October 11, 1976
Mr. Robert Passantino
Christian Research Institute
Walter R. Martin, Director
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Thank you for your letter regarding our recent discussion and your invitation to “analyze” your tract entitled, “Witness Lee and the Local Church.” Before I give you my personal reaction and analysis, I would like to comment on our three hour talk.
The conditions under which we talked were rather unusual in this regard: though we were debating, I did not know that you had publicly opposed the church in writing, or that you were a research associate of Walter Martin. On the other hand, you did not know anything about me either. So that you may understand clearly the standpoint from which I write, let me tell you a little about myself. I graduated from a fundamental Presbyterian college and from the School of Theology of Drew University. I was a minister in the Methodist Church from 1949 to 1958. In 1958 I became an Episcopalian for doctrinal reasons and was ordained to the priesthood of that denomination. If you check the clerical directory of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., you will find that I am listed there as a priest in good standing, being canonically resident in the Diocese of Spokane (though on inactive status for the past twelve years). Through the testimony of Father Dennis Bennett of Seattle, I was introduced into the charismatic movement in 1962 and was active in the so-called “Pentecostal Revival” for several years. At the end of 1968, through the gracious mercy of God, my eyes were opened to see the Lord’s up-to-date move on the earth today. Since that time I have been fully given to the Lord’s recovery.
Now, let us consider your tract. As I view it, your tract (1) gives a brief introduction to the local church and Witness Lee; and (2) gives your basis for evaluating a person or group. (3) The body of the tract concentrates on two main points, (a) the doctrine of the Trinity taught by the church and (b) contradictions taught by Witness Lee; and (4) you issue a call to come out of the church.
Since you asked me in your letter to analyze your tract, you must expect my frank opinion. My initial reaction could be expressed in the words of Job 35:16b and 38:2: “He multiplieth words without knowledge.” “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” One of the main uses of words is to communicate truth and shed light. Truth and light are based on knowledge. Without knowledge, words simply multiply and cast a shadow of darkness. This is my impression of your tract: it “multiplies words” and it “darkens counsel.” The truth is difficult to find. Indeed, the tract is full of lies. This is not an empty accusation. I will comment upon your tract concerning those parts which are glaringly false, showing the inaccuracies, twistings, slanders, and lies which you have presented to the Christian public as the truth. To compare Witness Lee and the church to Hinduism, for example, when in fact they have nothing in common, is not truthful. I wish that you were open enough to find out the real situation. You owe it to yourself and to your readers to more thoroughly acquaint yourself with the truth about us. Also, I wish to make it clear that my purpose in putting down my impressions of your writing is neither to condemn you nor to defend us. Rather, it is with the hope that you will more clearly see the real situation concerning Witness Lee and the church.
I would like to begin with the cover. Who is the one being impersonated in the drawing? Is it Witness Lee? If not, then who? And what is the drawing meant to convey? Is it meant to convey the truth? Is mocking the way you present your case? Before one ever opens your tract, Robert, you betray your attitude by the cover. One person told me that when your pamphlet was given to him and he saw the cover, he threw it away without reading it. He felt that anyone who must present his case in the form of ridicule is far below the standard of a spokesman for the truth.
Now we come to the booklet itself. I will not attempt to compass the entire booklet, answering every distortion, for then I would almost need to refute it word by word. To misapply a verse, if I attempted that, “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). Firstly, you say:
The Local Church was started in Los Angeles in 1962 by Witness Lee, a man from China who was once a disciple of the Christian mystic, Watchman Nee, and who had already started several churches in the orient. Most of the members of the Local Church come from evangelical churches. The group now numbers in the thousands all over the country and abroad. Its “headquarters” is in the Church of Anaheim, California, where Mr. Lee, when not touring the Local Churches, attends and teaches.
- The church testimony was raised up by God in China in 1922 through Brother Watchman Nee, in his home town of Foochow.
- Witness Lee was for over twenty years a co-worker with Watchman Nee.
- You call Watchman Nee a “Christian mystic.” Webster defines mystic as pertaining to any “occult or esoteric religion; mysterious or enigmatic.” Watchman Nee is recognized by Christians all over the world as one of the great Christians of this century. It is difficult to find a fundamental book store these days that does not sell his books. Literally thousands of Christians have found help and direction from his ministry — and you apply to him an adjective, which is, without question, derogatory.
- I don’t know whether most of the members of the local church came from “evangelical churches” or not. I didn’t. But one thing is certain: whatever their origin, once they are in the local church they are evangelical. An evangelical, as I understand it, is one who holds the commonly accepted truths of the faith. In “A Simple Presentation,” published jointly by the church in Anaheim and the ministry of Witness Lee and his co-workers, we state our belief to be as follows:
- We believe that the Holy Bible is the complete divine revelation inspired by the Holy Spirit, word by word.
