Living Stream Ministry and the local churches are described in ECNR in terms that encourage people to exclude us from Christian fellowship. Concerning our churches and ministry, ECNR alleges:
Attitude toward Christianity: Rejecting. (When Lee refers to “Christians” or even “religion,” he is generally referring to true believers.)
Claim: To be the only true church that God is satisfied with.
Then ECNR offers an out of context quote as proof that we are “rejecting” Christians and the Christian faith:
If you keep religion [Christianity], you will lose Christ. (Witness Lee, Christ vs. Religion, p. 157.)
What is said about us is not merely inaccurate. It appears to be intentionally designed to force us into the book’s portrayal of a cult and to make us unrecognizable as Christians…
Misrepresentation No. 6: “Claim: To be the only true church that God is satisfied with.”
Fact: We do not make this claim. In saying we are the church in a city, we are saying that we, including – not excluding – all the believers in that city, regardless of their conviction or practice regarding the church, are members of the one Body of Christ and that we are standing on that basis to meet as that church. Our meetings are open to and for all believers: we receive believers on the basis of God’s receiving of them (Romans 14). We do not forbid or exclude the participation of any believers, regardless of their doctrinal preferences (except for teachings or practices that are sinful, idolatrous or divisive). While we do not believe denominationalism is a scriptural practice, neither do we teach that to simply meet according to the scriptural principle of one church in one city “satisfie[s] God.” We also recognize that other Christian groups may be more faithful to the Lord, more spiritual, and/or more scriptural in some aspects than we are. The above charge is used to imply that we, similar to the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, think we are the only real Christians. This, in fact, is not the case. For a more thorough explanation of our stand regarding the church and all believers, see the many publications on this subject by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, including The Speciality, Generality, and Practicality of the Church Life by Witness Lee….
Misrepresentation No. 9: “Attitude toward Christianity: Rejecting. (When Lee refers to “Christians” or even “religion,” he is generally referring to true believers.)”
Fact: This statement relies on a gross misrepresentation of what we mean by “Christianity,” and is diametrically opposed to our true belief. In certain discussions, we (as do many others) use the term “Christianity” to refer to unscriptural practices and organizational systems inherited from Judaism or Catholicism and yet practiced at times in Protestant churches. However, we never use “Christianity” to refer to and reject any Christian believers (regardless of their church practice). ECNR misrepresents us by changing the meaning of “Christianity” to mean “Christians” and “true believers,” rather than limiting our critique to the unscriptural man-made systems.
This misrepresentation is compounded by the insertion of “[Christianity]” in the quote taken from page 157 of Christ vs. Religion and addressed in some detail [see below]. Interestingly, on page XXX and other places in ECNR, the authors demonstrate and document their own low opinion of “Christianity” as it is widely practiced today. Following are some selections from The Beliefs and Practices of the Local Churches to further clarify our attitude toward Christianity and toward the believers:
- What is your attitude toward the historic, institutional Christian church?
We stand outside of and apart from historical, organized, institutionalized Christianity because we regard it as a system filled with unscriptural teachings and practices. For the sake of the genuine recovery of the church life revealed in the Bible, we meet together in the Lord’s name on the ground of genuine oneness in the locality.
- What is your attitude toward other Christians?
We would like to make it emphatically clear that we neither believe nor teach that one must be in a local church in order to be a genuine Christian. We recognize that in the Roman Catholic Church, in the denominations, and in the independent groups there are many genuine blood-washed, Spirit-regenerated believers in Christ, and we receive them as our brothers and sisters in the Lord. All who have saving faith in the Lord Jesus are welcome to all our meetings, especially the Lord’s table, where we testify of the oneness of the Body of Christ. Although we must, for conscience’ sake, stand apart from organized religion, we do not stand apart from our brothers and sisters in Christ. In faithfulness to the Lord, we stand on the unique ground of the church for the sake of the Lord’s testimony. But we do not take this stand with a narrow, exclusive, or sectarian spirit. On the contrary, we take our stand on behalf of the whole Body; we receive all believers even as the Lord has received us….
ECNR wrenches four quotes out of their clear context. (1) Witness Lee’s words concerning the practice of circumcision are miscast into a rejection of “Christians” and “true believers”….
ECNR Quote #1: “‘If you keep religion [Christianity], you will lose Christ.’ (Witness Lee, Christ vs. Religion, p. 157.)”
The first quote is a half sentence presented as a complete sentence, taken out of context, and twisted by a foreign insertion to be given a different meaning. The quote is not an example of Witness Lee criticizing “Christianity,” as the authors allege, but of Witness Lee paraphrasing the Apostle Paul’s criticism of the Jewish practice of circumcision being brought into the early churches. While we recommend the context of the entire book, the following is the quote (underlined) for your reconsideration, in context:
Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that if we attempt to keep religion, we will lose Christ and Christ will become of no effect to us. “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:2, 4). If you keep religion, you will lose Christ; and if you keep Christ, you will certainly lose religion. Christ is versus religion; Christ never goes along with religion.
Then Paul tells us in Galatians 6 that it is not a matter of circumcision or uncircumcision, it is not a matter of being a Jew or a Greek; it is a matter of being a new creature in Christ (6:15). He says, “If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk” (5:25). This is all: we just need to walk in the Spirit; we just need to be a new creature, without anything religious.
This quote uses the term “religion” with reference to a Jewish religious practice, i.e. circumcision, and not, as alleged directly before under “Attitude toward Christianity,” with reference to “true believers.” It is hard to imagine a more flagrant misquotation. One may wonder why it was done if not to deliberately mischaracterize Witness Lee as being anti-Christian. The quoted passage is not a criticism of any proper New Testament teaching or practice, as the authors allege by inserting “[Christianity]” among Witness Lee’s words, thus changing his original meaning significantly.
Harvest House never accepted our requests to meet with them to explain ECNR‘s misrepresentation of our beliefs, nor did they respond to our thorough documentation of the twisting of our teaching in ECNR. Notwithstanding our protests of the misrepresentations of our teaching and practice in ECNR, Harvest House continued to publish ECNR with the same distorted picture of Living Stream Ministry and the local churches. Not only so, but Harvest House has since publicly expanded their distortion of our teaching and practice on their corporate Web site (see “Misrepresentations on the Harvest House Corporate Web Site“). Harvest House defends their behavior by saying they and their authors quote “accurately,” as though they had never received our November 2001 letter. Clearly they know better. We believe that this type of misrepresentation should cause both concern and comment from responsible Christians.