christian research institute

The Teachings of Witness Lee: An Excerpt on Deification

What does Witness Lee teach concerning deification? Many rumors and lies have been spread concerning the teachings of Witness Lee, even to the extent that some say he has a “false gospel.” Well, if one were to go to the source and read Witness Lee’s writings in a balanced way, not taking things out of context, or distorting his words, or jumping to conclusions according to heresay, they would find that Witness Lee’s teachings are sound and Biblical. In fact, the Christian Research Institute, the very source of the rumors and lies about him, have come out to say “We Were Wrong” in an issue of the Christian Research Journal. They admit that the rumors and lies spread about Witness Lee, the Local Churches, and his teachings originated with them and became a “fountainhead of misinformation that traveled halfway around the world before the truth had a chance to get its boots on.” See for yourself HERE.

Beginning in the early 1970s Gretchen Passantino was one of the early critics of the local churches and of Witness Lee. Gretchen speaks about the CRI research team’s reassessment of the teaching of Witness Lee and the local churches, and concludes that it is “well within Christian orthodoxy” and that the members of the churches are “our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The following excerpt is taken from Witness Lee’s Life-Study of Colossians, message 51, regarding his teachings on deification, the subjective experience of Christ, and how the Bible shows that Christ lives in His believers.

“Some Christian teachers oppose the revelation we have seen concerning the subjective experience of Christ. According to them, we deify ourselves, we make ourselves God. They claim that we teach that the self becomes the same as God and that this is self-deification. Although we definitely do not teach that we become God Himself or that we shall ever be worshipped as deity, it is nonetheless true that Christ dwells in us and that He is our life. He becomes us in our experience. As Paul says, “To me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). We have pointed out that Christ cannot be our life without becoming us. Life is our very being. Hence, for Christ to be our life means that He becomes our being. For Christ to become our being is for Christ to become us.

To us, Christ is both objective and subjective. We know Christ both according to doctrine and according to experience. On the one hand, our Christ is on the throne in the heavens. On the other hand, He is in our spirit. We worship the enthroned Christ in the heavens, but we experience, enjoy, and partake of the indwelling Christ in our spirit. We are one with Him in a very subjective way. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:17, “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” Christ is subjective to us to such a degree that He and we, we and He, have become one spirit. To be one spirit with the Lord is greater than to have gifts and miracles. Now that we have become one spirit with the Lord, in our daily life we need to experience being one spirit with Him.”

The following is an excerpt on “Deification in the View of the Early Church.”

Our teaching concerning man becoming God in God’s salvation must respect this distinction recognized by the church from its earliest centuries. And as the many quotations from Brother Lee’s ministry indicate, this distinction is clearly and forcefully held by us. Because of this distinction, man will never take part in the Godhead; he will never be a fourth person in the Trinity; he will never be worshipped as God. Because man will never lose his attributes as a creature, he will never be the Creator. Man will forever possess the human form and the human nature; thus, he will never be omnipresent. Man will forever be endowed with the limited mental faculties he was given by creation; hence, he will never be omniscient. God is God both outside of creation and within creation; man can at best be joined to God and thereby become God within the confines of creation.

In every way, man’s becoming God will be tempered by and limited to his status as a creature; and actually, what man is by creation gives the greatest credence to the notion that man may become God. In the account of creation in Genesis 1, all living things were created “after their kind” (vv. 11, 12, 21, 24, 25) except man. Hence, in God’s creation there are species of living things, each bearing its own characteristics that distinguish it from other species. But when the creation of man is recounted, he is not said to be created “after his kind.” Instead, the Scriptures say, “Let us [God] make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). We understand this sentence to correspond to the phrase “after their kind” in the other sections of the creation account; we see it as a finer, more detailed utterance of the same notion. Hence, we understand by this sentence that man was created after God’s kind. The apostle Paul made the similar declaration to the Areopagus in Athens: “Being then the race (Gk. genos, ‘species; kind’) of God” (Acts 17:29).

Of course, we all know the sad history of man’s fall, by which man lost a great bit of his likeness to God. Nevertheless, man was created in such a way that through God’s economy man may become God. Adam before the fall was not a deified man; he was not created with God’s life and nature but only with the capacity to receive these. The fall delayed the realization of what man was created for and brought in negative elements that required our redemption. But through Christ’s salvation God’s original intention for man is fulfilled, and man becomes God in life and nature though never in the Godhead.”

References: 

  • Life-Study of Colossians, Message 51
  • The Truth Concerning the Ultimate Goal of God’s Economy, Chapter 1

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.

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.