Gretchen Passantino

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

Shortcomings of an Open Letter (1) – “We Were Wrong”

It’s difficult to admit you’re wrong. Especially if you’re a major Christian organization that claims to be a research institute, like the Christian Research Institute (CRI).

In the following video, Hank and Elliot discuss an Open Letter concerning the Local Churches and how seventy Christian scholars and ministry leaders could be wrong. Elliot describes the early research done by CRI and commented, “That they [the open letter signers] would be wrong only follows since they’re building their conclusions on our original work, and we were wrong.”

The quote in context is:

You see, it was on the basis of our research primarily, that the whole body of literature on the Local Church was built. And the quotations that appear in this open letter, we’re very familiar with, because we unearthed a lot of those. So, to me, that they would be wrong only follows since they’re building their conclusions on our original work. And we were wrong.

Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Man, says:

And Elliot, one of the things that has taken place publicly and is now being roundly disseminated through the internet is an open letter by seventy Christians who are openly asking Witness Lee and his followers; Witness Lee, of course, not alive anymore, but the movement to renounce their heretical teachings. And the first question that always comes to my mind when you see a letter like this is how can seventy Christians be wrong? Particularly on something that these Christians know a lot about, and that is, the nature of God. How could they have missed the import of Witness Lee’s words; such that they’re saying his words are downright heretical?

We Were WrongElliot Miller, Editor in Chief of Christian Research Institute, says:

Well, you know, Hank, when you ask that question, my response is that something that I personally find even more amazing than the idea that seventy Christians (and not just Christians, but many of these people are leading scholars, apologists, thinkers, counter-cult workers) that they could be wrong. To me, it’s even more amazing that I could be wrong. And I was wrong, you see. And so was Gretchen Passantino, our colleague, who worked with me under Walter Martin here in the 1970’s. And who, with her husband, Bob, did the original research on the Local Church movement. They actually wrote the very first critique of it in 1975. You see, it was on the basis of our research primarily, that the whole body of literature on the Local Church was built. And the quotations that appear in this open letter, we’re very familiar with, because we unearthed a lot of those. So, to me, that they would be wrong only follows since they’re building their conclusions on our original work. And we were wrong.