The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research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 article 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here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man – Appendix
A Review of the Controversy
In the past two months Witness Lee and the local churches have responded at great length to the attacks made upon them over the radio and at Melodyland by the Bible Answer Man. They have further made countercharges concerning the erroneous nature of the Bible Answer Man’s research and his faulty, shallow understanding of various passages of Scripture. The Bible Answer Man publicly continues to attack on issues that have already been refuted as if nothing had been said, while refusing to straightly address any points on which he has been challenged, rather leading people into sidetracked discussions on various irrelevant issues. The result is that it is very hard for the public to remember what the source of the dispute was, what the issues really were, and what has actually been proven. For this reason we present the following synopsis of the dispute that has aroused so much public interest.
According to the Bible Answer Man, this controversy began as his defense against the attack of the local churches. Let’s look at the facts.
In mid-1975 associates of the Bible Answer Man and Melodyland began to publicly harass Witness Lee and the local churches. With the endorsement of the Bible Answer Man, they printed literature to warn people against the local churches, and spread reports of the church’s so-called heretical teachings that they had constructed from their superficial research. Several seminars were held to disseminate their views, and they even came to the meetings of the churches, distributed their literature, met people, and warned them against being in the local churches. With inquisition-like fervor people were called and warned about the local churches. Others were given late night visits by these crusaders who spent hours to frighten and intimidate people against the churches. The attitude of the associates of the Bible Answer Man was definitely not that of researchers looking for truth, neither was it an attitude of brothers in Christ wishing to discuss doctrinal differences. This kind of public attack was carried on for two years, at least twice finding its way to radio broadcast.
Meanwhile little was done by the local churches beyond patient enduring and prayers for those who persecuted us. With time the attack became worse, and we realized that the more these things were allowed to go on, the bolder and more fallacious the attacks became. In the Bible Answer Man’s own words, our silence was construed as consent. It should be noted that from the beginning there was on the part of our opposers an attitude of pre-determined guilt that precluded any real discussion of facts. Any encounter with them was not on the level of researchers looking for truth, but rather of zealots looking for more stones to throw.
In spite of the repeated attacks against us in Orange County and spreading across the U.S.A., including the issuing of a tract endorsed by the Bible Answer Man, we did nothing until the Bible Answer Man himself scheduled a talk against the local churches in Anaheim. In February, 1977, the local churches made official protest to the Bible Answer Man at Faith Lutheran Church. There, challenged for the first time, the Bible Answer Man apologized to Witness Lee and agreed to suspend the tract that he had endorsed, until further research could be done.
After promising not to circulate one piece of defamatory literature, his staff merely replaced it with another, and the attack continued unabated, including further radio broadcasts specifically to condemn the local churches. Finally the Bible Answer Man himself publicly attacked and condemned Witness Lee and the local churches in a meeting at Melodyland before 4,000 people and has sent the tape of that meeting all over the U.S.A.
In spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Bible Answer Man has the audacity to say that he was merely defending himself and his church against the attacks of the local church. There is no way before man or God that he can prove the truth of that statement. We never had a meeting to publicly criticize him or Melodyland. Let him try to produce one piece of literature or cite one meeting that we had concerning him personally or Melodyland in spite of the numerous attacks made by him and his associates over the last three years. Only when he made a public condemnation of Witness Lee and the local churches at Melodyland did we respond to publish the truth for the sake of the public.
In the local churches we do not hesitate on occasion to point out according to God’s Word the unrighteous, divisive and worldly practices that exist in Christianity today. This is done in principle and the application to specific situations is left up to the conscience of the individual. If the consciences of the Bible Answer Man and Melodyland are now troubled, this is one matter; but they cannot show that we ever attacked or condemned them specifically. Neither can they use this as an excuse to specifically and viciously attack by name other members of the Body of Christ.
Regardless of how he tries to justify himself, the responsibility for the start of this public dispute lies in the specific, purposeful, and prolonged attack of the Bible Answer Man and his associates on Witness Lee and the local churches. The responsibility for any damage done to the Lord’s Body on this account rests squarely on their shoulders.
