Christian scholars decry 'Local Church' tactics

East Valley Tribune, Arizona/January 10, 2007
By Lawn Griffiths

It's been 7 /12 years since Bill and Patsy Freeman and many of their "Local Church' followers left Scottsdale where they had established Scottsdale Church and moved to Oregon. Later, they resettled in an enclave of homes near the Whitworth College campus in Spokane, Wash., making many became worried and wary because of their reputation of drawing innocent young people into their fold for manipulation, mind control and match-matching.

The "Local Church," a controversial evangelical Christian movement, was developed in the 1970s by a Chinese-born leader, Witness Lee, who, in turn, was a disciple of Watchman Nee. The Freemans had been involved in that movement, though they formally split from them in the mid-1980s. In 1999, another reporter and I did a news investigation of the Freemans and the impact they had made on people who had joined their church. Meddling in the lives of couples and causing divorces were key complaints reported in the story, later posted on several cult-watch web sites, including

On Tuesday, some 60 evangelical Christian scholars and ministry leaders in seven countries signed a letter asking all leaders of "local churches" and Living Stream Ministry "to withdraw unorthodox statements by their founder, Witness Lee" (1905-1997). Their letter asked Local Church leaders to "renounce their decades-long practice of using lawsuits and threatened litigation to respond to criticism and settle disputes with Christian organizations and individuals."

The letter contains numerous theological statements from Witness Lee's writings. It referred to one regarding "the legitimacy of evangelical churches and denominations," stating, " We decry, as inconsistent and unjustifiable, the attempts by Living Stream and the 'Local Churches' to gain membership in associations of evangelical churches and ministries while continuing to promote Witness Lee's denigrating characterizations of such churches and ministries as follows: "The Lord is not building his church in Christendom, which is composed of the apostate Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations. This prophecy is being fulfilled through the Lord's recovery, in which the building of the genuine church is being accomplished."

The letter's signers noted a $136 million suit brought by Living Stream and the Local Churches against Harvest House Publishers for $136 million in objection to the publishers' description of them in their edition of "The Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions" by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. A Texas court dismissed the suit and that was upheld on appeal. Evangelicals declare that the Local Churches have described them as "apostate" and "utilized by Satan to set up his satanic system." They decry that the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association granted membership to Living Stream Ministry.

Witness Lee's 1991 "The New Testament Recovery Version" asserted: "The apostate church has deviated from the Lord's word and become heretical. The reformed church, though recovered to the Lord's word to some extent, has denied the Lord's name by denominating herself, taking many other names, such as Lutherans, Wesleyan, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. ... To deviate from the Lord's word is apostasy, and to denominate the church by taking any name other than the Lord's is spiritual fornication." Further, it cites a 1989 Lee book, "The Seven Spirits for the Local Churches," in which he stated, "We do not care for Christianity, we do not care for Christendom, we do not care for the Roman Catholic Church, and we do not care for all the denominations, because in the Bible it says that the great Babylon is fallen. This is a declaration. Christianity is fallen, Christendom is fallen, Catholicism is fallen, and all the denominations are fallen. Hallelujah!"

Witness Lee ( would be called a bond slave of Christ. He brought Watchman Nee's teachings from Taiwan to the U.S. in 1962 and established the Local Church philosophy arguing that Christianity should only be one church, thus names like Scottsdale Church.

One of the most bizarre aspects of the ongoing battles was the death in 2003 of Jim Moran, who had done an exhaustive scholarly research into the Local Church movement. His works were widely posted on websites and he operated "Light of Truth Ministries." On his death, the Church of Fullerton, Calif., a Local Church, was able to obtain Moran's considerable research, writings, web sites and copyrights and sought to remove it from the public domain over the objections of Local Church watchdogs and critics.

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