The Local Church insists it is evangelical, not a cult. Living Stream Ministry (LSM), the group's nonprofit publishing corporation, has joined the main trade group for evangelical publishers and hired a top literary agent for Christian writers. Living Stream points to its statement of faith as proof of its orthodox beliefs.
Local Church leaders are fending off their critics in court. Living Stream, the Local Church, and affiliated congregations are jointly suing evangelical author and television host John Ankerberg, coauthor John Weldon, and Harvest House Publishers for libel, seeking $136 million in damages. Their Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, first published in 1999, includes an article critical of the Local Church.
Chinese Christian patriarch Watchman Nee founded the Local Church movement in the 1920s in China, and it has spread to Europe and North America. For many years after Nee's 1972 death in a communist prison, his disciple Witness Lee led the group. Lee, who resettled in Anaheim, California, died at age 91 in 1997. The group uses its own English translation of the Bible, the Recovery Version, and claims 25,000 adherents in the United States and 250,000 worldwide.
Lee passionately opposed the sectarian character of Protestant denominations. He argued that such groups "denied the Lord's name by denominating" themselves, an action he branded as "spiritual fornication." LSM President Benson Phillips told CT that Lee believed denominations create confusion among nonbelievers. "We don't view these organizations as the church themselves. Our speaking in this way is not directed to the people [within denominations]."
Subtle in error?
Ankerberg and Weldon do not critique the anti-denominational teaching of Lee as ...1
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