The Changing Nature of the Dispute
It is not surprising that the public is confused about the nature of the whole dispute. This is due to the way the nature of the controversy has changed in the past few months.
Up until the time the Bible Answer Man was challenged by the local church in February, 1977, he and his associates attacked the local churches as a non-Christian cult. They lumped it together with such ignoble groups as Hare Krishna and Sun Moon’s Unification Church. Thus through guilt-by-association the churches were slandered as being non-Christian. Although at times they admitted that some were really saved, their early thrust was to portray the churches as non-Christian.
Only when the Bible Answer Man is pressed does he change his manner of speaking. On this point the Bible Answer Man has gradually backtracked over the past months. Not wanting to contradict his own research staff, he will not make a definite admission of this change of position, but the fact is there. In the course of the last months’ debate he has moved from the early portrait of us as a non-Christian cult to his present label of “divisive members of the Body of Christ” or “confused Christians.” This move in position is not easy to note because the Bible Answer Man, while affirming we are still Christians and not a cult, uses the term “cultic” and freely uses the ploy of association with non-Christian groups. Thus, while he is forced to speak the truth, he takes every opportunity to malign Witness Lee and the local churches.
So now it is no longer the pursuit of a cult – but a fight against other members of the Body of Christ. The more this fact is made clear to the public, the more ‘the great cult fighter’ and his supporters shrink back in embarrassment at their manifold efforts to beat down, in the name of cultic research, a little group of Christians with whom they do not agree. The self-proclaimed defender of the faith now becomes the divider of the Body of Christ as he publicly fights with other Christians over points not sufficient to put them outside of the faith. Let the Bible Answer Man explain to the public why he has thus used his reputation to slander people he knows are his brothers in Christ.
It seems a man who is reputed to be an expert on comparative religions should have given a more accurate report to the public at the beginning. Didn’t he realize from the beginning the scope of what he was doing – or did he just hope he wouldn’t get caught? The more the facts are aired before the public, the more the real situation becomes clear; this is why the Bible Answer Man has attempted to bring this controversy to a close.
The False Claims
In spite of patient and detailed rebuttal of every major point of the Bible Answer Man’s attack, he continues to make the same charges as if he has not read the rebuttals, or else does not care about them. One thing is certain: he does not care to let the public read the rebuttals for themselves and thus does not tell the public of the detailed responses that have been made to every charge. As comprehensive response has already been made, each false claim will merely be listed here with the literature already written to refute it. This literature is available to anyone from Living Stream Ministry, 1853 W. Ball Road, Anaheim, CA 92804.
- The false claim that we hold a modalistic view of the Trinity.
- The false claims concerning the mingling of God with man and man partaking of the divine nature.
- The false claim that we believe that the church has become the fourth member of the Godhead.
- The false claim that we have altered or added to the text of Scripture in the Recovery Version of different books of the Bible.
- The false claim that we believe only those meeting with us are the members of the church.
- The false claim that we use our views to cause division in the Body of Christ.
- The false claim that we are engaged in “proselytizing” and “sheep-stealing.”
- The false claim that pray-reading God’s Word is “sound and fury signifying nothing.”
“A Reply to the Tract Against Witness Lee and the local churches,” by Gene Ford.
“Modalism, Tritheism, or the Pure Revelation of the Triune God According to the Bible,” by Ron Kangas.
“The Triune God: A Testimony of Our Belief and Experience,” by Ron Kangas.
“The Clear Scriptural Revelation Concerning the Triune God,” by Witness Lee.
“The Revelation of the Triune God According to the Pure Word of the Bible,” by Witness Lee.
“What a Heresy—Two Divine Fathers, Two Life-giving Spirits, and Three Gods!” by Witness Lee.
Reprints from The Register: October 8, 15, 22, 29, November 5, December 3, 1977.
There are a few points of attack in which the Bible Answer Man has not neglected the response of the local churches and has had a change of opinion.
In the early weeks following his Melodyland lecture, on his call-in program, the Bible Answer Man adamantly insisted that the Lord in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is that Spirit,” referred to the Father. When pressed by the obvious meaning of the context, he admitted that the Lord there could refer to Jesus Christ. He has yet to see that the obvious way to interpret this verse is with the verses of the same writer in the same book (1 Cor. 3:14-4:5) rather than to interpret by another verse, in another book, by another author (John 4:24).
