Repenting for Offending the Body of Christ —
What Did Witness Lee
A recent article published by a small group of anonymous "Concerned Brothers" (CBs) twists a brief statement by Brother Witness Lee in the 1997 Chinese-speaking conference to support their criticism of the present litigation against Harvest House Publishers and its authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon. The CBs wrench Brother Lee's statement out of its original context and engage in unfounded conjecture about the scope of its application, giving it a meaning far removed from its original intent. Furthermore, they neglect and even oppose the main burden of Brother Lee's fellowship in that message, which was to encourage the fellowship among all of the local churches and to bring all of the saints into the reality of the Body of Christ through the practice of blending.
The title of the message was "Reigning in Life (3): In Imitating the Apostles to Bring the Local Churches into the Fellowship of the Body of Christ; in Following in the Apostle's Footsteps to Bring All the Saints into the Blending Life of the Entire Body of Christ." In that message he spoke concerning receiving other believers according to God's receiving and Christ's receiving:
We should receive people according to God's receiving, not being more narrow than God, thereby demonstrating and maintaining the oneness of the Body of Christ. Furthermore, we should receive people according to the Son of God, according to God, not according to doctrine or practice, thus maintaining a condition of absolute peace, smoothness, and order, without any deviation and discord, in the fellowship of the Body of Christ to the glory of God (Rom. 14:3; 15:7)...
Romans 14:3 tells us that we should receive people according to God; this is to receive all those whom God has received. Romans 15:7 says that we should receive one another, as Christ also received us. Those whom God has received and those whom Christ has received are actually the same group of people. It is not that God receives one group of people and Christ receives another group of people. God is very liberal and not narrow. When we receive people according to God and according to His Son, Christ, we demonstrate, show forth, and maintain the oneness of the Body of Christ. If we receive people according to doctrine and practice, there is no way for the oneness of the Body of Christ to be maintained and demonstrated. ( The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life , pp. 68-69)
The generality expressed in Romans 14:3 and 15:7 in receiving believers has long been the standard for the practice of the local churches.
Rom. 14:3 - He who eats, let him not despise him who does not eat; and he who does not eat, let him not judge him who eats, for 2God has received him.
fn. 14:3 2 - The basis on which we receive the believers is that God has received them. God receives people according to His Son. When a person receives God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as his Savior, God receives that person immediately and ushers him into the enjoyment of the Triune God and of all He has prepared and accomplished in Christ for us. We should receive people in the same way and should not be more narrow than God. Regardless of how much they differ from us in doctrinal concepts or religious practices, we must receive them. When we receive people according to God and not according to doctrine or practice, we demonstrate and maintain the oneness of the Body of Christ.
Rom. 15:7 - Therefore receive one another, as 1Christ also received you to the glory of God.
fn. 15:7 1 - Verse 3 of ch. 14 says that we should receive people according to God's receiving, but here we are told that we should receive people according to Christ's receiving. Christ's receiving is God's receiving. What Christ has received, God has received. Those whom God and Christ have received we must receive, regardless of how they differ from us in doctrine or practice. This will be to the glory of God.
What Witness Lee Said
What Brother Lee said in the Chinese-speaking conference was his observation and realization before the Lord that the churches receiving his ministry had at times failed in the past to live up to that standard:
We have much to learn concerning receiving people according to God and according to His Son. Because of our negligence in this matter in the past, we have offended the Body of Christ and many brothers and sisters in the Lord. For this reason, I had a deep repentance before the Lord. Brothers and sisters, I hope that we can see our past mistakes by getting into this message through pray-reading, studying, reciting, and prophesying. Of course, sectarianism in the denominations is wrong; it is something very much condemned by God. Nevertheless, those who are genuinely saved in the denominations are children of God and have been received by God. Hence, we also should receive them, but we would never participate in the division in which they are. ( The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life , p. 69)
The CBs' Unfounded Speculation
The CBs extrapolate a highly speculative argument from this short statement to the effect that Brother Lee repented generally for anything that may have offended other Christians, including the filing of lawsuits. This is a gross distortion of the context of Brother Lee's word, as the following observations attest:
- Brother Lee's exposition of Romans 14 and 15 in The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life was no different than what he had spoken throughout his ministry. It therefore does not represent a change in his attitude. Rather, he shared with the saints his grieving that the churches under his ministry had caused offense through coming short in our practice of these truths (cf., Dan. 9:3-19; Neh. 1:4-11).