- We believe that God is the only one Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Spirit — co-existing equally from eternity to eternity.
- We believe that the Son of God, even God Himself, became incarnated to be a Man by the name of Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, that He might be our Redeemer and Savior.
- We believe that Jesus, a genuine Man, lived on this earth for thirty-three and a half years to make God the Father known to men.
- We believe that Jesus, the Christ anointed by God with His Holy Spirit, died on the cross for our sins and shed His blood for the accomplishment of our redemption.
- We believe that Jesus Christ, after being buried for three days, resurrected from the dead to become the life-giving Spirit, that He may impart Himself into us as our life and our everything.
- We believe that Christ after His resurrection ascended to the heavens, and that God made Him the Lord of all.
- We believe that after His ascension Christ poured down the Spirit of God to baptize His chosen members into one Body, and that the Spirit of God, Who is also the Spirit of Christ, is moving on this earth today to convince sinners, to regenerate God’s chosen people, to dwell in the members of Christ for their growth in life, and to build up the Body of Christ for His full expression.
- We believe that at the end of this age Christ will come back to judge the world, to take up His members, to take possession of the earth, and to establish His eternal kingdom.
- We believe that the overcoming saints will reign with Christ in the millennium, and all the believers in Christ will participate in the divine blessings in the New Jerusalem in the new heaven and new earth for eternity.
- “Headquarters” is your term. It is the product of your own mentality. We use neither the term “headquarters” nor any equivalent.
- You say “the Church of Anaheim.” It may seem a small matter to you, but we never say the church of any city, but rather the church in Anaheim or the church in Seattle, etc. This is an example of the inaccuracies which abound throughout your pamphlet. According to Webster, the word “of” has fourteen meanings, the main one being “source” or “derivation.” According to this meaning the church would be “of “Anaheim or have its source or derivation from Anaheim. The word “in” is specifically used as: “indicating being within, as a bounded place… indicating inclusion with respect to scope.” This is exactly what we mean when we say the church in Huntington Beach or the church in Anaheim. The source or derivation of the church is Christ; but the location, bounds, and scope of the church on the earth are according to city (Rev. 1:11).
“The most important basis of evaluation” of any group, you say, “whether denomination or cult, is the group’s doctrine of God.”
- J. Rodman Williams, President of Melodyland School of Theology wrote a book entitled, The Pentecostal Reality. The following quotation is from chapter six on “The Holy Trinity,” pages 100-101. You may consider his words my comment.
[Christians] have traditionally sought to go back behind creed and dogma to the Scriptures themselves….Actually, however, there is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. The word “Trinity” is nowhere to be found, nor the language “one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity,” and certainly nothing about needing to believe this for salvation. What we do have, however, might be called the raw materials for such a doctrine; for the New Testament is laden with the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while vigorously affirming that God is one….But, more significant than the function of the Scriptures as material for doctrine (with their implicit Trinitarian theology) is the witness of Scripture that Christian life is that lived in the reality of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Scriptures nowhere suggest that to believe in God as Trinity, or Triune — or to “think God” in such and such a manner (often leading to speculation and abstractness) — is really the important thing. The concern is that people be introduced into the reality of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is primarily the matter of a life to be lived, not a teaching or doctrine to be held.
- Concerning the words “denomination or cult,” neither applies to the church. A denomination is a division, and a cult is characterized by unwarranted extravagance in belief or practice. Our standing is neither that of a division nor that of a cult; it is the standing of the church — the unity of the Body of Christ.
You say, Robert, that the person or group who does not hold the right “doctrine of God” cannot be in “God’s will.”
- Of course, the basic elementary qualification for being in God’s will is to believe in Jesus Christ and to be born again. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). But once a man is born again he still needs to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17), and to “be filled with the knowledge of his will” (Col. 1:9). Further, Romans 12:1-2 makes it clear that unless he presents his body as “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,” and is “not fashioned according to this world,” but is “transformed by the renewing of (the) mind,” he can never prove what is the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” A person’s body needs to be in the right position and his mind needs to be in the right condition; then he can understand “the perfect will of God.” We in the church have the proper standing before God and in the church we have the right environment in which to get our minds renewed. Therefore, in the church we have the position and the condition to “understand what the will of God is” (Eph. 5:17). The matter of being in the will of God is much more profound than simply believing the right doctrine, even the right doctrine about God.
- Let me quote from a book by Witness Lee entitled, The Experience of Life, pages 159-165.
