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Thomas Nelson, Inc., has recently published a book called The Mindbenders. This book, which purports to offer “vital information on, and refutation of, seven of the most dangerous new cults of our day,”1 contains a chapter entitled, “The Local Church of Witness Lee.” According to this book, local churches, composed of blood-redeemed and Spirit-regenerated believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, are “a mind-capturing heretical cult.”2 In The Mindbenders, the local churches are classified with such devilish and satanic movements as Hare Krishna and the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon. Sprinkled throughout parts of The Mindbenders and concentrated in the chapter on the local church are a host of false accusations. We strongly protest against the charge that the local churches want control over men’s minds and that the goal of this supposed mind control is behavior modification or brainwashing.3 Because the presentation of the ministry of Witness Lee and of the testimony and practice of the local churches in The Mindbenders is so inaccurate, it is incumbent upon us to give public testimony so that the fair-minded, intellectually honest Christian reader may come to an unbiased decision. In this reply we are concerned, of course, only with the material on the local churches. Nothing that is said here should be construed as in any way a defense of the heretical, satanic cults with which The Mindbenders has so wrongly associated us. Furthermore, in this paper we shall be concerned solely with the charges relating to mind control, brainwashing, or mindlessness. Firstly, we shall state the charges made against us, relying primarily upon quotations of the writer’s own words. Then we shall give testimony to the teaching of the Scriptures regarding the mind of man, especially the mind of a Christian in its unrenewed and its renewed condition. Finally, in the light of the testimony of the Scriptures and the actual teaching and practice in the local churches, we shall show how unfair, unjust, and false are the charges made against us in The Mindbenders.
The accusations made in The Mindbenders regarding the supposed mind control practice in the local churches are presented in two ways: as part of general statements covering all seven groups included in the book and as specific accusations made against Witness Lee and the local churches. Since the writer of The Mindbenders considers all seven groups to be the same in principle as far as mindbending is concerned, any general statement regarding brainwashing or mind control may be applied specifically to the local church, for that obviously is the writer’s own intention. He accuses those in the local churches of “bending peoples’ minds rather than guiding them under voluntary subjection to the Triune God.”4 On page 16 of The Mindbenders we read the following:
These widely divergent religious movements have one awesome and terrifying thing in common. They are mindbenders. They’re not just after converts in the conventional sense. They want your mind, and they want absolute control over it…. The goal of their mind control is behavior modification; many call it just plain brainwashing.5
The force of this charge of brainwashing is fully felt when we consider a precise dictionary definition of this term. Brainwashing: “a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, especially through the use of torture, drugs, or psychological-stress techniques.”6 Brainwashing is further defined as “any method of controlled systematic indoctrination.”7 The Mindbenders says, “I believe the mind control these groups practice is every bit as naturalistic as that used by the Communist Chinese with the POWs during the Korean War years ago. And the end result is the same.”8
In the caricature of a church meeting contained in The Mindbenders, the meeting is called “a full-scale psychodrama.”9 Psychodrama is a method of group psychotherapy in which patients take roles in improvisational dramatizations of emotionally charged situations.10 Those in the meeting are described as being “hypnotized,”11 and a new convert is pictured as one whose “will has been broken.”12
The writer of The Mindbenders believes that the method of mind control supposedly used in the local church is more damaging than that of Transcendental Meditation, Hare Krishna, or any other satanic cult. He says, “The brainwashing, or mindbending, of the Local Church is, I believe, the most powerful and lasting of any cult on the contemporary religious scene.”13 The writer makes the further accusation against the Christians in the local churches: “Their means to mind control is as frightening as it is effective. It begins with what I believe to be an involuntary forfeiture of all normal use of the human mind.”14
According to The Mindbenders, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus and praying the words of the Bible are “used as a substitute for the rational use of the mind.”15 The writer claims, “no one is really free to think.”16 He accuses the brothers and sisters in Christ in the local churches of being held by fear, saying, “it seems to be fear that keeps them in.”17 As the writer says, “Fear, it seems to me, is the ultimate weapon in the Local Church.”18
In the opinion of the writer of The Mindbenders, those in the local church have lost touch with reality:
The tragedy is that they have so lost touch with reality that they believe they actually understand without their minds. The mind is to be by-passed. The spirit, that aspect of the human being, which supposedly can alone experience true spiritual understanding, is to be exercised to “partake of Christ.”19
Commenting on the exercise of the human spirit in contacting the Lord and taking Him in as our food and drink, the writer of The Mindbenders asserts:
Lee teaches that … the mind goes out of gear and the human spirit supposedly goes in gear. There is an oft-repeated emphasis: The spirit must be exercised. What this means is that a person must refuse to try to understand anything with his mind … the mind must put forth no effort to grasp what is being said…. Man is to receive and understand God in his spirit, not in his mind. The mind is considered incapable of receiving and understanding God because it is part of the soul.20
The Mindbenders also accuses Witness Lee of taking advantage of the supposed mindless state of the brothers and sisters in the churches:
The conscious effort to not use the mind doesn’t shut the mind off. It simply causes it to work without heed to its critical process. Operating under such conditions, a person accepts what he is told without question. That is the advantage to Lee. In this case the person is persuaded that it is Christ alone that he is receiving, because that is what he is told is happening. Since he is not supposed to use his mind, he usually does not question.21
According to The Mindbenders, instead of experiencing the living Person of the Lord Jesus Christ by calling on His name, we are accused of merely undergoing “a state of altered consciousness.”22
The Mindbenders concludes its analysis of those in the local churches by saying that they have undergone great emotional and spiritual devastation.23 Speaking of those who remain in the local churches, this book concludes: “Their minds no longer function normally because of the effect of this mind-manipulation cult.”24
All these accusations are false.
The purpose of this writing is to give testimony regarding what we actually believe and practice concerning the human mind. In sharp contrast to The Mindbenders, the source of our belief and testimony is not philosophy, psychology, tradition, or human opinion. It is the plain statements of the verbally-inspired Word of God. The Bible has much to say about the mind of man. Our view of the mind exactly coincides with that of the Scriptures, and our attitude toward the mind in both its fallen and its renewed state is also that of the Lord as revealed in the Scriptures. Therefore, if anyone desires sincerely to know the truth of what we in the local churches believe and practice regarding the function of the human mind, he should honestly and openly consider what the Bible has to say. Are you willing to accept without reservation all statements of the Scripture concerning your mind? Are you interested, not in what philosophy or psychology has to say, but in what God’s infallible Word declares? If so, then please consider the testimony of Scripture regarding the normal function of the mind; the mind of the fallen natural man; the need for repentance and the renewing of the mind, even among born-again Christians; the way to experience the renewing of the mind; the characteristics of a renewed mind; and the relationship between the mind and the spirit. Through a consideration of what the Bible says about the mind of man, you will be able to gain an accurate impression of what we in the local churches believe concerning the mind; for we simply believe whatever God has spoken in His Word. Along with quotations from the Scriptures, excerpts from the writings of a number of authors, especially those of Witness Lee, will be cited as supporting testimony of what we and other Christians believe concerning the mind in the light of the statements of Scripture.
The Bible reveals that man is a tripartite being: spirit and soul and body (1 Thes. 5:23). Man has been created in three parts in order to contact the three different worlds: the physical, the spiritual, and the psychological. We contact the physical world by our physical body through the five senses of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. We contact the spiritual world by means of our spirit. In our spirit we have a spiritual sense with which to contact God and the spiritual things. There is also the psychological world which we contact through our soul, the psychological part of our being.25 The mind, the main part of the soul, is for thinking, considering (Psa. 13:2), knowing (Psa. 139:14), and remembering (Lam. 3:20). The mind also has a function in relation to God and the things of the Spirit. Although it is the spirit of man (Zech. 12:1) that directly contacts God the Spirit (John 4:24)—the Spirit witnesses with our spirit (Rom. 8:16), and we are joined to the Lord Jesus in spirit (1 Cor. 6:17)—the mind is needed to understand spiritual things. There is no doubt that spiritual understanding is related to the mind. In our mind we may have wisdom and spiritual understanding (Col. 1:9). As Revelation 17:9 says, “And here is the mind which hath wisdom.” However, although the mind can contact the psychological world directly, it contacts God and the things of the Spirit indirectly through the human spirit. As one dear brother testified in a meeting many years ago, “The function of the mind is to receive the impressions from the spirit and to express them as life.” To put it simply, with the spirit we receive God and with the mind we understand. To function normally in the eyes of God, the mind must be set on the spirit (Rom. 8:6, NASB) and be one with the spirit. It was the disobedient and independent action of the mind that caused man’s fall (Gen. 3:1-6; 2 Cor. 11:3).
