The Truth Concerning Salvation
This booklet was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of the Christian Research Institute (CRI). CRI has since withdrawn its criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this booklet is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
Table of Contents
The Christian Research Institute (CRI) has published a booklet entitled The Teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church. Because this booklet contains many false accusations and presents a distorted picture of what Witness Lee and the local churches believe and practice, it is necessary for the Christian public to be given an opportunity to know the truth. This article is one of a series in which false accusations made by CRI are refuted.
The Accusation Regarding Calling and Believing
According to the false accusations of the CRI writers, Witness Lee teaches that “salvation is simply and only a matter of calling on the name of the Lord” (p.9). They accuse us of teaching that salvation does not have anything “to do with the belief of the individual, but just with the words he says.” The CRI claims that we say, “All that is necessary for salvation is that one say ‘Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord.’ Nothing else is necessary.” The conclusion of their so-called research concerning this point is that we in the local churches teach that it is not necessary to believe in order to be saved.
This accusation is based on a paragraph from an article in The Stream magazine (February, 1970, p.6). Here is the relevant passage:
We have seen that to reach the unbelievers, no preaching is necessary. If we help them to say “O Lord” three times, they will be saved. If they open the window, the air will get in. All they have to do is open their mouths and say, “O Lord, O Lord.” Even if they have no intention of believing, still they will be caught! Regardless of whether they have the intention or not, as long as they open the window, the air will get in. It is not a matter of teaching; it is a matter of touching the seven Spirits of God.
According to the CRI researchers, this isolated excerpt is sufficient to prove that the teaching of Witness Lee and the local churches concerning salvation is that a person only needs to say the words “O Lord” without believing anything. They go on to argue that, according to the Bible, the “belief that all who say ‘Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord,’ regardless of belief, will be saved is not true” (p. 10). It is significant that the CRI writers base this accusation on an isolated portion of Witness Lee’s writings taken out of its context; they ignore many other relevant writings of Witness Lee on this subject.
The Burning Fire and the Flowing Water
Let us consider the passage quoted above. In doing so, we need to pay careful attention to the whole context of the article from which this paragraph is taken so that it can be understood according to the writer’s aim and intention. The article is a message entitled, “The Burning Fire and Flowing Water,” the fifth in a series of messages on “The Seven Spirits for the Local Churches.” The first four messages cover the intensified Spirit, God’s revelation and God’s recovery, the four visions in Revelation, and the eating and drinking of Christ in the local churches. In the message, “The Burning Fire and the flowing Water,” Witness Lee points out that in the book of Revelation the throne is mentioned a number of times, that according to Revelation 4:5 “there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,” and that according to 22:1 the river of water of life proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. The central point in this message is the experience of the fire and the water. Witness Lee points out that the “Spirit is both the burning fire and the flowing water” (p.3). He says that when we come to Revelation, we do not meet doctrine, but we meet the throne with the fire and the water. “The fire is to burn us, and the water is to supply us. On the one hand, we need to be burned, and on the other, we need to be supplied and watered” (p.3). He also tells us that we “need continually to touch the throne” to be burned and watered. He goes on to say, “If we would come to the throne of God and say, ‘O Lord, O Lord, O Lord,’ the seven Spirits of God will burn and flow within us” (p.6). The article concludes with these words: “Let us all open ourselves to the Spirit to be really burned and watered that the Lord may have a free way among us in the local churches” (p.6). Thus, in this message Witness Lee’s intention is not to present teaching concerning the way of salvation; it is to underscore our urgent need to experience the Spirit as the burning fire and flowing water.
After giving the example of a young man who was saved by contacting the living Spirit, Witness Lee applies the experience of the Spirit as the fire and the water to the matter to bringing unbelievers to the Lord. This is where he says that preaching is not necessary to reach unbelievers, for they can be saved simply by opening to the Lord and touching the seven Spirits of God by calling on the Lord’s name. If they open the “window” of their being, the “air” of the Spirit will come in. The purpose of this illustration and application is not to cover in an exhaustive way our belief concerning salvation; it is to point out that our need today is not mere doctrine, but living contact with the burning and flowing Spirit of God.
The Crucial Importance of Believing
Notice that Witness Lee does not say that it is unnecessary to believe in the Lord Jesus in order to be saved. That is the unwarranted conclusion drawn by the CRI writers. As we shall see, Witness Lee strongly and emphatically states elsewhere that believing in Christ and His redemptive work is necessary for salvation. Here he simply says that people can be caught by the Lord “even if they have no intention of believing.” To be sure, such a statement cannot reasonably be denied. Did Saul of Tarsus intend to believe in the Lord Jesus when he was on the way to Damascus? Certainly not! Although he had no intention to believe in the Lord, he came in contact with Him, spontaneously called on Him, and, through his experience of personally meeting the risen Christ, came to believe in Him wholeheartedly. Through the Lord’s sovereign mercy, a good number of unbelievers have been brought to Christ, even though they were neither willing to believe in Him nor able to do so. By coming into living contact with the resurrected Christ, they believed into Him and were joined to Him in faith. How far-reaching is God’s grace in His salvation!
