Sunday, December 22, 2013

Witness Lee's Local Church a cult or not a cult? Fuller Theological Seminary and Christian Research Institute say no. What say you?

Many Christians, including Malaysian Christians, are quick and gullible to condemn another christian or church as cult or heretic. Unfortunately many Christians are too rash and use their own standards rather than the Biblical standards. What if, one day, the condemned church or group is found not a cult? Would we be willing to eat humble pie? I might not agree with a lot of doctrinal teachings of a church, but I should be clear what is the definition of cult that I am going to use, what is or are the criteria that I am using? One such church that is often labelled rampantly as cult is the Witness Lee's Local church.  Today, however, although there are still a number of questions on the doctrine of the Local church (see links from below) a number of evangelical Christians no longer consider Local Church as a cult.
 Hank Hanegraaff, from the reputable apologetic ministry, Christian Research Institute (CRI) founded by Walter Martin, for example, says in an article titled "We were wrong!" wrote:

This reality began to surface in 2003 when I asked Gretchen Passantino and Elliot Miller, editor-in-chief of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, to join me for a meeting with representatives of Living Stream Ministry. During the meeting I heard stirring affirmations of the very doctrines the local churches allegedly denied. One by one, and in their own words, representatives of the local churches testified to their belief in one God, revealed in three persons who are eternally distinct; to the reality that human beings can never ontologically attain Godhood; and to the fact that they were “only the church” as opposed to being “the only church.”  (Hanegraaff, H. We were wrong! CRI website. Available online at: Accessed 01 October 2013).

In fact, Hanegraaff and Passantino published an e-book, in which, they delineated on the extensive interviews they had with the Local church leaders. This e-book is available at:

In January 2006, Fuller Theological Seminary released a two-page statement that basically says:

"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" and that "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." (This statement can be obtained from

S. Michael Houdmann from, in an article titled "Are the teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church biblical?", aptly tells the sources of misunderstanding between Lee's teachings and the Western perception of his teachings:

Regarding Lee’s views on the theological doctrines of God and man, the controversy centers around statements which are “red flags” to evangelicals, particularly those in the West. This is an important factor in this discussion because it appears much of the controversy could have been avoided if only Lee and his followers had made an effort to understand the Western Christian culture into which they were moving. Part of the training of Western missionaries sent to foreign countries is sensitivity to other cultures. Unfortunately, in bringing their doctrines to the West, no effort was made to “Westernize” them, and this was the source of much of the confusion, misunderstandings, and recriminations that resulted. For one thing, Lee’s method of teaching—to make radical statements and then balance them elsewhere in his teachings—proved to be antithetical to the Western idea of “say what you mean and mean what you say.” Lee’s doctrinal statements on the nature of God and the nature of man are perfect examples. In one of his messages, he states, “The traditional explanation of the Trinity is grossly inadequate and borders on tritheism” (Life Messages, p. 164). Naturally, this is enough to inflame Western evangelicals, who proudly affirm the doctrine of the Trinity as it has been passed down from the great theologians of our Western Christian heritage. To judge it to be “grossly inadequate” by Lee raised legitimate concerns about Lee himself. Closer scrutiny of Lee’s teachings elsewhere, however, brings to light that they actually agree with evangelical orthodoxy. (Read more:

From the passage above, 2 lessons can be learned from the Local Church saga

1.    Many of the so-called allegations are in fact due to misunderstandings and lack of sensitivity of the differences of cultures. 

2.    Interviews and open communications help. Through extensive interviews and dialogues a number of confusion in the theology of the Local church has been cleared.

Perhaps we should remember what the Bible says
 "Judge  not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Mat 7:1-2 NKJV).

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
(Eph 4:31 NKJV)

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