No proper Christian dismisses or downgrades the normal function of the mind. Although in this life “we see through a glass darkly” and “know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12), we may nonetheless have a certain amount of spiritual understanding in our mind today. Although we worship God in spirit (John 4:24) and serve Him with our spirit (Rom. 1:9), we still need our mind to be opened to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45, Gk.). Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself told us that we are to love God with all our mind (Mark 12:30). Oh, that our whole being, including our mind and understanding, would love the Lord Jesus! A clear, sober mind is absolutely necessary in understanding the Scriptures and the things of God. Paul said that God has given us the spirit of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). Regarding some difficult verses in the book of Genesis, Witness Lee has said, “In order to understand these verses, we need a strong spirit and a clear mind.”26 With our spirit we see spiritual things, and with our mind we understand them. The Scriptures clearly teach this, and we in the local churches practice it.
Consider the following statement from a book entitled The Economy of God:
With the intuition in our spirit, we need the mind. The intuition gives the sense of the inner knowledge. But to sense the spiritual things is one thing, and to understand them is another! The things of God are sensed in the spirit, but they are understood in the mind.27
Although we may sense something of God in our spirit, we may have a problem with our mind and not be able to understand what is in our spirit. We definitely need a clear mind if we would interpret the sense within our spirit. Addressing himself to this matter, Witness Lee says:
We need the understanding in our mind to interpret what is in our spirit. The things of God are sensed by the function of the intuition in our spirit, but they are understood by the function of the understanding in our mentality.28
The function of the mind is also very crucial in understanding the will of God. Romans 12:2 reveals that transformation by the renewing of the mind is related to proving what the perfect will of God is. After praying and seeking the Lord’s face concerning His will, we may sense something of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the depths of our spirit. However, we still need a trained mind to know the will of God in a practical way. On this matter Witness Lee says the following:
After having contacted God and obtained the feeling in our spirit, we still need our mind to interpret and apprehend His will practically. Otherwise, the feeling in our spirit is but an unknown burden, and it is not meaningful to our understanding…. Thus, the interpretation by the mind is an indispensable factor in the understanding of God’s will. If our mind has not been trained in spiritual things, we have no access to this realm and no way to understand God’s will.29
Concerning our responsibility to use our mind in knowing the things of the spirit, Witness Lee continues:
…Our responsibility … is to exercise our mind in spiritual matters, set our mind on them, and always turn to the spirit, paying attention to the movements therein. In this way, because our mind is always in contact with the spiritual realm, it becomes keen and living in understanding the feeling in our spirit, and thereby it understands God’s Will.30
This hardly sounds like a man who disparages the mind and who insists upon a state of mindlessness in order to take advantage of others. Witness Lee’s word is very clear here that we have a definite responsibility to exercise our mind. We certainly appreciate the function of the human spirit in knowing God, the will of God, the Bible, and spiritual matters; but we also recognize the necessary proper function of the mind.
In order for the mind to fulfill its normal function, it must be enlightened and guided by the Holy Spirit. It must be willing to be led into all truth by the Spirit of truth (John 16:13). The Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). Certainly it is humility, not mindlessness, to testify with the Apostle Paul, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom. 11:33-34). How we need the Lord to open our minds and to enlighten our understanding! In order for the disciples to understand what was written concerning Christ in the Law of Moses, in the prophets, and in the Psalms, the resurrected Christ had to open their minds (Luke 24:45, Gk.). Only a God-opened mind can understand the Scriptures.
Paul’s experience recorded in Romans 7 testifies to the limitations of man’s mind in spiritual matters. Paul said, “With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (v. 25). In Paul’s mind was his natural life, the life we all received from God at birth. But in his experience Paul discovered that with the mind alone he could not succeed in serving God, for, as he testified, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). According to Paul’s own testimony, the law of sin in his members prevailed over the law of his mind. His only deliverance, and ours, is through the working of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus and through our cooperation by setting our mind upon our spirit (Rom. 8:2, 6). The mind of man is limited. To make such a confession is not to be a victim of mind manipulation; it is to adhere to the clear testimony of God’s Word.
God created us with a mind, and we need to use it normally and properly. However, we also need to recognize the danger in a misguided or unguided intellect. G. H. Pember says the following regarding man’s intellect:
…intellect is not merely fallible, but the most dangerous of all gifts, unless it be guided by the Spirit of God. For it can call evil good, and good evil: it can put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.31
Because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8), we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must learn not to rely on our limited mental capabilities, but humbly recognize that no man has been the Lord’s adviser, and that, if we would know Him and His Word, we need Him to open our understanding. To have such an attitude is humility, a proper dependence for understanding, as for all things, upon the One who created us and who upholds all things by the word of His power.
In the fall, man not only disobeyed God outwardly, but was contaminated inwardly by Satan. The spirit died (Eph. 2:1, 5), the soul became the self (Matt. 16:24-26; Luke 9:23-25), and the body was transmuted into the flesh (Rom. 7:18, 23-24). Now sin, the nature of Satan, dwells in us. Paul said, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7:20). This indwelling sin can reign in our mortal bodies (Rom. 6:12), lord it over us (Rom. 6:14, Gk.), revive in us (Rom. 7:9), take occasion through the commandment to deceive and kill us (Rom. 7:11), and make us do things against our will (Rom. 7:17, 20). Therefore, we become captive to the law of sin in our members (Rom. 7:23). Surely the fall and the entrance of sin into our being has not left our mind unaffected. Although our mind can still think, reason, consider, imagine, and remember, it has been poisoned, and now it is powerfully influenced by the sin in our flesh. It is vital for every believer in Christ to see the state of his fallen natural mind in the light of God’s Word. The result of such a vision of the condition of the unrenewed mind will not bring us to a state of mindlessness; rather, it will encourage us to seek the Lord desperately for the renewing of our mind, so that our mind, along with our entire being, may be recovered from the hand of the enemy and be used, as God intended, for the fulfillment of His purpose.
The Mind of a Natural Man
Let us now consider various portions of the Word that illumine the fallen condition of the mind of the natural man. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The Greek word translated “natural,” psuchikos, may also be rendered “soulish” or “soulical.” The natural man, the man who lives in the realm of the soul, cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. Since the natural mind is part of the soul, it also cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. Rather, to one who trusts in his unenlightened natural mind, the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness. According to Jude, such people “speak evil of those things which they know not” and seem to have no spirit (vv. 10, 19, Gk.). James 3:15 reveals that the wisdom of the natural man is earthly, sensual, devilish. The Greek word rendered “sensual” here may also be rendered “natural” or “soulish.” This indicates that the wisdom of the soulish man is related to demons. Thus the natural mind, part of the soul of the natural man, does not receive the things of the Spirit of God but regards them as foolish, speaks evil of things that it does not understand, and has a wisdom that is earthly and demonic.
Manipulated by Satan
Furthermore, the natural mind is under the direction of Satan, the prince of the power of the air. Ephesians 2:2 and 3 say, “In time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience … fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Here we see that the working of Satan in man is of two aspects: in man’s flesh and in man’s mind. Before we repented and came to Christ, we all lived according to the prince of the power of the air, who manipulated and controlled our mentality, although we had no consciousness of his activity.