A further example of the progressive enlightening of the Bible Answer Man is his evolving interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:45. At first he denied that Christ could be the life-giving Spirit in resurrection, thus denying the obvious meaning of the verse. His reason was that Christ in resurrection was a man with flesh and bones, seated at God’s right hand, to which the local churches in word and print have agreed. In the course of further questioning on the meaning of the phrase, “The last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving Spirit,” he interpreted it to mean that Christ in incarnation was made a life-giving Spirit. When asked about the apparent problem of Christ being a man in incarnation and at the same time a life-giving Spirit, he failed to see any problem. In other words, while criticizing the churches for saying Christ is the Spirit while He is also a man, he himself said the same thing. He maintains that for him to say Christ is a man at the same time He is a Spirit is proper, but for the local churches to say He is a Spirit at the same time He is a man is not. Temporarily disregarding his dubious interpretation of this verse, he has at least admitted that Christ did become a life-giving Spirit. However he still has a big problem in that he maintains that this Spirit is different from the Holy Spirit. As the Bible Answer Man now has two life-giving Spirits, it seems more education is needed.
Several weeks ago the Bible Answer Man announced that he would take no more calls from people in the local churches. In stopping the questions, the Bible Answer Man begged a truce in the asking of questions which he could not answer. There still remains before the public a great many questions that he has not answered in relation to his attack upon the local churches. Although he claims to be a biblical authority, his manifested inability to prove the scriptural validity and intellectual integrity of his work casts a heavy shadow over all he has said. Among the unanswered questions are:
- He made the serious charge that Witness Lee and the local churches changed the text of the Bible. Certainly a man that is a scholar would have thoroughly documented such a charge. However, the Bible Answer Man has never produced one verse as proof of this charge in spite of repeated requests. He sidetracked the discussion for weeks to one footnote which he disagreed with. After it was proven that the reputed scholar J. N. Darby had a nearly identical note, the Bible Answer Man produced another edition of Darby’s translation with essentially the same note, claiming Darby had changed his mind. All this diversion drew the attention away from the fact that he cannot produce one verse to support his allegation.
- The Bible Answer Man changed the word “Father” in Isaiah 9:6 to “source.” The same word is used over one thousand times in the Old Testament, every time translated “father.” Why did the Bible Answer Man take the presumptuous step of changing it in this one instance? The plain fact is that he cannot explain it without altering it. He realizes once he admits the word “father,” he cannot escape the inevitable conclusion that Isaiah 9:6 says the Son is the Father.
- In a similar way, why has he done his best to change the obvious straightforward meaning of 2 Corinthians 3:17, as previously mentioned in this article? Why does he twist the plain teaching of this passage?
- He cannot explain the nature of the union of the believer with the Lord to form “one spirit” in 1 Corinthians 6:17.
- He cannot explain how Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:45 as the life-giving Spirit could be different from the Holy Spirit, who also gives life, in 2 Corinthians 3:6.
- He cannot affirm Christ Himself living in the believer, but rather says that Christ is represented in the believer by another Person.
- He cannot justify the isolation of various quotes of Witness Lee from their context to make them say what was never meant.
- He cannot justify his mocking perversion of our Christian practices of pray-reading God’s Word and calling on the name of our dear Lord, making them seem cultic and mindless.
Although the Bible Answer Man would like to put this dispute to rest, he cannot. He has publicly attacked a group of his fellow believers, slandered them, misrepresented them, and in general has deceived the Christian public. The more things are brought into the light, the more this is made clear. Surely he should not now try to cover his wrong; rather he should apologize and repair the damage he has done. This is his responsibility.
A Theologian’s Judgment
In an article in The Register of October 15, 1977, entitled, “A Further Response by Witness Lee and local churches to a Recent Meeting Held at Melodyland,” a current biblical theologian, Dr. Hendrikus Berkhof, was quoted. Dr. Berkhof is an esteemed professor at the University of Leyden in Holland, and has recently authored a book entitled The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (John Knox Press), from which he was quoted. On October 15, 1977, upon publication of the quotation, the Bible Answer Man on his radio program called Dr. Berkhof “a Sabellian,” an “heretical theologian,” and labeled his teaching “absolutely heretical.” A letter was then written by one of the members of the churches to Dr. Berkhof in Holland, enclosing a transcript of the Bible Answer Man’s remarks concerning him. The following letter was received from him in response, and we have his kind permission to publish it.