- Brother Lee never withdrew his criticism of the system of Christianity, a system characterized by: (1) the replacement of Christ with so many substitutes, (2) the negating of the function of the members of the Body of Christ through the clergy-laity system, and (3) the division of the Lord's Body into thousands of parts. 1 In fact, in the very paragraph from which the CBs extract their quote, Brother Lee specifically stated, "Sectarianism in the denominations is wrong; it is something very much condemned by God."
- Brother Lee never gave the slightest indication that he regretted the filing of the lawsuits over The Mindbenders and The God-Men. On the contrary, Brother Lee specifically left instructions that the brothers and attorneys who labored in those two litigations were to be invited to his funeral.
- The CBs' argument is strangely contradictory. They vindicate the lawsuits filed in the 1980s, yet condemn the current litigation. The litigation actions taken in the 1980s were undertaken with the knowledge that some Christians would misunderstand and therefore be offended. If, in fact, Brother Lee's word of repentance was to be applied to offending Christians by an appeal to the courts to defend the reputation of the Lord's ministry in His recovery, why would the CBs not apply it to the 1980s actions as well? The reason is simple: The CBs want to maintain an appearance of being one with Brother Lee's leading while he was alive while attacking the co-workers for following his pattern.
- The quotation of Witness Lee's "repentance" is not from the printed message, nor is it an accurate translation of his speaking. Their private "translation," which is derived from a private "transcript," matches word for word a biased rendition of Brother Lee's speaking that first appeared in a long diatribe that seeks to vindicate those who caused great turmoil in the churches in the 1980s. That writing makes many unfounded accusations against the leadership in the Lord's recovery, including Brother Lee and his co-workers, stretching back over many decades. The CBs present no grounds on which such a source should be accepted as trustworthy.
- The CBs exhibit a willingness to compromise the truth to avoid offending other believers. This
Brother Lee would never do.
Gal. 1:10 - For am I now 1trying to win the assent of men or of God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a slave of Christ.
fn. 1:10 1 - Or, persuading men or God; seeking to conciliate, to satisfy, men or God.
1 Thes. 2:4 - But even as we have been 1approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who proves our hearts.
fn. 2:4 1 - God's entrusting depends on His approval, which comes out of His testing. The apostles were first tested and approved by God and then were entrusted by Him with the gospel. Hence, their speaking, the preaching of the gospel, was not of themselves to please men but of God to please Him. He proved, examined, and tested their hearts continually (Psa. 26:2; 139:23-24).
I do not care to trade Christ's favor for man's. Like Paul in Philippians 3, I am willing to count everything loss on account of Christ. I am also willing to suffer the loss of all things on account of the enjoyment of grace. I have not been commissioned by the Lord to please men. When it comes to the matter of God's economy, there is no room for compromise. Everything contrary to God's economy must be slain by the truth of God. Like Paul, we have no choice in this matter. ( Life-study of Philippians , p. 24)
The first thing we face on this pathway is rejection. Because Christ is the rejected One, we must be rejected also. We have no choice. Do not expect to be welcomed, for no one will welcome you until the glory comes. Instead, you must be willing to be rejected. In 13:53--14:13 we see the increase of rejection. Many of us have experienced some measure of rejection by those who opposed our coming into the church. But I need to tell you that this rejection will not decrease; rather, it will increase. There will be rejection upon rejection. Be prepared for this. ( Life-study of Matthew , p. 507)
After the enemy has persecuted you, his strategy may change. Instead of persecution, there might be a welcome. Do not regard this welcome as a good thing. Rather, you must fear being welcomed more than being stung by a scorpion. It is good for us to suffer persecution, opposition, and attack. But whenever people extend us a warm welcome, that is a most dangerous time. When you are attacked and are undergoing persecution, do not be discouraged, for that is a strong sign that you are on the right track and that you have not been distracted from following the Lord's steps. But beware of a warm welcome. It is better to suffer persecution than to receive a warm welcome. ( Life-study of Revelation , pp. 142-143)
- The CBs distort Brother Lee's teaching on
generality, using it to justify their deviations from his teaching. At the
same time they ignore Brother Lee's balancing word concerning the
limits to generality as seen in the apostle Paul's strictness in
dealing with divisive behavior in the church.