Some Specific Characteristics
Let us now consider some specific characteristics of man’s fallen natural mind. It is a reprobate mind, a depraved mind, a mind absolutely disapproved of by God (Rom. 1:28). It is a mind filled with vanity and with the understanding darkened (Eph. 4:17-18). Such a mind causes one to be alienated from the life of God through ignorance and the hardness of the heart (Eph. 4:18, Gk.). The natural mind is alienated from God and makes one an enemy of God in his mind (Col. 1:21). The natural mind is also puffed up, “intruding into those things which he hath not seen” (Col. 1:18). It is set on earthly things, not on things that are above (Col. 3:2). Furthermore, it is a mind set on the flesh, it is enmity against God, and it is not subject to the law of God (Rom. 8:6-7). The fallen mind is corrupt and causes men to resist the truth (1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 3:8). According to Titus 1:15, the natural mind is also defiled. As Jessie Penn-Lewis says, “We therefore clearly see how, in the natural man, the mind is ‘darkened,” ‘puffed up” by the flesh, empty and vain in its thoughts, carnal because governed by the flesh, and in all its activities—whether apparently ‘good” or visibly ‘bad” —at enmity with God.”32
The Thoughts of the Natural Mind
The thoughts of the natural mind are also in a degraded state. Second Corinthians 3:14 indicates that such thoughts are hardened, and 2 Corinthians 4:4 reveals that “the god of this age hath blinded the thoughts of them which believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (Gk.). The thoughts of man’s natural mind are actually blinded by Satan, the god of this age. This blinding work of the enemy hinders the shining of the gospel of the glory of Christ into men’s hearts. Therefore, this blindness of thought produces gross inward darkness concerning the gospel of Christ. The thoughts of the natural man are not only hardened and blinded, but also evil and disobedient (Matt. 9:4; 2 Cor. 10:5). Second Corinthians 10:4 and 5 reveal that the mind of man, with its reasonings and thoughts, is a stronghold of the enemy. These reasonings need to be pulled down, and the disobedient, rebellious thoughts captured to the obedience of Christ. As Watchman Nee says, “This suggests that man’s rebellion is basically in his thought.”33 In the light of God’s Word we see that the thoughts of the natural man are in rebellion against God.
The Reasonings of the Natural Mind
The judgment of Scripture on man’s natural reasonings is also unequivocal and absolute. The Word of God reveals that such reasonings are vain (Rom. 1:21) and evil (Matt. 15:19). In 1 Corinthians 3:20 Paul declares,” The Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain” (Gk.). As we read the Gospels, we see that the religious ones used the reasonings of their natural mind and darkened heart to strive and fight against the Lord Jesus. When the Lord said to the paralytic, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee,” the scribes and Pharisees reasoned in their heart (Mark 2:6; Luke 6:8). Mark 2:8 says, “And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?” The Lord Jesus, who lived and walked in His spirit, perceived the rebellious and blasphemous reasonings of the religious ones. Throughout the Gospels we see that the scribes and Pharisees assaulted the Lord Jesus Christ with their religious reasonings, that is, they assaulted the One who lived and walked in spirit.
A number of godly men have come to the same verdict concerning man’s natural reasonings as do the Scriptures. G. H. Pember says, “Reason is but an uncertain and deceitful instrument at the best, and the blinding pride of man makes matters still worse.”34 For those, whether believers or unbelievers, who insist that man should confidently employ his reason in exploring the things of God, C. H. Mackintosh has the following word:
It may be said, are we not to use our reason? If not, to what end was it given? …our reason is not as it was when God gave it. We have to remember that sin has come in; man is a fallen creature; his reason, his judgment, his understanding—his whole moral being is a complete wreck; and moreover, it was the neglect of the Word of God that caused all this wreck and ruin.35
Pointing out that if reason were in a sound condition, it would “prove its soundness by bowing to the Word of God,” Mackintosh goes on to say, “But it is not sound; it is blind, and utterly perverted; it is not to be trusted for a moment in things spiritual, divine, or heavenly.”36 Mackintosh, a brother who realized that the Word of God transcends man’s reason, also said:
The Word of God is above and beyond reason altogether; it is as far above reason as God is above the creature, or heaven above the earth. Hence, when God speaks, all reasonings must be cast down…. But if reason be set to work on the Word of God, the soul must inevitably be plunged into the thick darkness of infidelity…37
Writing in the eighteenth century, William Law had this to say about man’s reason:
All religious knowledge that comes to us through the gateway of our own natural reason, great as men may consider it, is only great in vanity, emptiness, and self-deceiving folly. For all the evil and corruption of our fallen nature consists in this; it is an awakened life of our own will, under the power of natural reason, plotting and justifying its rebellion against the will of God.38
Speaking of God’s call to a proper use of reason, William Law says:
…Reason is thus helpless in the spiritual realm; it is neither seeing, tasting, touching, smelling, nor hearing the things of the Spirit of God…. And to think that reasoning about God from Scripture words is to know Him, is just as sensible as to think that reasoning about food is the same as to eat it…. Reason … cannot substitute its thoughts about God for the experience of His love that can only be known by the soul and spirit of man…. Reason may view through its own eyes what is done—whether in the physical or spiritual realms—but it cannot bring the experience of these realities either to man’s body or to his soul.39
In his discussion of how natural reason opposes the spirit, Law points out the danger of trusting our reasonings about doctrine and Scripture:
…To put a religious trust in our own reasonings about doctrines and Scripture words and our ability thus to persuade others, has a more foolish nature than the same idolatry that puts a religious trust in the sun, a departed saint, or a graven image.40
Law further says that “to believe only that which reason can verify is to live as a heathen under the power of the kingdom of darkness.”41 Law also remarks, “Those who trust in reason alone are of the seed of the serpent, and real heirs of that confusion which happened to the first builders of the tower of Babel.”42
Watchman Nee was surely an intellectually gifted man. However, in his experience of the Lord he came to realize the need to be delivered from natural reason. Speaking of how God’s glory delivers man from reason, Watchman Nee says, “The glimpse of a fraction of His glory would send us to our knees and make us throw away our reasonings. Only those who live afar off can be haughty; those who sit in darkness can live by reasonings.”43 Commenting on the same point, he says:
Since the time when Adam sinned by taking the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, reason has become the life principle of man. Only after the glory of the Lord appears to us do we realize that we are but dead dogs and lumps of clay. All our arguments will fade away in the light of His glory. The more a person lives in glory, the less he reasons. If anyone reasons a lot, we may know that he has never seen glory.44
Watchman Nee could testify that often God acts without apparent reason. Nevertheless, although we may not understand what He does, we are His servants and must still learn to worship Him:
Had I understood all His ways I myself would have sat on the throne. But once I see He is far above me—that He alone is the God on high—I prostrate myself in dust and ashes, all my reasonings disappearing.45
The Scriptures and the supporting testimony of godly men issue a devastating indictment on the mind, thoughts, and reasonings of the natural man. Our natural mind is reprobate, vain, dark, alienated from God, puffed up, fleshly, corrupt, defiled, and at enmity with God. Our thoughts are evil, blinded, hardened, and disobedient. Our reasonings are vain, evil, and rebellious against the Lord and His move. The vain and darkened mind of the natural man even supposes “that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man” (Acts 17:29, NASB). Therefore, God has said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (1 Cor. 1:19). In the book of Romans, Paul clearly and forcefully summarized the state of the fallen mind of the natural man: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their reasonings [Gk.], and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man … Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” (Rom. 1:21-23, 25).
If we receive the light of the Word of God upon our fallen natural mind, thoughts, and reasonings, it will come as no surprise to us that the first word of the gospel in the New Testament is “repent.” Both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17, Gk.). The command to repent is directed to man’s mind. The Greek word rendered “repentance” is metanoia, which means a change of mind. As Harry A. Ironside says, “This is not merely the acceptance of new ideas in place of old notions. But it actually implies a complete reversal of one’s inward attitude.”46 Witness Lee has given a clear word on this matter of repentance:
To repent is to have a change of mind issuing in regret…. To repent is to have a change in our thinking, our philosophy, our logic. The life of fallen man is absolutely according to his thinking. Everything he is and does is according to his mind. When you were a fallen one, you were directed by your mind. Your mentality, logic, and philosophy governed your way of life. Before we were saved, we were under the direction of our fallen mentality. We were far away from God, and our life was in direct opposition to His will. Under the influence of our fallen mentality, we went farther and farther astray from God. But one day we heard the preaching of the gospel telling us to repent, to have a turn in our thinking, philosophy, and logic.47
Praise the Lord that in God’s mercy and grace we have the opportunity to repent from the dreadful condition of our fallen mind and to turn to God!
Notice that in the preaching of Jesus and of John the Baptist, the command to repent is related to the kingdom. We are not commanded to repent simply to escape from hell or to go to heaven. Rather, we must repent because the kingdom of the heavens, the rule of God, is at hand. In other words, in order to come under the rule of God, we must have a change of mind. This implies that our mind in its natural state is in rebellion, unwilling to be ruled by anyone or anything, including God Himself. Therefore, we must repent.
