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A Response to the Christian Research Journal’s Recent Defense of the “Local Church” Movement



If you are puzzled about the Christian Research Institute's defense of the Local Church movement, which theologically is a cult of Christianity, you're not alone.

Bible scholars, apologists, ministry leaders and cult watchers have been flabbergasted, to say the least, at the direction Hank Hanegraaff -- CRI's controversial president -- is taking the erstwhile leading discernment ministry.

In 2006, Hanegraaff came out in defense of the Local Church -- aiding the theologically un-sound movement in its lawsuit against Christian authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon, along with Christian publishers Harvest House.

As reported here, the organization has now descended deeper into error and controversy -- with a series of articles on the Local Church published in the most recent issue of its glossy magazine, Christian Research Journal.

"We Were Wrong!" the cover announces -- a phrase observers hope to see again if and when the organization decides to return to its stated mission, which CRI puts as follows: "To provide Christians worldwide with carefully researched information and well-reasoned answers that encourage them in their faith and equip them to intelligently represent it to people influenced by ideas and teachings that assault or undermine orthodox, biblical Christianity."

The whole editorial package amounts to nothing more than an attempt to whitewash a cult of Christianity.

In doing so, CRI finds itself opposed by -- among others -- more than 70 evangelical Christian scholars and ministry leaders who have signed an Open Letter addressed to the Local Churchoffsite:

This letter is a public appeal to disavow and withdraw controversial statements made by their founder, Witness Lee, on the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man. The letter also asks the “local churches” and Living Stream to renounce statements made by Lee that denigrate evangelical Christian denominations and organizations. Finally, the letter appeals to the leadership of the “local churches” and Living Stream to discontinue their use of lawsuits and threatened litigation against Christian individuals and organizations to answer criticisms or resolve disputes.

CRI's position on the Local Church is indefensible -- and fully incompatible with its own mission statement. In doing so it has, not for the first time, sacrificed it credibility as both a discernment- and countercult ministry.

Understanding the issues

Dr. Norm Geisler and Dr. Ron Rhodes have written A Response to the Christian Research Journal’s Recent Defense of the “Local Church” MovementoffsitePDF file

They introduce it as follows:

The Local Church (LC), known for its litigious activity in threatening to sue (and actually suing) individuals and groups that call them a “cult,”1 has been successful in forcing many organizations to retract the word “cult” in reference to them, as even the recent Christian Research Journal (CRI) admits (page 45).2 Noted cult researcher Eric Pement has listed numerous examples of Christian groups that were threatened or sued by the LC, most of which CRI did not even attempt to refute in its Journal articles (45). It is a fact that the litigations of the LC drove a major countercult movement called Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) into bankruptcy. The list of other groups threatened with lawsuits include Christian Literature Crusade, Christian Herald Books, Moody Bible Institute, Salem Kirban, Eternity Magazine, InterVarsity Press, Tyndale Press, Jim Moran, and Light of Truth Ministries, Berean Apologetics Research Ministry, and Daniel Azuma (45). Most recently they sued John Ankerberg and John Weldon in reference to their Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR), along with their publisher (Harvest House), for 136 million dollars. Had the suit been successful, it would have bankrupted both organizations. Pement rightly commented, “I doubt that the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses combined have issued as many lawsuits and threats of lawsuits against evangelical Christians” (45).

In the wake of this, “a long list In the wake of this, “a long list of evangelical theologians, apologists, and leaders” (7) sent an “Open Letter” protesting the aberrant teachings of the LC (15), urging them to recant their unorthodox statements “that appear to contradict or compromise essential doctrines of the Christian faith” (15).3 Further, they asked the LC to “disavow and cease to publish these and similar declarations” (15). In addition, they requested that the LC desist their litigious activities against evangelical groups that do not believe that their doctrines and practices measure up to the standards of evangelical
beliefs and practices.

No apologies have been forthcoming by the LC, nor have they retracted the unorthodox statements. Instead, the Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with their charges against Ankerberg and Harvest House. The LC appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court also failed. This was a great victory for the countercult movement and all who seek to preserve evangelical orthodoxy, as we pointed out in our article titled “The Local Church Movement and the Supreme Court of Texas: A Big Victory for the Countercult Movement” (see “Articles” in www.normgeisler.com).

It is surprising to us that: 1) in spite of the final decision of the High Court against the LC, and 2) in spite of the majority view in the countercult movement against them, and 3) in spite of the failure of the LC to respond affirmatively to specific requests in the Open Letter from numerous evangelical leaders, and 4) in spite of my (Norman Geisler) personal plea to Hank Hanegraaff in my living room not to go this route, and 5) in spite of the fact that for years CRI admits to calling the LC “aberrant,” and “cultic,” if not “heretical” (49), and 6) in spite of the fact that CRI admits to being in possession of the basic material then which they now use to justify the LC—in spite of all this, CRI has launched a full-scale defense of the LC, going so far as to call them “solidly orthodox” (47) and in many ways “an exemplary group of Christians” (29)!

What follows is a thorough but readable examination of -- and response to -- CRI's published approval of the Local Church.

See also:
U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Local Church Lawsuit against Harvest House (and related articles)
Is the Local Church a cult of Christianity?
Why the Local Church was included in the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions

Walter Martin:
P.S.  If you are looking for a discernment- and countercult ministry operated the way Walter Martin did at the Christian Research Institute he founded, visit Walter Martin's Religious InfoNetoffsite

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This post was last updated: Nov. 11, 2010