Hank Hanegraaff, President of the Christian Research Institute, and Gretchen Passantino, Director of Answers in Action have recently come out in support of the Local Church. This is surprising given that movement’s heretical teachings.
It is therefore helpful to look at the reasons why John Ankerberg and John Weldon included the Local Church in their Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. The following is quoted from a statement by the book’s publisher, Harvest House:
Why did the authors include The Local Church in the Encyclopedia?
While The Local Church professes to adhere to scriptural Christian beliefs, a look at their books and resources, published by Living Stream Ministry, reveals that both biblical and unbiblical teachings appear within the volumes. A primary purpose of the Encyclopedia is to identify religious groups that claim compatibility with Christianity, yet adhere to teachings that stray seriously from the Bible. Our encouragement to interested readers is to carefully evaluate the writings of Witness Lee and the publications produced by Living Stream Ministry and compare their teachings to the light of God’s Word, and arrive at their own conclusion about whether or not serious discrepancies exist. We especially emphasize the need to review The Local Church’s current written materials (including their books, newsletters, The New Testament Recovery Version, etc.), because many of their websites generally seem orthodox while their theology as a whole contains numerous unorthodox teachings. A few examples of some of their unorthodox teachings are cited here, and full documentation for each quote is provided so readers can examine them in their original context, if they wish. Our purpose here is merely to make readers aware of what The Local Church teaches.
For context, it is important to know The Local Church views itself as part of “the Lord’s recovery” and teaches that Christianity as a whole has degenerated. Witness Lee, in his book titled The History of the Church and the Local Churches, said, “We are still in a situation in which we need the Lord’s rescue, the Lord’s recovery. 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.”9 According to various current Local Church publications, including the New Testament Recovery Version, Witness Lee also taught:
- “Christianity is just the expression of dead religion….”10
- “The Lord is not building His church in Christendom, which is composed of the apostate Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations. This prophecy [in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus said He would “build My church”] is being fulfilled through the Lord’s recovery, in which the building of the genuine church is being accomplished.”11
- “The only way to follow the Lord absolutely is to go the way of the local church.”12
- “We must stay away from the practice of the deformed and degraded Christianity and come back to the divine revelation for the Lord’s recovery…. The traditional way of [church] meeting…builds up something satanic and demonic.”13
- “Christianity is not focused on the divine economy but is a human religion saturated with demonic and satanic things.”14
- “Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as Judaism, all…[have] become an organization of Satan as his tool to damage God’s economy.”15
Especially revealing is Witness Lee’s following statement, which also appears in the New Testament Recovery Version:
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 Lutheran, Wesleyan, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. The recovered church not only has returned in a full way to the Lord’s word but also has abandoned all names other than that of the Lord Jesus Christ. The recovered church belongs to the Lord absolutely, having nothing to do with any denominations (any names). 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…. the church in the Lord’s recovery has the revelation and presence of the Lord and expresses the Lord in a living way, full of light and with the riches of life.16
With reference to Witness Lee’s own words, it is clear that The Local Church, which sees itself as part of the Lord’s recovery, claims it has “returned in a full way to the Lord’s Word” and “has the revelation and presence of the Lord,” while Christendom is “degraded” and has committed “spiritual fornication.”