Leyden, November 24, 1977
Dear Mr. Mixon,
I read your letter with great interest. I was fully unaware of my theological role and (good or bad) fame in California!
What I dislike most in Professor Martin’s presentation is the fact that he sticks on labels like ‘Sabellianism’ without explaining them, and accuses a man as heretical without quoting him. On first view, I would have guessed that he is an old-fashioned Catholic, for whom tradition is more decisive than Scripture. At any rate, he makes no attempt to go into the arguments about the explanation of 2 Corinthians 3:17.
What may be true in his indignation is the fact that I am dissatisfied with the traditional presentation of the Trinity. In many so-called orthodox presentations, it is more Tritheism (three Gods) than Trinity (one God). In my last chapter I wrestled to find a better expression, according to the N.T. and the Early Fathers. Whether I succeeded or failed, can never be decided by mere accusations, only by careful arguments. At any rate I am not a Sabellian, because I never believed in three ‘successive’ ‘masks.’ I speak (with Marcellus of Ancyra) of extension, not of succession.
May God bless your further thinking about His mysteries!
A Third Party’s Voice
The following letter was sent to Walter Martin by a Christian from Long Beach who is not meeting with the local churches. She sent a copy to us, and we have her permission to publish it.
To: Mr. Walter Martin
Standing in a fairly unbiased position in the matter concerning the subject of Walter Martin and Melodyland vs. Witness Lee and the local churches, I feel it my responsibility before the Lord and all the brothers and sisters in Christ to speak out.
I personally have quite a few close friends who are dear saints in the Lord and meet with the local churches. I myself do not attend, although I do occasionally dine with them and attend a few meetings with them. I have always had a rich time of fellowship in prayer and in the Word with them. My background is modest in the Christian Theology of today, but I did complete a year of Bible School from a small non-denominational school in New England. I believe this school presented a wide variety of Christian Theology of past and present in an unbiased way. As a result of this education, I feel I can fairly accurately understand biblical principles. I also studied Greek, and I am familiar with the principle of searching the entire Scripture to arrive at an unbiased and true-to-the-original-text opinion on biblical truths.
On October 2, 1977, my husband attended the meeting at Melodyland, as we are both interested in hearing constructive teaching concerning the local churches.
On October 7,1977, I attended the meeting in Anaheim held by Witness Lee and the local churches. In this meeting different brothers from the local churches point by point refuted each accusation that you made against the churches in your meeting of October 2. At this time they also charged you to either prove specifically where they are wrong or apologize for your error.
Being, Mr. Martin, that you have blatantly taken the first step in starting this controversy, in which you have condemned and defamed the word and character of this brother in the Lord, I think it is your responsibility to vindicate your name or else vindicate theirs.
I think that you, Mr. Martin, have a very strong gift of speech, but I do question how much knowledge and documentation you and your Christian Research Institute have against this group. I believe that it is only fair to the Christian public that you back up your accusations with tangible proof, not just fancy speaking.
I have personally read many of the “Recovery” versions of the Bible. Because of my basic background in Christian Theology and the New Testament Greek language, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I am led to believe that this version is a most clear and concise translation of the original Greek text. I do not consider myself to be an expert in this subject. If you can produce strong scriptural proof contrary to my insight, I would honestly take it to the Lord in the Word, with an open spirit.
I pray sincerely that each side would conduct themselves in a manner worthy of Christian love. Although, at this point in time, I do believe that it is your responsibility to the Lord and to the entire Christian public to honestly confront the issues at hand by reaching a mutual agreement with Witness Lee and the local churches, or to stop immediately all the unwarranted attacks which you have conducted recently. Further slandering of this brother and the churches will not only help confuse and confound yourself as well as the Christian public, but will form further schism in the Body of Christ.
Sincerely in our beloved Christ,