Apologetics Research Resources on Local Church : Lord's Recovery, Living Stream Ministry
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Local Church : Lord's Recovery, Living Stream Ministry

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Oct. 12, 2006 Update: CRI's Hank Hanegraaff comes out in support of the Local Church

In a move that has Christian apologists and countercult experts puzzled, Hank Hanegraaff - the already controversial president of the Christian Research Institute - has come out in support of the Local Church. He has filed a so-called Amicus CuriaePDF file in which he sides with the Local Church in their efforts to have a legal decision regarding its lawsuit against Harvest House Publishers, John Ankerberg and John Weldon overturned.


Founded by Witness Lee (1905-1997), the Local Church is known to insiders as "The Lord's Recovery." It's churches are usually called by the name of their cities (e.g. the Church in Los Angeles).

Theologically, the Local Church is considered by most Christian apologists and countercult professionals to be a cult of Christianity. That is, in their opinion this movement's beliefs and practices seriously deviate from those of orthodox Christianity.

The Local Church, in turn, makes much of a stamp of approval it has received from J. Gordon Melton, a notorious cult apologist whose testimony in one of the movement's lawsuits is evaluated here.

The Local Church movement of Witness Lee, known by its adherents around the world as The Lord's Recovery, was imported from the Orient to America during the early sixties by Witness Lee (1905-1997), a former disciple and co-worker of the Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee (1903-1972). This movement claims to be the one true church, the sole expression of Christ, the sole move of God on earth, and the most orthodox of Christians. Witness Lee, until his death, had lead this movement of approximately 150,000 with unquestioned authority as the apostle of this age, God's deputy authority, and as the oracle of God. Witness Lee claimed to have been commissioned directly by the Lord and to have received revelations from the Lord, which formed the basis of the beliefs and practices of the Local Church movement. According to Witness Lee, Christianity is viewed as blind, fallen, poor, and degraded, and denominational groups are called harlot daughters of the Whore of Babylon (Rev. 17), the Roman Catholic Church.
From A Brief History of the Local Church Movement, formerly posted at the late Jim Moran's Light of Truth Ministries site

Witness Lee's writings teach modalism instead of trinitarianism, support pray-reading as spiritually superior to normal prayer, critize and castigate Christian churches which do not share his doctrinal views on "local ground", and teach that the Local Church movement is a necessary precondition for the return of Jesus Christ.
Source: Eric Pement, writing in alt.support.ex-cult [Message ID: 6smn6r$4u1$1@gail.ripco.com], Sep. 3, 1998

Controversial movement begun in China in the early 1920s by Ni To-sheng (Watchman Nee). Growth and controversy developed during the administration of their second leader, the late Witness Lee, who moved to America in 1962 founding Living Stream Ministry. Among issues drawing criticism from evangelical Christians is the Local Church's use of the term “mingling” to describe the relationship between God and believers (i.e., Christians become both divine and human like Jesus). Some evangelicals have also charged that the church compromises the Trinity doctrine by confusing the Persons of the Holy Spirit and the Son in a way similar to modalism. The organization's exclusivity has also comme under fire. According to Lee, each city can and should have only one church. Denominationalism is seen as of the Devil. According to critics, the effect is that Lee-led local churches, usually called by the name of their cities (e.g., the Church in Anaheim or the Church in Chicago), become the only true expressions of the Body of Christ. Thus, according to former members, all other churches or denominations are seen as being outside the will of God or not true churches at all. The Local Church has also gained a reputation for threatening legal action to prevent unfavorable public evaluation of its movement. Even Christian critics have been targeted, adding to the evidence that they do not consider believers outside their movement to be true or obedient Christians (1 Corinthians 6:1–8).

Related Organizations

The Local Church includes a number of organizations that not always clearly reveal their connection to the movement. These organizations include Living Stream Ministry (publishing arm), Sword Distributing, The Lord's Recovery, Church of Recovery, Bibles for America, Bibles for New Zealand, Christian Websites, Amana Christian Bookstore, Emanna (devotions).

The Local Church publishes the Recovery Version of the Bible.

Related web sites include, "Christian Websites," "Contending for the Faith," "Emanna"

The Recovery Version

Living Stream Ministry, the publishing arm of the Local Church, publishes the "Recovery Version" of the Bible:

The extensive footnotes written by Witness Lee and the Scripture text found in this edition are supportive of the beliefs and practices of the movement. Footnotes from the Book of Revelation state that denominational groups are spiritual fornicators for taking on names other than that of Christ (Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc), that Christianity is degraded for taking on these denominational names, that denominational groups are the harlot daughters of the Whore of Babylon, and that Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism have become an organization used by Satan as a tool to damage God's economy (a la Lee).
Source: China Vows to Prosecute Bible Detainee, news item formerly posted at the late Jim Moran's Light of Truth website, regarding The Shouters, China's version of The Local Church.

