Local Churchs’ Practices

Are the Local Churches a Cult?

The following is an article from The Christian Research Institute’s website, written by Hank Hanegraaff (the Bible Answer Man) himself:

This article first appeared in the Ask Hank column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 32, number 6 (2009). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to:http://www.equip.org

On the basis of a six-year primary research project represented in part in this Special Edition of the JOURNAL, the Christian Research Institute has concluded that the local churches are a genuine expression of authentic New Testament Christianity.

To begin with, the local churches are not a cult from a theological perspective. In this sense, a cult may be defined as a pseudo-Christian organization that claims to be Christian but outright denies essential Christian doctrine. While I personally have differences with the local churches when it comes to secondary issues, such as the timing of the tribulation or the meaning of the millennium, I stand shoulder to shoulder with the local churches when it comes to the essentials that define biblical orthodoxy. With respect to the Trinity, for example, we are united in the reality that there is one God revealed in three persons who are eternally distinct. Although we may disagree on the exegesis of particular passages, this premise is inviolate. Moreover, it is significant to note that in interacting with members of the local churches over a protracted period of time, I have witnessed in them a keen interest in doctrinal precision sadly missing in major segments of the evangelical community.

Furthermore, the local churches are not a cult from a sociological perspective. In this sense, a cult is a religious or semireligious sect whose followers are controlled by strong leadership in virtually every dimension of their lives. Devotees characteristically manifest a displaced loyalty for the “guru” and the group and are galvanized together through physical and/or psychological intimidation tactics. It is unconscionable that the local churches have been uncharitably lumped together with sociological cults involved in the most heinous activities conceivable. Indeed, it is tragic that this classification has been used to persecute and imprison members of the local churches in various regions around the world.

Finally, the local churches are an authentic expression of New Testament Christianity. Moreover, as a group forged in the cauldron of persecution, it has much to offer Western Christianity. In this respect three things immediately come to mind.

First is their practice of prophesying—not in the sense of foretelling the future but in the 1 Corinthians 14 sense of exhorting, edifying, encouraging, educating, equipping, and explicating Scripture. As such, constituents are corporately involved in worship through the Word. Second is their practice of pray-reading as a meaningful link between the intake of Scripture and efficacious communion with God in prayer. And third is their fervent commitment to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19).

If the early Christian church had one distinguishing characteristic, it was their passion to communicate the love, joy, and peace that only Jesus Christ can bring to the human heart. As we become entrenched in an age of esotericism, it is essential that genuine believers in all walks of life emulate this passion—a passion I have personally witnessed as I shared fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ from local churches in such faraway cities as Taipei, Seoul, and Nanjing.

In sum, along with Christians from a broad range of persuasions, the local churches are dedicated to both proper doctrine (orthodoxy) and proper practice (orthopraxy). As such, we march together by the maxim, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” While we will continue to debate secondary issues this side of the veil, I have no doubt that we will spend an eternity together growing in the knowledge of the One who saved us by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone.

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast heard daily throughout the United States and Canada. For a list of stations airing the Bible Answer Man, or to listen online, log on to www.equip.org.

Experience with Christian Students on Campus and the Local Churches

The following is a testimony from Keri in Los Angeles regarding her experience with Christian Students on Campus and the Local Churches:

I just want to share a little bit of my thoughts and experience. I grew up in an alliance church; but most of my friends and I, and even the ones who shepherded us, give no emphasis on what the denomination means–our center has always been Christ. As I later moved to different places, I went to different churches; some bear a denomination name, some don’t. But these do not matter as these names are men-made; the true vine, the true foundation has always been Christ.

After I came to L.A., I met the Christian Students on campus. At first there may be something that I am not familiar with, like the practice of calling on the name of the Lord… but this is just a difference in terms of practice, and I believe that Lee and Nee’s teaching are faithful witnesses to the Lord; they are from the spirit of God! (1 John 1:2), so it is sad when other Christians calling these teachers false prophets simply because their practice may seem different from others’. Since before meeting Christian Students I have been in another church with my sister, I join the brothers and sisters in Bible study and Friday fellowship only, but I must testify that every single Bible study and meeting with the local churches have been so rich and precious in many ways. and nothing contradicts to the teaching or experiences I have had before. Everything is done for and in the Lord! I just appreciate so much their sincere love and heart for the kingdom of God!!

