In Our Defense

When the Lord Jesus was on the earth, He was continually persecuted and opposed (Matt. 9:34; 12:14, 24); realizing that Satan’s intention was to frustrate His followers, He faithfully warned His disciples of the persecution and opposition awaiting them. (John 15:21; 16:1-2) In like manner, the apostle Paul warned the new believers beforehand of impending persecution—1 Thes. 3:4. Since Satan is continuing his attack on all the genuine followers of the Lord, we must follow the patterns of the Lord and the apostle Paul to inoculate those with whom we are shepherding and with whom we are getting acquainted.

In this section we endeavor to tell you about what others have said about us, insinuating and in some cases, outright stating that we:

  • Are not genuine Christians
  • Teach heretical doctrines
  • Are cultic in our practices
  • Blindly, even mindlessly, follow the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee
  • Believe we are the only genuine followers of Christ, and
  • Think there is no other church in our locality.

Accordingly, we want to make it clear to you, dear friend, that we are not ashamed of the path we have taken nor do we feel compelled to obfuscate our standing as believers in Jesus Christ and members of His Body. We love Him and we love every single blood-washed and Spirit-born Christian here in Kitchener. For your information, you can find our statement of faith here.

We have nothing to hide but we do feel that for your sake, everything should be in the light and nothing should be kept from interested friends and acquaintances. However, anything that we might share with you to allay concerns you might have because of rumors and falsehoods would likely be seen as self-serving. So, we have elected to present to you what "others" have to say about the churches in the Lord's recovery, the ministries of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, and our standing as genuine believers in Christ. Below, we have provided testimonies from:

  • the Christian Research Insitute
  • Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Answers in Action

We have also provided links to materials published by the Defence and Confirmation Project, which represents ours and the views of the churches in the Lord's recovery.

We trust that these sources will address any trepidations you might have about us. However, we would be quite happy to correspond with you directly, to answer your questions, and to hear your concerns.

May the Lord bless you and may He forge between us, lines of genuine and loving fellowship.

Friends of the Local Churches: Fuller Theological Seminary

Fuller Theological Seminary (Fuller) and leaders from the local churches and its publishing service, Living Stream Ministry (LSM), have recently completed two years of extensive dialog. During this time Fuller conducted a thorough review and examination of the major teachings and practices of the local churches, with particular emphasis on the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, as published by Living Stream Ministry. This process was undertaken in an attempt to answer many of the questions and accusations that are often associated with this group of churches and to locate the teachings and practices of these two men and the local churches in light of historical, orthodox Christianity. Participants in the dialog from Fuller included Dr. Richard Mouw, President and Professor of Christian Philosophy; Dr. Howard Loewen, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of Theology and Ethics; and Dr. Veli Matti Kärkkäinen, Professor of Systematic Theology. Representing the local churches were Minoru Chen, Abraham Ho, and Dan Towle. Representing LSM were Ron Kangas, Benson Phillips, Chris Wilde, and Andrew Yu.

It is the conclusion of Fuller Theological Seminary that the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect. One of the initial tasks facing Fuller was to determine if the portrayal of the ministry typically presented by its critics accurately reflects the teachings of the ministry. On this point we have found a great disparity between the perceptions that have been generated in some circles concerning the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and the actual teachings found in their writings. Particularly, the teachings of Witness Lee have been grossly misrepresented and therefore most frequently misunderstood in the general Christian community, especially among those who classify themselves as evangelicals. We consistently discovered that when examined fairly in the light of scripture and church history, the actual teachings in question have significant biblical and historical credence. Therefore, we believe that they deserve the attention and consideration of the entire Body of Christ.

It is important to note, in understanding the process that we have undergone, that considerable attention was devoted at the outset to the stand of these churches on the essential elements of the genuine Christian faith adhered to by all true Christian believers. We believe that if agreement on the basic tenets of the faith can be clearly established, then subsequent dialog and discussion concerning non-essential teachings properly fall within the realm of the fellowship of believers. This determination was made by reading their publications and through our fellowship in five face-to-face meetings between Fuller and representatives of these churches and this ministry. In regard to their teaching and testimony concerning God, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, the Bible, salvation, and the oneness and unity of the Church, the Body of Christ, we found them to be unequivocally orthodox. Furthermore, we found their profession of faith to be consistent with the major creeds, even though their profession is not creedal in format. Moreover, we also can say with certainty that no evidence of cultic or cult-like attributes have been found by us among the leaders of the ministry or the members of the local churches who adhere to the teachings represented in the publications of Living Stream Ministry. Consequently, we are easily and comfortably able to receive them as genuine believers and fellow members of the Body of Christ, and we unreservedly recommend that all Christian believers likewise extend to them the right hand of fellowship.

