Receive All the Churches and Then All the Believers—
What Did Benson Phillips
In a recent Internet posting, a brother accused Brother Benson Phillips of changing the emphasis in Brother Lee's final speaking in a message Brother Benson gave in 2004. This accusation was repeated in a letter posted on the Internet by Titus Chu. The accusation is untrue. The following is Brother Benson's speaking in the fall 2004 International Elders and Responsible Ones Training in New Zealand as it was printed in The Ministry Magazine (the text in italics is that quoted by the dissenting brother 1 ):
The last three chapters of Romans show us the blending and fellowship of the Body life brought forth through the apostle's receiving the believers according to God and Christ in order to demonstrate, show forth, and maintain the oneness of the Body of Christ (14:3; 15:7). This is also from Brother Lee's final message. We must receive all the believers. But the burden here is that we might receive all the local churches and all the saints in the local churches. They must be received by us, and they must be received according to Romans 14:3 and 15:7. God has received us, Christ has received us; this is one receiving by the Triune God. Since God has received every local church, we must have fellowship, and we must receive one another into the fellowship of the Triune God. Then we must receive all believers. Every church receives every brother and sister. This does not mean that we go along with the denominations or we practice the ways of the denominations. We will never do that. Although there is a wall around the New Jerusalem, every direction has three gates, and these gates receive all whom the Lord has received. May the churches be brought into such a fellowship and such a blending with all the other churches. (Benson Phillips, "The Unique Flow of the Divine Stream for the Unique Blending of the Body of Christ," The Ministry Magazine, vol. 9, no. 2, February 2005, p. 108)
The accusations of this dissenting brother are fourfold:
- He accuses Brother Benson of misrepresenting the emphasis of Brother Lee's speaking in his final conference message from receiving the believers in the denominations to receiving the churches and the believers in them.
- He accuses Brother Benson of making receiving all of the churches in fellowship a higher priority and even a pre-condition to receiving all of the believers, thus postponing the receiving of the believers to some unspecified time in the future.
- He accuses the brothers generally of neglecting Brother Lee's word expressing his regret for mistakes made in receiving other believers. (On this point Brother Benjamin Chen gave an important clarifying word at the 2006 Thanksgiving Conference.)
- He accuses the brothers of emphasizing Brother Lee's private speaking over his public speaking.
These accusations are fraught with distortions.
"The Burden Here"
The accusation that Benson changed Brother Lee's emphasis is based on the words "the burden here," as if "here" referred to Brother Lee's final message. If the text in The Ministry Magazine left some question as to what "here" refered to, the dissenting brothers should have checked the audio or video tape 2 before making a public accusation against Brother Benson. If he had done so, he would have discovered that what Benson said was:
Brothers, we must receive all the believers. But the burden here this morning is that we might receive all the local churches and then all the saints in the local churches. [emphasis added]
When the message was edited for publication, the words "this morning" were omitted, because they were not applicable in print. Benson was not saying that "the burden here" was the entirety of Brother Lee's burden in his message. He was merely saying that in the message he himself was giving, the burden was on the fellowship among the churches. That burden was prompted by the turmoil among the churches being caused in large part by the writings of the same dissenting brothers who then twisted Brother Benson's word to attack him. The omission of the words "this morning" in the printed message in no way sanctions the reckless misrepresentation of Brother Benson's word by these dissenters.
Brother Benson acknowledged that Brother Lee's word addressed both the blending and fellowship together of the churches in the Body life (something notably absent in the writings of these and other dissenting brothers) and receiving all the believers as God and Christ has received us. The words "the burden here" simply mean that based on the situation in the Lord's recovery at the time of Benson's speaking and the co-workers' realization of the need among all the churches, his emphasis was on the need for fellowship among the churches. This was so precisely because these dissenting ones were themselves withdrawing from fellowship with co-workers outside their area and had been curtailing the fellowship between the churches in their geographical area and those outside.