What, actually, is the will of God? Christians often mention the will of God in relation to trivial affairs, such as their occupation and marriage. They use this phrase in a very casual manner, thus belittling and underestimating the will of God. When we carefully study the will of God throughout the New Testament, we discover that it points to matters great and lofty. For example, Ephesians 5:17, to “understand what the will of the Lord is,” seems to be a very common phrase, but the context of the book of Ephesians reveals that this phrase indicates depth. Ephesians is a very special book in the Bible; many of its words and principles speak of God and eternity. Therefore, the will of God mentioned there can never merely refer to common, insignificant matters. Furthermore, Ephesians chapter five is based on the preceding chapters. Chapter one speaks of the mystery of God’s will (v.9), and chapter three speaks of the will of God purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (v.11); both refer to extremely great things. Then chapter five exhorts us to understand the will of God, which naturally refers to the great matters previously mentioned, not to trivial matters in our life.
He refers to other passages where the will of God is mentioned such as Colossians 1:9; Romans 12:1-5; Hebrews 10:7; and Hebrews 13:20-21 and concludes that,
These Scriptures speak of God’s will as originating from God and coming to us both from eternity to the present time and from heaven to earth. Thus, God’s will mentioned in the Bible is of great magnitude. How different this is from our past concept regarding the will of God! May the Lord open our eyes and change our concept.
“What really, then, is the will of God?” he asks, and proceeds to discuss the matter from three aspects: the will of God is His heart desire; the will of God is the mingling of God with man; and the will of God is the fulfillment of His plan.
To understand the will of God, the basic problem we must solve is to realize that God, to whom we belong and whom we serve, has a great plan in the universe. He desires a group of people for the building up of the Body of Christ and a corporate man to be the mystical Bride of His Son. Furthermore, we need to know what God would do in our locality. If we touch the plan of God and place ourselves into the plan of God in this manner, we are taking God’s economy as our career. Thus, when we engage in business, teach, or whatever we do, we are for God’s economy; our entire living and all our actions are for His economy. Then we shall have the ground and qualification to touch God’s will and be clear about His guidance regarding all the affairs of our daily life.
Our desire in the church is that you and all of God’s people enter into God’s will, not superficially, but deeply and thoroughly as presented here.
“The doctrine taught by the Loca1 Church on the Holy Trinity,” you assert, “is known generally in church history as monarchianistic modalism. This is a doctrine that arose in the third century A.D. as the result of the teachings of a man named Sabellius.”
- “Monarchianistic modalism” was first advanced at the end of the second century in Smyrna by Noetus. It was picked up and taught in the third century by Sabellius, whose name became permanently attached to it.
- The doctrine taught by the church is not “monarchianistic modalism.” Monarchianistic modalism means one (mono) God manifested in three successive modes, first as Father, second as Son and finally as Spirit. We reject this modalistic concept unreservedly. Our attitude toward modalism is stated very clearly in a tract by Witness Lee and his co-workers entitled, “False Accusations Exposed and Refuted in the Light of the Scriptures”:
The permanence of the Father, Son, and Spirit was denied by modalism. But the Bible, which we believe, says in Matthew 3:16-17, “He (the Son) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I (the Father) am well pleased”; and in John 14:16-17, “I (the Son) will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth….” These words reveal clearly that the Father, Son, and Spirit exist at the same time. The coexistence of the Father, Son, and Spirit is also definitely revealed in 2 Corinthians 13:14, which says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (the Son), and the love of God (the Father), and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all”; and in Ephesians 3:14-17, which says, “I bow my knees unto the Father… that he would grant you to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ (the Son) may dwell in your hearts.” Therefore, believing in the pure Word of God, we strongly reject any kind of association with modalism.
We also unreservedly reject the heresy of tritheism reflected in your quotation from Augustine, that “the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, and the Holy Spirit … is neither the Father nor the Son, then certainly there are three.” According to Isaiah 9:6, the Son given is called the Father; and according to 2 Corinthians 3:17, the Lord is the Spirit. The president of Melodyland School of Theology, in his book entitled, The Era of the Spirit, pages 10-11 says, “Jesus Christ is Lord….The Lord is also the Spirit.” We agree with this. We say unequivocally that God being three is one, and that God being one is three. God is tri — three, and unus — one. We believe that God is three and has been eternally so. We also believe that God is one. How this can be we make no attempt to explain. We simply believe it because it is the clear teaching of the Word of God.
The matter is stated very clearly by Witness Lee in Concerning the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, page 29:
The Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—has the aspect of being three-in-one and also the aspect of being one-in-three. As the three-in-one, He is “I”; as the one-in-three, He is “us.” From the aspect of the three-in-one, “the Word was God”; from the aspect of the one-in-three, “The Word was with God” (John 1:1). From the aspect of the three-in-one, “the Lord is the Spirit”; from the aspect of the one-in-three, it is “the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:17). From the aspect of the three-in-one, the Son and the Father are one (John 10:30; 14:7-11); from the aspect of the one-in-three, the Son is with the Father (John 1:1, 2), the Son shares the glory with the Father (John 17:5), the Son is the beloved of the Father (John 17:24), the Son has become one with the Father (John 17:11, 21, 22), and the Son takes the same action with the Father (John 14:23).
