are the local churches a pseudo-christian cult

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.

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.

 

References: 

Encyclopedia Britannica Online

We Were Wrong 

DISCERN

A Reassessment of the Local Church movement of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee

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, says:

One of the distinctives of the move of the Holy Spirit that you’re involved in, it’s not for the pastor alone to study the Word of God. It is not alone for the pastor to prophesy in the sense of encouragement, edification, exhortation, and equipping, but it is for every believer to be involved in the proclamation of the Word in praise and in worship. In every sense, we worship God through prayer, praise, and the proclamation of the Word. And that is for every believer.

Regarding the functioning of all the believers, Witness Lee is quoted at the end of this video:

God desires that each of the believers prophesy, that is, speak for and speak forth Him.

References: 

We Were Wrong 

Witness Lee, Functioning in Life as Gifts Given to the Body of Christ (Anaheim, Living Stream Ministry, 2002), p. 16