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).
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.
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
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