1/6/13 update: some links to internet sources have been removed. I will note such with *, but I will leave the original link. These sources did exist at the time I cited them.
The teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee are the primary sources of theology for members of the “Local Church.” While Lee’s teachings have more prominence, there is little difference in the theology of the two men. The “Local Church” has various questionable doctrines and practices which have caused numerous apologetics ministries to describe them as a cult. As Miles J. Stanford points out, “Lee's method of teaching and control is a definite form of brainwashing. All who join his assemblies are admonished to forget all the doctrine they ever knew, and submit to the ways and teachings of the Leeites.” (http://withchrist.org/mjs/neelee.htm)*
Let’s look at some of the teachings of this group, and I’ll let you decide for yourself as to whether they should be classed as a cult or just cultic.
Recovery: The “Local Church” is also known as “The Lord’s Recovery,“ and teaches that the Christian church went into total apostasy, losing many teachings of the New Testament churches. Therefore, they have “recovered” these teachings. The following citation explains the “Local Church” view of this “recovery” by them:
“The word ‘recover’ means to obtain again something that has been lost, or to return something to a normal condition. "Recovery" means the restoration or return to a normal condition after a damage or a loss has been incurred. To say that God is recovering certain matters means that in the course of church history they have been lost, misused, or corrupted and that God is restoring them to their original state or condition. Because the church has become degraded through the many centuries of its history, it needs to be restored according to God’s original intention. Concerning the church, our vision is governed not by the present situation nor by traditional practice, but by God’s original intention and by His unchanging standard as revealed in His Word. We regard the New Testament revelation of the church not merely as a historical antecedent, but as the norm for church practice in the present day. God’s recovery did not begin in the twentieth century. Although it is difficult to fix an exact date for its beginning, it is convenient to set it at the time of the Reformation. The recovery has gone through several stages since the Reformation, passing through the partial recovery of the church life in Bohemia under the leadership of Zinzendorf, moving on to the unveiling of the many precious Bible truths through the Plymouth Brethren, and then going on to the genuine experience of the inner life. Now it has reached its present stage with the establishment of genuine local churches as the expression of the Body of Christ. In His recovery today the Lord is doing two things. He is recovering the experience of the riches of Christ—that is, the enjoyment of Christ as our life and our everything—and He is recovering the practice of the church life. These two matters go hand in hand, for the practical church life is the issue of the enjoyment of the riches of Christ. We in the Lord’s recovery today testify that Christ is unsearchably rich, that He is the all-inclusive One for our enjoyment. Furthermore, we testify that the Lord has burdened us for the practice of the church life according to the revelation of the pure Word of God.” (http://www.localchurches.org/
For examples of the teachings by Witness Lee as to the full apostasy of mainline denominations, which required the “recovery” of what was lost, the following citations are taken from “AN OPEN LETTER ✦ To the Leadership of Living Stream Ministry and the “Local Churches” (http://www.open-letter.org/
“The Lord is not building His church in Christendom, which is composed of the apostate Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations. This prophecy is being fulfilled through the Lord’s recovery, in which the building of the genuine church is being accomplished.” Witness Lee in The New Testament Recovery Version, note 184 (Matthew 16:18) (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1991), p. 99 http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=639
“The apostate church has deviated from the Lord’s word and become heretical. The reformed church, though recovered to the Lord’s word to some extent, has denied the Lord’s name by denominating herself, taking many other names, such as Lutherans, Wesleyan, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. … To deviate from the Lord’s word is apostasy, and to denominate the church by taking any name other than the Lord’s is spiritual fornication.” Witness Lee in The New Testament Recovery Version, note 83 (Revelation 3:8) Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1991), p. 1256 http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=8759
“I am afraid that a number of us are still under the negative influence of Christendom. We all have to realize that today the Lord is going on and on to fully recover us and bring us fully out of Christendom.” Witness Lee, The History of the Church and the Local Churches (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1991), p. 132
“‘We do not care for Christianity, we do not care for Christendom, we do not care for the Roman Catholic church, and we do not care for all the denominations, because in the Bible it says that the great Babylon is fallen. This is a declaration. Christianity is fallen, Christendom is fallen, `Catholicism is fallen, and all the denominations are fallen. Hallelujah!” Witness Lee, The Seven Spirits for the Local Churches (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1989), p. 97
“To know God is not adequate. To know Christ is also not adequate. Even to know the church is not adequate. We must go on to know the churches which are local. If we are up-to-date in following the Lord, we will realize that today is the day of the local churches.” Ibid., p. 23
Response: As with all the cults, LSM and the “local churches” have decided that they are the only ones who have recovered what was supposedly lost from the church, when in reality they have merely come up with their own aberrant ideas as to what the church is. And while denominations may have some erroneous teachings, to say that all are apostate is saying the same thing as do cults such as LDS, JW, etc. Unlike the cults, the “local churches” do at least acknowledge that true Christians are found in denominational churches.
