The Truth Concerning Exclusivism
This booklet was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of the Christian Research Institute (CRI). CRI has since withdrawn its criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research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 booklet 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here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
Table of Contents
In the booklet, The Teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Churches, published by the Christian Research Institute, (CRI), the false accusation is made that we in the local churches teach that “it is impossible to be saved unless one attends the Local Church” (p.9). This accusation is coupled with the charge of exclusivism (p.10). The purpose of this article is twofold: to show that this accusation is a falsehood, and to bear testimony concerning our attitude toward all the saved ones outside the local churches.
The CRI booklet states that there is “clear indication in the writings of Lee and the Local Church that they believe one cannot be saved if he is not in the Local Church” (p.9). This booklet goes on to say, “Apparently only by being in the Local Church can one be saved” (p.10). By constantly reiterating this accusation, the writers of this CRI publication obviously want to convince the reader that we teach that one must be in the local church to be saved. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what we believe. Such an accusation may be the product of the heresy-hunting mentality of certain of our critics. It certainly is not based on a fair, unbiased examination of the ministry of Witness Lee or the beliefs and practices of the local churches.
The Truth Concerning Wandering Stars
It is interesting to see what the CRI researchers take as their basis for making the false accusation that we believe that a person must be in a local church in order to be saved. They base this charge entirely upon a misreading of Finding Christ by the Living Star, a book written by Witness Lee. According to the CRI researchers, we teach that the wandering stars are “all those who are outside the Local Church” (p. 9). They claim, “Lee and those in the Local Church apparently consider all those outside the Local Church ‘wandering stars’ ” (p. 10). Their reasoning goes like this: A wandering star is an eternally lost person. All those outside the local churches are wandering stars. Therefore, no one outside the local church can be saved. Such an interpretation is absurd.
Let us consider what Witness Lee actually says about wandering stars. After quoting Jude 12 and 13, he says, “We should be the stars, but not the wandering stars. These are the false leading ones. So many Christians today are not stars; some, however, are stars, but they are wandering stars. There are leaders and teachers in today’s Christianity who are in this category” (pp. 26-27, italics added). We need to note three things here: (1) that the wandering stars are false leading ones; (2) that Witness Lee clearly says that “some … are wandering stars”; (3) that certain leaders and teachers are in this category. Witness Lee clearly says that some Christians, not all, are wandering stars. But the CRI booklet explicitly accuses us of teaching that the wandering stars are “all those who are outside the Local Church” (italics added). This is a grotesque misinterpretation of the text and a perversion of Witness Lee’s meaning. Yes, some Christians, especially certain leaders and teachers, are wandering stars. As Witness Lee says, “They themselves are wandering: they have no ground, they have no standing, they have no certain way to go on with the Lord” (p. 27). But this is a far cry from saying that everyone outside the local church is a wandering star. This is neither our belief nor is it the teaching of Witness Lee.
The Truth Concerning Believers Being in Darkness
Furthermore, being a wandering star is not the same as being eternally lost. One may be a real Christian, a true born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and still be a wandering star; for he may be one without a definite standing or a definite course, one with no fixed position or orbit. Although the present course of such a one may be in darkness and although he may lead others into darkness, this does not necessarily mean that he will perish in the lake of fire. According to the Scriptures, once a person has received the Lord Jesus Christ, he is eternally saved; he cannot lose his salvation. However, the wandering stars and their followers may be in darkness. The fact that genuine Christians can be in darkness is proved by Ephesians 5:14; Romans 13:12; and 1 John 2:9 and 11. To say that one may follow a wandering star into darkness does not necessarily mean that either the wandering star or the one following him will be lost. We encourage you to compare pages 26 through 28 of Finding Christ by the Living Star with pages 9 and 10 of the CRI booklet. If you do this, you will see how groundless is the accusation made by the CRI.
Our Attitude Toward Other Believers
We believe that there are millions of genuinely saved ones outside the local churches. We believe that in all manner of Christian groups, in the various sects and denominations, there is a large number of genuine blood-washed, Spirit-regenerated believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. All these saved ones are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we would receive them as the Lord has received us.
This belief is clearly stated in Witness Lee’s writings. We would like to ask the CRI researchers why they have not made the Christian public aware of this. If they are ignorant of these writings, such ignorance indicates that their research is deficient. If they are aware of our position as stated in these writings but have disregarded it or suppressed it, such an action may indicate that their research is biased and that they are more committed to discovering error, even where it does not exist, than to presenting the truth.