A strong word concerning repentance is found in Isaiah 55:7, which says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” If we sincerely seek the Lord and desire to turn to Him, we must forsake our way and our thoughts. Yes, the Bible says that you must forsake your thoughts. This does not mean to become mindless. It means to forsake your natural thoughts, concepts, and opinions and to accept in their place God’s thought as embodied in His Word. Only by forsaking our thoughts can we return to the Lord and receive His pardon. This is not only true when an unbeliever comes to the Lord for salvation. It is also true for Christians, who daily need to repent, to forsake their thoughts, and to return to the Lord. Just as Eve was deceived by the serpent, so may the thoughts of believers be seduced away from Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). In the epistles to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 the Lord Jesus Christ Himself commands the churches to repent. In Revelation 2:5 the Lord says, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen and repent, and do the first works.” In Revelation 3:3 the Lord says, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent,” and in Revelation 3:19 He says, “Be zealous therefore, and repent.” Thus, not only unbelievers need to change their mind, but even believers are called upon by the Lord Jesus to repent, to have a change of mind.
Many Christians may think that because they have repented and have received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, they automatically have the mind of Christ and are no longer plagued by the fallen mind. This is far from the truth. The fact is that one’s initial repentance does not ipso facto give him a totally new mind. Yes, he now confesses his need for Christ and His redemptive work on the cross. However, as both the Scriptures and our experience testify, true blood-washed and Spirit-regenerated believers may have their practical daily living in the sphere of the fallen natural mind the same as they did before they were saved.
Walking in the Vanity of the Mind
Consider Paul’s word in Ephesians 4:17: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Gk.). Please pay attention to the words “no longer” (“henceforth” in KJV). These words not only imply the possibility of continuing to walk in the same vanity of the mind that we walked in before we were saved; they present this possibility as a serious danger. Paul did not say, “It is no longer possible for you to walk in the vanity of the mind.” Rather, he admonished the believers to do so no longer. Paul fully realized that one could be regenerated in his spirit, yet still conduct the affairs of his daily life according to the flesh or according to the darkened understanding of the natural mind. Thus, Paul repeatedly enjoined the believers to walk in spirit (Gal. 5:16).
When one genuinely repents before the Lord and receives Him into his being, his spirit is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). When one is saved, he also experiences a change of mind and of heart. He begins to think differently about God and spiritual things, and he also has a heart to love the Lord Jesus. But this does not mean that the mind has been renewed. Remember Paul’s word: “No longer walk in the vanity of the mind.” In verse 23 of the same chapter, Paul tells the believers to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Therefore, in Ephesians 4 we have a vivid contrast between “the vanity of the mind” and “the spirit of the mind.” The urgent need among all Christians today is the renewing of the mind. Without it, we shall continue to walk, even as the atheists and unbelievers do, in the vanity of the mind and be alienated from the life of God. Although we have been born of God in our spirit and the Lord Jesus is now with our spirit (2 Tim. 4:22), and although we have a heart to love the Lord, we may still conduct our practical daily life in the realm of the unrenewed natural mind. This is the clear testimony of the Word of God and the experience of a vast number of the Lord’s people.
Transformation by the Renewing of the Mind
Paul also speaks of the renewing of the mind in Romans 12:2. This verse says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” In the book of Romans we see the mind of man in various stages: the reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28), the mind desiring to serve the law of God (Rom. 7:25), the mind set either upon the flesh or upon the spirit (Rom. 8:6), and the transformed and renewed mind. The word, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” implies that this process is not yet completed. Paul did not say, “Brothers, you have already been transformed by the renewing of your mind.” No, he encouraged them to seek transformation by the renewing of the mind. A renewed mind is able to prove the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. Considering this verse in the context of the whole chapter, we see that the will of God is the Body. (Later we shall point out that the one characteristic of the renewed mind is that it does not think more highly of itself than it ought to think, having a proper respect for the other members of the Body.) Therefore, in Ephesians 4 and Romans 12, both of which deal with the practical realization of the Body life, we are strongly exhorted to seek the renewing of the mind. Without this, God’s eternal purpose cannot be fulfilled in a practical way on earth today. Our mind must be renewed, not merely for the sake of our personal spiritual growth, but for the unity and building up of the Body of Christ.
Just as the Lord’s children have seen the vanity of man’s natural mind and have testified to this fact uncompromisingly, so have they seen the need for the renewing of the mind. Recognizing that the “mind of the christian is also the strategic centre of the ‘war on the saints’ which Satan wages with ceaseless fiendish skill,”48 Jessie Penn-Lewis has this to say about the renewing of the mind:
Shall I put it crudely, and say that many get new “hearts,” but they keep their old “heads”! They do not realise that unless the hold of the adversary, which he has through the fallen nature of man, is removed from the mind, he has a position of vantage in the life of the believer, for attack and for hindrance in active service.49
Jessie Penn-Lewis also says, “There is a great battle today over the use and control of the mind, not only in the world, but among the children of God.”50 She also points out that many devoted children of God have “hearts full of love, but ‘minds’ full of all kinds of mixture—minds that have not been renewed and delivered from the interference of the enemy.”51 Confident in the Lord’s ability to renew our mind, she declares, “God is able, not only to deliver the mind from the enemy’s grip but also to renew it, so that it becomes as clear as crystal, with ‘every rebellious thought brought into captivity.”52
I very much appreciate Watchman Nee’s word regarding the need for the renewing of the mind. Testifying to the fact that the church is composed only of that which comes out of Christ, not of man’s talent, ability, thought, and self, Watchman Nee says this about the mind:
Again, we may meet some people who are very clever. Their minds are exceptionally keen. Before they were saved, they used their mind to study philosophy, science and literature. Then, after they were saved, they simply used their mind to study God’s Word. But, we may ask, from where does this keen mind come? Has it been dealt with by the cross? Is it under the control of the Holy Spirit? Or is it just that mind which they had originally? If so, it is simply something out of the earthly Adam, out of the man himself, the human nature; it is something of the flesh. Although these people have changed the subject, the mind is still the same old mind! And when they use this mind to study the Bible, instead of helping the Church they will cause the Church to suffer loss.53
Watchman Nee especially warns of the danger of reading the Bible with an unrenewed mind:
How often man in his conceit relies on his unrenewed and confused mind to read the Bible. The fruit is nothing but his own thought. He does not touch the spirit of the Holy Word. If we expect to meet the Lord in His Word, our thoughts must first be broken by God.54
He also says that an unrenewed mind “serves as an operation center for the enemy. Whatever belongs to Adam becomes natural ground for satanic working.”55
There is also a testimony to Paul’s word concerning the need for the renewing of the mind in the writings of Witness Lee. Witness Lee says, “In our spirit we are entirely different from the people of the world, but I am afraid that in our mind… we are still exactly the same.”56 Commenting on Romans 12:2, he says:
You have been regenerated, but, may I ask, has your mind been renewed? Do you have a new mind, or do you still have the old mind? If our mind remains old, it means that we are not being transformed in the soul. It is quite possible for us to be regenerated in the spirit, but still be old in the mind, emotion, and will. There is no change in our thinking, our loving and our choosing. In these things we are just the same as the unbelievers. The only difference is that we have been regenerated in the spirit and they have not. As far as the soul is concerned, our way of thinking, our way of loving and our way of choosing are the same as theirs. This is the reason Romans 12:2 says: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” If our mind is renewed, then our soul will be transformed.57
The Difference between the Renewed Mind and the Unrenewed Mind
Before we consider the way the mind is renewed and the characteristics of the renewed mind, let us briefly point out the difference between the renewed mind and the unrenewed mind. The difference is tremendous. Watchman Nee says:
Indeed, the difference between a renewed and an unrenewed nous [Greek word for mind] is as the difference between a shiny glass window and a dirty glass window. The unrenewed nous of a believer is unable to think and to do what the renewed nous is capable of thinking and doing. His renewed nous will increase at least several times its thinking capability. Its power of thinking will be greatly improved. So that the difference between a renewed nous and an unrenewed one is as the difference between life and death, heaven and earth. Were we to deal with our nous in the same fervor as we once sought salvation, we would live under an open heaven.58
Admittedly this is a strong and unequivocal statement. No doubt, it comes from a man with considerable spiritual experience.
Witness Lee points out how the renewing of the mind brings about a change in our thoughts:
We have Christ as life within our spirit, but now we need Christ to spread into the inward parts of the soul and saturate them with Himself. This will transform our soul into His very image. The image of Christ will then be reflected in our thoughts. In whatever we think and consider, our renewed mind will express the glorious image of Christ. The understanding of our mind will then be spiritual. It will be very easy for the mind to understand things which we sense in our spirit.59
Surely such testimonies from brothers with much experience in the Lord regarding the renewing of the mind should encourage us to diligently and earnestly seek the Lord concerning this. We know from the Scriptures that the function of our spirit is to contact God and receive Him and that the function of our body is to enable us to relate to the physical world. The function of our soul, however, is to express the Lord (Luke 1:46). The more we are transformed, changed into His image from glory to glory, the more we express Him (2 Cor. 3:18). What a high calling and glorious privilege! But whether or not our soul can magnify and express the Lord in our spirit depends upon the renewing of the mind.