The Church: As noted above under “Recovery,” the “Local Church” teaches that all denominations are in error and each town should have just one church, a “local church” named for the town it is in. They believe the church should have no name other than a reference to the city. The following citations are all from http://www.local-church-history.org/
“The testimony of Scripture consistently confirms that the believers in a given city constitute the church in that place, the local church.”
“In Acts 8:1, immediately after the death of Stephen, the word is again used, and the connection in this case is clearer than before. ‘There occurred in that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem.’ From this passage it is obvious that the believers in Jerusalem are the church in Jerusalem. So we know now what the church is. It consists of all the saved ones in a given locality.” (Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 73) “Later on, in the course of the apostles’ first missionary tour, many people were saved in different places through the preaching of the gospel. Nothing is mentioned about their being formed into churches, but in Acts 14:23, it is said of Paul and Barnabas that ‘they had appointed elders for them in every church.’ The groups of believers in these different places are called churches, without any explanation whatever as to how they came to be churches. They were groups of believers, so they simply were churches. Whenever a number of people in any place were saved, they spontaneously became the church in that place. Without introduction or explanation of any kind, the Word of God presents such a group of believers to us as a church.” (Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 73-74)
“We do not read of the churches in Jerusalem, or the churches in Ephesus, or the churches in Corinth. Each of these was counted as only one place; therefore, it was permissible to have only one church in each.” (Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 59)
“God has ordained that there be only one church in each locality. … God has also ordained that no local church can be joined to another local church to form one church. This is why the Bible says, ‘The seven churches which are in Asia’ (v. 4), and not ‘the church in Asia.’ (Asia is a province, and there is more than one locality in a province.)…If we know the Bible and if we know the Holy Spirit, we will acknowledge that there can only be one church in one locality. It is not scriptural to make a church out of a few localities or to have several churches in one locality. Forming one church out of several localities demands a oneness that is not found in the Bible, while having more than one church in one locality divides the oneness that the Scripture demands. If we are mindful that the seven lampstands are the seven churches, we will be reminded of the proper standing of the church in the eyes of God.” (Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 34, 167)
Nee and Lee condemned the catholic - universal - idea of one church on earth, confusing a spiritual entity of the church with an organizational entity such as Roman Catholicism: “We must study the Scriptures carefully and accurately before God to ascertain whether or not the church on earth is one church. If it is only one church, we must say that the local church is wrong, and even the many denominations in Protestantism must also confess that they are wrong. If there is but one church, we all have to go back to Rome; if we do not, we are wrong. Therefore, we must study the Scriptures to see whether or not we are wrong. I know there are some Protestant friends who have said that the church on earth is one and that our churches in different localities are wrong. According to them, the church is always one. Please note that their word condemns them. If the church is one, there is no reason for any of their denominations to exist. If the church is one, then regardless of where it is, it must be the Church of Rome. According to numbers, the Church of Rome is the largest, according to history, it is the oldest church, and according to organization, it is one. If there should be only one church, that is, if the church of God or the church of Christ should be singular, then this would be the scriptural way. We should all return to Rome. However, the Bible does not teach this.” (Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 3, Vol. 56, 331-333)
Response: Watchman Nee said that “having more than one church in one locality divides the oneness that the Scripture demands,” yet the true church has to be of one accord in Christ to be truly the Church of Christ. Nowhere does Scripture demand what Nee and Lee claim. Since the “Church” is actually the people and not buildings or organizations (as Nee misunderstands), this teaching of only one church in each city is actually misusing the Scripture. In reality, there is indeed only one “Church” on earth, because it is the body of Christ and Christ can have only one body: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:4-6) However, historically Christians have always gathered and called the assembled saints the “Church.” While denominational divisions are certainly not Scriptural, the church itself is not an organization. It is aberrational and a misuse of Scripture to say that these gatherings cannot be named for identification purposes unless they are identified with the Roman Church.
