The Local Church is a term referring to the religious organization based on the teachings of its Chinese founder, Witness Lee (1905-1997). They adopt no public name and among themselves use only the terms "Lord's recovery"
or "local churches" as descriptions of what they are, not official designations. Local groups legally incorporate under the term "The Church in" followed by the official name of the municipality and can be found in phone books thus.
While the "local church" teaches that the Bible is God inspired, generally only the Recovery Version is used in their meetings, along with other publications from the Living Stream Ministry. The Recovery Version, a study Bible, includes outlines,
cross-references and extensive footnotes written by Witness Lee on almost every page. A main principle of interpretation used by Witness Lee and reflected in the footnotes is to use the Bible to interpret the Bible.
Christian writers and watchdog organizations view the teachings of this group as departing from Christian
orthodoxy, although its adherents contend they are merely misunderstood and quoted out of context. The essential teaching of the group is Witness Lee's doctrine of
mingling, which is usually defended with a saying borrowed from
Athanasius, "God became man that man could become God." Witness Lee argued that believers would become God himself, using Psalm 82:6, "Ye are Gods," in support. However, Athanasius intended that the true
Christian was being restored to the image of God — as God originally created man in the garden of Eden — that is, each Christian is one soul of breath and dust, spirit and flesh (Gen. 2:7) glorifying
Adherents of The Local Church claim its beginning in the teachings of Christian teacher and author, Watchman Nee (1903-1972) who ministered in China, and whose followers were called by some western missionaries "The Little Flock" (the name of
their hymnal). In 1952 he was imprisoned for his faith and he remained in prison until his death in 1972. While Watchman Nee was in prison on mainland China, he never corroborated Lee's claims that he had been Nee's coworker or was his successor
to the leadership of the Little Flock.
In 1962, Witness Lee came to the United States claiming to bring the teachings of Watchman Nee. It was in the U.S. that Lee's followers subsequently became known as "The Local Church" or "The Lord's Recovery." Much controversy
derived from Lee's leadership and peculiar teachings.
In keeping with their unofficial designation, they believe and teach that local churches include all of the believers in their respective cities. All the adherents, and only adherents, in a given city comprise "the local church" in that city,and
all Christians meeting elsewhere are apostate.
Witness Lee taught that his adherents could be changed from man to God through a process he called mingling. As the process took place, the two natures of man and God would mix together, producing a God-man hybrid like Jesus, according to Lee.
This teaching is usually justified by a saying of
Athanasius of Alexandria, an
early church father, that "God became man that man could become God."
In point of fact however, Athanasius specifically ruled out the possibility of mingling the natures of God and man in Jesus Christ. For example, regarding Jesus Christ the
Athanasian Creed reads,
Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, sed unitate personae, meaning "One altogether, not by mingling of the natures, but by the unity of Person." Confusione (< Latin confundere) literally means "pouring
together, mixing, mingling; joining together,"^
^ which is exactly the way that Witness Lee defines his doctrine of "mingling".^
Thus ironically, Athanasius refuted the doctrine of mingling as dangerously heretical as early as the 4th century.
"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 come 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)." ^^
Etymology of confused.
- ? Witness Lee,
One Body, One Spirit, and One New Man, (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1992), 8-9.
- ? Witness Lee, Christ as the Reality, (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1982), 115-116.
The Local Church at Watchman Fellowship, Index of Cults and Religions. Retrieved 12/28/2009.
Official Local Church websites