You contrast what you call “economic” Trinity with “intrinsic” Trinity, implying that the church does not believe that God is intrinsically triune. God is God. He is one and three at the same time, and always has been so. But unless the Triune God becomes experiential and economical to us, it matters little whether we have a doctrinal belief in the Trinity or not. In the church, our belief in God is not only doctrinal; it is also practical. How practical and experiential it is can be seen from Witness Lee’s words in The Economy God, page 17:
The Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Spirit, and the Spirit is in us as the very transmission of God, transmitting constantly all that God is and has in Christ. [Hallelujah!]
You say, “If the classic,” that is, Walter Martin’s, “definition of the doctrine of the Trinity is true, then some problems follow for the modalist. The most serious problem or weakness in the modalistic system taught by any group is its failure to recognize the subject-object relationship among the members of the Godhead.”
Since we in the church are not modalists, this “serious problem” does not apply to us. But I wonder why you impose upon the Word of God a category so grossly man-made as “subject-object relationship.” Where did you pick up that concept? From what book on philosophy or psychology did you unearth such a notion to impose upon the Word of God? By imposing such a straitjacket on God’s Word, you silence it and refuse to let it say what it would say unhindered. Don’t apply this man-made notion to the Word of God. I want to hear what the Bible will say when left free of such human interference.
Some questions for the modalist logically follow this [you say]. Who was Jesus talking to when he was praying in the garden? Did Jesus imitate his Father’s voice in Matthew 3:17? Did Jesus imitate the Spirit’s appearance at Jesus’s [sic] baptism? Who said, “Thou are [sic] My (subject) beloved Son (object) in whom I am well pleased?” Where was the Son when the Father said, “Hear him?” Where was the Father when the Son said, “I (subject) have glorified thee (object)” (John 17:4)? Does Jesus’ great plea on the cross, “Father, forgive them,” become a hollow sham? Does his yielding to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39), “Not my will, but thy will be done,” become an illusion? In other words, many scriptures to the modalist no longer mean what they say.
When we in the church read the Scriptures, they mean to us exactly what they say. I believe we believe the Bible even more than you do.
- In the garden, Jesus on earth was praying to the Father in heaven.
- In Matthew 3:17 the Father in heaven spoke regarding His Son on earth.
- At the time of Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit from the heavens descended upon the Son in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16) and the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”(v. 17).
- When the Father said, “hear Him” the Son was on the mount of transfiguration and the Father spoke from the cloud (Matt. 17:5).
- In John 17:4 Jesus was on the earth when he said, “I have glorified thee.”
- It is almost blasphemy to suggest that Jesus’ words from the cross were a “hallow sham” when He said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Those words mean exactly what they say. They were a prayer to His Father to forgive His murderers.
- “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt 26:39) was no illusion. It was a yielding of His will, on the part of the Son, to the will of His Father.
You see, Robert, by misrepresenting us in such a way, you spread the lie that we don’t believe the Bible. The fact is we believe it word for word.
Up to this point the only Scriptures you have quoted have been in mockery. And you have not cited a single reference from any of our writings to support your accusations. Surely the honest readers of your tract are not so gullible as to take your word without a shred of evidence. When eventually you do quote something, you cite four, short, isolated references from two different books. You completely ignore the one book which Witness Lee wrote exclusively on the subject of the Triune God, and the references you do cite are all weighted on one side of the question only. Your compilation of four different references is put together as follows:
The Father as the inexhaustible source of everything is embodied in the Son. In the place where no man can approach Him (1 Tim. 6:16), God is the Father. When He comes forth to manifest Himself, He is the Son. We know the Lord is the Son and that He is also called the Father. Now we read that He is the Spirit. So we must be clear that Christ the Lord is the Spirit, too. As the source, God is the Father. As the expression, He is the Son. As the transmission, He is the Spirit. The Father is the source, the Son is the expression, and the Spirit is the transmission, the communion. This is the triune God.
All of these statements are on the side of God being the three-in-one. Why do you not quote some passage to show that we also believe that God is the one-in-three Here is such a quotation from Witness Lee’s book, Concerning the Triune God page 6:
In Isaiah 6:8 God says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God speaks of Himself on one hand as “I” and on the other hand as “us.” This proves that “I” is “us,” and “us” is “I”; “I” and “us” are identical. Then, is God singular or plural? If you say He is plural, He says “I.” If you say He is singular, He says “us.” This is rather mysterious and difficult to understand; so we just take the scriptural revelation as it is.
Furthermore, in Genesis 1:26; 3:22; and 11:7, God also speaks of Himself as “us.” The unique God, in His divine words, has many times spoken of Himself as “us.” This is really a mystery difficult to comprehend. But we must believe that this is due to the matter of the three Persons of the Godhead — the Father, Son and Spirit.”