Bible: Living Stream Ministry publishes their own translation of the Bible as the Recovery Version. While the text appears to be a proper translation, the reason for their own version was so it would include copious notes by Witness Lee, which are often problematic to orthodox Christianity. Living Stream Ministry explains their version:
“[F]rom the sixth to the fourteenth centuries, the Bible was largely inaccessible to the public. During this period, the bright light contained in the Bible and many of the precious truths revealed in it and enjoyed by the early Christians were not generally available. Since the 1500s, beginning with Martin Luther's groundbreaking realization that justification is by faith, the Lord has continued to gradually recover more light and truth from His Word. This recovery in spiritual and scriptural understanding has ushered in a corresponding recovery in both the individual and the corporate aspects of the Christian life. The New Testament Recovery Version is so named because its text and footnotes crystallize many of these truths and experiences. …The New Testament Recovery Version is translated from the original languages according to principles and standards of translation established by major English translations of the last five centuries. The New Testament Recovery Version was translated and revised by the Editorial Section of Living Stream Ministry from 1974 to 1991. The New Testament Recovery Version contains numerous study aids, including, the subject and background of each book; detailed, interpretive outlines; enlightening footnotes, valuable cross-references, and a variety of useful charts and maps. All of these study aids were written by Witness Lee, who received much help from the writings of noted Bible expositors throughout church history, including his co-worker, Watchman Nee. The New Testament Recovery Version in its current format in English was published in 1991, and it is also available in Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and several other languages. The Recovery Version of the Bible, including outlines, footnotes, and cross-references for both the Old and New Testaments is now available.” (http://www.recoveryversion.org/)*
Response: Since Watchman Nee and Witness Lee claimed revelation from God in their teachings, it is obvious that LSM/“local churches” do not accept the Bible as a closed canon, nor sufficient in its teachings. The following teachings are on a “Local Church” website as of October 2010. These are commentaries by Witness Lee in the Recovery Bible. (http://www.afaithfulword.org/articles/CBs.html)*
Gen. 3:1 - Now the serpent was more crafty than any other animal of the field that Jehovah God had made. And he said to the woman, 3Did God really say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden? fn. 3:13 - In tempting the woman, Satan first touched her mind by questioning God's word, causing her to doubt God's word. The serpent's question stirred up Eve's doubting mind and prevented her from using her spirit to contact God. Satan's evil thought entered into Eve and contaminated her mind even before she ate of the tree of knowledge.
Response: There is no biblical evidence to suggest Eve was unable to communicate with God. And she could not have had a “contaminated” mind prior to eating the fruit because she hadn’t sinned yet. She was still able to make a decision.
Gen. 3:4-5 -  And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die!  1For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil. fn. 3:51 - This slanderous word from the evil one caused Eve to misunderstand God's love and to doubt God's heart in His forbidding man to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17). It poisoned Eve's emotion, causing her to dislike God.
Response: Again, this is speculation about Eve’s thoughts, in which we have no teaching from Scripture. And Scripture never says Eve “disliked” God, even though it is apparent she doubted God’s reasons.
These are just two samples of how Lee’s “revelation” and teachings misrepresent what the Bible says. Steve Amato, of Boston Christian Bible Study Resources, spent a year attending a “local church” and made the following observation: “if you go to such a church you will find literature displayed which was written exclusively by Lee and Watchman Nee and no others. Why is that? And their Bible - the "Recovery Version" - includes a commentary on every page written by Witness Lee. Their weekly Bible readings also include a teaching by Lee or Nee. I also attend a weekly Evangelistic Bible study in which at times the Bible is used very little, but rather in which the readings have consisted almost exclusively of Witness Lee's comments and opinions. Much as they affirm the Bible, they tend to filter everything through Witness Lee's Theology, and many times read his opinions as if they were the Bible.” (http://www.bcbsr.com/topics/lc.html)*
God/the Trinity: There are many teachings by Witness Lee which contradict or compromise historic, orthodox teachings about God and the Trinity and are thereby heretical. The following examples are taken from “AN OPEN LETTER ✦ To the Leadership of Living Stream Ministry and the “Local Churches” (http://www.open-letter.org/) (LSM has published a response, claiming Lee’s statements have been taken out of context; this can be found at http://www.lctestimony.org/ResponseToOpenLetter.html
“The Son is called the Father; so the Son must be the Father. We must realize this fact. There are some who say that He is called the Father, but He is not really the Father. But how could He be called the Father and yet not be the Father?... In the place where no man can approach Him (I Tim. 6:16), God is the Father. When He comes forth to manifest Himself, He is the Son. So, a Son is given, yet His name is called ‘The everlasting Father.’ This very Son who has been given to us is the very Father.” Witness Lee, The All-Inclusive Spirit of Christ (Los Angeles: The Stream Publishers, 1969), pp. 4–5