Legal Attacks by The Local Church

[Note: For the latest updates on this issue, see this entry, which includes: In addition, see the Local Church news tracker & news archive at Religion News Blog. ]

The Local Church has a history of legal attacks against Christians who critique the movement. Local Church critic Jim Moran - whose website and personal belongings the Local Church seized after his sudden death - has compiled a "brief summary of the intimidation exerted by Witness Lee and the Local Church against Christian authors, publishers, and ministries.": Local Church Controversy With Christians. Among the cases he highlights is a lawsuit filed by Witness Lee vs. Neil T. Duddy, a researcher with Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) and author of "The God-Men" - a book critical of the Local Church's beliefs and practices:

In 1977 SCP published an eighty-page booklet, The God-Men, which provided the first major survey of the beliefs and practices of the Local Church. It was later translated into the Chinese language. A revised and expanded edition was published in 1979 in the German language by Swiss publisher Schwengeler-Verlag. It was entitled, Die Sonder Lehre des Witness Lee Und Seiner Ortsgemeinde (The Unusual - or Strange Teaching of Witness Lee and His Place - Church or Location Church). The Local Church in Stuttgart, West Germany, filed a lawsuit in Swiss court to stop distribution of the book, alleging defamation. The suit was dismissed by the court because improper plaintiff brought suit. That decision was appealed by the Local Church but the dismissal was upheld by a higher court. In December 1980 the Local Church filed another lawsuit, this time, in Oakland, California, also alleging defamation in the German edition of the book. An English version derived from the same manuscript was published in the United States by Intervarsity Press in 1981, under the title, The God-Men. No lawsuit was filed against the English edition of the book published by Intervarsity Press. For four and a half years SCP was subjected to a strategy of financial attrition by the Local Church by means of pretrial maneuvering. SCP's lawyer filed a declaration in federal court:

I concluded that the process of protracted discovery at a tremendous expense was more important to the plaintiffs than meaningful settlement negotiations as they had nothing to lose by the expenditure of vast sums of money. I was personally informed in February 1985 by a person who had recently left the Local Church that the litigation was costing the plaintiffs approximately $80,000 per month. Obviously, SCP could not afford to sustain a defense indefinitely in the absence of insurance given the magnitude of the discovery efforts by plaintiffs: approximately 140 days or half-days of some 44 persons; only 8 persons were deposed by SCP for 17 days or half-days. I have never seen discovery conducted in such minute detail as that conducted by plaintiffs in this case. (1) 

SCP's debts mounted with the approach of the trial date of March 4, 1985. Already in debt and facing additional court costs and the probability of the Local Church appealing a defeat, SCP's existence was threatened. On March 4, the day the trial was to begin, SCP filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy protection. This action imposed an immediate stay on the Local Church's action against SCP. This action also allowed SCP to continue its ministry without giving into demands made by the Local Church. Demands would require SCP signing a statement that would give the Local Church an unqualified endorsement.

Finding SCP inaccessible, the Local Church then pursued Schwengeler-Verlag and Neil Duddy. The publisher had already faced one challenge and declined to get involved in the U.S. litigation. Neil Duddy was now living and working in Denmark, and having already used personal money to defend himself in the U.S., was unable and unwilling to defend himself. He declined to return to the U.S. to appear in court.

Having been unsuccessful in having the bankruptcy judge send SCP back to the state court for a full-scale trial, the Local Church called for a default hearing, a one-sided procedure in which the plaintiffs are allowed to make an uncontested presentation to the court. SCP staff were present but were not allowed to participate because of their bankruptcy status. The Local Church presented their side of the case in an uncontested manner. Witnesses and so-called experts freely offered their testimony without the fear of being cross-examined. Based upon the information presented during the default hearing, and without benefit of cross-examination by SCP, the judge issued a strongly-worded opinion in favor of the Local Church that had essentially repeated their original claims against SCP. The Local Church received a $11.9 million award for general and punitive damages against the author and the publisher. Since SCP was in bankruptcy and therefore out of the lawsuit, the judgment did not apply to them. Witness Lee and the Local Church, however, filed a $15 million claim against SCP in bankruptcy court, assuming the status of a creditor on the basis of a disputed damage claim that had never been tested in a court trial. The Local Church received $34,000 as the result of their efforts. Local Church members will appeal to the judge's 32-page opinion as evidence of their vindication against charges of cultic activity as presented in The God-Men. States Bill Squires:

The only thing that can be concluded from 4 1/2 years of pretrial maneuvering is that there were insufficient funds to litigate a complex case at the level of legal activity and expense that was set by the plaintiffs. Had there been a trial, we believe we would have prevailed....We urge concerned Christians to carefully and prayerfully review the abundant supply of internationally published material which evaluates and comments on the teachings and practices of Witness Lee and the Local Church, including the tapes and publications of the Local Church itself, in order to accurately understand this group and form your own opinion. (2) 

See also this interview with Neil Duddy, co-author of "The God-Men":

We present this interview and article about the teachings of the Local Church and its leader Witness Lee as a service to our readers who are interested in the many variations of new religious movements found in the world today. Some, as in the case of the Local Church, have their roots in the Christian faith and can be misidentified as orthodox denominations unless close scrutiny is made of the teachings and organizational methods.