How then is the mind renewed? It is absolutely not through any form of brainwashing, mind manipulation, or external control as the author of The Mindbenders falsely charges is our practice. In the local churches and in the ministry of Witness Lee there are no such practices. However, in both the churches and in Witness Lee’s ministry there is an appreciation for the inward working of the Lord’s life to transform a believer from within. To be transformed is to undergo a metabolic change in life. This does not come about through any form of coercion or mind manipulation. It can only take place as the Christ who dwells within our spirit makes His home in our heart (Eph. 3:17, Gk.). Our heart, composed of the mind, will, emotion, and conscience, is to be Christ’s home. The more Christ makes His home in our mind, the more our mind with its thoughts, reasonings, memories, and imaginations is renewed.
A crucial verse concerning the process of the renewing of the mind is Ephesians 4:23. This verse says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Discussing the function of the cross in the renewing of the mind, Jessie Penn-Lewis says:
But for full renewal of the mind we have to go to the Cross, and learn its message that “our old man was crucified” with Christ. This is inclusive of the old carnal, darkened, fleshly mind. This comes out clearly in the words of Ephes. 4.22/23, as following the Apostle’s description of the darkened and empty mind in vv. 17 and 18. The “old man” crucified is here bidden to be “put off” by the believer, so that he may be “renewed in the spirit of his mind….” The first need is the knowledge of the state of mind by nature, and that a “change of mind” at conversion does not go deep enough to deliver the soul from the power of the enemy in his thought life, and mental activities. Then there must be a deliberate and definite “putting off” of the “old man” in the aspect of the old carnal mind, for the bringing captive to Christ of every thought. What is wanted, then, is to recognise that the unrenewed mind is part of the old creation that has to be put off at the Cross.60
Witness Lee also has a very clear word on the renewing of the mind according to Ephesians 4:22-24:
The putting away of the old man is the work of the cross, and the putting on of the new man is the work of resurrection. Between the work of the cross and the work of the resurrection is verse 23, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” The renewing of the mind includes the work of the cross with the resurrection. It means that our natural mind must be crossed out and renewed in resurrection. The death of the cross is not the end, but a process leading to an end, which is resurrection…. Death to the natural mind leads to a resurrected mind. We will then have a renewed mind in resurrection. This renewed mind is in the spirit and under the control of the spirit; it is filled with the spirit and full of the spirit. Hence, the spirit becomes the spirit of the mind. Then our mind will not only be a renewed mind, but also a spiritual mind with a spiritual understanding.61
The Mind of the Spirit and the Spirit of the Mind
In order for the mind to be renewed, thereby becoming the spirit of the mind, the mind must stand with the spirit. Romans 8:6 speaks of the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit. We may have either the mind of the flesh or the mind of the spirit. The mind is neutral. When our mind cooperates with the flesh, it becomes the mind of the flesh; but when it cooperates with the spirit, it becomes the mind of the spirit. If our mind submits to the spirit, it will be controlled by the spirit and become the mind of the spirit.62 “Because our mind stands with the spirit, the spirit will rule over the mind, saturate the mind, and become ‘the spirit of our mind.” When the spirit controls and saturates the mind, the spirit becomes the spirit of the mind.”63 When our mind submits to the spirit, becoming the mind of the spirit, and when our spirit saturates our mind, becoming the spirit of our mind, we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Witness Lee has a helpful word concerning how our mind becomes the mind of Christ:
Since Christ is in the spirit, when our mind submits to the spirit, it is submitting to Christ. Thus, He is given the opportunity to expand from our spirit into our mind. Formerly, nothing of Christ was within our mind, but when our mind submits to the spirit, the Lord has the opportunity to permeate, fill, and renew our mind with Himself. In this way our soul is transformed by the renewing of our mind. Our mind, thus, will be filled with Christ. This is why Paul is able to say in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.” When we are regenerated in our spirit, we have the Spirit of Christ. When our mind submits to the spirit and lets Christ as the Spirit occupy it, we may even have the mind of Christ.64
Setting the Mind on the Spirit
We have pointed out that our mind needs to be renewed and that it is renewed by experiencing the death of the cross and the resurrection of Christ. Crucial to the renewing of the mind is the setting of the mind upon the spirit (Rom. 8:6). Only by setting our mind on our spirit can our spirit permeate our mind and make it the mind of Christ. In the garden of Eden, Adam had the choice of eating either the tree of life or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Today we also have a choice: the choice of setting our mind upon our spirit, which is life and peace, or of setting our mind upon the flesh, which is death. According to Romans 8:6 and 7, the mind set on the flesh is not only death, but also enmity against God. Therefore, where a Christian sets his mind from moment to moment is of tremendous significance in his practical life.
The Mind Becoming One with Satan
Matthew 16:21-26 is a powerful portion of the Word related to the mind of a believer. These verses reveal that by the improper use of our mind, we may actually become one with Satan. In fact, we may be the practical expression of Satan himself. Let us examine Matthew 16:22 and 23. After the Lord explained in verse 21 that He would suffer many things of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised up the third day, “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men” (ASV). The New American Standard Bible translates verse 23 as, “But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interest but man’s.” ” In his love for the Lord, Peter rebuked the Lord, wanting Him to have pity on Himself. But in making this suggestion, Peter’s mind was set on the things of men, not on the things of God. In doing this Peter expressed an opinion, a thought, that was actually the embodiment of Satan. Therefore, the Lord turned and, addressing Peter, said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” The Lord called Peter “Satan” because at that moment Peter was one with Satan in his mind and was the practical expression of Satan.
The Lord’s own words explain how Peter could be one with Satan: “For thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.” Following this, in verse 24, the Lord spoke about the need to deny the self, take up the cross, and follow Him. Then in verse 25 He spoke about losing the soul life. In these verses, four things are related: Satan, mind, the self, and the soul-life. Because Peter spoke out of himself, setting his mind on the things that are of men, his speaking was also Satan’s speaking. Whenever we speak from the self with a mind set on the things of men, we are one with Satan, and the Lord can justly rebuke us, calling us by name and saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan!” Whether we stand with Satan or with God depends on where our mind is set.
Who can deny that Peter believed in the Lord Jesus and loved Him? He had just received from the Father the revelation that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-17). If Peter could be one with Satan in a practical way by minding the things of men, then how about us? We must be seriously warned from this portion of the Word to set our mind on the things of God and to deny the self with its satanic opinions. If we do not deny the self, we may still attempt to speak of God and for God, yet in our speaking we shall be the expression of Satan. Seeing this danger will motivate us to set our mind upon the spirit and to allow the spirit to permeate our mind, to renew it, and to transform it into the mind of Christ.
Trusting in God
In the New Testament we see many characteristics of the renewed mind. One characteristic is that the renewed mind does not trust in itself, but in the Lord. Paul said, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our competency is of God” (2 Cor. 3:5, Darby). Paul, one with a renewed mind, did not reckon on anything as out of himself. His competence was of God. He had learned not to trust in himself, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9).
Open to All of God’s Truth
Another characteristic of the renewed mind is that it is open to all the truth of God. As Watchman Nee says, “An open mind is consequently of paramount importance to spiritual life. If our brain is full of prejudice toward the truth … truth will not enter it nor will it extend to our life.”65 Commenting further on a closed mind, he says, “A closed mind prevents truth from entering the spirit. A closed mentality is a prejudiced one; it opposes and criticizes any item differing from its idea.”66 Jessie Penn-Lewis says, “Whenever you find a man prejudiced over some truth he does not understand, it always means that there is some activity of the old mind.”67 Although a closed mind is prejudiced against the truth and refuses to let it in, an open mind receives the truth.
This open mind comes through our experience of the resurrected Christ. In Luke 24 we have a threefold opening: the opening of the eyes (v. 31), the opening of the Scriptures (v. 32), and the opening of the mind (v. 45, Gk.). It was by experiencing the resurrected Christ that the disciples experienced this threefold opening. Today, we also need our eyes opened to see the resurrected Christ, we need the Scriptures opened that the Lord may speak to us in a way to cause our hearts to burn, and we need our minds opened that we might understand the Word of God. The more our mind is renewed through the indwelling Christ as our resurrection life, the more it will be open to all the truth of God, no matter how much this truth may conflict with our natural concepts and opinions.