Having presented the isolated quotations from Witness Lee’s books, you proceed to identify what he says with Hinduism. At this point, Robert, I wonder that your Christian conscience is so inactive. Your identification of the church with Hinduism is contained in the following words:
Although we would not say that the Local Church is Hinduistic in their doctrine of God, we may be better able to understand the Trinity of the Local Church if we can contrast it to the Hindu trinity. “In Hinduism, the godhead is reduced to three main aspects or modes, the creative, preservative, and destructive. The personification of the creative aspect is known as Brahma. Vishnu is the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. These three deities constitute the Hindu Trinity.”
To give the impression to the Christian public that evangelical, born-again Christians are akin to Hindus is vicious slander. I think on this matter further comment is not required.
Now we turn to the second main section of your booklet, the section on what you call “contradictions.”
As the second subject for consideration about the Local Church, the authors felt that information needed to be available on the contradictions in the teachings of the founder and head teacher of the Local Church movement, Mr. Lee.
In researching the literature published by the Local Church through its publishing firm, Living Stream, we found that it was difficult to accurately represent Mr. Lee in many of his doctrines since he would say one thing in one place and the opposite somewhere else! Our conclusion was that the only way we could be fair to Mr. Lee and the Local Church would be to present some of his teachings exactly as he had — contradiction and all! The Bible says in James….”A double minded man is not dependable in any of his ways” [1:8].
Much of the problem arises, Robert, because you do not appreciate the element of emphasis. When one side of a matter is being emphasized, it seems that is all that is being said. When another aspect is being emphasized, it seems that is the main thing. When prayer is being emphasized, it seems we don’t believe in praise. When praise is being stressed, it appears we don’t believe in prayer. It is even the same with a building. When you are showing people the front side, you point out certain features. It seems you don’t recognize the features on the other three sides. When you are describing the back side of the building, it seems you neglect the front. NO! It is simply that you are concentrating on the back side.
A good example is an apparent contradiction in the Bible. In John 3:17 we are told that “God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him” (ASV). This is a chapter on salvation. Jesus was talking to a man named Nicodemus who was open to Him, and He was imparting to him the way of salvation. Therefore, it says, “God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.” But in John 9:39 the emphasis is different, so the other side of the matter is stressed. Jesus says in John 9:39, “For judgment came I into this world” (ASV). Here the emphasis is not salvation. John 9 concerns a blind man who received his sight in the midst of the darkness of religion. The blind, religious people condemned the man who received his sight. To those stubborn, blind ones Jesus said, “For judgment came I into this world, that they that see not may see; and that they that see may become blind” (ASV). Unless we understand this matter of emphasis, we will never be able to understand either the Bible or Witness Lee.
Incidentally, the church has no publishing firm. All the publishing is done as an aspect of the work. Apparently you are not familiar with the biblical distinction between the “church” and the “work” (Acts 13:1-2). It would help you to become clear on this matter if you would read The Normal Christian Church Life by Watchman Nee.
You consider our practice of pray-reading the Word to be contradictory to the Bible:
Mr. Lee’s writings [you say] often directly contravert [sic] the Bible, even on teachings other than God. For example, in “A Time with the Lord,” on pages 10 and 11, Lee states: “Just pray-read the Word. Pray the words of the Bible exactly as they read…. Open to any page, any line and word of the Bible and start to pray with that portion of the Word.” Following the instructions here and in the Living Stream’s book, pray-Reading [sic] the Word, let’s “pray-read” a sample verse from the Bible. Pray-read Luke 23:21 which says, “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him (Jesus)! Crucify him!'” Pray-reading the verse would be something like this: “Amen! Thank you, Jesus! Crucify him! Hallelujah! Crucify, O Lord, him! Thank you, Jesus!” Should we really say “Amen” to the most horrible crime in human history? Matthew 6:7 comments, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”
I wish to point out three things concerning this criticism:
- Read the quotation again from Witness Lee. What real Christian could disagree?
- Just pray-read the Word.
- Pray the words of the Bible exactly as they read.
- Open to any page, any line, any word of the Bible and start to pray with that portion of the Word. Surely no one could disagree with using God’s Word to pray in such a way.
- You give the example of pray-reading Luke 23:21. “But they kept shouting Crucify him, Crucify him.” We say very simply that we believe with 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable….” (Gk.). If it was breathed out by God, it was meant to be breathed in by us. “Yes, Lord. You submitted to crucifixion. Because You were crucified, we are saved. Hallelujah!”
- You say this is meaningless repetition, but we say it is breathing God. Some repetition is meaningless and some is quite necessary. For a Christian, breathing God is quite necessary.
Another apparent contradiction is presented by you from the writings of Witness Lee.