We also present this article as a tribute to the former editor of UPDATE, Neil Duddy and his wife Linda. They no longer live in Europe, and hopefully will find peace in their new world far removed from the several years of anxiety and pain documented in this article. However, the verdict of the court in the United States, as well as harassment on the part of the Local Church, will follow them into the future. We commend them to the prayers and concern of our readers, and ask for your own reflections about the situation in your country.

Here in Denmark, the Local Church makes prominent use of the verdict of the trial. They have translated The decision of Judge Leon G. Seyranian of the Superior Court of the State of California into Danish and German. They have also widely disseminated a reflection on Duddy's book prepared by J. Gordon Melton. an American scholar who appeared in court on behalf of the plaintiff against Duddy and the SCP. The Local Church is appealing to those who recognize the authority and power of the courts to assert their correctness in this matter. Bul while making this assertion in the name of the Christian faith. and claiming the authority of a civil body as their grounds. they continue to crudely judge other Christian expressions of faith and judge the holiness of other Christian denominations.
Source: Neil Duddy and The Peculiar Teachings of The Local Church by Johannes Aagaard and Thomas O'Connor, with Neil Duddy

Apologist Eric Pement writes:

I don't think the Local Church acted biblically in this situation. They have had a history of using the court system (along with the Church of Scientology) to shut down their critics. For all the bad that has been said about the Unification Church, the Way International, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Hare Krishna, the Family (COG), and other cults, they do not have a track record of response-via-lawsuit the way that the Local Church and the Scientologists have had.

Fortunately, I think that the 1985 lawsuit against the SCP was the last lawsuit (or threat of lawsuit) that the Local Church has used, and I am not aware of any other threatened lawsuits since then. In this respect, I commend them for their change in tactics.
Source: Eric Pement, writing in alt.support.ex-cult [Message ID: 6smn6r$4u1$1@gail.ripco.com], Sep. 3, 1998

Local Church sues Harvest House
This is a libel suit brought by a church against a publisher and two authors after the church was included in a book about “religious cults,” as that term is defined in the book. The publisher and authors moved for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. This interlocutory appeal followed. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(b) (Vernon Supp. 2005). Because we agree that the passages in the book that refer to the church are not, as a matter of law, defamatory, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and render judgment that the church take nothing from the publisher and authors.

Because the allegedly libel statements are not defamatory, as a matter of law, we sustain the publisher and authors’ first issue on appeal. Accordingly, we need not address the remaining issues and decline to do so.

We reverse the judgment of the trial court and render judgment that the church take nothing from the publisher and authors.

Unfortunately, Pement was too optimistic. Currently, the Local Church is again suing Christians. This time, it is suing Harvest House, the publisher of the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, along with authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon, for libel over their 1½ page entry (along with brief comments in the 731-page book's "Doctrinal Appendix").

Much is made by (for the most part) Local Church adherents of Harvest House's pre-emptive legal move.

The group said that it is suing because extensive attempts at mediation with the authors and publisher have failed.

Harvest House Publishers, based in Eugene, Oregon, had unsuccessfully sued the Local Church in 2001. The publisher asked an Oregon court to declare that the Ankerberg/Weldon book "has not defamed" the group. On March 15, 2002, a Lane County, Oregon, circuit court judge ruled the court had no jurisdiction over the Local Church. The judge dismissed the suit "with prejudice," meaning it could not be re-filed. Harvest House declined comment for this article.
Source: Mark Kellner, Local Church Fights for Evangelical ID Card Christianity Today, Feb. 2003

The publisher of Apologetics Index cannot and does not speak for Harvest House or the authors of the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. However, as noted, the Local Church has a lengthy record of legal tactics - from pressure (subtle or not), to threats, to actual lawsuits. The Local Church's penchant for trying to suppress critical comments - and the length to which it will go in pursuit of this goal - may well have been the reason behind Harvest House's lawsuit.

At the very least, despite Mr. Kellner's sympathy for the Local Church, his article should have included information about the Local Church's legal tactics.

For example, regarding The God-Men, and The Mind Benders - books previously attacked by the Local Church - Jim Moran, of Light of Truth Ministries, writes:

In regards to the books, The God-Men and The Mind Benders, I still maintain that they accurately represent the beliefs and practices of the Local Church movement. However, I have a higher regard for the Bible as the final judge and authority of theology than these books and American courts. People should be free to read these books, to view the contents of my Website, and consider other sources, including Local Church publications, and arrive at their own conclusions. They shouldn't feel intimidated to keep silent about their findings.