Reasonings Overthrown and Thoughts Captured
Another characteristic of the renewed mind is seen in 2 Corinthians 10:4 and 5. These verses say, “For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful through God to the overthrowing of strongholds; overthrowing reasonings, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (Gk.). Here we see two traits of the renewed mind: first, it is a mind in which the strongholds of reasonings have been overthrown so that the mind may be gained by the Lord out of the hand of the enemy; second, it is a mind in which every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. The natural mind is fortified with reasonings, and hidden within the reasonings are the thoughts. In the renewed mind the fortifications of reasonings are overthrown and the thoughts are captured. Speaking of the mind as the stronghold of Satan, Jessie Penn-Lewis writes:
The stronghold of the mind of man is therefore the strategic centre of the “war” with the “god of this age”, because it is primarily through the mind that he holds his captives in his power, and through the mind of those captives transmits his (1) poison into the minds of others, and his (2) plans and schemes for arousing those souls to active rebellion against God.68
What a vast difference between the renewed mind and the unrenewed mind! In the renewed mind every thought is subject to Christ. When such a deliverance and renewal take place, our thinking is no longer independent from Christ. Every thought is one with Him. Watchman Nee says:
There must come a day when God’s authority overthrows all the strongholds of reasoning which Satan has erected and recaptures all a man’s thoughts so as to make him a willing slave of God. Whereupon he no longer thinks independently of Christ; he is wholly obedient to Him. This is full deliverance.69
How God is longing for such obedience of mind! Watchman Nee also testifies:
God’s kingdom begins when there is an absolute obedience to God — no voicing of opinion, no presenting of reasonings, no murmuring, no reviling. For this glorious day God has waited since the creation of the world.70
If you cringe at the thought of being subdued by Christ, it may be an indication that your mind is still unrenewed and that your thoughts are still rebellious. But one who has experienced the renewing of the mind can say, “In the past we found freedom in living by ourselves; now we find true freedom in having our thoughts recaptured by God to the obedience of Christ.”71 Hallelujah for this liberation and renewal!
Filled with Life and Peace
In the book of Romans we see several other features of the renewed mind. It is a mind filled with life and peace, for it is a mind set on the spirit (Rom. 8:6). This reminds us of Isaiah 26:3, which says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.”
The renewed mind is a transformed mind, a mind that has undergone a metabolic change through the inward working of the Spirit of life (Rom. 12:2).
Thinking Soberly of Itself
A renewed mind also thinks soberly of itself; it does not regard itself more highly than it ought. Paul says, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). In verse 16 of the same chapter Paul says, “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.” Thus a renewed mind does not mind high things in a proud way, but condescends to the lowly.
Respecting the Rights of Others
A renewed mind does not engage in “doubtful disputations” (Rom. 14:1), but allows others to have their liberty in the Lord. In Romans 14:5 Paul says, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Here we see the proper liberality of the renewed mind. It does not criticize others who practice differently, nor does it impose its way on others who think differently. Rather, it gives others their liberty. Paul exhibited this kind of mind in writing to Philemon regarding Onesimus. Though Paul could have been bold to enjoin Philemon, for love’s sake he besought him (vv. 8-9), not wanting to do anything without Philemon’s opinion. In verse 14 Paul said, “Without thy opinion would I do nothing.” Here we see that the one with a renewed mind will not use authority to trample on the opinions of others. Rather, for love’s sake, he will not do anything without knowing the opinions of others. We can testify before the Lord that this characteristic of the renewed mind abounds in the local churches, especially in the life and ministry of Witness Lee. The charge expressed in The Mindbenders that he is “an autonomous dictator”72 is utterly false.
The Mind in Christ Jesus
Those with a renewed mind have in them the mind “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). The context of Philippians 2 discloses that one with the mind of Christ will empty himself and lower himself, not exalt himself, just as Christ emptied and lowered Himself, but was exalted by God.
Permeated with the Spirit
As we have already indicated, a renewed mind is a mind permeated with the Spirit. Thus, our mind becomes “the mind of the spirit,” and our spirit becomes “the spirit of the mind.” The Spirit of God desires to have full possession of our minds. This does not take place through “the involuntary forfeiture of the human mind,” but through the inward working of the Holy Spirit in the heart and soul of a believer. In order for the Spirit to possess our mind and be expressed through it, all blockages in the mind must be removed. Jessie Penn-Lewis remarks:
If the mind is the vehicle of the Spirit it is absolutely necessary that the Spirit of God should have full possession of it, with every “rebellious thought” brought into captivity to Christ. The Holy Spirit, dwelling in the spirit, needs the mind as a channel for expression, but it may be so blocked up, and filled with other things that He is unable to transmit all He desires to do. A “blocked” mind means the spirit unexpressed, and a spirit unexpressed is a stoppage of the outflow of the Spirit of God to others.73
The Spirit of God will not force Himself upon us or into us. At the time of Christ’s baptism, the Spirit of God descended as a dove upon Him. The Spirit also works in us as a gentle dove. He does not require, nor do we in the local churches, that anyone forfeit the function of his mind. Rather, He patiently waits for the believer voluntarily to surrender and abandon himself to the Spirit so that, with the active cooperation of the believer’s intellect, the Spirit may spread into the mind, renew it, and flow out through it to give life-giving words to satisfy the thirst of others. How refreshing it is to be with those with such a Spirit-saturated mind! When these Christians “express their thoughts and ideas, we sense the presence of the Lord Spirit. Because their minds are under the control and direction of the spirit, the Lord Spirit has the opportunity to saturate and occupy their mind.”74
Set on Things in Heaven
A mind that has been so renewed through being permeated by the life-giving Spirit will surely be set on the things in heaven, not on the things on earth (Col. 3:12). Through the setting of the renewed mind upon the things in heaven, the believer is able to maintain experientially his position of ascension.
God’s Laws Inscribed upon Our Mind
An especially precious word regarding the renewed mind is found in Hebrews 10:16. This verse says, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws into their hearts, and upon their minds will I inscribe them” (Gk.). As Hebrews 8:10, a sister verse, indicates, when this takes place, the Lord will be our God and we shall be His people. As the Lord inscribes His laws upon our minds, we gain the inward subjective knowledge of God. Eventually, we shall no longer need teachers in an outward way, for we shall all know the Lord in an inward way. Hebrews 8:11 says, “And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” How marvelous to have a mind inscribed with the laws of God! This is an outstanding characteristic of the renewed mind.
Possessing Spiritual Understanding
As the Lord renews our mind by permeating it with the Spirit and by inscribing His laws upon it, we gain a genuine spiritual understanding. We are “filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9). Regarding the matter of spiritual understanding Witness Lee says:
This renewing work of the Holy Spirit begins first in our spirit and then expands to our soul to renew the understanding of our mind that we may know the things of the spirit. The more the understanding of our mind is renewed by the Holy Spirit, the more we can comprehend spiritual things and understand the will of God.75
Understanding the Teaching of the Anointing
This spiritual understanding of the renewed mind gives us the capability to understand the teaching of the anointing. The teaching of the anointing is referred to in 1 John 2:27. This verse says, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” The anointing is the moving of the Holy Spirit within us, and the teaching of the anointing is the interpretation by the mind of this moving of the Spirit within. To know the teaching of the anointing within us, our mind must function in a proper, normal way. In his discussion of the teaching of the anointing and the understanding of the mind, Witness Lee says the following:
The teaching of the anointing is the interpretation and understanding of the mind with regard to the anointing in the spirit. Therefore, if we desire to follow the teaching of the anointing, we should have not only a keen feeling in our spirit, but also an experienced and spiritual mind. Such a mind includes the renewing of the mind, the exercising of our comprehension in spiritual matters, and the collecting of spiritual knowledge. These require that we love the Lord more, seek spiritual experiences, live in fellowship, study the Bible, read spiritual books and listen to messages. Through these, our mind will receive spiritual unveiling and become enriched in knowledge; thus, it will be able to comprehend the meaning of the anointing in our spirit. Consequently, we will realize the teaching of the anointing.76
At this point I would remind the reader of a statement in The Mindbenders regarding those in the local churches: “The tragedy is that they have so lost touch with reality that they believe they actually understand without their minds.”77 How clear it is that these words were written by a man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He is the real mindbender, not Witness Lee. Before he writes further on the local churches or the ministry of Witness Lee, we encourage him to conduct his research in an honest, thorough, unbiased, open-minded way and to present his conclusion without trying to bend the minds of the readers.
A Man’s Opinion Being God’s Word
The Apostle Paul exhibits still another characteristic of the renewed mind in 1 Corinthians 7. In writing to the church in Corinth about virgins, he says, “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my opinion, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful” (v. 25, Gk.). Not claiming to have a word from the Lord, Paul proceeds to give his opinion. However, as we read 1 Corinthians 7:26-39 today, we regard it as the word of God. Thus, Paul’s utterance of his opinion was actually the speaking of God’s word. Paul’s mind was so renewed and filled with the Spirit that even his opinion became the inspired word of God. Paul concludes this chapter by saying, “But she is happier if she so abide, after my opinion: and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.” In this portion of the Word we have no self-assured, “Thus saith the Lord.” Rather, we see a man filled with Christ, whose opinion was so one with the Lord that it became the word of God. The transformation that had to take place in Paul’s mind in order for his opinion to be God’s word is nothing less than astounding. The opinions of the natural mind are the embodiment and expression of Satan. But here is one whose opinion is God’s word! What a remarkable characteristic of the renewed mind and what a marvelous testimony to the renewing power of the life of God in a believer!
One Mind and One Opinion
There is one further characteristic of the renewed mind that we must consider, and this is perhaps the most significant of all. The renewed mind is able to be of one mind with other believers. In fact, those with a renewed mind can even be of the same opinion. Listen to Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 1:10: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same opinion” (Gk.). Here Paul begged the believers in Corinth to be of one mind and one opinion. Apparently it was no offense to Paul for the believers in a locality to be the same in their concept. Rather, it was normal and a prerequisite to the maintenance of the practical unity of the church.
Such a word about oneness of mind is not an isolated occurrence. Romans 15:5 says, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.” The Greek words rendered “to be likeminded” literally mean “to mind the same thing.” In Romans 12:16 Paul encouraged the believers by saying, “Be of the same mind one toward another.” Again, the Greek literally means “minding same thing.” In 2 Corinthians 13:11 Paul told the believers to “be of one mind,” that is, “to think the same thing.” In Galatians 5:10 Paul expressed the hope that all the churches in the region of Galatia would “be none otherwise minded”; he expected that they would not think anything different. In Philippians 2:2 Paul said, “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Once again, the Greek says, “think ye the same thing,” and “thinking the one thing.” In Philippians 3:15 Paul said, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded,” and in verse 16 he said, “Let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” In 4:2 Paul besought Euodias and Syntyche to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” According to the Greek, he was beseeching them “to think the same thing in the Lord.” Again and again Paul appealed to the believers to be one in mind, to think the same thing. Did he exercise mind control? Did he insist that they undergo a process of brainwashing? How absurd to even suggest such a possibility! And it is also ridiculous to charge the local churches with such an evil practice. Any like-mindedness among us comes not from outward coercion, but from the inward working of the same Holy Spirit who indwells us all. When we all deny the self with its prejudices and biases and turn to the Lord in our spirit, we spontaneously have the same mind, even the same opinion. A stanza from one of Charles Wesley’s hymns expresses the joy of such oneness:
When all are sweetly join’d
(True followers of the Lamb),
They’re one in heart and mind,
They think and speak the same;
When all in love together dwell,
The comfort is unspeakable!
A Glorious Oneness
It was this way in the first local church, the church at Jerusalem. Acts 4:32 says, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.” Before He died, the Lord prayed that we would be perfected into one (John 17:23, Gk.). When the world beholds such a glorious oneness among the people of God on earth, the world will believe and know that the Father has sent the Son (John 17:21, 23). The glory which the Father has given to the Son, the Son has given to us that we may be one, even as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:22). May the Lord realize such a glorious oneness today through the oneness of the believers in spirit, heart, soul, mind, and opinion. The renewed mind is able to enter into such glorious unity. Those with such a renewed mind, a mind in oneness with God and the Body of Christ, will prove the perfect will of God, which is the practice of the genuine Body life.
Before I conclude, I need to say a word about the relationship between the spirit and the mind. God created man with both a spirit and a mind, and both are to be used properly and normally. It is the function of the spirit to receive God, to contact God, to worship God, and to serve God (Rom. 1:9). It is in the spirit that we have fellowship with the Lord. In spirit we have divine revelation (Eph. 1:17), we are built into God’s habitation (Eph. 2:22, Gk.), we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18, Gk.), and we pray the prayer of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:18, Gk.). The Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is with our spirit (Rom. 8:16; 2 Tim. 4:22). The grace we need for our daily living is also found in our spirit (Gal. 6:18). Only by living, worshipping, fellowshipping, working, and walking in the spirit can we be proper Christians before God.
What then is the function of the mind? The false accusations of The Mindbenders notwithstanding, we in the local churches believe according to the Scriptures that the mind has a crucial function. It is in the mind that we understand and grasp and interpret spiritual things. It is through the mind that we are able to edify the church of God by speaking the things of the Spirit to others (1 Cor. 14:14-19, Gk.). However, the mind in and of itself cannot grasp God, because God is Spirit, not a thought or concept to be received directly into the mind. Likewise, the spirit needs the mind in order to understand the things of the spirit. In 1 Corinthians 14:15 Paul, speaking of the abuse of tongues in Christian gatherings, says, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the mind also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the mind also” (Gk.). We in the local churches follow Paul’s example. In the meetings we pray with the spirit and with the mind also; we sing with the spirit and with the mind also. In fact, every aspect of the proper church life is a matter of the spirit and the mind also. Consider this straight, plain word by Witness Lee:
Whenever God makes something known to us in the intuition of our spirit, the understanding of our mind can immediately understand. When we have a strong and alert spirit plus a renewed and clear understanding, we can then have a full inward knowledge of the nature of God and of all His guidance and revelation.78
Paul says that we need both the spirit and the mind, and Witness Lee, in obvious agreement with Paul, says that we need “a strong and alert spirit plus a renewed and clear understanding.”
We need to make clear, however, that using the mind with the spirit is vastly different from “walking in the vanity of the mind,” that is, simply functioning in the realm of the natural mind apart from the spirit. Both the Scriptures and the experience of Christians testify that Christians in fact frequently exercise the mind with no regard to the spirit, often in rebellion against the inner sense of the Lord in the spirit. When we do this, we grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). When we use the words “get out of the mind,” we mean to get out of the sphere of the natural mind and to set the mind on the spirit to contact God in a living way. Thinking about God is not the same as contacting Him. Reasoning about God is not the same as experiencing Him. Conceptualizing about God is not the same as enjoying Him. There is a great difference between accumulating information about God in the mind and knowing God by contacting Him in the spirit, at the same time receiving a spiritual understanding of Him in the renewed mind. We all highly value the function of our eyes. But can you use them to eat a sirloin steak? Suppose someone was sitting and gazing upon a steak, reasoning about it. Then suppose a friend remarked, “Stop gazing at the food and start eating it.” Does this mean that he is charging him to no longer use his eyes, but henceforth only his mouth? How ridiculous! If the writer of The Mindbenders can contact God only by his mind, let him give testimony of it and cite Scripture to support it. According to the testimony of Scripture and our experience, we worship God in spirit, and we understand the things of God through a renewed mind set upon the spirit.
The writer of The Mindbenders seems to feel that being a Christian is mainly, if not merely, a matter of the mind. To him, salvation is something “we accept and believe with our minds.”79 Does this mean that salvation is enjoyed only on a mental level? What about the spirit? Our mind is crucial (2 Cor. 4:4), but so is our spirit (John 3:6), where the new birth actually takes place.
After quoting Matthew 5:6 regarding hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the author of The Mindbenders says:
Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is a mental attitude [italics his]. You can’t have such an attitude without the active use of your mind. Wanting righteousness involves thinking about what is right. You have to use your mind to do that.80
Of course the mind is involved, but is that all? A hungry and thirsty man no doubt thinks about food and drink. But his need is deeper than the mind: he has hunger pangs deep in his being. So it is with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The mind is active, but so is the spirit, the deepest part of our being. We in the churches are among those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This means that our mind is active to think about righteousness, which is actually Christ Himself (1 Cor. 1:30). But we don’t stop with the mind; we seek for righteousness with our spirit, our heart, our whole being. Another quote from William Law is appropriate here:
And as it would be great folly and perverseness to accuse a man as an enemy to the true use of reasoning about food, because he declares that reason is not food nor can supply the place of it; so is it equally such to accuse a man of being an enemy to the use of reasoning in the spiritual realm, because he declares that reasoning is neither light, life, nor love, nor can supply the place of any of them in the soul or spirit of man.81
When I read a menu, I exercise my eyes to see, my mind to think, and my will to decide. But when I eat the meal, I primarily exercise my mouth to receive the food, and then my digestive organs assimilate it. As I am eating the food, I also gain a mental understanding of it through my experience. Likewise, according to the Lord’s own word, we must eat and drink Him in order to have life and in order to abide in Him (John 6:51, 53-57). Since spiritual food must be received by the spirit, we are not ashamed to testify that we use our spirit to eat the Lord. Simply thinking about Him is not eating Him. Thousands of us spent years starving in various branches of the historic church looking at the menu or hearing a third hand description of the food. Now we can testify to God, man, and Satan that in the local churches we are not only learning about the food; we, are eating it, enjoying it, assimilating it, and living by it. Actually, it is by taking in the Lord as food in such a living way that our mind is renewed from within.
Our testimony is that we exercise the spirit to contact God, to worship Him, to serve Him, and to walk before Him, and we also exercise our mind, which is day by day being renewed through the Spirit of life within, to know, to interpret, and to understand the spiritual things. The charge that we are mindless or victims of mind control is false, and we repudiate it.
Allow me to give a word of personal testimony. In no way do I claim to be an unusually intelligent or intellectually gifted person. However, in all fairness I can say that I have a strong academic background. I graduated with high honors from Wayne State University and was awarded a prize for outstanding work in systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Throughout my years of formal education I exercised my mind to study diligently. Probably it was unavoidable that the knowledge I accumulated made me proud. In 1962, out of a deep hunger for the Lord, I began to seek experiences of the Holy Spirit. Eventually I experienced the Spirit in a hitherto unknown way, but at the cost of humiliation and the breaking of pride. In the two years immediately prior to being led of God into the church life, the Lord humbled me again and again so that my being might be opened without reservation to the truth of His pure Word. I have been in the church life now for nearly eleven years. I can testify with a pure conscience before God, before man, and before Satan that I have never been subject to any form of mind control. Yes, I have changed my mind concerning many things, but not because a man, or a group of men, induced or coerced me to do so. Rather, it was through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the enlightenment of the living Word, and my repentance before the Lord. Hundreds and even thousands can give a similar testimony. We in the churches are not a mindless mass of believers following a dictator. We have not renounced the God-given faculties of thinking, reasoning, and considering. However, out of our experience with Christ we have come to receive and accept the judgments of His Word upon the unrenewed mind of fallen man. We have come to agree with Him when He said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (1 Cor. 1:19). We agree with His Word regarding the vanity of our reasonings and the disobedience of our thoughts. It was no man who persuaded us; it was the Spirit who enlightened us. We do not now live in a mental wilderness, devoid of proper mental activity. Our minds are active and are daily being renewed, not through outward control, but through the inward working of Christ our life (Col. 3:4).
I do not know why the writer of The Mindbenders made the false charges he did. Perhaps it is because his mind is still in an unrenewed state and cannot adequately discern or receive spiritual things, especially those things which contradict preconceived or traditional concepts. Perhaps it is because he trusts the knowledge of psychology more than the leading of the Holy Spirit and the pure Word of God. Whether or not this is so, the Lord will decide, if not in this life, then when the secrets of all, including the thoughts and intents of the heart, are exposed and judged at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10). At that time, every idle word will be accounted for, and by our words we shall either be justified or condemned (Matt. 12:36-37).
We give our testimony and a word of reply on behalf of the local churches in the presence of the Lord. We thank Him for creating us a spirit, a soul, and a body. We thank Him for regenerating our spirit and filling it with Himself. We also thank Him for exposing the deplorable state of our fallen mind and for showing us the way, according to His economy, for our mind to be renewed and even to become the mind of Christ. We have experienced many humbling lessons and no doubt we shall experience more. We are willing for this, for we long to be fully recovered and possessed by the One we love, by the One who shed His blood on the cross that we might be redeemed and filled with His life so that, for His glory, we might be constituted into His living Body on earth today. No, we are neither mindbenders nor victims of mindbending. We are people, like all others, who were contaminated by the fall. And we are believers, like many others, who have been cleansed with the blood and regenerated by the Spirit. By the Lord’s mercy and grace we are learning to cooperate with Him in life to be renewed in the spirit of our mind so that we may put on the new man for the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. We love the Lord our God with our heart, our soul, and our mind. We worship Him, we enjoy Him, and we serve Him with the spirit and with the mind also.
- Jack Sparks, The Mindbenders (Nashville and New York: Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers, 1977), p. v.
- Ibid., p. 15.
- Ibid., p. 16.
- Ibid., p. vi.
- Ibid., p. 16.
- The Random House College Dictionary (New York: Random House, Inc., 1973), p. 163.
- Sparks, op. cit., p. 17.
- 9. Ibid., p. 219.
- Random House College Dictionary, op. cit., p. 1068.
- Sparks, op. cit., p. 220.
- Ibid., p. 221.
- Ibid., p. 226.
- Ibid., p. 227.
- Ibid., p. 231.
- Ibid., p. 232.
- Ibid., p. 233.
- Ibid., p. 239.
- Ibid., p. 240.
- Ibid., p. 227.
- Ibid., p. 252.
- Ibid., p. 253.
- Witness Lee, The Parts of Man (Los Angeles: The Stream Publishers, 1969), p. 10.
- Witness Lee, Life-Study of Genesis, Message Ninety-nine (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1977), p. 1267.
- Witness Lee, The Economy of God (Los Angeles: The Stream Publishers, 1968), p. 81.
- Ibid., p. 82.
- Witness Lee, The Experience of Life (Los Angeles: The Stream Publishers, 1973), p. 183.
- Ibid., p. 184.
- G. H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company), p. 109.
- Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Battle for the Mind (Dorset: The Overcomer Literature Trust), p. 4.
- Watchman Nee, Spiritual Authority (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1972), p. 99.
- Pember, op. cit., p. 109.
- C. H. Macintosh, Genesis to Deuteronomy (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1972), p. 788.
- Ibid., p. 789.
- William Law, The Power of the Spirit, edited by Dave Hunt (Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1971), pp. 98-99.
- Ibid., pp. 101-102.
- Ibid., p. 104.
- Ibid., p. 105.
- Ibid., p. 106.
- Nee, op. cit., p. 96.
- Ibid., p. 97.
- Harry A. Ironside, Except Ye Repent (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc.), pp. 7-8.
- Witness Lee, Life-Study of Matthew, Message Nine (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1977), pp. 106-107.
- Penn-Lewis, op. cit., p. 4.
- Ibid., p. 5.
- Ibid., p. 2.
- Ibid., p. 6.
- Watchman Nee, The Glorious Church (Los Angeles: The Stream Publishers, 1968), pp. 32-33.
- Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit (Indianapolis: Sure Foundation, 1965), p. 51.
- Watchman Nee, Spiritual Knowledge (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1973), p. 97. [See The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 10, chapter 17, section 4]
- Lee, The Economy of God, p. 82.
- Lee, The Parts of Man, pp. 17-18.
- Nee, Spiritual Knowledge, p. 103. [See The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 10, chapter 17, section 6]
- Lee, The Economy of God, pp. 83-84.
- Penn-Lewis, op. cit., p. 8.
- Lee, The Economy of God, pp. 84-85.
- Lee, The Parts of Man, p. 18.
- Lee, The Economy of God, p. 84.
- Lee, The Parts of Man, p. 18.
- Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1968), vol. 3, p. 69.
- Penn-Lewis, op. cit., p. 7.
- Ibid., p. 4.
- Nee, Spiritual Authority, pp. 101-102.
- Ibid., p. 105.
- Ibid., p. 106.
- Sparks, op. cit., p. 221.
- Penn-Lewis, op. cit., p. 5.
- Lee, The Parts of Man, p. 19.
- Witness Lee, The Knowledge of Life (Los Angeles: The Stream, 1973), p. 167.
- Lee, The Experience of Life, pp. 143-144.
- Sparks, op. cit., p. 233.
- Lee, The Knowledge of Life, p. 169.
- Sparks, op. cit., p. 57.
- Ibid., p. 56.
- Law, op. cit., p. 102.
©1977 Gene Ford. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.