Examples of The Local Church’s Teaching on the Deification of the Believer
One example of The Local Church’s serious departure from biblical Christianity is Witness Lee’s teaching on the deification of the believer: “Sooner or later, you have to be made God…. All of God’s redeemed people will eventually become gods as the very God in life, in nature, and in appearance but not in the Godhead.”17 In the October 2002 issue of Affirmation & Critique, a journal published by Living Stream Ministry, an article titled “Becoming God” states, “Because we have been born of God, we have the life and nature of God, and in this sense we are God.”18 The Local Church goes to great lengths to clarify that “there are permanent boundaries to our deification: In Christ we become God in life and in nature for God’s expression, but we do not become God in the Godhead or as an object of worship.”19
But no matter how The Local Church explains their perspective, it simply is not found within biblical, orthodox Christian doctrine. Christian theologian Millard J. Erickson states, “There will always be a difference between God and man…. Even when redeemed and glorified, we will still be renewed human beings. We will never become God. He will always be God and we will always be humans, so that there will always be a transcendence.”20
According to The Local Church, God has a specific goal for deifying believers: “If God did not become man, and if the believers do not become God, then God’s economy will not have a consummation. God’s ultimate goal is the New Jerusalem, and for this He became man. Our ultimate goal is also the New Jerusalem, and for this we must become God.”21 The New Jerusalem is then explained in this way: “The New Jerusalem is not a material city, it is not heaven, and it is not a place; the New Jerusalem is a corporate person, the processed and consummated Triune God and His redeemed, regenerated, transformed, and glorified tripartite elect becoming one entity. In God’s economy, both God and the believers must become the New Jerusalem.”22
Examples of The Local Church’s Teaching on God Mingling with Man
Another deviation is The Local Church’s teaching that God “mingles” with redeemed man. On their website www.mingling.info The Local Church quotes 1 Corinthians 6:17 (“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit”) and then goes on to explain, “This mysterious declaration implies that the Lord’s believers are mingled with Him in life and are thus organically blended with Him.”23 In one of his books, Lee expands on what is meant by the term “mingled” when he says, “Every saved person is a hybrid of divinity and humanity mingled together. The dual nature of this hybrid is the divine with the human. Though we are human beings, we have God within us. Since God and man have become one entity, we are the God–men.”24
To suggest that Christians are a hybridization of the human and the divine so as to become “god men” and are one entity with God goes well beyond what biblical, traditional Christianity teaches—namely, that God is always perfectly and uniquely God, and that humans have always been and always will be created creatures who will never have the nature of God, even in their future glorified bodies. Bible doctrine teaches that God and man will always be distinct entities.
Examples of The Local Church’s Teaching on the Trinity
One of the more significant examples of serious doctrinal deviation relates to The Local Church’s teachings on the Trinity, and this is especially evident in their current publications and from a very careful reading of some of their websites.25 Biblical Christianity has long taught that there is only one God, who is comprised of three persons. These three persons of the Trinity are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and are co–eternal and always co–existing. In other words, all three persons of the Trinity are distinctly co–existent at all times. The Father is always and only the Father, the Son is always and only the Son, and the Holy Spirit is always and only the Holy Spirit. By contrast, notice what Witness Lee taught about the members of the Trinity:
- “…the entire Godhead, the Triune God, became flesh.”26
- “The Father was expressed among men in the Son, and the Son became the Spirit to come into men. The Father is in the Son, and the Son became the Spirit.”27
- “…the Lord Christ is the Spirit and the Spirit is the Lord Christ….”28
- “The Father is not only the Father, but is also the Son.”29
- “…God the Father is also the Spirit (John 4:24). Hence, all three Persons of the Godhead are the Spirit.”30
- “…the Lord Jesus who is the Son is also the Eternal Father.”31
These statements from The Local Church and current Living Stream Ministry publications are in stark contrast with the biblical Christian view of the Trinity, which teaches that while there is only one God, all three members of that Godhead are eternally distinct entities. While all three members are God and all three are eternal, one member does not equal another member, as The Local Church teaches. Respected Christian theologian Wayne Grudem states, “The fact that God is three persons means that the Father is not the Son; they are distinct persons. It also means that the Father is not the Holy Spirit, but that they are distinct persons. And it means that the Son is not the Spirit.”32
– Source: Why did the authors include The Local Church in the Encyclopedia? Questions and Answers about The Local Church’s Lawsuit Against Harvest House Publishers and Authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon. Harvest House Corporate Statement, Mar. 12, 2004. See the statement for footnotes.