local churches as genuine believers.

The Fuller scholars issued a statement in which they said:

It is the conclusion of Fuller Theological Seminary that the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect.

The Fuller study found that the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee was consistently misrepresented by their critics:

…the teachings of Witness Lee have been grossly misrepresented and therefore most frequently misunderstood in the general Christian community, especially among those who classify themselves as evangelicals.

After a research project spanning six years, CRI, one of the earliest critics of the local churches, devoted an entire issue of their flagship publication, the Christian Research Journal, to a reevaluation of the teaching and practice of the local churches. Of their earlier findings, the issue’s cover declared “We Were Wrong.” In his summation of the study CRI President Hank Hanegraaff wrote:

To begin with, the local churches are not a cult from a theological perspective…
Furthermore, the local churches are not a cult from a sociological perspective…

Finally, the local churches are an authentic expression of New Testament Christianity.

Accusations of Cult Ruled Libelous

“…the Court ruled that a book that called the local churches a cult was false, defamatory, and made with malicious intent…”

The findings of these respected institutions confirm the ruling of the California State Superior Court in a 1980 libel case. In that case the Court ruled that a book that called the local churches a cult was false, defamatory, and made with malicious intent to damage the local churches. Because the word cult is loaded with highly negative connotations, it is an extremely serious matter to raise or propagate such an accusation against any person or group without proper and adequate investigation.

 

For more information, please see:

Concerning the research of Fuller Theological Seminary and the Christian Research Institute:

Concerning the libel cases:

Do you participate in joint efforts with other Christian groups?

To respond appropriately to this question we must first distinguish the behavior and responsibility of an individual member in the local church from that of the church as a corporate entity. In the local churches the decision to participate in joint efforts with other Christian groups is left entirely to the conscience of each individual member. In our standing as the church, however, we feel constrained by the Lord not to promote such efforts. Contrary to what some may claim, this stand does not mean that we consider ourselves more highly than other believers, nor does it mean that we regard ourselves as the only true Christians. Rather, our position is a result of our aspiration to arrive at the genuine oneness to which Christ called us and for which He prayed (John 17:21-23; Eph. 4:11-16).

In response, no doubt, to the biblical call to oneness, Christian groups commonly join together for one of two reasons—to promote a “cause” (emphasizing a particular activity, person, issue, or viewpoint), or to demonstrate their unity (ecumenism). To gather together for a specific cause serves to establish that cause as the center and focus rather than Christ, effectively excluding those believers who may not hold the same view. An ecumenical effort, on the other hand, attempts to unite organizations or denominations in a temporary display of oneness while maintaining the denominational “walls” that divide them. If Christians temporarily work together yet maintain their denominated standing, new believers gained by such efforts are presented with a serious dilemma: With which group do they meet? As new believers join the various denominations, these ecumenical efforts serve to ultimately build up the divided situation they were intended to overcome. Regardless how noble the intentions, both types of efforts compromise and frustrate God’s way of impartial, indivisible, eternal oneness by adulterating with natural human endeavor the purity of Christian oneness revealed in the Bible.

The scriptural way of oneness, the way the local churches seek to follow, is very consistent, definite, practical, and clear (Acts 2:42-47; Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Col. 3:10-15). The Bible never endorses either a cause or an organization around which believers should unite. In fact, the Bible invariably points us to God Himself as the unique factor of our oneness (John 17:21-23). He alone is the source of our oneness (John 17:11), He is the sole means of our oneness (17:23), and as a result, He is the only One glorified through our oneness (17:21). As Christians seeking diligently to fulfill the Lord’s charge to arrive at and maintain such oneness with our fellow believers, we are bound by our conscience to live so that our testimony would express the oneness revealed in God’s Word for His glory, rather than uplifting any man-made cause or movement.

Do you value the writings of other Bible teachers in addition to Watchman Nee and Witness Lee?

It must be made very clear, first of all, that the believers in the local churches hold the Word of God in supreme honor. We do not value the writings of any person as equal to or above the Holy Scriptures. However, from the time the Bible was written and began to be translated, many notable Bible expositors have been raised up by God to interpret the Scriptures and thereby, to further open the believers’ eyes to see and apprehend the riches in the Bible. These faithful servants of God have progressively advanced our understanding of the Bible’s revelation. Because of the great help they have rendered to us, many of us in the local churches read and value their writings.