Our times together were characterized by sincere, open, transparent, and unrestricted dialog. There were several topics that we at Fuller approached with particular interest, such as the Trinity, the mingling of divinity and humanity, deification, modalism, their interpretation and practice of the “local” church, the divine and human natures of Christ, and their attitude toward believers outside their congregations. We were given unlimited freedom to explore each of these areas. In every instance, we found the public perception of some to be far removed from the actual published teachings as well as the beliefs and practices of the believers in the local churches.

This statement is intended to provide those interested with a general overview of the process that we have been involved with and our overall conclusions. This brief statement will be followed in the coming months by a paper addressing the aforementioned and other important theological topics in greater detail. Representatives of the local churches and Living Stream Ministry have agreed to write a statement outlining in summary form their teachings on the major topics of interest concerning them. Comments by Fuller will be offered on their teachings, as we have come to understand them after significant research and dialog.

Dated: January 5, 2006

Fuller Theological Seminary

Friends of the Local Churches: Christian Research Insitute

CRJ – We were Wrong (2009)

New Religious Movements/Doctrinal Discernment: One of the largest and most dynamic Christian movements in China, the “local churches” (LC) of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, planted churches in the United States beginning in the 1960s. It was greeted with suspicion by the evangelical community, and it was not long before CRI and other discernment ministries began labeling it heretical. But, after a six-year reevaluation, CRI has concluded that the LC has been misunderstood and is neither cultic nor aberrant, but merely different. Learn the reasons why in this special five-part article, along with some valuable lessons on how to do—and not to do—discernment ministry.

Download a PDF: English | Spanish | German | Cebuano |Korean | Russian | Chinese | Traditional Chinese

Friends of the Local Churches: Answers in Action “Apologetics Conclusions Reconsidered..."

A Case in Point: The Local Churches & Living Stream Ministry”

Friday, February 23 2007 @ 04:54 PM EST

© Copyright 2007 by Gretchen Passantino

Reproduced by permission

After 3 years of careful research, dialog, examination, & theological analysis, veteran apologist Gretchen Passantino, co-founder & director of Answers In Action (AIA), in conjunction with colleagues Hank Hanegraaff (president) & Elliot Miller (Editor-In-Chief of the Christian Research Journal), of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) have concluded that the churches affiliated with the teachings of Watchman Nee & Witness Lee & with the Living Stream Ministry (LSM) embrace & teach orthodox Christian theology, are a Christian movement of brothers & sisters in Christ, & should not be labeled theologically heretical nor as a “cult,” even if the use of the term “cult” is restricted to a purely theological use as is defined in the late Dr. Walter Martin’s The New Cults or in the late Robert Passantino & Gretchen Passantino’s Answers to the Cultist at Your Door.

The re-evaluation comes more than 2 decades after their initial research & is far more commendatory than the initial observations made by the Passantinos & Martin. Although Passantino & Martin originally said the movement was not a non-Christian cult, & that at best Nee & especially Lee’s writings were contradictory, they were strongly critical of the movement’s theology as they understood it from examination of published materials. Although neither the Passantinos nor Martin wrote on the movement subsequent to 1981, for many years CRI offered a fact sheet on the movement that repeated the main criticisms from the Passantinos & Martin. More than 3 years ago, Gretchen Passantino (who has directed AIA since her husband’s death in 2003), Hank Hanegraaff (who has directed CRI since Martin’s death in 1989), & Elliot Miller (who has edited the Journal since its inception), responded positively to a request by Living Stream Ministry, the publishing support for the movement, to begin a dialog & re-evaluation of its teachings & theology.

In the years since the initial critiques, Passantino, Miller, & Hanegraaff had increasingly appreciated the importance of understanding what people mean by their words through direct dialog, observation, & interaction, not merely or even sometimes best through their published words. Both CRI & AIA in recent years adopted policies mandating direct interaction with controversial individuals & groups as a pre-requisite to formal published criticisms. Passantino explains, “Our ground-breaking work in such areas as satanism & neo-paganism, as well as concurrent work with others in apologetics on the Worldwide Church of God and other movements & issues, reinforced this principle & made us very open to re-evaluating this movement, whose written materials had always been problematic & open to divergent analysis among apologists.”

Over the past 3 years, CRI & AIA have had unlimited access to the local churches' written materials, hundreds of hours of direct dialog with leadership, and unrestricted access to rank-and-file members. CRI & AIA have also devoted hundreds of hours to theological analysis & research, including consultation with leading theologians & bible scholars from multiple graduate institutions. “Not only do we have a far better, more comprehensive understanding of the beliefs of the movement,” noted Passantino, “we also see clearly how our criticisms, even though they were among the mildest from the apologetics community, misunderstood & misrepresented its core of orthodoxy.”

