Whose "Historical Revisionism"?
Recently an article was printed in a journal published by one of the churches and posted on that church's Web site which accuses the co-workers in the Lord's recovery of practicing "historical revisionism" in Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery. This accusation is largely a repetition of allegations made in "Analysis & Response" by the same author, an article which is also posted on the same church's Web site. Historical revisionism, in the sense it is used in these writings, refers to the manipulation of facts to support a predetermined ideological position. In modern parlance, the most common application of the term relates to Holocaust deniers, those who claim that the mass slaughter of Jews by the Nazis never occurred. It is essentially a euphemism for perpetrating lies to justify one's own agenda.
The author of these dissenting writings claims the co-workers intentionally neglected to mention certain historical facts that, if taken into account, would negate their fellowship. Among these are 1:
- The existence of the Hong Kong Book Room
- The contents of The Beliefs and Practices of the Local Churches
- Brother Lee's expectation concerning the Writers' Conference
- The publication of Journey Through the Bible
In fact, when read in context, the passages from which the author excerpts short statements actually support the co-workers' reaffirmation of Brother Lee's fellowship. The author of these articles selectively cut quotes from Brother Lee's ministry, in some cases quoting part of a sentence and leaving out the rest because it contradicted his opinion. It is, in fact, he who practices historical revisionism.
Throughout this article, when we cite a portion of ministry used by the author of the dissenting articles, we will put the words he quoted in italics so that it is clear what was left out. In reading these passages keep in mind that what the author of the dissenting articles is attempting to justify is a separate publication work carried out independently of the global fellowship of co-workers. This separate publication work disseminates the different teachings of a group of workers to whom he has joined himself and who publish his writings.
Hong Kong Book Room
The author claims that the lack of any mention of the Hong Kong Book Room in Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery is an intentional distortion of the historical record. He claims that "one could argue that two publishers existed simultaneously in the recovery, the Hong Kong and Taiwan Gospel Book Rooms." As justification he quotes part of a sentence from fellowship Brother Lee had with the serving ones in the Living Stream Ministry office in 1987:
In 1950, Brother Nee arrived in Hong Kong and wanted me to come from Taiwan to see him. When he fellowshipped about the matter of issuing publications, he took the opportunity to make some arrangements. It was decided that the Gospel Book Room would remain one, yet due to the political situations, it had to conduct business separately in three places: Shanghai, Taipei, and Hong Kong. Brother Nee was responsible for the bookroom in Shanghai. I was responsible for the one in Taipei, and Brother Weigh was responsible for the one in Hong Kong. However, Brother Nee wanted me also to take care of the responsibility for the publications of the Hong Kong bookroom. ( Words of Training for the New Way, Vol. 1 , pp. 34-35) [emphasis added]
Read in context it is readily apparent that the separation of the book room into three offices was a business arrangement, but that the three were still one in Brother Nee's intention and in the brothers' practice. The author makes passing reference to this saying, "Of course, one could argue that all three book rooms were 'one.'" This is disingenuous. Why does the author put "one" in quotation marks but not indicate whom he is quoting? Why does he say "one could argue" when this was Brother Nee's plain and direct instruction? Why does he begin mid-sentence and not include Brother Lee's complete thought: "It was decided that the Gospel Book Room would remain one, yet due to the political situations, it had to conduct business separately in three places: Shanghai, Taipei, and Hong Kong"? Even the omission of the words "it had to conduct business" seems calculated to obscure the intent of Brother Nee's fellowship. This is not an honest treatment of our brothers' ministry.
In 1994 Brother Lee explained further:
In 1950, when the two of us were in Hong Kong, we spent much time talking together. Because I realized that later it might not be possible for me to contact Brother Nee, I brought up to him the need to publish in Taiwan. He said, "Brother Witness, you know that among us only I personally own the Gospel Book Room. It belongs neither to the church nor to the co-workers; it belongs to me personally." Then he made arrangements, saying, "Now the three political regions-the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan-all differ from one another. So we will have the Gospel Book Room divided into three: one in Shanghai, one in Taiwan, and one in Hong Kong. They are not three Book Rooms; rather, they are one. Due to the political situation, the three places will be on their own financially." He was responsible for the one in Shanghai; he entrusted to me the responsibility for the one in Taiwan; and he asked Brother K. H. Weigh to take charge of the one in Hong Kong. He further charged me, saying, "Brother Weigh also needs your help in bearing the responsibility for the articles." Therefore, in the initial period, the Taiwan Gospel Book Room published books mainly in coordination with the Book Room in Hong Kong. The two published books together, not separately. The cost of the books published both in Hong Kong and Taiwan were calculated together. It was due to such an arrangement made by Brother Nee that we have today's situation. ( The High Peak of the Vision and the Reality of the Body of Christ , pp. 24-25) [emphasis added]
Would it not be more honest to determine what Brother Nee and Brother Lee meant when they said that all three book rooms were to be one, rather than dismissing it as something "one could argue"? The writer attempts to reduce Brother Nee's clear word, repeated on more than one occasion by Brother Lee, to a mere view "one could argue" in order to justify his own agenda without regard to the historical facts. In 1973, Brother Lee made it clear that the purpose of all three book rooms was to reprint Brother Nee's books for the needs of the churches:
He also made an arrangement for the publication work. The publications were always under his oversight. When he and I were in Hong Kong, he made the decision that there should be a bookroom in Taipei and a bookroom in Hong Kong to publish all of his books. He himself would oversee the bookroom in Shanghai. He charged me to take care of the bookroom in Taipei, and he arranged for Brother K.H. Weigh to take care of the bookroom in Hong Kong. He said that all the books could be reprinted and that all three bookrooms would have a common copyright. Thus, we began to reprint all his books for the need in all the places outside of mainland China. ( The History of the Church and the Local Churches , p. 140) [emphasis added]
A similar account can be found in Brother Lee's biography of Watchman Nee:
At this time he made the following arrangements regarding the bookroom and literature work:
1) The Gospel Bookroom should be set up in three places: Shanghai, Taipei, and Hong Kong. Watchman would personally manage the one in Shanghai; I would be responsible for the one in Taipei; and Brother Weigh would be responsible for the one in Hong Kong. Further, I was asked to assist the bookroom in Hong Kong regarding literary and editorial responsibility.