The accusation that Benson was making the receiving of all the churches and all the saints in the Lord's recovery a priority over and pre-condition for receiving all believers seems to be based solely on the word "then" in the sentence, "Then we must receive all believers." Such an interpretation assumes that the word "then" means something that follows in a sequence, but it can also mean "in addition" or "also" or "besides". If you read the next sentence of Benson's speaking, it is evident that he is not speaking in chronological terms. There Benson speaks in the present tense: "Every church receives every brother and sister." The dissenting brothers choose to apply the most unlikely definition of "then" based on the context of Benson's speaking in order to misrepresent Benson's words. This is done both to justify criticizing Benson himself, as well as to avoid the point Brother Benson was stressing-the need of all the churches to have mutual fellowship to be blended together organically as the Body of Christ.
Two Emphases by Witness Lee and Benson Phillips
Benson spoke of two things that require our attention-the receiving of all of the believers and the blending through fellowship of all of the churches and all of the saints in the Lord's recovery. In fact, the message to which Benson referred and which this dissenting brother seems to claim was focused on Brother Lee's word of regret for mistakes made in receiving other believers was entitled, "Reigning in Life (3): In Imitating the Apostle 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 Brother Lee spoke concerning the same two points that Benson brought out. This dissenting one claims the co-workers "totally ignore what was his [Brother Lee's] real concern and his final charge to us all." This charge neglects Brother Lee's own speaking in the same message, in which he said, for example:
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. ( The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life , p. 71)
It is the dissenting ones who want to distort Brother Lee's short word of regret and make it representative of his entire burden at the end of his ministry.
Ignoring Brother Lee's Real Concern?
Furthermore, to say that the co-workers have neglected Brother Lee's fellowship concerning receiving the believers is without basis. In recent years, the co-workers have cultivated many constructive relationships with other believers in an effort to clear up misunderstandings about our beliefs and standing. Most notably these relationships include the ongoing fellowship with some at Fuller Theological Seminary, the editorial staff of Christianity Today, and the Christian Research Institute, among others. Even these efforts have been criticized by the dissenting ones. Their insistence on finding fault with anything the co-workers do should be a warning sign to the saints concerning their motives.
Near the end of his ministry Brother Lee also expressed the realization that the riches the Lord had given to His recovery through the ministry were not just for the saints in the local churches, but for all believers in the Body of Christ. Based on that word, the co-workers have undertaken numerous initiatives to get the riches of Brother Lee's ministry to the hungry, seeking ones in Christianity through both print and broadcast media.
Brother Lee's word of regret indicated no change in his understanding concerning the truth of how to practice the church life on the ground of oneness. It merely expressed regret for failures in applying what we have always understood to be the truth-that in spite and even because of our clear stand for the practical expression of the oneness of the Body of Christ by meeting as the church in our locality, we must receive all believers in Christ as fellow members of that one Body. It was not, as some dissenters have portrayed it, a call to compromise our standing and to join ourselves to the organized system of Christianity or to adopt its worldly practices. There is no evidence in Brother Lee's speaking to support such vain imaginations.
A Clarifying Word
At the end of a message in the 2006 Thanksgiving Conference, Brother Benjamin Chen spoke a clarifying word concerning this short section of Brother Lee's sharing in the last meeting of the 1997 International Chinese-speaking Conference. Benjamin said that some had misused Brother Lee's word of regret that in the past his attitude toward some in the denominations was not right as an excuse to justify bringing the things of Christianity into the Lord's recovery. Beginning in the summer of 1996, Brother Lee asked a number of brothers to share the message with him to confirm its burden. He called them "blending speakers". As one of the "blending speakers" in the last meeting of that 1997 conference, Brother Benjamin paid very close attention to what Brother Lee spoke.
Benjamin confirmed that Brother Lee did not change his teaching at all in that message, because through all the years both Brother Nee and Brother Lee had made it clear that we have to separate our attitude toward the believers in Christianity from our attitude toward the system of Christianity. 3 On the one hand, regardless of where they are, whether in Catholicism or the denominations or the free groups, we need to be open to, receive, fellowship with, and love the believers. On the other hand, we want to have nothing to do with the system of Christianity because that system divides the Body of Christ.
