Two notable critics have changed their minds on the controversial "local churches" movement that follow the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.
Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), and Gretchen Passantino Coburn, director of Answers in Action, each published their new support in a November booklet by the Defense and Confirmation Project, founded to rebut criticism of Nee and Lee.
Hanegraaff says the local churches fit neither the theological or sociological definition of cultic activity. (CRI published critiques in the 1970s that influenced other watchdog groups.) Passantino Coburn, who coauthored The New Cults with Walter Martin, writes passionately and personally about the "most significant reassessment from my career."
"If you are a parent, proud of your young adult offspring's seemingly overnight spiritual blossoming but afraid that he or she is going to crash and burn in spiritual chaos, let me reassure you," Passantino writes. "The local churches are a legitimate, theologically orthodox, spiritually faithful involvement by means of which you offspring can develop genuine Christian commitment and maturity. They are not a dangerous ensnarement of the Devil."
The booklet also includes a three-year-old statement from Fuller Theological Seminary. Three Fuller faculty members—president Richard Mouw, theology dean Howard Loewen, and systematic theology professor Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen—met five times face-to-face with influential local church figures to discuss their beliefs. The Fuller representatives cited several areas of special concern, "such as the Trinity, the mingling of divinity and humanity, deification, modalism, their interpretation and practice of the 'local' ...