In the 1970s and early 1980s the Passantinos (in 2 small booklets) characterized Lee’s teachings as at best contradictory & at worst heretical, & along with Martin (in The New Cults) strongly criticized their theology while stating they were not a non-Christian cult. Other researchers beginning in the 1970s branded the movement a cult & warned of psychological, sociological, & criminal errors attributed to the movement as well as charges of theological heresy. As recently as 1999 authors John Ankerberg & John Weldon included the movement among groups that were dangerous, destructive, & criminal in their behavior as well as heretical in their theology in their Encyclopedia of Cults & New Religions.

Since the movement had its origins & a strong contingent of believers in mainland China, the atheistic communist Chinese government made use of the negative reports as partial justification for criminal charges & convictions against Chinese Christians associated with the movement. The egregious charges made in Ankerberg & Weldon’s book, echoing those made in earlier decades (such as in The God-men by Neil T. Duddy) have been seen by the movement as extremely dangerous for its members in mainland China, who continue to face government restriction, charges, & convictions for their church work. As part of countering this threat, key local church teachers (they reject a formal leadership hierarchy but obviously defer to certain members as especially important resources for leadership & teaching) approached a variety of apologetics leaders seeking dialog & reassessment. AIA & CRI welcomed the opportunity & joined together to pursue the process.

In recent years the churches & LSM have made progress in receiving recognition in wider Christian circles in America. Fuller Seminary conducted a similar dialog & examination to that of AIA & CRI & concluded, “the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect” (Fuller Statement). LSM was accepted into full voting membership in the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).

In dialog with local church leaders & LSM, they & AIA & CRI agreed that the initial strongly critical evaluations of the earlier decades by the Passantinos & Martins were due to a combination of factors that did not include deliberate misrepresentation or sinful intention on either side. Rather, the inadequate criticisms had much more to do with factors such as the lack of direct interchange; the cultural, linguistic, & ecclesiological differences between Christianity in China & America; & the relatively immature status of analytical religious analysis on both sides.

“A good example,” Passantino offered, “is the similarities between some of Nee & Lee's teachings & those of some of the early church fathers & some expressions of eastern orthodoxy today.” She continued, “Neither Nee nor Lee claimed that their teachings about personal sanctifying transformation came from a familiarity with or adoption of the patristic or eastern orthodox teachings of theosis. With the comprehensive knowledge I had in the 1970s about heretical teachings on the subject from western aberrational groups, it was far more likely that I would identify Nee & Lee's teachings with those rather than with patristic & eastern orthodox theology with which I was far less conversant.”

Revisiting the controversial teachings after a hiatus of more than 2 decades, AIA & CRI were able to more fairly evaluate the pertinent passages in their wider context & in complementary comparison with a wider body of orthodox theology. “We concluded,” Passantino said, “that one of the reasons we repeatedly encountered what we thought of as contradictions in Nee & Lee's teachings so long ago, was that they really did not mean the heretical view, but meant to be understood as well within orthodoxy.” Direct dialog was key to unlocking the conundrum. Passantino, Hanegraaff, & Miller knew after their first meeting that these representatives were their fellow Christians. “As they affirmed orthodox theology, rejected heresy, & explained to us their theology,” Passantino offered, “I knew direct interchange was essential to fairly evaluate them.”

AIA & CRI affirm that the essential doctrines of Nee, Lee, the local churches, & LSM are fully within orthodoxy. AIA & CRI are fully aware that there are a number of secondary teachings & practices that distinguish them from many American evangelical Christian churches.

Defence and Confirmation Project

ePublications in Defence

An Open Letter “An open letter from the local churches and Living Stream Ministry concerning the teachings of Witness Lee.” This letter outlines our faith, three key matters the Lord is moving to recover today, and a brief history of the local churches from China to a global presence. The site also includes testimonies from prominent Christians who have affirmed our orthodoxy and a set of resources pages on important truths.

Testimony of Local Churches and LSM consists of two kinds of material. First, there are documents that have issued from dialogues that representatives of the local churches and Living Stream Ministry have had with leading theologians and apologetics ministries. Second, there are responses to public statements that have misrepresented our beliefs and practices.

Affirmation & Critique - Affirmation & Critique (A&C) is a scholarly journal of Christian thought, which seeks to explore biblical truth from a vital, yet neglected, perspective—the economy of God (Eph. 3:9). Archived issues examine topics such as the Triune God, Christ, the life-giving Spirit, the eternal purpose of God, the economy of God, and God’s complete salvation. The title of the journal is explained on the site as follows: “The essential and profound truths of the Bible, which involve God’s dispensing of Himself and all that He has into man, are affirmed, and many traditional teachings are responsibly critiqued in light of this economy.”