Every local church should receive all kinds of genuine believers in Christ (Rom. 14:1-6; 15:1-7). We have no right to give up any believer, unless he is divisive. When a believer becomes divisive, he is divided from the church already. But as long as a believer is not divisive, we should not give him up. If a believer prefers to keep the Sabbath whereas we take the Lord's Day, or if he eats only vegetables whereas we eat every kind of food, we still must receive him. We must receive him because God has received him (Rom. 14:3) and because Christ has received him (Rom. 15:7). We must receive every believer in Christ according to Christ (Rom. 15:5). ( A Brief Presentation of the Lord's Recovery , p. 45)
In Romans 14 and 15 Paul is generous, broad-minded, and all-embracing, but in Romans 16:17 he is very narrow and strict. "I beg you, brothers, keep a watchful eye on those who make divisions and causes of falling contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and turn away from them." On the one hand, we need to receive all kinds of genuine believers; on the other hand, we need to be narrow and strict in dealing with divisive ones. In 16:17 Paul does not say, "These divisive ones are brothers. We need to receive them and love them." No, he tells us to keep a watchful eye on them and to turn away from them. To turn away from those who make divisions and causes of falling is to quarantine them.
In Romans 16:20a Paul says, "Now the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." It is significant that this word comes after the word concerning the strict dealing with the divisive ones. If we do not have any discernment but instead love blindly, and if we do not quarantine those who make divisions and causes of falling, Satan will be above us, not under us. But if we quarantine the divisive ones, Satan will be crushed under our feet. ( Life-study of Deuteronomy , pp. 83-84)
In fact, Brother Lee's definition of what it means to be general (given just seven pages before the quote the CBs distort) is quite different than what the CBs mean:
We need to be exceptionally general in receiving the believers to live the church life. To be general means that everyone is speaking and every home is doing the same thing; no one is particularly different. ( The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life , p. 62) [emphasis added]
The CBs' Biased Application of Brother Lee's Speaking
The last three messages in the conference "The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life" all share the same general subject as its title: "Reigning in Life." If you read these chapters, it becomes obvious that the CBs reject the content and direction of Brother Lee's teaching and fellowship, while selecting a few statements to misapply for their own purposes.
- The CBs ignore Brother Lee's clear word that all of the saints in the Lord's recovery
should speak the same thing to preserve the oneness and one accord:
Brothers and sisters, I hope that you not only get these words into you but also repeat them like tape recorders. I often pray for you at my home. I have been a slave of the Lord speaking for Him for over sixty years. I am like a tape recorder speaking for the Lord again and again. I truly hope that when I speak, others will be tape recorders. This is my prayer. The Lord answered my prayer, saying, "With men it is impossible, but with Me everything is possible. With all these believers who are under your leading, I can make every one of them such a tape recorder." I hope that all the brothers and sisters can enter into such a word, be constituted with such a word, and clearly speak such a word. ( The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life , p. 52)
In our work in the Lord's recovery what we strongly emphasize is that "grace is the manifestation of the Triune God in His embodiment in three aspects-the Father, the Son, and the Spirit." This is representative of our speaking in the Lord's recovery. I hope that you all can be like "tape recorders" and have this word deeply impressed in you. Then when you go out to contact others, you can spontaneously speak, and only speak, this word. (p. 57)
Some may ask, "Does this mean that among us we should not teach anything else?" It is not a matter of whether or not to teach other things. Actually it is that we do not have any spare time to teach anything other than the central revelation of the Bible. In the past we received Brother Nee's leading to meet according to 1 Corinthians 14-not to have one man speaking and all the rest listening, but to have everyone prophesying. From 1933 Brother Nee began to strongly promote this practice, but it was unsuccessful. It was not until the recent years when we restudied 1 Corinthians 14 that we discovered that the Lord's intention is not merely to have all the members taking turns to speak but to have all the members blended together as one Body to speak. In the past we did not dare to speak in the meetings, because we did not know what to speak. But now the whole situation has been changed; everyone is glad to prophesy and everyone speaks concerning the unique central revelation of the Bible. This is what we particularly emphasize and boast of. (pp. 57-58)