The CRI writers make the mistake of assuming that we in the local churches do not believe all that the Bible says with respect to salvation. They have, of course, no ground for this assumption. We know very well the verses which speak of believing in the Lord, and we accept them and teach them without reservation. We strongly assert that a person must believe in the Lord Jesus in order to be saved, regenerated, and receive eternal life. Our position on this matter is every bit as strong as that of any other Christians, if not stronger. For some reason, however, the CRI researchers ignore what Witness Lee has written on the importance of believing, even though this material has been publicly available for years. The excerpts below are taken from message nine of the Life-study of John. Concerning man’s need to be saved from condemnation by believing in the Son of God, Witness Lee declares:
What is the way for us to be regenerated? How can we receive regeneration? In verses 15, 16, 18, and 36 [of John 3] the Lord said, “that every one who believes in Him may have eternal life”; “that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”; “he who believes in Him is not judged”; “he whobelieves in the Son has eternal life.” These emphatic words spoken repeatedly by the Lord tell us clearly and definitely that the way for us to be saved and regenerated is simply to believe in the Lord. To believe is the only way for us to receive salvation and regeneration. It is absolutely a matter of faith. Regardless of how much we can work or how good our work may be, we cannot be saved and regenerated by our work. Our work does not count in this matter. Only faith counts. Salvation and regeneration must be by faith. It is by faith in the Lord, by believing in the Lord, that we receive the forgiveness, the release from God’s condemnation negatively. It is also by faith, by believing in the Lord, that we receive eternal life, the divine life of God, positively for our regeneration. The Lord has accomplished the redemptive work for us. By His redemptive death on the cross, He has met all of God’s righteous demands on us and has fulfilled all the requirements of God’s righteousness, holiness, and glory for us. … We do not need to do anything except believe in what the Lord has accomplished…. There is no need of our work, only of faith in His finished, completed, and all-inclusive redemptive work…. It is by the way of believing in the Lord with His all-inclusive redemptive work that we receive God’s life and are born of Him to be His sons (italics added).
Is this not a clear statement about the crucial importance of believing in the Lord? In the same message Witness Lee goes on to speak of receiving the Lord and believing into Him:
To believe in the Lord means to receive Him (John 1:12). The Lord is receivable. He is now the life-giving Spirit, with His complete redemption, waiting for and expecting us to receive Him. Our spirit is the receiving organ. We can receive the Lord’s Spirit into our spirit by believing in Him. Once we believe in Him, He as the Spirit, enters into our spirit. Then we are regenerated by Him, the life-giving Spirit, and become one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17). The phrase “believes in” in verses 16, 18, and 36 literally translated should be “believes into Him.” When we believe in the Lord, we believe into Him. By believing in Him, we get into Him to be one with Him, to partake of Him, and to participate in all that He has accomplished for us. By believing into Him, we are identified with Him in all that He is and in all that He has passed through, accomplished, attained, and obtained. As we become one with Him by believing into Him, we are saved and regenerated by Him as life. It is by believing into Him that we partake of Him as life and are regenerated in Him (italics added).
There can be no doubt that Witness Lee clearly teaches the necessity of believing in Christ in order to be saved.
Although we emphasize the urgent need for sinners to be brought into direct contact with Christ, this by no means suggests that we regard it unnecessary to believe in Christ’s Person and redemptive work. Surely the fair-minded reader of both the CRI booklet and this refutation will admit that when our writings are considered as a whole objectively and without bias (as researchers are supposed to do), it will be clear that we teach that for a person to be saved he must both believe in the Lord and contact Him by praying or by calling on His name. Therefore, the accusation that we teach that belief is not necessary for salvation is false.
What We Believe and Teach Regarding Salvation
We in the local churches believe and teach that eternal salvation is obtained through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our belief and teaching are absolutely according to the Bible. The basis of our salvation is not man’s works; it is God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; Acts 15:11). The foundation of our salvation is the very Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He Himself, and no other, is the Savior (Acts 13:23; Luke 2:11). In fact, Jesus means “Jehovah the Savior.” Matthew 1:21 declares, “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” In John 10:9 the Lord Jesus says, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” According to Acts 4:12, “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” We can be saved only because the Lord Jesus “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
The way of salvation is by faith (Eph. 2:8). In Luke 7:50 the Lord Jesus said to the woman who washed His feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” According to Paul’s word in Romans 1:16, the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” For this reason, Paul and Silas told the jailer in Philippi, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). Our believing in the Lord Jesus should be accompanied by calling on His name (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13) and by confessing. Furthermore, according to Romans 10:9 and 10, we need to believe in our hearts that God has raised Christ from the dead, for “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”
The result of God’s marvelous salvation is that we have forgiveness of sins (Matt. 1:21), redemption from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13), deliverance from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10), the transfer out of the authority of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (Col. 1:13), and deliverance “from this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4). As a result of God’s salvation, we also have eternal life. We have passed out of death into life (John 5:24).