On the resurrection Mr. Lee commented (A Simple Way to Touch the Lord, pages 3 and 4), “….shortly after His resurrection He (Jesus) appeared before them in a room in which the doors were closed. He could never have done this had He not been the Spirit.” ….It was not only possible for Jesus to enter the closed room bodily, the scriptures teach that He did enter it in an immortal spiritual body and not as the Spirit. Luke 24:39 quotes Jesus after the resurrection as saying, “Look at My hands and My feet — that I am He. Touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see Me have.”….The Economy of God, also by Mr. Lee, on page 47 states the opposite. It says, “The night after His resurrection, He came to His disciples in His resurrected body. All the doors were shut, yet He entered in bodily and showed to the disciples His hands and His side.”
Witness Lee simply teaches what the Bible says. On the one hand we are told that “the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45b, ASV). Surely that is plain enough. But Luke 24:39 is also clear: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” How to reconcile the two statements I don’t know. But when Witness Lee says both are true, he is simply quoting the Bible.
You find contradiction in what Witness Lee says about the Bible, the Word, and God.
The relationship between the Bible, the Word, and God is often contradictory in Local Church doctrine. Lee stated in Pray-Reading the Word, pages 6-7,”… the essence or nature of the Word of God is Spirit….The Spirit is the very substance of the Word of God….The nature of this book (the Bible) is the very essence of God Himself.” Page 13 of Finding Christ by the Living Star directly opposes this. Mr. Lee states, “But be careful, the Scripture is the Scripture, but it is not God Himself.”
- The Word of God has a twofold aspect: it is letter, and it is also Spirit. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6). According to John 6:63, the Word is spirit and life. But according to John 5:39-40 the Pharisees could search the Scriptures and still not get life. When a person comes to the Scriptures, he must also come to the Lord; otherwise, he will touch only the dead letter of the Bible. But if when we touch the Word, we also touch the Lord, we will find that the Word is spirit and life. Whether a person ministers the letter of the Word or the Spirit of the Word depends upon his ability to touch the Lord in the Word. In the local church it is our great blessing that the ministry knows how to touch the Lord in the Word.
- I feel we need to quote the whole paragraph in Finding Christ by the Living Star, from which you lifted the sentence about the Scriptures not being God. On pages 12 and 13 Witness Lee says:
Do not simply trust in the letter of the Word. If you do, you will miss something. You need the Word, but you still need God’s presence. God is not so simple. There not only was the prophecy in the Old Testament, but also the sovereignty of God, and the sovereignty of God in a sense is rather “sneaky.” God is not so open, so public, so greatly advertised. The little child Jesus just “sneaked” in. If you are so legal, so scripturally legal, God in your case is rather “sneaky.” You must be on the watch. You should not say, “I know the Bible; the Bible says such and such.” If you do, you will be fooled by your knowledge. The scribes knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, but it profited them nothing. You need to be in the presence of God all the time. I do not despise the Scriptures; I honor and respect them. But be careful, the Scripture is the Scripture, but it is not God Himself. The Scripture is God’s holy writings, but you still need God’s holy presence. If we have His presence, we will really know when He is in Bethlehem, when He goes away, when He comes back, and where He is raised up. We have to follow the Lord in this way.
I feel, Robert, that this is a timely word for you. You are very much along the line of testing everything by the letter of the Word. It is wonderful to know the Word, but, you see, the Pharisees in the first century also knew the Word in the Old Testament very well, yet they missed the Lord. They knew the prophecy in Micah 5:2, but they didn’t journey to Bethlehem to see the Christ. Later, when Jesus came out of Galilee, they checked the letter of the Word and said, “Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52). In principle, it is the same today regarding Witness Lee and the church. They may not meet your scriptural standard — but don’t be cheated. If it turns out that what you are fighting is the very thing that God is doing on the earth today, it will result in great loss, both to you and to those who are influenced by you.
In the matter of Witness Lee’s views on doctrine you also find “contradiction.” You quote a reference from The Economy of God which “expresses,” you say, “a specific and universal statement about doctrine”: “Doctrine only works divisions.” This sentence is cut. You do not even quote the whole sentence, let alone explain the context. Then you quote another partial sentence which you say opposes the first: “….we can certainly receive help from doctrine.” An advocate of the truth should never willfully misrepresent his opponent. In the following quotation from The Economy of God, pages 23-24, Witness Lee’s remarks are left in context. The reader can decide for himself whether there is contradiction.
Doctrine only works divisions among the Lord’s children. If we love Christ, walk by the living Spirit and do not emphasize the doctrines, we will be one with all saints. The more we talk about doctrines, the more we will quarrel. Today, while we talk about the Holy Spirit, we all say, “Amen! Hallelujah!” But tomorrow, if we talk about eternal security, some will say, “I’m sorry, I cannot agree.” Immediately we will be divided, and this means we have missed the mark. We will be teaching things which only raise questions rather than concentrating our full attention upon the mark of God’s economy. What is the mark? It is the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit in us.