Receiving All Genuine Christians
Several passages from Witness Lee’s writings testify of our attitude toward our brothers and sisters in Christ outside the local churches. Consider this statement from a message entitled, “Six Tests of a Genuine Local Church,” (Young People’s Training, p. 192):
In the church we receive all genuine Christians. We receive those who speak in tongues and those who do not speak in tongues; those who have been immersed and those who have been sprinkled; those who wear a head covering and those who do not wear a head covering; those who practice foot washing and those who do not practice foot washing. We receive all Christians, no matter what kind of Christians they are.
What could be more clear than this? No matter what kind of Christian you may be, as long as you are a true believer in the Lord Jesus, we would receive you and be open to have fellowship with you.
The following quotation comes from the message entitled, “The Flow and the Practicality of the Church” (Young People’s Training, p. 156). Speaking of those in the denominations, Witness Lee says:
In the past, some Christian leaders came to me with a good intention, saying, “How can you say that you are the church and that we are not the church? Are we not saved?” I replied, “You are definitely saved…. “
How could Witness Lee have said this if he believed that one must be in a local church in order to be saved?
In 1970 Witness Lee published a book entitled The Practical Expression of the Church. Since this book has been available for many years, the CRI researchers have had ample time to peruse its contents. If they had given this book a fair reading in its entirety before printing their unfounded accusations, they would have found some significant statements regarding our attitude toward other believers in the Lord Jesus. On pages 66 and 67 Witness Lee says:
God receives people according to His Son. As long as a person receives His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as his personal Savior, regardless of the concepts he holds regarding all other things, God receives him immediately. Since God receives people in this way, we too must receive people in the same way.
God’s receiving is based upon Christ’s receiving, and Christ’s receiving is in accordance with our faith in Him. Who-ever believes in Him, He will receive. Whoever receives Him, He will never reject. He said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Since coming to Him, believing in Him, receiving Him, is the only condition for Christ’s receiving, so we must receive people upon the same basis with nothing added. As long as anyone believes in Christ our Lord, as long as he receives Him as his personal Savior, we must receive him with nothing else required.
This is not only our belief; it is also our practice. Every Lord’s Day we have the Lord’s table. Because it is His table, not ours, all who have believed into Christ, all who have received Him as their Savior, all who are washed in His redeeming blood and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, are free to come. As far as belief is concerned, the only qualification for partaking of the Lord’s table in any genuine local church is that of having saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing further regarding doctrine is required. How many denominations and Christian groups can give the same testimony?
The Fellowship of the Church
In The Practical Expression of the Church there is a chapter entitled “The Fellowship of the Church.” On pages 102-103 Witness Lee has this to say concerning oneness in life:
Today there are many different backgrounds of the saints…. But regardless of the background, if they are saved, they all have the same faith, for they all believe in the same Lord Jesus Christ. They all have been redeemed by the same blood; therefore, they all have the same life within. We all are one in this all-comprehensive faith.
Fellowship is based upon this oneness. We have fellowship with one another because we all have the same divine life, we all have the same Lord, and we all have the same redemption.
This is our attitude toward all the dear saved ones outside the local churches. Although they may be in a denomination or sect, we all have the saving faith, we all have been redeemed by the Lord’s precious blood, and we all have the divine life.
Regarding the fellowship of the church, Witness Lee continues:
We may be quite different from other Christians in background and in many other things. They may not believe in the partial rapture, and we may be for it. But regardless in which kind of rapture we believe, as long as we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who was incarnated as a man, died on the cross for our sins, and resurrected from the dead, we are all redeemed, justified, regenerated, and saved. And we all have the divine life within us. Therefore, we are all of one Body. It is based upon this that we have fellowship with one another.
After reading such a statement as this, can anyone say with a clear conscience that we teach that one must be in the local church to be saved? We call on the CRI, for the sake of truth and Christian con-science, to withdraw this false accusation.
As we have stated in the past and shall continue to testify in the future, we do not agree with denominations. According to the Scriptures, denominations are divisions in the Body of Christ. However, this need not keep us from having fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the denominations. In the book cited above (p.104) Witness Lee says:
Regardless of whether others are in the divisions or not, we must recognize that they are our brothers. This does not mean that we go along with their divisions. No, we cannot do this, but we must love all the saints… They all have the same divine life as we… In redemption and in life we are all the same.
We do not believe that one must be in a local church in order to be eternally saved. It is our testimony before God, before man, and before all the principalities and powers that we recognize all genuinely saved ones as our brothers and sisters in Christ and that our hearts are open to them. Our testimony, then, is expressed in the words of the Apostle Paul: “Therefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).
© Living Stream Ministry. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.