As saved ones, we may now have the assurance that we are saved. First John 5:13 says that we who have believed on the name of the Son of God may know that we have eternal life; 1 John 3:14, that we may know that we have passed from death unto life; and 1 John 5:19, that we can know that we are of God. According to Romans 8:16, the Spirit Himself bears wit-ness with our spirit that we are children of God. Therefore, we may have the sweet in-ward assurance that we are saved and that through regeneration we are children of God.
Furthermore, we may have the security of our salvation, the certainty that once we are saved, we are saved forever. God’s salvation is eternal. It is secured by God’s will (Eph. 1:5), which remains forever; by His selection (Eph. 1:4), which was made before the foundation of the world; and by His calling (Rom. 9:11), which is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). It is also secured by the love of God (1 John 4:10) and the grace of God (2 Tim. 1:9). Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). God’s eternal salvation is secured by His righteousness (Rom. 1:16-17), His covenant (Heb. 8:8-13, Psa. 89:34), His power (John 10:29, Psa. 89:13), and by the unchangeable God Himself (James 1:17). Salvation is also made secure by the eternal redemption of Christ (Heb. 9:12), by he power of Christ (John 10:28-29), and by the promise of Christ (John 6:37). All God’s children may have the faith to believe that His salvation is eternal. Praise Him for this wonderful salvation!
Calling on the Name of the Lord
It is rather strange that the CRI booklet makes no reference to the New Testament verses which tell us plainly that we can be saved by calling on the name of the Lord. Yes, we certainly encourage unbelievers to contact the Lord by calling on His name. Acts 2:21 says, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We believe this verse means exactly what it says. Because the Spirit has been poured upon all flesh (Acts 2:17) and is waiting for the opportunity to regenerate sinners, people can be saved by calling on the Lord. Saul of Tarsus zealously sought to bind those who called on the Lord’s name (Acts 9:14). However, when the risen Lord appeared to him, he spontaneously said, “Who art thou, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Later, at the instruction of Ananias, Saul was baptized, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). In the book of Romans Paul said unequivocally that the Lord is rich to all who call upon Him and that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (10:12-13).
A Cry to God from the Heart
Watchman Nee has pointed out that “a cry to God from the heart is sufficient” for one to touch the Lord and be saved. In What Shall This Man Do? (p.45) he says concerning this:
In the words of Joel, quoted by Peter: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How is this possible? Because God has fulfilled the other promise (quoted by Peter from the same prophecy) that: “I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17, 21). Because the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon all mankind, a cry is enough.
Then he goes on to refer to Romans 10 and to point out that
The Holy Spirit is like the light. Open the window-shutters even a little, and it will flood in and illumine the interior. Let there be but a cry from the heart to God, and at that moment the Spirit will enter and begin His transforming work of conviction and repentance and faith-the miracle of new birth.
Salvation is not first and foremost a method or a thing—it is a Person, God Himself in Christ. In the words of Isaiah 12:2, “Behold, God is my salvation. . . . the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” David declares this: “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Psa. 27:1). In Psalm 62:2, he says of God, “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Since salvation is a Person, the Triune God Himself as life and everything to us, we experience this salvation through a living, personal contact with Him. Looking upon the child Jesus, whom he held in his arms, Simeon exclaimed, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke 2:30). Simeon knew that this was the fulfillment of the promise “that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). To see the Lord’s Christ is to see God’s salvation. Because salvation is a wonderful Person and involves a living contact between us and this Person, the Lord Jesus said to Zaccheus, “This day is salvation come to this house” (Luke 19:9). Zaccheus received not only certain eternal benefits through God’s boundless grace; he received a marvelous Person—the Lord Jesus Christ.
Watchman Nee was one who knew well that in preaching the gospel our first object must be to lead people to the Lord Himself. In the book What Shall This Man Do? he says, “The main question is whether or not we have the Son, and not, first of all, whether or not we understand the whole plan of salvation. The first condition of salvation is not knowledge, but meeting Christ” (pp.39-40). In the same chapter, entitled “Catching Men,” he goes on to say, “I have come to see that all that is needed for the initial step is that there should be a personal touch with God” (p.40). Watchman Nee points out that a person’s greatest “need is to see the Lord Jesus Himself, and to meet Him and to ‘touch’ Him” (p.43). “Salvation is not initially a question of knowledge,” he says, “but of ‘touch.’ All who touch the Lord receive life” (p.42). Watchman Nee learned that in bringing others to Christ, to convince them of certain points is not the first thing. The first thing is to bring them into direct contact with the Lord. He observes, “Salvation is not a question of ‘points’! Salvation is not even a question of under-standing or of will. It is, as we have seen, a question of meeting God—of men coming into first-hand contact with Christ the Saviour.” (p.45).
Our study of the Word of God and our experience over many years confirm Watchman Nee’s testimony that what people need initially is not belief in a body of teachings, nor even certainty as to all the facts concerning how God accomplished redemption through the death of Christ, but a direct, personal touch with the living Christ. He is the Savior, even our very salvation. When people contact Him and believe into Him, they are truly saved. This is our belief, teaching, testimony, and practice concerning the way of salvation.
© Living Stream Ministry. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.