Although we do receive much spiritual enlightenment from the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee (Witness Lee’s senior co-worker in China), the believers in the local churches also draw from a variety of resources in their study of the Bible. Vine’s Expository Dictionary, Wuest’s Word Studies, and Vincent’s Word Studies provide invaluable help for the careful and serious student of the Bible. The illuminating writings of Andrew Murray, J.N. Darby, Mary McDonough, G.H. Pember, and C.H. Mackintosh are just a few of the works that have enriched the believers in the local churches. We also profit from the spiritual experiences conveyed in the biographies of exemplary Christians throughout church history. Furthermore, we gain a crucial perspective from examining the Lord’s move through the New Testament age in our reading of books on church history.

“…the believers in the local churches … enjoy and employ the rich heritage of truth based on the faithful labor and insightful interpretation of many Bible students and teachers throughout the last two millennia.”

Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee often expressed gratitude for the enlightenment and inspiration they had received from other Christian authors. In fact, they gave credit for many of the insights in their writings to the works of others and said they were “standing on the shoulders of all those who had gone before.” In this way, they instilled within the believers in the local churches a keen appreciation and healthy esteem for Christian writings from the Church Fathers, the Reformation, the British Brethren, the inner-life believers, and other evangelical and fundamental Christians. They often encouraged us to study the writings of the above-mentioned and other Christian teachers and also promoted the use of reference materials (e.g., word studies, lexicons, and Bible dictionaries) in our study of the Bible.

In conclusion, the believers in the local churches not only highly value the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, but also enjoy and employ the rich heritage of truth based on the faithful labor and insightful interpretation of many Bible students and teachers throughout the last two millennia.

For more information, please see:

Do you have your “own” Bible?

“Our beliefs and practices are based solidly and exclusively on the Scriptures alone, not merely on any one translation or interpretation of them.”

This question arises from the fact that the believers meeting in the local churches frequently use a translation of the Bible called the Recovery Version. The Recovery Version is a reliable translation which does not add to, take away from, or alter the text of the canonical Holy Scriptures to fit our doctrinal beliefs and practices. Our beliefs and practices are based solidly and exclusively on the Scriptures alone, not merely on any one translation or interpretation of them. In fact, the local churches had been meeting and enjoying the ministry of the Word for over sixty years before the Recovery Version of the New Testament was first published in 1985.

A team of scholars meeting with the local churches translated the Recovery Version from the original languages according to principles and standards of translation established by major English versions of the last five centuries. Their intention was to produce a translation true to the original text and context that is both accurate and readable.

Although we agree that there are a number of excellent versions available in English, we primarily use the Recovery Version of the Bible because:

  1. In some key instances its word choice is closer to the original languages than the rendering in other major versions.
  2. It is overall a more literal translation of the Bible than most modern English versions.

In addition, the Recovery Version comes in a study edition with many valuable footnotes and references.

The believers meeting with the local church love and honor the Bible as the infallible and complete truth inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. Although we primarily use the Recovery Version, we by no means rely on it exclusively. In our seeking to know the truth revealed in the Bible, we read and utilize many different translations because we recognize that no single translation is perfect, final, or definitive.

It is our hope that the Lord will continue to open up to all His believers and to all men the light and truth in His Word!

For more information, please see:

www.recoveryversion.bible, especially “Translating the Bible
www.BiblesforAmerica.org (for a free copy of the study version: The Recovery Version of the New Testament)
The Translation of the Bible,” by Witness Lee

Why do some people call you “the church of Witness Lee”?

Christ formed the church and is the unique Owner of the church and its undisputed leader.”

Because the practice of meeting as local churches according to the New Testament pattern was brought to us through the ministry of Witness Lee, some have mistakenly assumed that the local churches were owned or controlled by Witness Lee. This is not the case. Witness Lee himself taught and practiced, according to the clear revelation of the Scriptures, that Christ formed the church (Eph. 2:15) and is the unique Owner of the church (Rom. 16:16, Matt. 16:18, Acts 20:28 and its undisputed Leader (Acts 5:31).

We uphold the biblical truth and practice that no individual could or should ever occupy Christ’s unique place in the church.

Witness Lee had a proper relationship with the local churches according to the principles set forth in the New Testament. He labored diligently and selflessly for more than seventy years to serve the churches and to minister the New Testament truths to the believers for the building up of the Body of Christ. As in any proper New Testament ministry, such as the ministry of the apostle Paul, Witness Lee’s ministry raised up local churches. Just as with the apostle Paul, although local churches were established by him, these churches were never to be considered his possession or under his control. Paul spoke strongly to the Corinthian believers, rebuking them for saying that they, as the church, were “of Paul” (1 Cor. 1:12). Just as the apostle’s relationship with the church was misunderstood, even by the believers (2 Cor. 12:14-19; 13:10), it should not be surprising that today there are also those who may convey a distorted view of the relationship of a minister of Christ with the churches being served.

