In the 1970s, many evangelicals became concerned by the incursion of Eastern religions into Western society, particularly on the college campuses in America. The modern countercult movement emerged as a part of evangelical Christianity’s response to combat this perceived threat. The leading apologetics ministry was the Christian Research Institute (CRI), then headed by the late Walter Martin. In the mid-1970s some young researchers associated with CRI were tasked with assessing the teachings of Witness Lee and the local churches. At the time, due to a variety of reasons, these researchers failed to grasp the truths that Witness Lee was teaching and decided that his teaching was either confused or heretical. When their criticisms became public in speaking and in print, members of the local churches responded by writing a series of articles to defend the teachings and practices criticized by CRI. Over the course of the next 25 years there were several attempts to establish more profitable dialogue between CRI and representatives of Living Stream Ministry (LSM) and of the local churches. Because of various circumstances, these attempts failed and the public stance of CRI remained critical of Witness Lee and the local churches.
In 2003, Living Stream Ministry and the local churches embarked on a new dialogue with representatives of CRI, two of whom had been key participants in the earlier research. To their credit, the CRI staff quickly recognized the need to reassess their previous research. With their broader and deeper understanding of truths such as the economic and essential Trinity, the coinherence of the Three of the divine Trinity, and the extent of God’s complete salvation, they drew entirely new conclusions. They concluded that the local churches represent “an authentic expression of New Testament Christianity.”
As a result of this reassessment, CRI withdrew its earlier criticisms of Witness Lee and the local churches. Three participants in these dialogues—Hank Hanegraaff, current President of CRI; Elliot Miller, editor-in-chief of the Christian Research Journal; and Gretchen Passantino, co-founder and director of Answers in Action (AIA) and research and author for the early CRI publications on Witness Lee and the local churches—each made public statements that CRI’s earlier findings were erroneous. The following sources contain some of their statements:
- “Apologetics Conclusions Reconsidered… A Case in Point: The Local Churches & Living Stream Ministry,” a statement by Gretchen Passantino.
- A foreword to The Local Churches: “Genuine Believers and Fellow Members of the Body of Christ” written by Hank Hanegraaff. This book also contains “The Local Churches: a Genuine Christian Movement,” by Gretchen Passantino.
- An issue of the Christian Research Journal dedicated to CRI’s reassessment of the teachings of Witness Lee and the local churches which on its cover declares: “We Were Wrong“. This issue contains Elliot Miller’s extensive analysis of the biblical basis and theological grounding of Witness Lee’s teachings on the nature of God and the nature of man. Elliot Miller’s article also examines the the standing of the local churches and the reasons behind their appeal to the courts for relief from libelous accusations. This issue of the Christian Research Journal also contains unequivocal statements by Hank Hanegraaff and Gretchen Passantino concerning the orthodoxy of the faith professed and practiced by the local churches.
In addition, Hank Hanegraaff has dedicated several broadcasts of his Bible Answer Man radio program to CRI’s reassessment of the teachings of Living Stream Ministry and the local churches, including interviews with Elliot Miller, Gretchen Passantino, and representatives of LSM and the churches. Two of these broadcasts—from January 5 and 6, 2010—are available in their entirety on a CD from CRI. Excerpts from those broadcasts are available on YouTube.