Benjamin said that when Brother Lee expressed regret for his attitude toward some Christians in the denominations, it was because in his maturity in life he was very sensitive in his spirit that he did not always have the right kind of loving attitude. But immediately after Brother Lee spoke of his regret, he said that the denominations themselves are wrong and that all the sectarianism that divides God's people should be condemned. Brother Lee then balanced this word by saying that God's people themselves should not be condemned. This was and always has been our standing.
Based on this understanding of Brother Lee's fellowship, Brother Benjamin spoke as a "blending speaker." Brother Lee indicated that although he had intended to say something further after the "blending speakers" to strengthen the burden in his message, there was no need because the "blending speakers" had said what he wanted to say. This demonstrates that Benjamin's understanding of Brother Lee's speaking and burden were accurate, as opposed to the wildly speculative interpretations put on Brother Lee's speaking by those wanting to justify polluting the Lord's recovery with worldliness.
Brother Benjamin concluded by saying that to use Brother Lee's short speaking to justify going back to the worldly practices of Christianity is a serious error. Brother Lee never said this. We have been called out of the degraded system of Christianity to afford the Lord a way to carry out His recovery in a pure way. We seek to cooperate with God for the carrying out of His economy to recover the all-inclusive Christ as our life and everything, the function of all the members according to the God-ordained way, and the proper oneness of the Body of Christ. In order to accomplish this, we must stand apart from the degraded system of Christianity, but at the same time we must be open to, receive, fellowship with, and love all of our fellow believers in Christ, regardless of whether they meet in the local churches or not.
Public v. Private Speaking
The dissenting brother claims that the co-workers emphasize selected parts of Brother Lee's private speaking while neglecting his public speaking. It is wrong to discount Brother Lee's fellowship with his co-workers during the last months of his life. Paul told the elders in Ephesus that he had declared to them the full counsel of God by speaking both publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:27, 20).
Acts 20:27 - For I did not shrink from declaring to you all the counsel of God.
Acts 20:20 - How I did not withhold any of those things that are profitable by not declaring them to you and by not teaching you publicly and from house to house.
Paul did not say his public speakings were profitable, but that his private speakings were less so. Many brothers can testify that what they learned through Brother Lee's private shepherding of them was as valuable as his public teaching.
It is easy to raise questions and make accusations, but the dissenting ones themselves are elusive when it comes to explaining where they stand. They never clearly state what they see as the implications of Brother Lee's fellowship concerning the mistakes made in the past in receiving other believers, nor do they explain their rejection of his charge to be blended with other co-workers and with all of the churches in the Lord's recovery. They consistently distort the speaking of the co-workers in order to condemn them, to mislead the saints, and to avoid dealing with their responsibility in causing the turmoils in the Lord's recovery today.
1The saints should be skeptical of any quotation of a brother's speaking that begins mid-sentence and is filled with elisions. This has been a frequent tactic of those who oppose the ministry of Brother Lee and of the dissenting brothers who seek to discredit the co-workers. In this case, it makes it appear that the comment about being from Brother Lee's message refers to the words "the burden here" rather than to the preceding sentence, which in context it clearly does. This is even more obvious if you listen to the audio tape of the message. What Benson actually said was:
"The last three chapters of Romans"- this is still something in the conference that Brother Lee gave - "The last three chapters of Romans show us the blending and fellowship of the Body life brought forth through the apostle's receiving the believers according to God and Christ in order to demonstrate, show forth, and maintain the oneness of the Body of Christ-14:3; 15:7." [the quoted portion is the outline point on which Benson was speaking]
2In an earlier case a brother associated with this worker excused his misquoting of a co-worker by saying that he did not have the actual audio or video tape available to him. This is a poor excuse. Audio tapes of messages are available from Living Stream Ministry for $4.00. Surely we should expect that a brother claiming some leadership among us would go to the time and expense of purchasing and reviewing a tape before making such serious accusations that are spread worldwide via the Internet.
3 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.