Concerning Christian Practices
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 CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research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here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.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 (Vol. 1)
In a recent meeting at Melodyland in Anaheim, California, a speaker in his attack upon Witness Lee and the local churches referred in a rather mocking way to what he calls the doctrine of releasing the spirit. He mentions that if you were to attend a meeting of the local church, you would find that it would be punctuated with loud exclamations of “O Lord Jesus, Hallelujah, and Praise the Lord!” He goes on to say that a newcomer might think that this was strange, but it is the common practice in the meetings of the local church in what is known as “the doctrine of releasing the spirit.”
Since this speaker has probably never been to a meeting of the local church, I would like to say that his mocking way of describing our meetings is absolutely not true. What is wrong with Christians coming together to praise the Lord and call upon His name? The Bible tells us clearly that we are one spirit with the Lord. “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17). We also know from Romans 8:16 that the Holy Spirit is with our spirit. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Paul even says that the Lord Jesus Himself is with our spirit. “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit” (2 Tim. 4:22). Therefore, we have found in our experience that we need to have our spirit released so that the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit might also be released in our meetings. To us this is not something to be mocked, neither is it a doctrine that we hold. It is simply a practice we enjoy
There are numerous references in the Psalms where the writer cries out, “O Lord!” One of these references is Psalm 130:1: “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” We have found that to call on the name of the Lord is not only scriptural, but also quite effective in contacting the Lord. This is why, as this speaker mockingly mentions, we call, “Lord Jesus,” in our meetings as well as in our daily enjoyment of the Lord. Paul tells us clearly in Romans 10:12 that the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. The word “call” here as well as in other verses concerning calling on the name of the Lord is the Greek word, epikaleo. This word means to call out, to invoke a person by name. W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of the New Testament says that this word means to call upon by way of adoration, making use of the name of the Lord. J. H. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon of the New Testament says that it means to cry out upon, and to call upon by pronouncing the name.
It is quite evident that the early Christians called upon the name of the Lord. The apostle Paul addresses his first Epistle to the Corinthians to “all that in every place call (epikaleo) upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2). When Ananias was told by the Lord to go and lay his hands upon Saul of Tarsus that he might receive his sight, he replied, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call (epikaleo) on thy name” (Acts 9:13-14). It seems from the message that was given at Melodyland that the speaker would like to do the same—to bind all that call on the Lord’s name.
We would like to appeal to all Christians everywhere with a fair conscience. Do we not need to have our spirit released so that the Lord Jesus might be released? We would even ask all Christians with a sincere heart to try calling on the name of the Lord from the depths of their being and see if they are not nourished and strengthened. Just call, “O Lord, O Lord Jesus!” I can testify from my experience as a Christian for over thirty years, and as a seminary graduate, that I have never touched and enjoyed the Lord so much as since I began to call upon Him in this way. Truly He is rich to all that call upon Him.
In a blatant and insulting attack on Witness Lee and the local church last week, a speaker at Melodyland used mockery and sarcasm to malign the practice of pray-reading. He called it a blasphemy to God and meaningless repetition. He accused brothers in the Lord of just wanting to have something different. He described it as “sound and fury signifying nothing.” He even said that praying with the Word made him nauseous and stated that in practicing pray-reading we “put our mind out of gear.”
It is beyond me how prayer and reading the Bible can be blasphemous, for pray-reading is simply praying with the Word of God. Is the Word of God meaningless? Christians have repeated His Word for centuries without finding it meaningless.
We do not just have a desire to have something different. We only desire more of Christ. Is there something wrong with that?
He called pray-reading “sound and fury signifying nothing.” This only shows that he knows nothing of what he is talking about. Anyone who has contacted the Lord Jesus in the Word would never say that this signifies nothing. Will he, in eternity, say that the amens and hallelujahs resounding through the vault of heaven are just “sound and fury signifying nothing”? (Rev. 19:1, 3-4).
As to the matter of putting our mind out of gear, this is utter nonsense. The problem is not a matter of putting the mind out of gear, but of having the mind renewed (Eph. 4:23). The unrenewed mind and the Bible do not mix. In his book The Release of the Spirit Watchman Nee warns of studying the Bible with the mind unrenewed:
How often man in his conceit relies on his unrenewed mind to read the Bible. The fruit is nothing but his own thought. He does not touch the Spirit of the Holy Word. If we expect to meet the Lord in His Word, our thoughts must first be broken by God.
We intend to meet the Lord in the Word and therefore are willing to have our thoughts broken by God. All the seeking Christians sincerely want to contact the Lord more and more. If we have found a way that is fruitful, why are we accused and condemned for it?
All the seeking Christians realize that in order to grow spiritually they must eat spiritual food. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah ate the Word (Jer. 15:16), Ezekiel ate the Word (Ezek. 3:1-3), and David ate the Word (Psa. 119:103). The Lord Jesus spoke of the Word as spiritual food (Matt. 4:4), and Peter said that we should “desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2).
The vital question to us all is how can we eat the Word of God? For years we were taught and assured that we could eat the Word by study and searching the Scripture. The trouble with that was that although we learned a great deal about the Scripture, we never contacted the life of Christ. The Lord said, “Ye search the scriptures…and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life” (John 5:39-40). What did the Lord mean by this? Andrew Murray put it this way:
The Word is a seed. In every seed there is a fleshly part in which life is hidden. One may have a most precious and perfect seed in its bodily substance, and yet unless it is exposed in suitable soil to the influence of the sun and moisture, the life may never grow up. And so we may hold the words and doctrines of scripture most intelligently and earnestly, and yet know little of their life and power (The Spirit of Christ, p. 47).
My personal experience fully confirms this. The only thing that this kind of study produced was much dryness, just like eating the dry outer shell of the seed. At the end of my second year of seminary, I felt as though I were a bottle of dry dust.
Then I discovered pray-reading through Witness Lee’s ministry in the local church. What nourishment! What satisfaction I found! By pray-reading I had discovered the way into the life of the seed. Instead of being a bottle of dry dust, I now felt like a well of living water was inside me.
What is wrong with prayer? The Bible admonishes us to pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17).
What is wrong with reading? Paul exhorts us to read (1 Tim. 4:13).
What, then, is wrong with putting the two, praying and reading, together? No logical person would contend with it.
Many great spiritual Christians in past ages have practiced a kind of pray-reading. That godly man, George Müller, through whom God gave over a million pounds sterling to support his orphanages and more than thirty thousand souls in answer to his prayers, advocated praying the Word of God.
Madame Guyon, the French saint of the seventeenth century, wrote a well-known book of that period highly recommending this method.
Andrew Murray says in his little book The Prayer Life, “Little of the Word with little prayer is death to the spiritual life. Much of the word with little prayer gives a sickly life. Much prayer with a little of the Word gives more life, but without steadfastness. A full measure of the Word and prayer gives a healthy and powerful life” (p. 88). The “full measure” of the Word and prayer is amply realized through pray-reading. We experience health and strength in our Christian life. In the past a number of saints have suggested to read the Bible prayerfully.
What way does the Bible itself give us to take the Word of God? An accurate translation of Ephesians 6:17-18 says, “And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, by means of all prayer and petition.” Paul tells us to take the Word by means of all prayer. This is too clear! Pray the Word of God! This is pray-reading! It is the scriptural way to take the Word. We have chosen to follow the exhortation of the Bible and pray-read the Word of God.
Copyright © 1994 Living Stream, Anaheim, CA, USA. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.