In January, 2007, more than 60 evangelical Christian scholars and ministry leaders from seven nations signed an Open Letter addressed to the so-called Local Churches movement and Living Stream Ministry.
Theologically the Local Churches is a cult of Christianity.
It is now reported that a number of people who signed the Open Letter have received an appeal of sorts from the Local Churches and Living Stream Ministry. Quoted below is the text of the appeal. We will post a scan of the actual letter as soon as possible.
Following the public release of ?An Open Letter to the Leadership of Living Stream Ministry and the ‘Local Churches,’? we posted our ?Brief Response…? (attached hereto and also found at [web address].). Several months have now elapsed since both the Open Letter and our brief response have been in the public domain. We would like at this time to address you personally and directly not only as a signer to the Open Letter but even more as a [brother/sister] in Christ, in a spirit of mutual consideration, and under the Lord’s covering and headship.
An Open Letter of such significance and magnitude by its very nature requires serious, sober, and thorough study of all the issues involved. However, our experience over many years has led us to realize that the required level of extensive, firsthand research has not always been performed by our critics, especially some in the counter-cult apologetics arena. We, perhaps mistakenly, consider that many of the signers may have relied primarily upon the quotations presented in the letter and the lingering misconceptions in some evangelical circles concerning the teaching of Witness Lee, Living Stream Ministry, and the local churches. We understand that time constraints may have prevented your firsthand study of the breadth of our writings. We also realize that wrong perceptions can be extremely difficult to change, especially when at first blush they seem to be supported by the kind of quotations assembled in the Open Letter. However, our experience indicates that it is possible to overcome these obstacles and reach an outcome that both glorifies God and is fitting for all involved parties as brothers in Christ. Therefore, we appeal to you as both a person of the faith and someone sincerely interested in theological understanding that you would engage in genuine research regarding the teachings of Watchman nee and Witness Lee as published by Living Stream Ministry and practiced in the local churches before making a public evaluation of their merits. Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee gave their lives in service to our Master, and we believe that the ministry produced through their sacrifice warrants a fair assessment.
Credible evangelical scholars and institutions (see attached statements) have been willing to conduct such research and have spent considerable time with us in unfettered dialogue over a wide range of topics covering both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The conclusions they reached based on their investigations are vastly different from those expressed in the Open Letter. We believe before the Lord Jesus that our teachings are both biblically sound and consistent with the historical and orthodox testimony of the faith. We also believe that, when properly understood in their context and balanced by the full range of teachings in our writings, the quotes that were cited as problematic in the Open Letter have their place and a strong scriptural basis. The Holy Scriptures are the bedrock of our faith, and we believe of yours as well.
In the course of busy and demanding schedules, it is easy to rely on the word and work of others.
However, in this case, the selective use of quotations has given rise to damaging generalizations which cause serious repercussions both here and abroad. We hope and respectfully request that you would accept the responsibility of conducting your own thorough evaluation of our teachings. If you are unable to do so, for whatever reasons, we hope you would find it both fitting and responsible to remove your name from the Open Letter until you can complete adequate research.
Respectfully submitted by brothers among the local churches and the editors of Living Stream Ministry,
Cult of Christianity
It is true that some — indeed a stark minority — of people who identify themselves as Christians have lent their support to the Local Churches movement. This includes Hank Hanegraaff, the controverial president of the Christian Research Institute, and his friend Gretchen Passantino, wife of the late Bob Passantino. However, the vast majority of Christian theologians, apologists and countercult professionals continue to consider the Local Churches and Living Stream Ministry to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity.
While the authors of the above letter are to be commended for their apparent interest in dialogue, they should realize this: unless and until the Local Churches and Living Stream Ministry show a willingness to seriously address — and remedy — the issues noted in the Open Letter, the movement will remain out of step with historical, Biblical Christianity.
The issues in question concern the core doctrines of the Christian faith — those teachings that make Christianity Christian, and not something else. One cannot reject, re-interpret, or otherwise change these doctrines and be considered a Christian.
The authors of the letter quoted above state that “the quotes that were cited as problematic in the Open Letter have their place and a strong scriptural basis.” Every cult of Christianity and every teacher of false doctrines makes similar claims. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the International Churches of Christ, Oneness Pentecostalists, purveyors of prosperity teachings, and so on — all claim to base their message on what they consider to be strong scriptural support.
Yet in doing so, they reject the spiritual discernment of a majority of Christians who prefer sound, Biblical doctrine over clever manipulation and re-interpretations.
Study The Word
We live in a time in which Biblical Christianity is under severe and sustained attacked — both from within and without. Examples of attacks from within are such self-serving doctrines as the so-called prosperity gospel — used by various ‘evangelists’ to enrich themselves, and the ‘doctrine doesn’t matter’ message of many leaders in the Emergent/Emerging Church movement. Likewise, shoddy theology such as demonstrated by Hank Hanegraaff and Gretchen Passantino in their defendse of the Local Church should be considered an attack from within.
Attacks from outside include the insistence of such cults as the Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Local Churches to move the boundaries of Christian doctrine in order for them to be considered part of the Christian Church.
June 20, 2007 Update: U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Local Church Lawsuit against Harvest House
On June 18, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court brought an end to The Local Church’s six-year, $136 million legal battle against Harvest House Publishers and authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon.