Discernment Ministry: Is the Local Church Movement a Cult?

In the Christian Research Journal entitled We Were Wrong, this question was posed: Are the Local Churches, Founded by Watchman Nee and His Protégé Witness Lee, a Pseudo-Christian Cult? In a series of YouTube videos on The Local Churches, the Christian Research Institute answers this question. In their reassessment of the Local Church movement of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, they have done a thorough, in-depth study of the Local Churches and their practices. They give an outsider’s point of view that is both balanced and Biblical.

In this video, Hank Hanegraaff (the Bible Answer Man) and Elliot Miller (Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal) discuss the importance of doing discernment ministry properly and the consequences of statements made in error regarding the local churches.

The main takeaway message is that ideas have consequences.

Hank says:

We as believers need to learn how to do discernment ministry properly. We need to look carefully at how investigative journalism is being done within the Christian church. Oftentimes it’s not  investigative journalism; it’s the yellow journalism practiced in the world, imported into the church. So often we are stuck in our own psycho-epistomological cocoons, in a linguistic hall of mirrors. And we think that somehow or other we have been able to fully codify the mystery of the nature of God in our language. And denounce those, when cultural barriers are often the obstacle. We need, as Christians, to understand doctrine and theology. We need to know that theology matters. That what we are discussing in studio today is not an ivory tower debate. There are people halfway around the world sitting in prisons and dying, because ideas have consequences. That’s what we’re talking about today.

Elliott says:

That’s exactly right, Hank. Ideas do have consequences. What we in the counter-cult community have published doing our thing of critiquing different movements according to a paradigm that we developed. If you fit into this paradigm, you’re orthodox, if you don’t fit into it then you’re unorthodox. But not really thinking in terms of a larger paradigm that would match the entire human race. We’re seeing things from the paradigm of our Western evangelical perspective. If we stamp heresy on a group because they failed our litmus test, we may not realize that that was:

#1 that that was a culturally more than theologically determined stamp

#2 that the consequences of that is that our brothers and sisters in Christ directly because of what we published, are being put in prison, and persecuted, and some don’t return alive.

And, you know, this is not melodramatic speech. I met people, when you and I were in China last year, who had been in prison as a result of material that we and others have published. And they could not have been more gracious, but the Holy Spirit was gracious enough to let me see the consequences of our past cavalier actions.


yellow journalism – 

n: the use of lurid features and sensationalized news in newspaper publishing to attract readers and increase circulation

The published books that Elliot is referring to and to which Christian Research Institute says, “We Were Wrong,” includes:

The Teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church

The Mind Benders by Jack Sparks

The God-Men by Neil Duddy & the Spiritual Counterfeits Project

These books have been retracted.



Encyclopedia Britannica Online

We Were Wrong 



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