Harvest House has been actively seeking to influence public opinion against Living Stream Ministry and the local churches by publishing out of context statements. This is an attempt to scandalize Christian readers against us and against our critique of today’s “Christianity.” For this reason, we feel obligated to make our position clear to all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Divine Revelation in the Bible
As believers, we love the pure revelation in the Bible. The Bible reveals Christ as the unsearchably rich One (Eph. 3:8), the eternal God who became a man (John 1:1, 14; 1 Tim. 3:16)) to accomplish redemption (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7) that He could enter into us (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5) and become our life (Col. 3:4). The Bible also reveals the church as the Body of such a Christ to be His enlargement and corporate expression (Eph. 1:22-23; 1 Cor. 12:12-13).
Organized Christianity’s Shortcomings
However, what we see today in Christendom in the organized system of “Christianity” falls far short of this reality and is characterized instead by the mixing of many foreign elements into the pure divine revelation that is found in the Scriptures. These non-biblical elements change the normal Christian life from a daily enjoyment of Christ as life to creedalism and Christ-less religious duty. They deform the normal function and expression of the church from that of the Body of Christ to a mere organization of man, cheating God’s people of their function and damaging God’s testimony of oneness. Thus, our criticism is not of the Christian faith or of our fellow believers; our criticism is of the “anity” that has been added to Christ, the system of Christianity as it exists today.
The Bible records that Christ “loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25), not for any “ism,” whether “Judaism,” “Catholicism” or “Protestantism.” God did not save us for any “anity” or any “ism;” He saved us to be the Body of Christ. While concepts such as these are not universally held among believers today, neither are they entirely foreign. They certainly should not be foreign to those putting themselves forward as Christian scholars and Christian publishers.
However, despite the letters of protest that we sent to Harvest House Publishers, in its Web postings Harvest House still defends its “chapter on the teachings of The Local Church” claiming that it “quotes and documents those teachings accurately.” In addition, their postings include a number of additional, similarly miscast, quotes describing variously “Christianity,” “Christendom” and the “isms” as: “dead religion,” “apostate,” “deformed and degraded,” “a human religion saturated with demonic and satanic things,” “spiritual fornication,” etc. (see also “Harvest House’s Hypocrisy Concerning Our Criticism of Christianity“).
Our Biblical Critique of Organized Christianity
In each case, a reading of the entire publication would demonstrate a careful adherence to the Bible, church history and a long tradition of biblical exposition, as well an absolute distinction between our attitude toward the unbiblical system seen in today’s Christianity and our attitude toward fellow believers and the truths of the Christian faith. People are not condemned; an unscriptural system is.
Our criticism of this system runs along three lines:
- The replacement of Christ as the preeminent One in the believers’ lives, even as their very life, with so many substitutes;
- The paralyzing of the function of the members of the Body of Christ through the unscriptural clergy-laity system; and
- The division of the one, unique Body of Christ by the unscriptural system of denominationalism.
An examination of the out of context quotes used by Harvest House in its Web postings will show that in each case these were the issues being addressed. Because it takes considerably more space to present a matter properly than it does to sling mud, we will only cite a few examples:
1. “Christianity is not focused on the divine economy but is a human religion saturated with demonic and satanic things.”
The theme of the book from which this quote is taken is how we as believers should cooperate with God for the carrying out of His purpose, which in the Bible is called God’s economy (Gk., oikonomia, 1 Tim. 1:4). The same chapter says:
The prevailing concept in today’s Christianity is that preaching, teaching the Bible, and praying for others is the pastor’s job. A person goes to a pastor in the same way that he would go to an attorney or a doctor for specific services. This clergy-laity system annuls the functions of the members of Christ. The attendants in the so-called Christian services go there and do nothing. They do not know how to do anything. They only know how to sit there and watch a few others function. In the church life there should not be an annulling of others’ functions but a stirring up of everyone to function.1
Thus, our criticism of the organized system of Christianity relates to the clergy-laity system annulling the function of the members, thereby hindering the building up of the Body of Christ. Since the focus of God’s economy is the building up of the Body of Christ, it follows that in institutionalizing the clergy-laity system, Christianity is not focused on the accomplishment of God’s economy. Interestingly, these comments are very similar to those made by Harvest House author Dave Hunt:
Unfortunately, most of us are part-time Christians and full-time something else. As a result, we bring into the church many of the methods and ideas we have become accustomed to out in the world. We trust our physician or accountant, so we think it should work the same way in matters of religion: There must be some professional whom we should trust as the expert who understands the things of the Spirit which we don’t have the time or capacity to learn.
God will not tolerate such an approach. We cannot abdicate our moral responsibilities to someone else, no matter how godly, who will then do our Bible study and prayer and thinking for us. Christianity involves a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 2
It is difficult to understand what is the real objection of Harvest House and its authors to criticism of the human religion built up by the clergy-laity system. In a Harvest House book, James McCarthy writes:
According to Scripture, all true Christians are members of the same priesthood. It is a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). There is no clergy/laity distinction in the New Testament.3
Even stronger statements can be found on John Ankerberg’s Web site:
Christ clearly indicates that the false dichotomy of clergy and laity is a practice of pagans.4
Whoever came up with the clergy and the laity completely perverted what the Word of God says. Every believer filled with the Spirit of God is in the ministry.5
Furthermore, the passage from which Harvest House extracted the one sentence they quote is speaking of the organized system of Christianity taking the place of the living person of Christ.
God does not want a religion, but He surely wants to see His economy accomplished. We are not here for religion but for God’s economy, which is to propagate His completed Christ to produce the church as the Body of such a Christ. Christianity is not focused on the divine economy but is a human religion saturated with demonic and satanic things. This natural, human, traditional, and cultural religion is full of organizations. Without organizations, Christianity could not survive. The Catholic Church and all the denominations depend upon organization. Although we do not like to have organization, sometimes the leading brothers in some of the localities brought in and trusted in their organization. We must realize that organization kills. We trust in the living Spirit. The church as the Body of Christ should be a divine organism full of the living Spirit.6
By stripping Witness Lee’s comments of their context, Harvest House avoids the substantive questions raised. Who can deny that today’s Christianity as a whole is characterized by organization, not the living Person of Christ? Who can deny that the clergy-laity system has had the overall effect of replacing the priesthood of all believers with a system relegating spiritual service to professionals?
2. “We must stay away from the practice of the deformed and degraded Christianity and come back to the divine revelation for the Lord’s recovery…. The traditional way of [church] meeting.builds up something satanic and demonic.”
Here Harvest House lapses into the despicable habit of eliding statements to obscure their substance. Such a practice is not considered ethical even among unbelievers. The two sentences quoted are actually extracted from two different paragraphs. Here is the full text of those two paragraphs:
My burden is to open up the real situation of today’s Christianity that we may know where we should go and where we should remain. We should stand for the testimony of Jesus in this age. We need to compare what is revealed in the Bible with what is practiced in today’s Christianity. We must stay away from the practice of the deformed and degraded Christianity and come back to the divine revelation for the Lord’s recovery. The preaching of the gospel and the teaching of the Bible do take place in Christianity. But in a larger sense, the religious practice of Christianity kills the living members of Christ and annuls the organic function of the members of the Body of Christ. This religious system also involves the building up of hierarchy.
We must come back purely to the God-ordained way to practice the New Testament economy so that God can operate in His Trinity to dispense His triune being into us that we may be filled and saturated with the divine being to become His very expression on this earth. This is what God wants today. Christianity has missed this, and God is recovering this in His recovery. The way to meet is not a small matter. The traditional way of meeting kills and annuls the functions of the members of the Body of Christ and builds up something satanic and demonic. We must come back to the biblical way, the new way, the living way, that affords God the opportunity to operate among His chosen people.7
The third sentence of the first paragraph clearly states what the yardstick is for measuring our Christian practice-the Bible. It is in comparison with the divine revelation in the Bible that the term degraded is applied to the system of today’s Christianity. Then Witness Lee explains what he means. It is degraded in that its practices kills the members of the Body of Christ and annuls their function.
In the following paragraph he explains further why that degradation is so serious. God desires to carry out the building up of the Body of Christ through His dispensing of Himself into His believers. The proper Christian meeting is one that nourishes this life and supplies the believers with the riches of Christ as life so that they may grow in Christ for the building up of His Body. If our meetings as Christians do not accomplish this, they in fact become a frustration to God in the accomplishment of His purpose. It is only when Christians meet in mutuality with Christ as their unique goal and center that God can operate freely to carry out His purpose. Anything short of this is a degradation that builds up something else, a system that is used by God’s enemy to frustrate His purpose. Again Harvest House has chosen not to address the issue raised, but to attempts to scandalize its readers with the terms “satanic and demonic.” For Harvest House’s own use of these terms, see “Harvest House’s Hypocrisy Concerning Our Criticism of Christianity.”
