Our Objections to “The Local Church” Chapter in ECNR
During a 2006 Point of View radio broadcast, John Ankerberg stated, “…the Local Church did not challenge us on anything we said in the chapter about them.”1 Later in the same broadcast he said, “…and they never took exception to anything we said about them theologically in our chapter.”2 The Defendants’ attorney, Shelby Sharpe, said the same thing on the same broadcast: “And the truth here was not only what was said in the book, which, by the way, they did not attack anything written expressly about them…”3
Their Claims Are False
Even in a narrow legal sense, these statements are not true. Paragraph 7 of our Original Petition states: “The section of the Encyclopedia entitled ‘The Local Church’ grossly distorts Plaintiffs and takes out of context many statements in order to present a misleading and incorrect view of Plaintiffs.”4 (view) (See also paragraph 195 (view) of the Petition.) However, since many of the misrepresentations in “The Local Church” chapter are not matters directly related to criminal or immoral conduct, they do not come under the purview of the court system and were not made the subject of the litigation. That does not mean that they were acknowledged as being true. To the contrary, in our letter to Harvest House and its authors we provided extensive documentation of the book’s misrepresentation of our teachings, documentation to which they have never responded and which they do not even acknowledge in their public statements (see “Exhibit B: ECNR‘s Specific Misrepresentations Concerning the Local Churches”6 (view) and “Exhibit C: Quotation Abuse and Distortions in ‘Doctrinal Summary'”7 (view)).
The publisher, the authors, and the attorneys for the Defendants are all well aware of this. Both the publisher and the authors received copies of that documentation and it was frequently referenced during the depositions taken for the case.8 (view), 9 (view), 10 (view), 11 (view)
Sworn Testimony Contradicts Their Statements
The deposition of Dan Towle contains the following exchange:
Q. Mr. Towle, I’m going to hand you a copy of the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, the book that is at issue in this case, and what I want to ask you, and if you would take time to look at it, if you need to, but looking just at the material on page 211 and 212 of the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. Tell me if there is anything within those two pages which The Local Church, the unincorporated association, contends to be factually inaccurate?
A. Let me preface my comments by saying that before the lawsuit was filed, months before, The Local Church did submit to Harvest House and Ankerberg and Weldon a detailed analysis of this chapter pointing out everything that we claim was wrong with it, so I’m not saying sitting here today I can remember every single thing, but you have it in writing.
Dan Towle then proceeded for over 11 pages of testimony to identify point after point in “The Local Church” chapter that was in error. 12 (view) John Ankerberg and Bob Hawkins, Jr., were in attendance at that deposition along with Shelby Sharpe. To pretend to the public that we never objected to the contents of “The Local Church” chapter is to perpetrate a deceit.
In their letter to Christianity Today (CT) regarding this litigation authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon stated:
As for the second commandment the CT editorial mentioned—loving your neighbor as yourself—that is exactly what we have applied to the Local Church and other groups we have researched and written about for decades. One never loves one’s neighbor by distorting the truth or refusing to confront error…”13
The hypocrisy in this statement is astounding. By confronting error, Ankerberg and Weldon mean confronting others’ error, because they will admit to none themselves. When given extensive documentation showing how they had distorted the truth concerning the beliefs of the local churches and the teachings of Witness Lee published by Living Stream Ministry, they obstinately refused to confront their own error or even to be open to dialog.14 (view), 15 (view), 16 (view)
What Fuller Theological Seminary and Christianity Today Say
In their letter to CT they further reject the testimony of both Fuller Theological Seminary and Christianity Today.
Fuller Theology Seminary wrote:
…[T]he teachings of Witness Lee have been grossly misrepresented and therefore most frequently misunderstood in the general Christian community, especially among those who classify themselves as evangelicals…
It is the conclusion of Fuller Theological Seminary that the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect…
Moreover, we also can say with certainty that no evidence of cultic or cult-like attributes have been found by us among the leaders of the ministry or the members of the local churches who adhere to the teachings represented in the publications of Living Stream Ministry…17
Christianity Today‘s editorial staff confirmed this finding:
… [Christianity Today] editors have asked Local Church leaders doctrinal questions, and their answers were straightforward and satisfying. We agree with a Fuller Theological Seminary study that concluded the Local Church represents a ‘genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect.’18
4Plaintiffs’ Original Petition, Local Church et el v. Harvest House et al, paragraph 7.
5Plaintiffs’ Original Petition, Local Church et el v. Harvest House et al, paragraph 19.
6Exhibit B: ECNR‘s Specific Misrepresentations Concerning the Local Churches attached to the letter of November 20, 2001, sent to Robert Hawkins, Jr., John Ankerberg, and John Weldon from Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu.
7Exhibit C: Quotation Abuse and Distortions in “Doctrinal Summary” attached to the letter of November 20, 2001, sent to Robert Hawkins, Jr., John Ankerberg, and John Weldon from Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu.
8Deposition of Robert Hawkins, Jr., 173:6-173:14.
9Deposition of John Ankerberg, 43:8-44:19.
10Deposition of John Ankerberg, 51:1-51:10.
11Deposition of John Weldon, 155:16-157:2.
12Deposition of Dan Towle, 84:6-95:17 with errata list corrections. For clarity, we have put the quotes from ECNR in blue.
14Deposition of John Ankerberg, 139:21-143:5.
15Deposition of John Weldon, 174:4-176:8.
16Deposition of Robert Hawkins, Jr., 140:11-140:19.