Article Summary:

Although the local churches have always been willing to dialogue with responsible apologists and theologians, it was not until 2003 that this openness bore significant fruit. This article gives a brief history of the dialogues that have ensued since that time.

Dialogues with Apologetics Ministries and Theologians

From the Preface to The Local Churches: “Genuine Believers and Fellow Members of the Body of Christ” (read excerpts of the statements by Hank Hanegraaff, Gretchen Passantino, and Fuller Theological Seminary):

Over the years the local churches have welcomed dialogue with scholars who were willing to conduct honest and thorough research in order to understand our beliefs and practices. We have been privileged over the past five years to have engaged in dialogue and Christian fellowship with a number of such researchers and scholars. The content of this book reflects some of the progress that has been made both in dispelling misconceptions concerning the teachings and practices of the local churches and Living Stream Ministry (LSM) and in raising an awareness of the riches of the ministry we have inherited. LSM publishes the writings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee (see and

In 2003 Hank Hanegraaff, the President of CRI; Elliot Miller, the editor-in-chief of CRI’s flagship publication Christian Research Journal; Bob and Gretchen Passantino, the founders and Directors of Answers in Action (AIA); and representatives of the local churches and LSM desired to meet together. In the first meeting representatives of the local churches and LSM testified of their belief in the essentials of the Christian faith concerning the Bible, the Triune God, the person and work of Christ, salvation, and the church. As a result of that meeting, CRI and AIA launched a re-evaluation of the teachings and practices of the local churches.[1] Now that the local churches have been in the United States for many years, there are many resources regarding our teachings and practices that were not as available in the years when the initial evaluation was made. Although others continue to rely on old criticisms, CRI and AIA have made use of that complete information. Their evaluation has been far more extensive than the initial review decades before, and this new study has arrived at far different conclusions.

In late 2004 a separate dialogue was initiated between Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and representatives of the local churches and LSM. A group of three distinguished members of the Seminary—President Richard Mouw, Dean of Theology Howard Loewen, and Professor of Systematic Theology Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen—performed an extensive and careful review and evaluation of our teachings and practices. Of their meetings with the representatives of the local churches and LSM they said, “Our times together were characterized by sincere, open, transparent, and unrestricted dialog.” As a result of their review, they issued a statement (also reproduced in this book) in which they concluded “that the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect.” They also reported finding “a great disparity between the perceptions that have been generated in some circles concerning the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and the actual teachings found in their writings.”

We are grateful for the dialogue we have had with members of CRI, AIA, and Fuller Theological Seminary, dialogue which has been both frank and full of sweet Christian fellowship. We are deeply moved by the faithfulness of our brothers and our sister in Christ in adhering to the essentials of the Christian faith and receiving all those who hold “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) without regard to personal consequences…

Benson Phillips  Andrew Yu  Chris Wilde

November 2008

Since the publication of their initial statements in this book, the Christian Research Institute (CRI) has gone further to dedicate an entire issue of the Christian Research Journal (available in several languages in a special edition entitled “We Were Wrong” from the CRI website) to present the results of their detailed research into the teachings of Living Stream Ministry and the local churches. The cover of this issue of the Journal declares, “We Were Wrong,” and the main article, written by Elliot Miller, rebuts an open letter that was published on the Internet by a group of evangelical Christian scholars and ministry leaders. That open letter consisted almost entirely of out-of-context quotes from the ministry of Witness Lee. In his article Elliot Miller shows how the teachings of Witness Lee are well within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy on subjects such as the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the practical outworking of the Body of Christ in local churches.

Hank Hanegraaff, CRI’s President, has dedicated several broadcasts of his Bible Answer Man radio program to discussions of CRI’s research and findings in their reassessment of the teachings and practices of Witness Lee and the local churches. Two complete broadcasts are available on a CD for purchase from CRI’s website. Excerpts from those broadcasts are available on YouTube. In these excerpts Hank Hanegraaff, Elliot Miller, and Gretchen Passantino discuss the research that led to their reassessment of the teaching of Witness Lee and the local churches and resulted in the publication of the “We Were Wrong” issue of the Journal.

In recent years more and more Christians have confirmed that the local churches are sound in their stand for the essentials of the common faith. Voices of Confirmation Concerning Watchman Nee, Witness Lee & the Local Churches is a brochure containing statements from leaders in the fields of Christian apologetics, theology, and evangelical journalism affirming that the local churches raised up through the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee are orthodox in their belief and practice.


1 Although Robert Passantino agreed with his wife Gretchen that such a study was merited, he went to the Lord on November 17, 2003, before the desired follow-up meetings began.

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For more information concerning these dialogues and their outcomes, please refer to:

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