3. “We are still in a situation in which we need the Lord’s rescue, the Lord’s recovery. I am afraid that a number of us are still under the negative influence of Christendom. We all have to realize that today the Lord is going on and on to fully recover us and bring us out of Christendom.”
In order to understand the context of this statement, we need to consider two portions. On the preceding page Witness Lee says:
The Lord’s recovery is for bringing us out of this unscriptural system and back to the beginning of the pure practice of the church life according to the divine revelation. In this proper church life, there were no religion, no outward regulations, no rituals, and no vain doctrines or teachings. The saints were exercised to be in the spirit to enjoy Christ, to experience Christ, and to express and speak Christ in a corporate way.8
The subject, therefore, of Witness Lee’s speaking is the need to be recovered from an unscriptural system to practice the church according to the divine revelation of the Bible. Furthermore, he is speaking about the shortage among the believers in their experience of Christ as God’s unique gift to man (John 3:16). On the same page from which Harvest House excerpted the quote they used, Witness Lee says:
Nothing is as important or as strategic in the New Testament as the oneness of the believers. The Lord Jesus prayed that we all would be one (John 17:21). Some maintain that they want to be scriptural, but in their exercise to be scriptural, they divide the saints. Nothing is more unscriptural than to divide the saints.9
One of the unscriptural aspects of today’s Christendom is the divided condition of the Body of Christ. All genuine Christians subscribe to a core set of beliefs which constitute the faith, for which the New Testament says we must contend (Jude 3). However, the Lord would never approve of the multitudinous divisions of His Body over many minor doctrinal differences and teachings.
In context, in the portion that Harvest House quotes, Witness Lee is speaking about our need as believers to care for the one Body of Christ by being persons who are in the Spirit (Eph. 4:4).
Eventually, the entire Bible consummates with the Spirit and the bride (Rev. 22:17a). By God’s work throughout the ages, all the saints and the Spirit speak the same thing. All the many saints are one bride. Are we one bride today? In a sense we are, but we may still be holding on to our concepts and opinions that damage the one accord. We are still in a situation in which we need the Lord’s rescue, the Lord’s recovery. I am afraid that a number of us are still under the negative influence of Christendom. We all have to realize that today the Lord is going on and on to fully recover us and bring us fully out of Christendom. The Lord desires something fully in the spirit.
By omitting the context of Witness Lee’s exhortation to care for the Spirit and the Body, Harvest House distorts his meaning, opting for cheap shots instead of meaningful evaluation. Their approach leaves unanswered the critical question: Are these criticisms accurate or not? Is it true or not that as believers we need to be rescued from the unscriptural system that characterizes today’s Christendom? Is it true or not that we need to be brought back to Christ as the pre-eminent One in our lives, even as our very life? Is it true or not that the proper spiritual function in the priesthood of all believers needs to be recovered? Is it true or not that the division of the Body of Christ over so many petty disagreements and personal ambitions is a shameful condition among the Lord’s people?
We believe that the biblical examination of the issues of the preeminence of Christ in the lives of the believers, the recovery of the function of all the members of the Body of Christ, and the practice of the genuine oneness of the Body of Christ are issues that are worthy of our careful consideration and fellowship in the Body of Christ generally. We do not believe that our fellow believers are served by the divisive and misleading tactics Harvest House has resorted to in its Web postings.
1 Witness Lee, The God-Ordained Way to Practice the New Testament Economy (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1987), p. 30.
2 Dave Hunt, Beyond Seduction (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1987), p. 120.
3 John R. Waiss and James G. McCarthy, Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), p. 137.
4 Greg Durel, “The Primacy of Peter,” https://www.jashow.org/articles/.
5 Wayne A. Barber, “The Unsung Heroes of the Faith-Ephesians 6:21-22,” https://www.jashow.org/articles/.
6 Witness Lee, The God-Ordained Way, p. 29.
8 Witness Lee, The History of the Church and the Local Churches, third printing, 2003 (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1991), p. 131.