“Just as with the apostle Paul, although local churches were established by him, these churches were never to be considered his possession or under his control.”

An examination of Witness Lee’s writings and teachings should dispel any confusion regarding his relationship with the local churches. Witness Lee often described himself simply as “a bondslave of Jesus Christ.” His writings and teachings testify that during his lifetime there was no system of control set in place either by himself or through any form of hierarchy.

Since his passing in 1997, the local churches have continued in the same spirit of honoring the unique headship of Christ in the church (Eph. 1:22). In accordance with Scripture, neither his writings nor his teachings allow any provision for the raising up of an authoritarian structure among the churches. What Witness Lee did teach, however, regarding his relationship with the local churches and the proper biblical leadership remains with us in the local churches as a pattern:

If anyone asks who is the leader in the church, you need to say that the leader is Christ. To answer in this way indicates that you know the truth and practice the truth. If someone claims that Witness Lee is the leader, you need to tell him, “Witness Lee is our slave.”

— Witness Lee

For more information, please see:

Do you believe that you are the only true church?

“…we are part of that one true church, along with all of our fellow believers.”

No, we do not believe this. As there is only one God, there is also only one genuine church, the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13), which includes all believers, regardless of their conviction or practice regarding the church. We have never claimed that we, the believers meeting together as the local churches, are the only true church. What we do claim is that we are part of that one true church, along with all of our fellow believers. It is this church that the Lord spoke of in Matthew 16:18, when He said, “I will build My church.” This is the unique universal church, which is composed of all those in every place and throughout all of time who have believed into the Lord Jesus Christ.

Based on such an understanding of the oneness of the church universally, what is the Bible’s pattern for the practical daily church life?

We believe that, in accordance the pattern of the churches in the New Testament, the practical visible expression of the church should match the oneness of the universal church.

Just as the church is indivisible universally, we believe that its visible expression in time and space should likewise be absolutely, uncompromisingly one. In order to establish and maintain such practical oneness among the many members of the Body of Christ throughout the earth, God established a pattern in the New Testament of having only one church including all believers in each city. All the believers in their respective cities comprise the church in that city. Collectively, these churches are the many local expressions of the one universal church. According to the New Testament, these local churches are established solely on the inclusive ground of geography—specifically, the entire city—not on the exclusive ground of any doctrine, person, spiritual experience, concept, or form of church government (Rev. 1:11; 1 Cor. 1:10). For that reason, we follow the New Testament practice of designating the local churches as the church in a city as, for example, the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1), the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and the seven churches in seven cities in Asia (Rev. 1:11).

“By meeting as the church in a city, we are endeavoring to maintain the oneness with all the believers in that city, neither excluding nor dividing ourselves from those who choose not to meet with us.”

By meeting as the church in a city, we are endeavoring to maintain a testimony of our oneness with all the believers in that city, neither excluding nor dividing ourselves from those who choose not to meet with us. In practice, meeting as the church in a city is the most inclusive, least exclusive possible basis on which to meet, for by definition the boundary of the church includes all Christians within a given city. Therefore, as a proper and genuine local church, we receive all believers in Christ just as God has received them (Romans 14:3; 15:7); our meetings are open to all believers and are for all believers, and we gladly fellowship with others whether or not they choose to meet with us in this way.

For more information, please see:

Do you believe that only those meeting with the local church are Christians?

Of course not. We neither believe nor teach that one must meet with us in order to be a genuine Christian. We receive in fellowship (Rom. 14:1–15:13) all proper believers in Christ regardless of where they choose to meet.

We recognize that in the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant denominations, and the independent groups there are many genuine blood-washed, Spirit-regenerated believers in Christ and we receive them as our brothers and sisters in the Lord. In fact, many of those meeting with the local church came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ prior to meeting with us. We rejoice in this! Being born again (regenerated) is not dependent upon what one believes concerning the church, that is, upon how, where, or even whether one chooses to meet with other Christians.

“…we joyfully receive all those whom Christ has received. We have no right to reject those whom Christ has received.”

We believe and teach that eternal salvation is obtained uniquely through repentance unto God and faith in Christ (Acts 20:21), that it is absolutely of grace and not of man’s works (Eph. 2:8). The foundation of the faith we hold in common with all believers (Jude 3) is the very Person and redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7).

Furthermore, we joyfully receive all those whom Christ has received (Rom. 15:7). We have no right to reject those whom Christ has received. We welcome fellowship with all the Lord’s children.

For more information, please see: