This is the last video released from the Christian Research Institute in their research on Witness Lee and the Local Churches regarding the shortcomings of an open letter. In this particular video, Elliot Miller explains the teaching of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee concerning the proper standing of a local church. Something he says of Witness Lee and the Local Churches that is noteworthy is:
I was believing a lot of second hand information about their behavior and their claims that I was getting from other researchers instead of going to the source itself and confirming these things. But really, you know, what you have to understand here is that the underlying concern behind their teaching on localism, which is the belief that there’s one church in one city, is a desire to see unity in the Body of Christ and a desire to accept all believers as Christians.
Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, starts off by saying:
Again, we’re talking about a movement that was originally founded by Watchman Nee, and then his protege Witness Lee helped spread this movement around the globe literally. In China today they are reproducing disciple-makers on a scale that is fairly unprecedented. When you look at this movement many people will say, “Look they call themselves THE Local Churches.” Therefore, if you go into a particular locality – if you go to Charlotte, North Carolina or Los Angeles, California they say there’s only one church, they believe in localism, and therefore it seems to us that they’re calling themselves the only church – is that really what they’re saying?
To which Elliot Miller responds:
No it’s not. And I have to say that, unlike most counter-cult researchers on this particular point, I understood them way back in the seventies because I had read Watchman Nee’s book, The Normal Christian Church Life, and I understood what the teaching was all about. It’s just that I misunderstood how the Local Churches were applying Watchman Nee and I thought they were taking him in ways that actually I now know that they were not. In other words, I was believing a lot of second hand information about their behavior and their claims that I was getting from other researchers instead of going to the source itself and confirming these things. But really, you know, what you have to understand here is that the underlying concern behind their teaching on localism, which is the belief that there’s one church in one city, is a desire to see unity in the Body of Christ and a desire to accept all believers as Christians. It’s not a desire to create a point of division where they are the true church and you’re not in it, or to renounce you as a genuine believer, but they’re simply thinking deeply about the matter and they’re asking, “What is the basis for unity?” Watchman Nee in his writings and Witness Lee in his came to the conclusion that the only proper basis for division among Christians is distance. In other words, in the city of Nanjing they cannot for practical reasons worship with Christians in the city of Shanghai. So there have to be two different churches there because they’re divided by space, you see. But any other division other than denying essentials, which they would certainly agree would be a reason for division – you don’t meet with people that deny Jesus Christ, that deny the gospel – but if we affirm essentials and if we’re in the same locality, why are we not in fellowship, why are we not together? And so they said therefore there’s only one church in one city. When God looks down on a city, such as Charlotte, does He go “Oh, there’s my people, the United Presbyterians. And then there’s the Presbyterian Church of America and there’s the Southern Baptists and there’s the American Baptists and there’s the Assemblies of God…I’ve got so many churches in this city.” No, God doesn’t see our divisions, our distinctions that we have created for theological or aesthetic, or whatever our reasons are for creating you know, personality reasons. In fact, scripture defines such things as carnal. You say you are of Paul, you say you are of Apollos, are you not carnal? I think like mere men, you know, was Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians who divided over personalities. And so what they’re saying is, God looks down and sees one people and in a city there’s one church. That has been misinterpreted to mean that they are claiming to be the true church. Actually they believe all the believers in a city are members of that church. But they believe that we should meet on that basis of locality and that’s where the controversy enters in. A lot of people would say, “No there are good reasons for Presbyterians to meet because they have certain beliefs about covenant in God’s sovereignty that unite them and they can agree and serve God and accomplish things. So there’s different perspectives about these issues. Certainly I’m not saying that the Local Church group has all the answers or that the denominations are wrong. It’s a very complicated issue. But the fact is that they have a right to that opinion. It’s not a cultic belief, it’s a particular take on the basis for the local church. Which we all have to come up with one position or another. They come up with a pretty Biblically solid one. They can make a pretty solid Biblical case for it. It’s not heresy. It’s not saying that you’re not a Christian or you’re not in the church of Jesus Christ. They fully accept you. You go into their meetings, they will serve communion to you if you confess Jesus as your Savior. They’re not denying your salvation, they’re not denying your Christian standing, nor are they denying the Holy Spirit is working in your life and using you. So there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about their beliefs on this subject.