2) All three bookrooms would share the same copyrights.
(In 1975, Brother K.H. Weigh and I with other related brothers rearranged, due to the situation at that time, the matter of copyright as follows: All the Chinese books would be published by the Gospel Bookroom in Taipei; all the English books would be published by the Living Stream in the U.S.A.; the Hong Kong Church Bookroom would be used only for the distribution of our publications in Hong Kong.) ( Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age , p. 326) [emphasis added]
Thus all three book rooms were formed to reprint the ministry of Brother Nee, and all labored in coordination to carry out that work. The record in Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery was never intended to be an exhaustive history of the administrative arrangements in the one publication work in the Lord's recovery. There have also been Living Stream Ministry offices in Irving, Texas, and London, England. These are not mentioned either. Nevertheless, the entire history of the publication work in the Lord's recovery supports the co-workers' affirmation of Brother Lee's fellowship that we all should be restricted in one publication in carrying out the ministry in the Lord's recovery. There is no justification in the history of the Lord's move among us for separate publication works, and there is certainly no justification for using separate publication works to propagate different teachings and dissenting opinions among the churches and the saints.
The Beliefs and Practices of the Local Churches
The author of these dissenting writings makes much of the fact that the publication work is not addressed in The Beliefs and Practices of the Local Churches. Such an argument ignores two basic points:
Beliefs and Practices is not an exhaustive document concerning everything believed and practiced in the
Lord's recovery. Its very opening statement is:
Because an increasing number of people, both Christians and non-Christians, are seeking information concerning the local churches, we have prepared this booklet as a basic introduction to our beliefs and practices. (The Beliefs and Practices of the Local Churches, p. 1) [emphasis added]
Beliefs and Practices was prepared as a "basic introduction" to the churches for those outside the Lord's recovery, not as a definitive or comprehensive manual of the Lord's recovery.
- The scope of Beliefs and Practices is the local churches, not the ministry or the work. The word "ministry" is used only one time in the booklet and that in a very general sense. The booklet does not address in any substantive manner how the ministry is carried out in the Lord's recovery. For that reason one would not expect that the matter of being restricted in one publication in the ministry should be found in its pages. Yet the author takes the absence of this topic in an introductory booklet as an excuse to promote and carry out a different publication work.
One of the most shocking examples of the author's selective quoting of Brother Lee's ministry is his use of part of a sentence from Brother Lee's fellowship with the elders in 1986. The half sentence quoted says, "My intention in calling a writers' conference was to encourage you to write something..." What the author left out is very revealing.
My intention in calling a writers' conference was to encourage you to write something, but not in the way that came out. This fellowship may preserve and protect us from doing things lawlessly. ( Elders' Training, Book 8: The Life-pulse of the Lord's Present Move , p. 163) [emphasis added]
What was "this fellowship"? It is "Being Restricted in One Publication," the subheading of the section in which the half-sentence quoted by the author is found. Yes, Brother Lee did call a writers' conference. Based on what subsequently transpired, he presented the need to be restricted in one publication to avoid "lawless" behavior, behavior that is the same in all essential respects as what the author of these articles is advocating and practicing.
The dissenting author attempts to vindicate his own lawless behavior by quoting half of one sentence from a passage that condemns his activity! It is also noteworthy that the entire section in which this quote appears is reproduced on pages 10-12 of Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery, where readers can evaluate its meaning in context.
Journey Through the Bible
In one of his articles circulated through the Internet the author also cites Journey Through the Bible as an example of a different publication. Here the following observations are relevant:
- Journey Through the Bible was initiated under Brother Lee's direction and was carried out in coordination and fellowship with him.
- Journey Through the Bible was developed for the young people in the church in Anaheim. Eventually, due to interest from other churches it was picked up as an "experiment" by the young people's work in Southern California in fellowship with LSM with the intention that, once the series was completed, it would be turned over to LSM. It never had the same target audience and therefore was at no time in competition or rivalry with the general ministry in the churches in the Lord's recovery. It made no pretense of having any sort of leadership role in the ministry or of defining the truth.
The author of these dissenting articles is an academic by training. As such, he knows that selective quoting of a source is a dishonest practice contrary to the ethics of his profession, not to mention that it is unconscionable to a believer and incompatible with a sincere desire for truth. By taking Brother Lee's statements out of context and making them say the opposite of what was intended, he demonstrates that he is the one who is trying to distort our legacy in the Lord's recovery to justify his own ends. He ignored the real facts in the cases he mentions. Nevertheless, he chose to make insinuations against the co-workers and raise questionings in the hearts and minds of the dear saints in the Lord's recovery. His representation of the facts is highly selective and biased. The fact remains that there is nothing in the teaching and practice of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee or in the history of the churches in the Lord's recovery to justify the unruly behavior advocated and practiced by the author of these articles. There is no basis in fact on which to rationalize the promulgation of different teachings and dissenting opinions through independent publications in the Lord's recovery.
1The issue of whether being restricted in one publication was merely an "informal, voluntary, personal practice" between Brother Nee and Brother Lee is addressed in a separate article, which includes a discussion of the historical precedent for "one publication" throughout our history.