Others are arguing about baptism. For instance, some try to convince others by insisting on sprinkling. Again, this is a matter of doctrine and not a matter of the Spirit of the living Christ. We must learn to grasp one thing and to be grasped by one thing — Christ Himself. We must learn how to grasp Christ in the Holy Spirit and be grasped by the Holy Spirit. Although we can certainly receive help from doctrine, the main center of God’s economy is not doctrine, but the living One in the Holy Spirit.
The last so-called “contradiction” you present involves a recent communication by the local church and Witness Lee:
In The Economy of God, page 193, Lee stated, “We must never put a picture of ourselves in the newspaper. That is not something of the Church, but entirely of the fallen, worldly religion of Christianity. Oh, brother, if possible, do not allow anyone to advertise your name in the papers.” Mr. Lee and the Local Churches of Los Angeles, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, and San Diego, California directly contradicted this admonition on December 20, 1975 when they ran an ad in the religion section of the Los Angeles Times entitled, “What do the Local Churches and Witness Lee Believe?” Evidently Mr. Lee’s admonitions, although said to be God’s revelation, are like Ry-Krisp, made to be broken!
- The purpose of the article which appeared in the Los Angeles Times was for public information. In some sense it could, no doubt, be considered an ad since the space was purchased. But there were no pictures and none of the personal artifacts which usually accompany religious ads. There was nothing of the “fallen, worldly, religion of Christianity” in it. It was a straightforward declaration of our belief, to correct certain erroneous impressions deposited in the public mind by people like yourself, who write about us, but don’t know what they are talking about.
- The legal mind will ever be puzzled by the Spirit. Those who think in legal categories can never understand those who walk in Spirit. “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now” (Gal. 4:29). Again, let us cite an example from the Lord Jesus. When His brothers in the flesh wanted Him to go up to Jerusalem, He said, “I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come….But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast” (John 7:8, 10). First He said He wouldn’t go, and then He went. Were the Lord’s statements, although He was the Son of God, also like “Ry-Krisp, made to be broken”?
Let me ask you, Robert, do you believe the Word of God, just as it is? Can you forget the so-called “classic” definitions, the categories of human thought, the spoiling “philosophy,” the “traditions of men,” and the “elements of the world” (Col. 2:8) and come to the “pure” Word of God? When Isaiah 9:6 says, “Unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given” and that “His name shall be called… The Mighty God [and] the everlasting Father,” can you receive it without explaining it away? The same verse which says that the child shall be called the Mighty God, also says that the Son shall be called the Everlasting Father. We should not feel duty bound to force the Bible into a consistent mold. God’s thoughts are not your thoughts (Isa. 55:9). It is good to avoid what Paul calls “systematized error” (Eph. 4:14, New Translation by J. N. Darby). As soon as we systematize, we are in error.
You cite an anecdote about a man who was convinced he was dead. He could not be convinced otherwise, even when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Then you present your conclusion: “The moral of this story is that sometimes people are so convinced of their own infallibility that they even reject reality.” On the basis of the evidence in your tract, much of which I have already commented on in detail, I would say that the moral of the story applies to you, not Witness Lee. I am wondering if you are so convinced that you are right about Witness Lee and the church that you could not recognize the truth if it were staring you in the face.
To all those who are tempted to judge others, there is a word of caution in Matthew 7:2: “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” If I may be allowed to paraphrase verses 3 through 5, I would ask: “Why, Robert, do you concentrate on the speck which is in Witness Lee’s eye, but do not consider the beam which is in your own eye? Why do you say to Witness Lee, ‘Pull the error and inaccuracies out of your eye,’ when your tract is full of falsehood and lies? Friend, you should first deal with the blindness in your own mind. Then you can see more clearly what is the truth about the church and Witness Lee.”
From my personal knowledge of Witness Lee, I know him to be a man who depends very much upon the Spirit. After analyzing your tract, I wonder, Robert, whether you are such a man.
At the close of your tract you say, “If you are in the Local Church, leave! If you are thinking of joining the Local Church, don’t! Never leave Bibical [sic] reality for realativism [sic].” Here the words biblical and relativism are spelled “Bibical” and “realativism.” Biblical is consistently misspelled, and the construction of some sentences is so confusing as to be unintelligible. One example is a sentence on page 6 of your tract. It reads, “If the Local Church were only teaching the wrong doctrine of God, it would still not be a teacher of God.” Perhaps others know what you mean, but I do not. One who claims to represent the truth should not be inaccurate and inexact in public print. You are handling the truth of God and, therefore, have a responsibility to present the truth as accurately as possible.