I believe the Lord does not want any of us to be like Diotrephes…we follow Christ our Lord, but not men as our leader, and we should welcome and love all who love the Lord and become one body!! We all bear the same spirit and have the same vine, same bread, same foundation…Our God wants one church that has its foundation as Christ in which the gates of Hade will not overcome!

For more, please see an-open-letter.org

Witness Lee on the Local Churches

Recently I was reading the Life-Study of Revelation by Witness Lee and came across a section explaining how the universal church is expressed, realized, and made practical in the local churches.

The universal church as the Body of Christ is expressed through the local churches. The local churches, as the expressions of the one Body of Christ (Rev. 1:12, 20), are locally one (Acts 8:1; 13:1; Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 1:2). Revelation 1:4 says, “John to the seven churches which are in Asia.” Asia was a province of the ancient Roman Empire in which were the seven cities mentioned in 1:11. The seven churches were in those seven cities respectively, not all in one city. This book does not deal with the one universal church but with the local churches in many cities. The church is firstly revealed as universal in Matthew 16:18 and then as local in Matthew 18:17. In Acts the church was practiced in the way of local churches, such as the church at Jerusalem (8:1), the church at Antioch (13:1), the church at Ephesus (20:17), and the churches in the provinces of Syria and Cilicia (15:41). Except for a few written to some individuals, all the Epistles were written to the local churches. Not one was written to the universal church. Without the local churches there is no practicality and actuality of the universal church. The universal church is realized in the local churches.

What are the local churches according to the Bible?

In 1:11 the voice said to John, “What you see write in a book and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” This verse is composed in a very important way. In this verse we see that the sending of this book “to the seven churches” equals the sending of it to the seven cities. This shows clearly that the practice of the church life in the early days was that of one church for one city, one city with one church. In no city was there more than one church. This is the local church, local city-wise, not street-wise or area-wise. The jurisdiction of a local church should cover the whole city in which the church is; it should not be greater or lesser than the boundary of the city. All the believers within that boundary should constitute the one unique local church within that city. Hence, one church equals one city, and one city equals one church. This is what we call the local churches.

Why can’t we just solely have the one universal church?

The church needs to have its expression. If we talk about the church without having the expression of the church, our talk is entirely theoretical; it is not practical. For the church to be real and practical, there is the need of the local churches. If you do not have the local churches, you do not have the church. Likewise, if you do not have the members, you do not have the Body. If you do not have the local church, you cannot have the universal church, for the universal church is composed of all the local churches just as the human body is composed of its many members.

Local Churches not being another Denomination:

In 1963 I was asked to speak at a certain place in Missouri. At the end of the meeting, the host stood up and, in a nice, humble, polite way, said, “Brother Lee, please tell us why you call yourselves the church in Los Angeles.” I replied, “Brother, if we don’t call ourselves the church, then what should we call ourselves? We simply are the church. This is not only the truth but also the fact.” We are what we are. Although we might pretend or presume to be something else, that is not what we truly are. Before the Lord’s recovery came to the United States, no Christians said that they were the church in Los Angeles. Therefore, when we came to Los Angeles, we had to call ourselves the church in Los Angeles.

Revelation 1:20 says, “The mystery of the seven stars which you have seen on My right hand and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are seven churches.” When John saw the seven stars in the right hand of Christ and the seven golden lampstands in the midst of which was Christ, it was a mystery to him. He did not realize the significance of the seven heavenly stars and the seven golden lampstands. Hence, the Lord unveiled the mystery to him, saying that “the seven stars are messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are seven churches.” The significance of this was not only a mystery to John, but also to believers today. All believers need the unveiling of this mystery to see the churches and their messengers.

The churches, signified by the golden lampstands, are “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2, 9) in the divine nature, shining in the dark night locally, yet collectively. The churches should be of the divine nature—golden. They should be the stands, even the lampstands, that bear the lamp with the oil (Christ as the life-giving Spirit), shining in the darkness respectively and collectively. They are individual lampstands locally, yet at the same time they are a group, a collection, of lampstands universally. They are not only shining locally, but also bearing universally the same testimony both to the localities and to the universe. They are of the same nature and in the same shape. They bear the same lamp for the same purpose and are fully identified with one another, not having any individual distinctiveness. The differences of the local churches recorded in chapters two and three are all of a negative nature, not of a positive nature. Negatively, in their failures, they are different and separate one from another; but positively, in their nature, shape, and purpose, they are absolutely identical and connected one to another. It is easy for believers to see the universal church, but it is difficult for them to see the churches.