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
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 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:
- Christian Research Journal, vol. 32, no. 6, entitled “We Were Wrong: A Reassessment of the ‘Local Church’ Movement of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee”
- The Local Churches: “Genuine Believers and Fellow Members of the Body of Christ”, which contains statements by Hank Hanegraaff (CRI), Gretchen Passantino (AIA), and Fuller Theological Seminary
- A Confirmation of the Gospel: Concerning the Teaching of the Local Churches and Living Stream Ministry, which contains a paper presented to and a statement published by Fuller Theological Seminary
- Dialogues with Apologetics Ministries and Theologians
Concerning the libel cases: