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 CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research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here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.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
February 11 & 18
The Bible Answer Man Continues to Attack
On October 2, 1977, the Director of the Christian Research Institute launched a public attack on Witness Lee and the local churches before an audience of 4,000 people. Since that time spokesmen for Witness Lee and the local churches have answered the charges of the Bible Answer Man week by week in print here in The Register. The Bible Answer Man has accused us of attacking him personally and of continuing an argument which he stated publicly he wished to terminate. However, at the same time he has stated publicly that he does not wish to pursue further the issue with the local churches, he and his Research Institute have prepared and published a pamphlet against Witness Lee and the local churches entitled The Teachings of Witness Lee and the local church. This booklet has been advertised on the Bible Answer Man’s radio program and is now being sold to the public.
For the last four months the local churches have published week after week articles of sufficient length and depth to leave no serious reader in doubt concerning our doctrine and experience. Yet the Bible Answer Man’s Institute has published a twenty-one page pamphlet which largely disregards all that we have written in the last four months. This places a big question mark on his integrity and honesty in pursuing the facts. He and his Institute simply make charges, without taking into account what we ourselves have said. They dig up the same old arguments and hash them over again. Apparently they do not wish to carry on a meaningful dialogue. They simply wish to repeat their accusations.
The Elephant Labored and Brought Forth a Mouse
Announcement of this forthcoming booklet has been made week after week after week by the Bible Answer Man on his radio program. Finally it has been completed. Having been in preparation for such a long time, and having been prepared by a research institute, we in the local churches waited with some anticipation, expecting a detailed and articulate piece of research in answer to our writings. But to our great dismay, what has been produced is a twenty-one page pamphlet including three pages of footnotes, proofread superficially and not even typeset. When one considers this product in the light of the fact that the Bible Answer Man and his Institute project themselves to the public as the authorities on the Bible and on orthodoxy, one can only shake his head and conclude that the elephant has labored and brought forth a mouse.
False Teachings of the Bible Answer Man
Page two of his pamphlet has a paragraph entitled “The Teachings of the local church Compared with Scripture.” Then the authors of the pamphlet, three of the Bible Answer Man’s research staff, state their intention to compare the teachings of the local church with the Bible. But the peculiar thing is this: as one reads this pamphlet, he realizes that there is in fact very little comparing with the Bible. There is much comparison with the systematic theologies of various theologians, quotations from historians, references to the councils and creeds of the early centuries, and quotations of various authors. The stated intention of the authors is to compare the teachings of Witness Lee and the local churches with the Scriptures. But the accomplishment of this intention is very difficult to locate in this book. Not only that, there are some doctrines and teachings of the Bible Answer Man’s associates shining through these pages which are definitely not in accord with the Bible. Since it is their stated intention to compare all teachings with the Bible, I would like to survey several of their teachings which show up in this pamphlet and point out their contradiction with the Word of God.
1. On Division
In paragraph one, page two, the Answer Man’s research personnel state:
It is important to understand first the attitude of the local church toward all the denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, so that we will see just how important these teachings are. Witness Lee writes, “Do not try to be neutral. Do not try to reconcile them…. You know the denominations are wrong, yet you still remain because you are afraid of what others will say.” For Lee and the local church, then, all denominations are wrong.
Apparently, for the Bible Answer Man and his research personnel, denominations are not wrong. Since they are accusing Witness Lee and the local churches of saying the denominations are wrong, they imply by their accusation that they consider denominations to be right. But how does this compare with the Word of God? Since they are so careful to insist that all teachings be compared with God’s Word, let us compare their view of denominations with the Bible.
Let me first point out that the Bible recognizes nothing of denominations. A denomination is a division in the Body of Christ, called after the name of the man whom a certain group of Christians follow, or after a practice which they emphasize. Baptists are denominated around the practice of baptism, while Lutherans are denominated around the person of Luther. In the Bible, there is no such thing as a denominated church. In Jerusalem, there was not a Baptist church: there was simply the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). In Corinth there was not a Pauline church: there was simply “the church of God which is in Corinth.” In Galatians 5:20 factions or sects are listed as works of the flesh along with idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, and jealousy. When the Christians in the church in Corinth began to divide on the basis of their preference for certain leaders, Paul asked them, “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13, NASV). By attacking Witness Lee for saying denominations are wrong, the research personnel of the Bible Answer Man leave no doubt that in their view denominations are sound. They, therefore, not only agree with the divided state of Christendom, but by their agreement help perpetuate divisions in the Body of Christ, divisions which are abhorrent to God. According to the Greek, Romans 16:17 exhorts us to “watch those who make the divisions and the offenses contrary to the teaching which you learned and turn away from them.” Anyone, even the personnel of the Christian Research Institute, who perpetuates and teaches that division in the Body of Christ is right should be watched and turned away from. This is the clear teaching of the Bible.
2. On God
In a section of their pamphlet entitled “The Nature of God,” the Research Institute authors state:
The doctrine of the Trinity is usually stated essentially as: “In the nature of the one eternal God, there are three eternally distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three are the same God, all fully God, yet the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son” (p. 2).
This is not a quotation from the Bible.
Since the Institute authors were so desirous of comparing all things with the Scriptures, why did they start out with a statement concerning the doctrine of the Trinity which is quoted from a book on systematic theology? After expressing their definition of the Trinity, the research authors chide us by saying, “The local church however, teaches contrary to this.” The fact is that such a statement concerning the Trinity cannot be found in the Bible. That is, no doubt, the reason they did not quote from the Bible. This tritheistic view of the Trinity can be found only in theology books, but not in the Bible. Not only can such a view of God not be found in the Bible; their tritheism is absolutely contrary to the Bible. It denies the interpenetration of the three of the Godhead as presented by the Word of God in such passages as: Isaiah 9:6, John 14:9-10, and 2 Corinthians 3:17. J. Rodman Williams, president of the Melodyland School of Theology, has written a book entitled The Pentecostal Reality. In his book he states:
If the Scriptures, which are the Word of God, teach a doctrine of the Holy Trinity, then it is ours to attend to with profound seriousness – no matter how we may feel or think about it. Actually, however, there is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible (p. 100).
This is not to say that there is nothing in the Bible concerning the Triune God. Surely Dr. Williams does not believe that, and neither do we. The Bible is full of references to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But there is no such doctrine of the Trinity there as the Research Institute would have us believe, so when we in the local churches have our view of God examined, we cannot tolerate having it compared to a definition by some theologian. We insist that it be compared with the Word of God.
3. On the Spirit
The Institute authors quote Witness Lee disdainfully as saying: “…the Son became the Spirit for us to drink in as the water of life…” (p. 4). Would the researchers tell us that they do not believe this? How then do they explain John 7:37-39? The literal translation of those verses from the Greek reads as follows:
Now in the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying: If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. The one believing in Me, as the Scripture said, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water. But this He said concerning the Spirit whom the ones believing into Him were about to receive; for the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
These verses reveal six clear facts:
- Jesus said the thirsty should come to Him to drink.
- Whoever actively, consistently, and persistently believes into Jesus, out of his being will flow rivers of living water.
- But all of this He said concerning the Spirit:
- To come to Him is to come to the Spirit.
- To drink of Him is to drink of the Spirit.
- The living water flowing out is also the Spirit.
- In verse 37 Jesus said: Come to Me and drink.
- But in verse 39 John interprets the Lord’s words by saying: This He [Jesus] said concerning the Spirit.
- John further interpreted:
- Those who believe into Jesus will receive the Spirit.
- But this had not happened yet, because the Spirit in His new manifestation as the Spirit of the glorified Jesus “was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Thus it is clear from these verses as Witness Lee says: The Son became the Spirit for us to drink in as the water of life. The associates of the Bible Answer Man are apparently unfamiliar with this section of the Word of God.
4. On the Body
Now we come to perhaps the most astounding and appalling ignorance imaginable concerning the Word of God. The associates of the Bible Answer Man state: “Christ is…the One preeminent over, but not a part of, the Church.” They state that He is “the Head of the Body,” only in a “metaphorical” sense, and that “He is not the Body” at all (p. 8). This is surely not an accurate way to employ metaphor or allegory in interpreting the Bible. The Bible says clearly that the church is “His body” (Eph. 1:23). Paul doesn’t say that this is a figure of speech; he presents it as a fact. Colossians 1:18 says: “He is also head of the body, the church.” First Corinthians 12:12 says: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” If these verses from the Bible cannot be taken at face value, then pray tell what can? The fact is that, when Jesus was on the earth as an individual, He had an individual, physical body in which to carry out His mission. But since His death and resurrection He resides in the many members who compose His church, and this many-membered church is now His Body on earth. The fact that the Bible Answer Man and his associates do not see this proves that they are woefully ignorant of the Bible and that they have an abysmal lack of experience of the Body of Christ.
5. On Practical Oneness
The representatives of the Bible Answer Man also do not believe in the practical expression of oneness of the Body revealed in the Scriptures. They do not believe “that there is only one true representative of the Body of Christ in any city” (p. 10). They believe the Bible teaches that there were a multiple number of churches in any given city in the Bible and since the Bible. They give as an example Paul’s epistle to the Romans, where they state that “Paul wrote to [one] church in Rome,” but asked that church to greet another church in Rome. I would like to ask the Bible Answer Man and his associates to point out where it states in Paul’s letter to the Romans that he wrote to one church in that city and asked that church to greet another church in the same city. Here the authors of the pamphlet against Witness Lee and the local churches have completely left the Word of God and sallied into their imagination. When interpreting the Bible, we must be careful not to read into it our own preferences and prejudices. We must deal with it in a very clear way.
Concerning the matter of the church in the book of Romans:
- Nowhere in the letter to the Romans does Paul mention “a church in Rome.”
- Nowhere in the book of Romans is a greeting given to two churches in the city of Rome.
- Only one greeting is implied or expressed to any church in the city of Rome. This is recorded in Romans 16:5: “Greet the church that is in their house.” “Their house” is the house of Prisca and Aquila, Paul’s fellow-workers mentioned in verse three. This is the only greeting to the church in Rome mentioned in this entire epistle. We should not be deceived by people who say that Paul wrote to one church in Rome telling that church to greet another church in Rome. This is surely a false interpretation.
There is no example in the entire Bible of more than one church in a city. Even the church in Jerusalem, which according to Acts 21:20 had tens of thousands of believers in it, still was only one church, “the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1), with one eldership (Acts 21:18). No doubt the believers in Jerusalem, in such a large church, met in many different houses (Acts 2:46; 5:42), but it was still one church under one administration.
6. On the Bible
On page 15 of their pamphlet our critics state:
There is nothing which should not be tested in relation to any religious belief. We encourage members of the local church to be like the noble Bereans, who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Here Luke shows that the Bereans were “noble” because they tested even the Gospel by the Scriptures, as it was preached by Paul. Certainly if the Bereans were “noble” for testing the preaching of Paul by Scripture, members and those interested in the local church should continually test the teachings of Mr. Lee also.
Their interpretation of this verse shows how their minds turn the meaning of the Scriptures into something the Scriptures do not say. They say: “The Bereans were ‘noble’ because they tested” by the Scriptures even what Paul said. But the Bible says they were noble because “they received the Word with great eagerness.” The point in this passage is that, when Paul came to Berea, many of the vicious influences which he had so often encountered in other places were absent. The Bereans received the Word of God with all eagerness, poring over the Scriptures day after day, finding out at first hand “whether these things were so.” Richard Lenski, in his commentary on the book of Acts, says regarding this verse:
Here there was no initial blind, unreasoned hostility that sought only objections no matter what kind. Here there was no cold indifference that is careless as to whether “these things” were really true or not…Time, study, search, [and] discussion were fully devoted to the Scriptures and to finding out what they contained in regard to this new teaching (pp. 700-701).
This is the point of Acts 17:11, and this is what is so lacking today. I am sorry that the Bible Answer Man and his staff have not found it within themselves to be able to receive the Word that is coming forth today. I am sorry that they are unable to exhibit the same nobility exhibited by the Bereans in receiving the Word of God with great eagerness. They test Witness Lee’s teaching by their preconceived concepts, not by the Bible. They pick up a line here and a line there from his books, twisting his words and comparing his teachings with isolated Bible verses and theological books. They surely do not have the same spirit as the “noble” Bereans.
7. On the Flesh
Our critics state on page 17 of their pamphlet that it “is contrary to Scripture” to say that man has become “the manifestation of Satan.” I wonder then how they interpret Matthew 16:23 where Jesus “turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan!'” Surely in that passage Jesus considered Peter to be a manifestation of Satan. Then the authors of the pamphlet go on to say that Paul teaches that the flesh is “morally neutral” (p. 17). But this doesn’t square with Romans 8:3 where Paul says, “God sending His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (NASV, margin). Here Paul certainly doesn’t regard the flesh as “morally neutral.” He calls it the flesh of sin and then speaks of sin in the flesh. But our critics are not through yet. They proceed to state that the flesh is not only “morally neutral” but also “generally good.” In this case, how can we reconcile such “generally good” flesh with Galatians 5:19 and 20? “Now the deeds of the flesh are manifest which are: fornication, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, divisions, envyings, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gk.). And what about Romans 7:18 where Paul says: “I know that in my flesh dwelleth no good thing”? The flesh the Bible speaks of produces things like fornication, idolatry and all the other evil things Paul mentions. Surely the Bible Answer Man’s associates have a peculiar set of preconceived ideas, which enables them to derive from the Bible the thought that the corrupt flesh of man is “morally neutral” and “generally good.”
8. On the Church as the Manifestation of God
Another peculiar thought in their pamphlet against Witness Lee and the local churches is expressed as follows: “[To say] the church itself is God manifest in the flesh…is contrary to the Word of God” (p. 18). I would like to ask our critics the question: If the church is not the manifestation of God, what is it the manifestation of? Surely the individual body of Christ manifested forth God. When Christ was on the earth, He was the manifestation of the Father. John 1:14 says clearly: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and reality” (Gk.). According to this verse, the Lord’s body was a tabernacle in which the glory of God was manifested. Now according to Ephesians 1:22-23 the church today is His Body. There is no doubt that on the earth today, in the genuine church, God is manifesting His glory in a corporate tabernacle. Can anyone who reads the book of Acts doubt that the church there was the manifestation of God in the flesh? In 1 Corinthians 12:7 Paul speaks of “the manifestation of the Spirit,” but when one reads the rest of the chapter, he finds that this manifestation of the Spirit is within the church which is Christ’s Body, for the word body is mentioned at least fifteen times in this chapter. In 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, speaking of the church meetings, Paul says:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
According to Paul, the church meetings should be a manifestation of God. Anyone coming in, even a stranger, ought to be impressed that what is manifested here in this meeting is God. How then can the Bible Answer Man’s helpers say that according to the Word of God the church is not God manifested in the flesh? Their standard of interpretation is peculiar to say the least, for it somehow enables them to derive interpretations from the Bible which are exactly opposite to what the Bible says.
More to Come
In the weeks ahead we in the local churches will respond to the slanderous and unfounded accusations expressed in the pamphlet written and distributed by the Christian Research Institute. And in doing so we shall pursue precisely the standard which they themselves have set: “to compare everything with the Word of God.”