We need to be of the same mind toward one another according to Christ Jesus so that with one accord we may glorify God in receiving the believers to live the church life (15:5-7). Whenever we are in one accord, we speak the same thing; we speak with one mouth. The only way to be with one accord and with one mouth is to allow Christ the room to be everything in our heart and in our mouth that God may be glorified. We have said that God is the New Jerusalem. When we glorify God, we take Him as the New Jerusalem and give all the glory to Him. (p. 63)
Unlike the CBs, who promote contention and exalt differences, Brother Lee spoke of having a peaceful, smooth, and orderly church life in which all of the saints speak concerning the central revelation of the Bible and receive one another according to God and Christ:
In receiving the believers to live the church life, we need to be exceptionally smooth and orderly. To be smooth and orderly is to not be quarrelsome but to be peaceful and easy. To some extent we can see this today in the Lord's recovery. There is no quarreling among us; everything is peaceful, smooth, and orderly. When we are not general, there is no peace, smoothness, or order, and the result is something particular and sectarian. If we receive others according to God and Christ, the church life will be smooth and orderly and the whole church will be in harmony. (p. 63)
- The CBs also try to negate the clear burden of Brother Lee's fellowship in this message. The
general subject of the message is expressed in two points: (1) imitating the apostle to bring the local churches into
the fellowship of the Body of Christ; and (2) following the apostle's footsteps to bring all the saints into the
blending life of the entire Body of Christ. All of the CBs fulminations undermine these two goals.
To experience reigning in life, first, we must imitate the apostle in bringing the local churches into the fellowship of the Body of Christ. It is only by practically entering into the fellowship of the Body of Christ that we can have the genuine experience of reigning in life. (p. 67) [emphasis added]
The CBs would have us believe that what Brother Lee meant by "practically entering into the fellowship of the Body of Christ" was some sort of reconciliation with the fallen and degraded system of Christianity. However, it is clear from Brother Lee's speaking that what he meant was that there should be mutual fellowship among all of the churches in the Lord's recovery:
Such recommendations and greetings show both the mutual concern among the saints and the mutual fellowship among the churches. It is by the churches' fellowship in the Body that the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet and we will be able to enjoy the rich grace of Christ. This grace is the manifestation of the Triune God in His embodiment in three aspects-the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. (p. 70) [emphasis added]
We must have the reality of the fellowship and blending of the Body of Christ. Otherwise, regardless of how much we pursue and how simple and humble we are, sooner or later there will be problems, even divisions, among us. Hence, we must be governed by the vision of the Body and follow in the footsteps of the apostle by bringing all the saints in all the churches into the blending life of the entire Body of Christ. This is to reign in life, and by such reigning we give glory to God. This glory is the New Jerusalem, the universal incorporation of the union and mingling of divinity with humanity, in which God will be completely glorified and His economy will be fully accomplished. (p. 71) [emphasis added]
While Brother Lee strongly stressed the need to receive fellow believers in Christ according to God and Christ, he never changed his teaching on the need to stand apart from the organized system of Christianity on the proper ground of oneness. His words here indicate further that merely to stand on the local ground is not adequate. There must be the practice of mutual blending and fellowship among all of the local churches. Only in this way can those in the local churches know the reality of the Body of Christ. Yet the CBs themselves oppose the matter of blending in fellowship and prayer, preferring to launch public attacks against the co-workers who are seeking to lead the churches into the practice of mutual fellowship and blending.
The telling point is that the CBs twist selected words from Brother Lee's ministry to support their own private agenda and disregard the main burden of his fellowship. To be faithful to the ministry presented to us by our brothers Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, we should not pick and choose those portions that appeal to our taste and disposition. Even the more, we should not misappropriate the words of the ministry by taking them out of context to construct specious arguments that only reflect our own biases. The CBs seek to undermine the leadership in the Lord's recovery. In pursuing that aim they have become reckless in mishandling and misapplying our brothers' speaking, ignoring their clear speaking and engaging in speculative flights of imagination. Our hope is that by exposing this recklessness the saints in the Lord's recovery can be preserved from such poisonous words.
1 For a further explanation of the standing of the local churches concerning organized Christianity, see page 4 of " A Brief Response to An Open Letter to the Leadership of Living Stream Ministry and the 'Local Churches'" on www.lctestimony.org.