In the case of Neil Duddy's The God-Men book, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP), lost a one-sided default hearing case in which they were not able to represent themselves, not a full trial case in which both parties would be able to represent themselves in court. The Local Church relied upon the testimony of so-called religion experts, some of whom had previously shown favor to fringe and cultic groups, and who continue to do so today. One of them, a catholic priest, had even written an uncomplimentary article about SCP a few years before they were taken to court. The Local Church continues to mischaracterize the true nature of The God-Men court case decision today to retain an image of spiritual respectability.

In regards to the book, The Mind Benders, it too accurately represents the beliefs and practices of the Local Church. The book had been in print for six years, from 1977 through 1983, and enlightened many about a number of cult groups on the scene during that time. Thomas Nelson Publishers defended the book for six years. When they ran out of legal insurance they decided to bring an end to its lengthy run. Nelson issued a retraction as a matter of doing business. The author, Jack Sparks, never issued a retraction nor an apology for his book. Furthermore, it should be pointed out at this Website - again, that the integrity of this book was never tested in a court of law.

The Local Church doesn't like bad public relations attention and they turned to legal means to silence unfavorable public evaluation of their group. The Local Church has their beliefs and practices and other people have their own. Who is to say the Local Church is right? However, the Local Church didn't appreciate other people offering their unflattering public opinions of them and they effectively silenced differing opinions of others who didn't have the financial resources available to defend themselves in court - really big of the Local Church!
Source: Jim Moran Responds to Beau Avery, Formerly posted at the late Jim Moran's website (Emphasis added by Apologetics Index)

Incidentally, it should be noted that, so far as known, Harvest House did not file lawsuits - pre-emptive or otherwise - regarding any of the other 60 or so groups, movements or individuals covered in the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. But then, as Eric Pement noted,

For all the bad that has been said about the Unification Church, the Way International, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Hare Krishna, the Family (COG), and other cults, they do not have a track record of response-via-lawsuit the way that the Local Church and the Scientologists have had.
Source: Eric Pement, writing in alt.support.ex-cult [Message ID: 6smn6r$4u1$1@gail.ripco.com], Sep. 3, 1998

Defended by cult apologist J. Gordon Melton

In the above-mentioned legal case of Lee vs. Duddy, noted cult apologist J. Gordon Melton was among those who defended The Local Church. Even though he has stated that he does not know how to tell the difference between orthodoxy and heresy, he nevertheless declared the Local Church's teachings as "perfectly orthodox on essentials." Those who, unlike Melton, do know the difference between orthodoxy and heresy know that Melton is in error on this issue.

In a companion article to When Talk Isn't Cheap and Speech Isn't Free: The Abuse of Libel Law, published after the legal case was over, Brooks Alexander, president of Spiritual Counterfeits Project, critiqued Melton's statements during the court case:

Melton: History - After a Fashion
Dr. Melton has genuine expertise and well-deserved prestige in his area of specialty, the history of religions. His Encyclopedia of American Religions is a standard reference work that SCP routinely relies on for certain types of information.

     Outside of his expertise, strictly speaking, Dr. Melton holds theological opinions on many related subjects, as do all of us who think and write about such things. Melton himself seems eager to make that distinction. In his recently published dialogue with Dr. Ronald Enroth, Melton said:

And I have, not being a theologian - and I make no claim to be one - a difficult task in sorting through doctrinal questions to do an adequate theological analysis of most group's beliefs. I'm a church historian with most of my theological work in historical theology, not systematics ... I have a problem as to where to draw the line - what's heresy and what's evangelically kosher. What is acceptable doctrinal deviation? Evangelicals have no common line (Enroth & Melton, 1985, p. 4).

     After acknowledging his inexpertise and uncertainty in theology, Melton further emphasized that his personal leanings influence the theological judgments that he does make:

I have trouble drawing the line, and I tend to be inclusivistic rather than exclusivistic (Enroth & Melton, p. 5).

     With those disclaimers in mind, it is disconcerting to realize that Dr. Melton was allowed to express his theological opinions as an expert witness at the default hearing.

Opinions Without Expertise
Melton's criticism of The God-Men is only marginally related to his genuine expertise.

     Morgan (Plantiffs' (sic) lawyer): In what way did Duddy misrepresent the practices?
     Melton: He took sentences from the middle of the paragraph out of context and made them appear to say things they were not taking about. He misrepresented their piety, especially calling it an Eastern form of mantric prayer. He left out their history regarding the Plymouth Brethren connection.
     Judge: Does it totally misrepresent the Local Church?
     Melton: Some statements are accurate. But overall not. For example, Duddy never brings up the subject of dispensationalism, which is important to understand if you're going to understand Witness Lee's theology.

     Melton faults SCP for ignoring the Local Church's historical connections with the Plymouth Brethren movement and for ignoring the theology of dispensationalism. These charges are both untrue. The God-Men states the Plymouth Brethren connection explicitly in both text and footnote. See pp. 23-25 and p. 104 of the book, especially footnote 2 from page 24:

Some of Lee's later deviations seem to have grown out of a misapplication of Plymouth Brethren style dispensationalism - e.g., his view of the Local Church as the new and final dispensation or stage of God's plan in history (p. 148).

     Either Melton overlooked this mention or he thought it wasn't sufficient by his standards of professional historiography. Duddy did not claim to write a historical treatise, and it would not be right to subject him to judicial punishment for failing to mention a subject prominently enough to satisfy an expert on a subject different from that of his book. With respect to the standards he did claim to meet, those of systematic theology, Duddy, who is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, actually has more expertise than Dr. Melton.

     Melton's second charge, that Duddy misrepresented Lee's theology, is repeated and elaborated in Melton's booklet, An Open Letter Concerning the Local Church, Witness Lee and The God-Men Controversy, published immediately after the default hearing.

     But Melton has already disclaimed having the expertise that would allow him to pass such judgments on theological matters with authority. It is the opinion of SCP, one we base on Melton's own statements, that Melton was not qualified to give expert theological opinion in this lawsuit.

     Melton's third charge is that Duddy "misrepresented their piety, especially, calling it an Eastern form of mantric prayer." He also explained to the court why he disagrees with Duddy's conclusion: first, because Eastern techniques are transmitted from guru to disciple, and there is no analagous (sic) process in the Local Church. Second, because "in the Local Church you must stay in a normal state of consciousness ... It's not like Hinduism where your consciousness is altered."

     Melton's testimony again raises the question of his theological expertise. He is again offering expert testimony outside of his field of expertise.

     The God-Men did not say that "pray- reading" and "calling on the name of the Lord" were "an Eastern form of mantric prayer." What The God-Men did say is stated on page 137 of the book 2

     The God-Men's appendix did not touch on the matter of a guru initiating his disciple as a point of similarity between Local Church practice and Eastern forms of chanting. The points of resemblance the book was concerned with were psychological in nature. What was needed was psychological expertise.

     Melton doesn't have any psychological expertise with which to invalidate The God-Men's opinion that some of the Local Church's practices bore a meaningful relationship to Eastern religious techniques. Melton's lack of theological and psychological expertise coincides with the critical points of his testimony, and the critical points of the book (The God-Men) he is condemning. When it comes to the issues that count, Melton offers discursive opinion, not knowledge or expertise.

     We believe Melton is entitled to his opinions, expertise or no, and he is entitled to express them. But without expertise his opinions are no more entitled to judicial weight than those of anyone else. Dr. Melton's religious opinions belong in print, not in court.

Expertise without Knowledge
In addition, Melton showed considerable misunderstanding of SCP's past and purposes as well as that of the history of the Local Church. We were surprised that the judge would ask Melton to speculate on the motives of the author, and even more surprised at his response:

     Judge: Why would Duddy have done this: What would his reason be?
     Melton: At one point the World Christian Liberation Front (sic) and the Local Church had headquarters across the street from each other. There were several incidents of personal confrontation where the SCP came off second best. Everything I have read can be traced to that confrontation in Berkeley. I just don't know what happened.3

     We do not believe there is any truth to this speculation.

     Of most concern to SCP in Melton's testimony is what appears to be a misunderstanding of the Local Church movement. If Melton thinks the Local Church's controversies can be traced to SCP, he can know nothing of their real history in Asia, or their early history in this country. Melton testified that it was his policy to discount and ignore the statements of ex-members in general, and that he had interviewed no ex-members of Witness Lee's group. His apparent ignorance of the Local Church's controversial past is perhaps explicable on that account.

Source: Melton: History - After a Fashion, companion article to "When Talk Isn't Cheap and Speech Isn't Free: The Abuse of Libel Law," by Brooks Alexander, SCP Newsletter, Volume 11, Number 4, November, 1986. Formerly posted at the late Jim Moran's website

ECPA Shows Lack of Discernment

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, J. Gordon Melton is not the only person who does not understand what makes a group or movement a cult of Christianity. In a dangerous development, in July, 2002, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, an industry association, admitted Living Stream as a voting member:

In June, Living Stream executives met religious officials in China, laying a foundation to get their publications off the cult list. Validation closer to home came in July, when the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, an industry association, admitted Living Stream as a member after a debate over Witness Lee.

"We define a cult as a group with an all-powerful leader with the final word," said Doug Ross, president of the publishing trade group. "Living Stream doesn't have a single person. At one time, that may have been true, but we don't think it is today."
Source: Strong opinions surround Lee's Local Church, The Orange County Register, Oct. 13, 2002

Note that ECPA president Doug Ross apparently does not know how to evaluate whether or not a specific group or movement is, theologically, a cult of Christianity. In the article quoted above, Ross merely refers to just one of many sociological characteristics of a cult. The fact that ECPA has admitted Living Stream as a member shows that the ECPA's principals either a) do not know how to discern between orthodoxy and heresy, and are therefore unaware of the group's heretical teachings, or b) have no qualms about promoting heresy.

That said, according to the ECPA's website, among the qualifications for a "voting member" is that the publisher provides literature "which promotes, encourages, confirms, defends, or establishes the individual in his or her Christian belief of evangelical Christianity in general, and is not in conflict with the Association's Statement of Faith."

Clearly, the folks at ECPA dropped the ball on this one. Evangelical Christians, whether members of ECPA or not, must address this serious error in judgment.

LSM's signing of the ECPA statement of faith "means very little," said investigative journalist, author and cult-watcher Richard Abanes. "Many doctrinally aberrant organizations could do the same thing. The [ECPA faith] statement only deals in general terms using language that such organizations could agree to given how they radically re-define doctrinal terms."

Watchman Fellowship President James K. Walker said: "Evangelicals should be very cautious about accepting Living Stream Ministry or the Local Church of Witness Lee as one of us."

Mark Kellner to the Defense

Mark Kellner, noted earlier in this entry for his Christianity Today item on the Local Church's latest lawsuit against Christians, is known in the apologetics community for his sympathetic approach to various cults (especially cults of Christianity), and his lack of discernment when it comes to understanding the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.

Kellner - who is neither an apologist nor a countercult professional - is known primarily for his partipation on the AR-talk and AR-forum lists, where Kellner For reasons known only to Mr. Kellner, he appears to have taken a special interest in agitating against messages posted by Anton Hein (the co-publisher of Apologetics Index (and the author of this web page). In and of itself, that wouldn't be a problem. However, since Mr. Kellner tends to be tenaciously argumentative to the point of exhaustion, Hein prefers to use his time and energy in more productive ways than going over the same old issues with Mr. Kellner. Hence, this Apologetics Index entry.

That said, since Kellner for some reason has seen fit to post a somewhat self-defeating reply to my "charges," it is interesting to note how Mr. Kellner determines whether or not the Local Church is a cult of Christianity. He writes:

Mr. Hein has written that he considers the Local Church a "cult of Christianity" (see, for example, this page on his Web site) and that is his privilege. However, given that the Local Church considers themselves within the realm of evangelical Christianity, as do, apparently, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, the Evangelical Credit Union and the (chiefly evangelical) Christian Booksellers Association, then it would appear that there are those who would understand the lawsuit as a dispute between two groups of Christians. Moreover, if Mr. Hein does not consider the Local Church to be "Christian," in the evangelical sense, then why is he imposing a "Christian" standard on them?
Source: Answering Anton Hein's Charges, Apologetics Answers, Mark Kellner's blog

Thus to Mr. Kellner, the views of a publisher, a credit union, a trade organization, and those of the Local Church itself are the basis on which he determines whether or not the Local Church is "within the realm of evangelical Christianity." Forget doctrine, forget discernment, forget common sense...

Incidentally, the very fact that the Local Church claims to be "Christian" allows genuine Christians to examine and judge their claims. And if the Local Church indeed wants to be known as "Christian," they will a) have to accept the key doctrines of the Christian faith (without, for example, creating their own, unbiblical version of the doctrine of the Trinity), and b) have to follow Biblical guidelines (in this case regarding lawsuits amongst Christians).

Anyway, this is not the only time that Mr. Kellner has taken an unbiblical approach. For example, in the Fall, 1994 issue of the Outsiders Inside Update - a newsletter regarding issues then surrounding the Worldwide Church of God - Neil Godfry wrote:

All this spiritual confusion makes sense after corresponding with Mark Kellner, writer for Christianity Today. He wrote to me stating he has met with the Joe Jr. team and that the church was no longer a cult. He stated he has taken the "leader's word at face value and trusted them." If this is an example of what is available for Christian guidance for cult members, God help us all!

God help us indeed!

Needless to say, while we at Apologetics Index generally enjoy Kellner's "On Computers" column (written for the Unification Church-owned Washington Times, and distributed in the US by Knight-Ridder), we urge Christians to note his unbiblical approach to cults, and alert non-Christians to the fact that Mr. Kellner's views on these issues are not accepted by knowledgeable Christians.

See Also:
» Update, Dec. 6, 2003: Mark Kellner Answers Questions
» What you should know about cult defenders

Note for those who disagree with information provided here

Adherents of the Local Church have been among the most vocal, as well as the most abbrasive critics of this site. This behavior is, perhaps, explained as follows:

Bad doctrine produces bad fruit behaviorally (e.g., Mark 7:7-13; Col. 2:20-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Pet. 2:1; Rev. 2:14-15, 20, 24), which is as true for Christians as it is for cultists. As Van Baalen stated, 'If practice follows from theory, if life is based upon teaching, it follows that the wrong doctrine will issue in the wrong attitude toward God and Christ, and consequently in warped and twisted Christian life.'
Source: Alan Gomes, ''Unmasking The Cults'' Zondervan, 1995, p. 47

Too, in the vast majority of instances Local Chuch members who have contacted the publisher of this site have demonstrated a marked unwillingness to address and interact with the actual research resources provided.

Hence the following: I request and require that those members of the Local Church who contact the publishers of this site first read our disclaimer, the background information on How to use this site, and these guidelines on how to communicate (and document) your disagreement.

Consumer Alert

Pleae note: In January, 2003, Jim Moran, who operated Light Of Truth Ministries - a site critical of The Local Church, which is a cult of Christianity - died of a massive heart attack.

It now turns out that since Jim died without leaving a will The Local Church has managed to gain control over Jim's files, computer records and domain names.

This means that any information currently posted under the domain names thelocalchurch.org, ltm.org, biblesforamericaexposed.org, and recoveryversionexposed.org is now provided by The Local Church - the cult whose teachings and actions Jim Moran worked hard to expose.

Hopefully, the material produced by Jim Moran will soon be placed online again. Links to Jim's former sites have been adjusted. (If you had a link to Jim Moran's website, make sure you delete or change it. Otherwise, people are inadvertently misdirected to the cult's site).

Note: The Local Church (specifically, "The Church in Fullerton") has posted lies about the late Jim Moran's former website - which they claim they have 'lawfully acquired' (including "all of the copyrights, trade names, and trademarks to Mr. Moran's works, including this website").

The Local Church in Fullerton wrote:

We ask that no part of Mr. Moran's site or any of the articles, publications, postings, materials or other works of authorship be used in any way without the express written permission of The Church in Fullerton.


Due to the factual misrepresentations, innuendo and false impressions contained in the materials previously posted on this website, parties desiring to use those materials are cautioned to exercise care not to mislead readers or to damage reputations. Careful verification of the accuracy and fairness of such quoted materials is required.

It should be noted that Apologetics Index has not (yet) received any official legal communication from the Local Church. We only received an email from someone with an aol.com address, claiming to represent The Church in Fullerton. We have no way of verifying whether that person does indeed represent the Local Church, or whether the email address belongs to a 13-year old pimple-faced boy with a poor sense of humor.

The "Church in Fullerton" and any other Local Church entity is hereby put on notice that Apologetics Index will continue to quote Jim Moran's material under fair use clauses of international and local (Netherlands) copyright laws. Jim Moran's site also included materials provided by third parties, and the copyright to such third-party material was not transfered to the Local Church.

Though it claims otherwise, the Local Church has shown itself to be unable to deal with legitimate criticism in a biblical, Christian manner. (See, for example, this article)

Since it appears that the Local Church does not value free speech, we have for some time advised interested researchers to download any and all information authored and/or posted by Jim Moran to their local computers.

Such information, posted by various parties at a number of web sites could previously be found using this Google search

Google also caches copies of web pages, but Jim Moran's cached files disappeared soon after the Local Church took possession of his research material.

For a while, Apologetics Index offered interested researchers a copy of Google's cached versions of Jim Moran's site, which we downloaded from Google on April 2 and 11, 2003. Now that other sites throughout the world have taken down Jim's original writings, we will remove them from our servers in the Netherlands as well.

It should be noted that various cults have a history of using and abusing the legal system in order to try and hide any and all material that is critical of their theology and/or behavior. Rather than honestly and intelligently discussing the issues at hand, they resort to censorship. Information control is one of the warning signs of cultic behavior.

Apologetics Index, on the other hand, consistently links to information from a variety of perspectives, and from various resources - including the cults, sects, religions, movements and/or organizations it discusses.

With this is mind, we suggest you study the research resources provided in this entry. It includes fair use quotes, as well as links to pro- and contra information on the Local Church. (Incidentally, lawyer types and information-controllers may want to read this site's disclaimer).


Christian Church of Recovery (aka "Local Church", "Lord's Recovery") by The Bereans Apologetics Research Ministries (Philippines). Includes witnessing tips.
Christian Effective Disengagement How to leave the Local Church.
Christian Witness Lee Dies – Stream Ministry Continues Expansion Plans
Christian Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Temporarily offline) An excerpt of Arthur L. Johnson's book, Faith Misguided. Helps to understand the mystical influence Watchman Nee had upon Witness Lee, and subsequently, upon Witness Lee's entire Local Church movement
Christian The Local Church This overview originally appeared in Cornerstone magazine (Issue No. 22, 1975, page 7). It was later published in tract form by the same title.
Christian Local Church Fights for Evangelical ID Card "Witness Lee group sues for $136 million over Harvest House cults article", by Mark Kellner, Christianity Today, Feb. 2003 issue, posted Jan. 14, 2003
Christian Neil Duddy and The Peculiar Teachings of The Local Church by Johannes Aagaard and Thomas O'Connor, with Neil Duddy
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Open Letter from J. Gordon Melton (Pro) Cult apologist J. Gordon Melton defends The Local Church
Christian The Teachings of Witness Lee of the "Local Church" (Church of Recovery) published by The Bereans Apologetics Research Ministries (Philippines)
Christian The teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church
Christian Watchman Nee & and Witness Lee An examination of their teachings, by Miles J. Stanford
Christian When Talk Isn't Cheap and Speech Isn't Free: The Abuse of Libel Law by Brooks Alexander. Comments regarding the Local Church's court case against a Christian countercult ministry.
Christian Witness Lee's Doctrine of the Trinity (Russian language only). PDF filePDF file. By Dmitry Rozet.
One of the matters of argument of Witness Lee's teaching is his understanding of Trinity. This article shows the complexity and inconsistency of Lee's theology with the help of careful analysis of Lee’s works. Russian language publications of the Local ?hurch are the main source of this material. Dmitry Rozet is the staff member of the Center for Apologetics Research in Saint-Petersburg.
Christian Witness Lee's “Recovery Version (Russian language only). PDF filePDF file. By Sergey Gushchin.
The "Recovery Version" of the New Testament was released by the Living Stream Ministry's editorial committee in Anaheim, California in the middle of the 1980s. Witness Lee, the controversial founder of the Local Church movement, took the most active part in this project. In 1998 the "Recovery Version" was translated into Russian and became available to Russian Christians. Unfortunately, many of them are unaware of the aberrant theology behind its publishers' teachings.


Christian Encyclopedia of Cults & New Religions, by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. Include a section on the Local Church. Not surprisingly, the authors and publisher are being sued by the cult.
Christian The Mind Benders By Jack Sparks. Subject of a legal attack by the Local Church. On this, see "1979 - Jack Sparks and Thomas Nelson Publishers"


Christian Nee, Lee & the Church of Recovery Discussion topic on the forum of The Bereans Apologetics Research Ministry


Christian Local Church of Witness Lee Tape of radio presentation by Jim Moran
Christian Witness Lee and the Local Church Cassette Tape. Speech by Jim Moran, at 1997 Birmingham EMNR Conference

See Also



Pleae note: last January, Jim Moran, who operated Light Of Truth Ministries - a site critical of The Local Church, which is a cult of Christianity - died of a massive heart attack.

It now turns out that The Local Church has gained control over Jim's files, computer records and domain names.

This means that any information currently posted under the domain names thelocalchurch.org, ltm.org, biblesforamericaexposed.org, and recoveryversionexposed.org now is provided by The Local Church - the cult whose teachings and actions Jim Moran worked hard to expose.

The material produced by Jim Moran will soon be placed online again.

Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Amana Christian Bookstore Amana promotes the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee.
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Contending for the Faith Local Church site intended to show the movement's views regarding two books - The Mind Benders and The God-Men - that were the subject of legal attacks by the Local Church
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox eManna Devotionals from the Local Church. More about eManna
Christian Light of Truth Ministries Jim Moran's extensive site examining Local Church teachings and practices. Includes Local Church materials, pro- and contra testimonies, links to pro- and contra sites, etcetera. Highly recommended.
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Living Stream Ministry Publishing arm and ministry station headquarters of the Local Church.
Christian Local Church Information Site Counter-Local Church site with a collection of papers, testimonies (both pro and con), and news items.

• Footnotes
  1. SCP attorney Michael Woodruff quoted in "The Lawsuit in Perspective" SCP Newsletter (SCP: Nov. 1986) 8. This entire segment concerning the SCP is an abridgment of this article. No credit is taken by the author for composition. [Source of footnote: Local Church Controversy With Christians, by Jim Moran]  (Back to text) 
  2. Bill Squires, "The Lawsuit in Perspective" SCP Newsletter (SCP: Nov. 1986) [...] [Source of footnote: Local Church Controversy With Christians, by Jim Moran]  (Back to text) 

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Local Church : Lord's Recovery, Living Stream Ministry
First posted: Jan. 7, 1997
Last Updated: Mar. 13, 2011(Design)
Editor: Anton Hein
Copyright: Apologetics Index
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