Publishing Group Endorses Controversial Church

But cult-watchers still cautious about some of group's doctrines

A controversial group known as the Local Church -- which has been accused of being a cult in recent decades -- has been endorsed by the nation's most influential Christian publishers' association.

The group's publishing arm, Living Stream Ministry (LSM) of Anaheim, Calif., distributes books written by one of the founders of the Local Church, Witness Lee, who died in 1997.

After years of complaints about some of its doctrines, LSM has been granted membership in the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), president Doug Ross confirmed last month.

As part of that process, LSM signed the ECPA's statement of faith. LSM says the move is more proof that Lee's doctrines are sound, and critics and cult-watchers are either misinformed or are jealous of the Local Church's growth. LSM is a longtime member of the Christian Booksellers Association as well.

But critics say LSM has never refuted Lee's questionable definition of the Trinity, which some say is heretical modalism, nor Lee's own statements about the exclusivity of the Local Church as the one true church.

LSM denies belief in modalism, claims belief in the widely accepted orthodox Trinity doctrine and denies that the Local Church does not recognize other churches or denominations as legitimate members of the body of Christ, according to spokesperson Chris Wilde.

"Modalism says that the Father became the Son and ceased to be the Father, and that the Spirit became the Son and ceased to be the Spirit. We do not teach that. That is heresy," Wilde said.

Wilde also denied that the Local Church's habit of naming local congregations after the city of its location -- such as the Local Church of Los Angeles -- translates to a declaration that the Local Church is the only true church in that city, as critics charge.

The term "Local Church" is still used because it is closer to the biblical admonition for believers to work in unity and avoid divisions, Wilde said. "We don't believe we're the only true believers or the only legitimate church in a city."

Lee was an associate of Watchman Nee (1903-1972), a Chinese evangelist who founded the Local Church in 1927. Nee's works are more widely accepted as doctrinally sound in mainstream circles. Lee brought the Local Church movement to the United States in the 1960s.

Ross said his staff met with LSM officials on several occasions "because we knew that there are people who would be carrying ideas about Living Stream that are carry-overs from days gone by." The LSM officials "eagerly signed our statement of faith and answered all of our questions satisfactorily," Ross said.

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."

Wilde said LSM greatly desired an open dialogue with evangelicals in order to further the work of founder Watchman Nee and his successor Lee. "There is a resurgence in the Watchman Nee ministry today, because it really calls believers into a deeper experience of Christ," he said. "We have a contribution to make. We're not saying we have all the answers. We are trying to break this [public image] boundary, no question about it."

Editor's notes:

Copyright 2000 Strang Communications

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