Setting aside for the moment the fact that your view of Witness Lee and the church is not accurate, allow me to give my overall impression of your work. Is this a sample of the quality of workmanship performed by Christian Research Institute? You do not support your charges with evidence. What you do pretend to present as evidence is torn from its context and made to say what the author himself would not say. It seems that your purpose is to discredit Witness Lee and bias the reader, not to present the truth. Have you really done much research on this matter, Robert? There is not much evidence that you have.
It appears to me that you set out to produce contradictions. Then on the basis of your own fabrications you proceed to attack Witness Lee. Witness Lee knows the Bible quite well. I have known him personally for several years and I know him to be a man who is rich in the Word of God. We ought not to be in the category of the “baser sort” (Acts 17:5), such as those in Thessalonica, who refused the rich, helpful word. We ought, rather, to be in the category of the “noble” sort, such as those in Berea, who “received the word with all readiness of mind” (Acts 17:11). I am happy to count myself among the latter.
I can tell you quite frankly, Robert, that the accusations and fabrications which you have woven exist only in your own mind. They have no kinship with reality. If you would open the door of your mind just a little, to let the light of the truth in, you would be forced to the conclusion that you should retract what you have said and apologize to Witness Lee, the churches, and the Christian public to whom you have given a false impression.
According to 1 Corinthians 3:13, “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” The Apostle goes on to say that if a man’s work can stand the test of the fire, “he shall receive a reward.” However, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss” (1 Cor. 3:14-15). I personally doubt that your work will stand the test. The material with which you have constructed your tract is surely not gold, silver or precious stone; it is wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3:12).
You have spoken thousands of words against the church. According to Matthew 12:36, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” When you stand before Christ on that day, what will you present as your defense? I believe the Lord might say to you, “Since you were a ‘research associate,’ how is it you did not research to find and present the truth? How is it that in the name of truth you spread lies to My people in Orange County about My church?”
Allow me to give a word of personal testimony, Robert. I was not born yesterday. I am forty-six years old with a certain amount of experience. I have a respectable amount of education. I have also spent a number of years in Christian work. Also, I am reasonably well acquainted with the Word of God. I saw the truth of the Lord’s Recovery in 1968, and when I saw it, I took this way. Since being under the ministry of Witness Lee, I have enjoyed riches of Christ I never knew existed. Do you think I would be so foolish as to give up my future in the ministry if I had not found something worth giving it up for? Nor am I the only one. Hundreds, even thousands, have found an enjoyment of the Lord which is simply not available anywhere else, and many of them are former pastors and Christian workers.
Not only are the meetings, fellowship, and ministry of the church full of the rich enjoyment of Christ — the books of Witness Lee also abound with the riches of Christ. His ministry has extended for a period of more than forty years, and he has published many books during that time. Always his ministry has been to feed and supply the people of God. Even if there are things which you consider wrong, surely there is much in his books which would help all of God’s people, including you. I ask you, and suggest that you ask Walter Martin, this question: Why is it that you do not feed the people of God? Why is it that you only point out wrong things, but do not nourish God’s people? If Witness Lee is so wrong, why is it that you do not put out something better? You can point out where he is wrong, but what have you produced that is better? God’s people need something more from the ministry than the ability to point out what is wrong with others—they need to be fed. This is the value of Witness Lee’s ministry, both spoken and printed—it supplies God’s people with the nourishment of Christ.
This is what concerns me about you, Robert. You have apparently read some of the books, yet you miss the riches. Being presented with a chicken upon which to feast, you insist on searching only for the bones. If you will be honest, even if there are things with which you disagree, you will have to admit that Witness Lee’s books abound in riches. How is it, that having set before you a rich meal, you can find only things on which to choke? I am concerned for you.
I am concerned for you and for many others in Orange County who have never yet experienced the rich enjoyment of Christ which is in the church. Jesus spoke to some people who, He said, “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.” They neither went in themselves, nor did they allow those who would enter to do so (Matt. 23:13). This is a serious matter. I wish that you were, even as I am, in the practical church life enjoying the riches of Christ in reality. I would say to you and to all who read this letter what Philip said to Nathanael concerning Jesus: “Come and see.” It seemed to Nathanael that it was straining credibility too far to believe anything good could come out of Nazareth. But Philip’s response was that “coming” and “seeing” would greatly dilute his skepticism. And it was true. By coming and seeing, Nathanael’s skepticism was turned into a declaration of faith: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:46-49).
Why not come and see? Come to the church and see! Our meetings are at 10 o’clock Sunday morning; 6 o’clock Sunday evening for the Lord’s Table; 7:30 P.M. Tuesday to pray; 7:30 P.M. Friday for ministry; and the young people meet at 7:00 P.M. Saturday. Come! See!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
© 1976 Living Stream Ministry. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.