Concerning “Division,” “Proselytizing,” and “Sheep Stealing”
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 CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research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here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.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
Witness Lee & the Local Churches Reply to the “Bible Answer Man”
During a two-hour radio program, Saturday, October 15th, the Bible Answer Man accused Witness Lee and the local churches of “dividing the Body of Christ,” “proselytizing among other Christian groups,” and “sheep stealing.”
We believe the Christian public should have an answer to these accusations in a honest and straightforward way. So let us take the three charges mentioned more than a dozen times during the broadcast and examine them one by one.
It is indeed sad to see Christians divided as they are today. But to hear those purported to be the spokesmen and leaders among the many divisions proclaiming, “We are not divided, for we all hold to the basic tenets of the faith…” shows the complete lack of realization of the need of practical oneness.
The Lord Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21); and further, “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23).
After nineteen centuries the world is still waiting for a oneness by which it can believe and know that the Father sent the Son. It has been our observation in preaching the gospel that unbelievers frequently raise the question, “Why all these divisions and confusion? Which church should I join?”
It is absolutely impossible for Christians to participate in the oneness for which the Lord prayed as long as we hold on to unscriptural, divisive names which separate us from one another. That is the reason we have chosen to drop all names not given to us by the Word of God and to come together just as the church in the locality in which we live. This was exactly the practice in the New Testament, where every church was known only by the name of the city where it was located. The adopting of any other name, whether it be even that of Paul or Apollos, is to be divisive. The name of the city was consistently used to designate the church throughout the New Testament, from Acts 8:1 “the church which was at Jerusalem,” to Revelation 1:11, where seven churches are identified with the names of seven cities.
Throughout the entire New Testament the scriptural designation given to a church is simply the city in which it is located. For that reason we object to the reference to the local churches as “The Local Churches.” The capital letters identify this designation as a title or denominational name. We strongly reject such a usage. We firmly believe the church in Anaheim includes all true believers in Anaheim. The fact that they do not all choose to meet in the way of practical oneness is the cause of division. Therefore, we firmly declare that we are not dividing the Body of Christ, but are standing for the true and practical unity of the Body, open to all Christians on the basis that they are Christ’s. We practice Paul’s admonition in Romans 14:1-3, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (N.A.S.V.).
We firmly believe in allowing every child of God the freedom to be led by the Holy Spirit according to the light he has received. We would not be faithful to the Lord if we did not share the enjoyment we have found in the church life and express our openness to all the Lord’s children. This also is a vital part of the gospel we preach. We make it a practice not to attend the meetings of other groups of Christians with any other intention than to seek genuine Christian fellowship. It is true that a good number of Christians have come out of the divisions and have chosen to meet with us. These do not come as the result of some kind of proselytizing, but their own testimonies evidence that they have been drawn by the life, oneness, and enjoyment of Christ that they experience with us.
We ask simply, “Whose sheep are they?” Are they Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian sheep? Are they sheep of some spiritual leader? No, they are Christ’s sheep. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
We thankfully say that with us there is no idolatry and no mixture of paganism with the precious things of God. We gladly declare that we have given heed to the words of the Apostle Paul, “…what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God…Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:16-17). Here the Shepherd’s voice is heard by the responding sheep.
The kind of reasoning that accuses us of sheep stealing would also call the “voice from heaven” a sheep stealer for saying, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). We maintain that the sheep belong to the Great Shepherd of the sheep and that they should be allowed to hear His voice and follow Him. They have already been stolen for centuries. We also were “as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop” of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). The Lord said, “There shall be one flock and one Shepherd” (John 10:16).
This is the fifth of five articles in this Reply to the “Bible Answer Man”