“...the entire Godhead, the Triune God, became flesh.” Witness Lee, God’s New Testament Economy (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1986), p. 230
“The traditional explanation of the Trinity is grossly inadequate and borders on tritheism. When the Spirit of God is joined with us, God is not left behind, nor does Christ remain on the throne. This is the impression Christianity gives. They think of the Father as one Person, sending the Son, another Person, to accomplish redemption, after which the Son sends the Spirit, yet another Person. The Spirit, in traditional thinking, comes into the believers, while the Father and Son are left on the throne. When believers pray, they are taught to bow before the Father and pray in the name of the Son. To split the Godhead into these separate Persons is not the revelation of the Bible….” Witness Lee, Life Messages (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1979), p. 164
“THE SON IS THE FATHER, AND THE SON IS ALSO THE SPIRIT…. and the Lord Jesus who is the Son is also the Eternal Father. Our Lord is the Son, and He is also the Father. Hallelujah!” Witness Lee, Concerning the Triune God (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1973), pp. 18–19
“Therefore, it is clear: The Lord Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and He is the very God. He is also the Lord. He is the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the Mighty God, and the Lord.” Witness Lee, The Clear Scriptural Revelation Concerning the Triune God www.contendingforthefaith.org/responses/booklets/triune.html
“The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not three separate persons or three Gods; they are one God, one reality, one person.” Witness Lee, The Triune God to Be Life to the Tripartite Man (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1970), p. 48
Humanity: Again, there are teachings by Lee which contradict or compromise the teachings of Scripture. As with the section on God, these citations come from the Open Letter and are given explanations by LSM on their response.
“Christ is of two natures, the human and the divine, and we are the same: we are of the human nature, but covered with the divine. He is the God-man, and we are the God-men. He is the ark made of wood covered with gold, and we are the boards made of wood covered with gold. In number we are different, but in nature we are exactly the same.” Witness Lee, The All-Inclusive Christ (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 5th ed. 1989), p. 103
“God can say to His believers, ‘I am divine and human,’ and His believers can reply, ‘Praise You, Lord. You are divine and human, and we are human and divine.’” Witness Lee, The Triune God to Be Life to the Tripartite Man (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1990), pp. 51–52
“My burden is to show you clearly that God’s economy and plan is to make Himself man and to make us, His created beings, ‘God,’ so that He is ‘man-ized’ and we are ‘God-ized.’ In the end, He and we, we and He, all become God-men.” Witness Lee, A Deeper Study of the Divine Dispensing (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1990), p. 54
“We the believers are begotten of God. What is begotten of man is man, and what is begotten of God must be God. We are born of God; hence, in this sense, we are God.” Ibid., p. 53
“Because the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all one with the Body of Christ, we may say that the Triune God is now the ‘four-in-one God.’ These four are the Father, the Son, the Spirit, and the Body. The Three of the Divine Trinity cannot be confused or separated, and the four-in-one also cannot be separated or confused.” Ibid., pp. 203–204
Other false or aberrational teachings: The following information was taken from http://www.thelocalchurch.org/ in early 2003 while I was researching the “Local Church.” The site was operated by Light of Truth Ministries and Jim Moran. This site no longer exists, as explained on http://dazuma.freeshell.org/lcinfo/?page=writings/research/moran:*
“Mr. Jim Moran spent many years studying the ‘Local Church’, wrote a lengthy analysis of the movement from a primarily theological standpoint, and operated a ‘Local Church’ focused counter-cult ministry called ‘Light Of Truth Ministries’. Unfortunately, Jim Moran passed away unexpectedly in January of 2003. During subsequent months, the ‘Local Church’, represented by The Church In Fullerton, purchased ownership of all Mr. Moran's research material, websites and copyrights from his estate. Since then, The Church In Fullerton has been exercising its ownership of those copyrights by demanding the removal of all Mr. Moran's works from distribution.”
The page I printed out had links to several articles, but I have only the titles of the articles. These titles demonstrate that there were false or aberrational teachings discussed in the articles. Some titles and summations are as follows:
1. The Local Church and Baptismal Regeneration. Witness Lee teaches a strict form of baptismal regeneration. According to Lee and the Local Church, baptism transfers someone from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God, and is necessary to be saved.
2. The Local Church and Man & Sin & Satan & Christ. Witness Lee teaches that Satan and man’s body are mingled together and that Satan dwells within mankind as man’s sinful nature. According to Lee, Satan also dwelt within Christ’s body and was then put to death on the cross. According to Lee, the cross was God’s plan to trap and destroy Satan!
3. The Local Church and “Mingling.” Witness Lee teaches that Christ’s two natures were mingled together, illustrated by mixing with tea and an apple and peach having been grafted together. According to Lee, God’s Spirit and man’s spirit are mingled together as one intrinsic, organic entity. They are now a one-spirit entity.
4. Witness Lee: Oracle, Apostle, and God’s Deputy Authority on Earth. Witness Lee claimed to be an apostle, the oracle of God, God’s deputy authority on earth, and was looked upon as such by members of the Local Church movement!
Additionally, G. Richard Fisher, in his article Watching Out for Watchman Nee (Personal Freedom Outreach newsletter, Vol. 5, No 1, page 5) gives the following insights into Watchman Nee’s teachings:
The teachings that developed over Nee's lifetime and out of his encounters with these women and the teachings they directed him to are dangerous to Christians seeking clear guidelines to follow. Space allows a listing of only a few of the problems in Nee's teachings.
* Nee outlines no method of Bible study and interpretation and appears to deny evangelical hermeneutics. In his book Spiritual Authority, he sets himself and his elders up as the unquestionable authorities. By all appearances, Nee saw himself not as a servant but as a guru. One gets the impression from Nee that the Bible was not nearly as important as Christians generally consider it. In his book The Ministry of God's Word, Nee says, "Words alone cannot be considered God's Word." In this book, Nee becomes very philosophical, mystical and incoherent. He says that only as we deliver the Word in terms of the "reality behind it," using what he calls "Holy Spirit memory" and "presenting the pictures as well as speaking the words" will the words be correct; otherwise they are not real.
* Nee overemphasizes emotions. In The Ministry of God's Word, he claims that the effectiveness of a preacher's delivery is a product of his emotions. If a preacher does not feel emotionally charged in delivery, "The Spirit is stuck" and the "Spirit is inevitably arrested," Nee says. He continued, "The Spirit flows through the channel of emotion." Then he arrives at a strange conclusion: "Nose in the Scripture stands for feeling. Smelling is a most delicate act, man's feeling is most delicate." Therefore, Nee says, a preacher in speaking needs to "mix feelings with the words spoken, else his words are dead. If our feeling lags behind, or words are stripped of the spirit." To say as Nee does, on page 210, that the Holy Spirit only rides on feeling is dangerous.
* Nee uses terms imprecisely. One example is his writing about a minister's receiving "revelations" in his "Holy Spirit memory" and those revelations being remembered in us by the Holy Spirit. This sort of metaphysical mumbo jumbo is impossible to understand, since there is no direct scriptural reference to a "Holy Spirit memory."
Finally, Steve Amato tells us the following at Boston Christian Bible Study Resources: Both Witness Lee and Watchman Nee advocate a purgatory idea. In his book "The Gospel of God, Volume 3" pg 443, Watchman Nee says: "If a person has become a Christian but his hands or feet sin all the time, he will suffer the punishment of the eternal fire in the kingdom of the heavens. He will not suffer this punishment eternally, but will suffer it only in the age of the kingdom" (Meaning the 1000 year Millenial Kingdom). These are contrary to two aspects of Biblical Christianity. First it is contrary to the forgiveness of sins which Jesus provided by his atoning sacrifice. It is also contrary to the fact that there is no such thing as one who has been born of God, but lives a lifestyle of sin, as John writes: "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." 1John 3:6 And John is speaking in a lifestyle sense, as Nee is also speaking when John says: "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." 1 John 3:9,10 But Nee doesn't accept this concept. Nee goes on to say: "If a Christian has any unrepented of and unconfessed sins, which are not forgiven, he will suffer the Gehenna of fire." And he also says "In the coming age, there is still the possibility of forgiveness, but one cannot come out until he pays the last quadrans and clears up everything with his brother." So he teaches that there are certain sins which those who have been born of God may have which are not forgiven, but must be payed for in a purgatorial cleansing. Indeed in the same book he says, "All the unconfessed sins and all the sins that have not passed through the blood of the Lord Jesus leave their uncleaness on the person. This uncleanness will cause one to lose his share in the coming kingdom" (Meaning they get thrown into the eternal fire for a time) (http://www.bcbsr.com/topics/lc.html)*
These examples of doctrinal problems with the “Local Church” demonstrate the cultic nature of this group.
Chuck Missler accused of plagierism
3 months ago