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“”The Lord is not building His church in Christendom, which is composed of the apostate Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations. This...is being fulfilled through the Lord's recovery, in which the building of the genuine church is being accomplished...Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as Judaism, all [have] become an organization of Satan.
|—Witness Lee, spewing sectarian rhetoric|
Witness Lee (born Li Changshou; 1905-1997) was a
delusional fraud Christian evangelist from Shandong Province, China, who claimed to have revealed all of Christianity's hidden/forgotten "high peak truths". Purportedly directed by God, he co-founded and led the Local Church movement from 1949 until his death in 1997, with the expressed purpose of establishing it as the "recovered church", i.e. the One True Church™ (does this sound familiar?). Influenced by fringe 19th/20th century Restorationists (such as Watchman Nee (1903-1972), John Darby (1800-1882), and G.H. Pember (1837-1910)) and aided by outdated word-studies,
he gradually concocted his own peculiar theology and foisted it on credulous true believers in Taiwan and in the United States.
Background, interpretive methods, and beliefs
Lee never attended a seminary or university; he taught himself Greek, knew next-to nothing about Hebrew, and was willfully ignorant of 20th century discoveries by biblical scholars. Despite his lack of training, Lee was a prolific writer and produced over 400 books and commentaries about the Bible and the Christian faith. Most of these publications were simply the polished transcriptions of his spoken messages given at conferences.
Consult any of his works, and you’ll find a peculiar mix of allegorical sophistry and rigid biblical literalism, interspersed with a bizarre mishmash of ill-defined terms, question-begging statements, cherry-picked/quote-mined Bible verses, unsubstantiated assertions, and huge jumps in logic. Instead of using sound historical-critical methodologies for biblical interpretation, Lee mainly applied dubious allegorical, typological, and numerological methods in order to mine the Bible for alleged deep/hidden meanings...meanings that most likely would have been foreign to the original biblical authors.
Amusingly, his naïve proselytes have mistaken his religious
psychobabble expositions for something that’s profoundly deep and spiritual, and claim that it all came directly from God. They’ve even gone so far as to declare him the "minister of the age", right up there with the likes of Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther. In reality, Lee was an obscure charlatan who subscribed to things like the gap theory, millennialism, dispensationalism, modalism, and "mingling"; the idea that Christians will become infused with God and transform into "god-men" hybrids like Jesus.
A small sampling of Witness Lee's insanity
Anyone familiar with biblical criticism (or science, logic, reason, etc.) will be able to spot the absurdities in the following examples:
Excerpt from Lee's mystical commentary on the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 with the fish and 5 loaves (Matthew 14:14-21) –
…these five loaves were barley loaves. Barley is a type of the resurrected Christ (Leviticus 23:10). Thus, the barley loaves signify Christ in resurrection as food to us. Loaves are of the vegetable life, signifying the generating aspect of Christ's life, whereas fish are of the animal life, signifying the redeeming aspect of Christ's life. (The Recovery Version: Footnotes of Matthew)
Here's a nugget of wisdom from his "Life Study" of the Book of Colossians –
When Christ was incarnated and born in the manger in Bethlehem, He put humanity on Himself. This humanity included us and all of creation as well. Hence, even before we were born, Christ put us on Himself. As Christ passed through human living, we passed through it with Him. Furthermore, when He went to the cross and was crucified, we were crucified with Him. Then we were buried with Him in the tomb. In fact, all of creation was buried there. Thus, Christ’s tomb was an all-inclusive tomb. (Life Study of Colossians)
Concerning the significance of water –
In the Bible, water symbolizes either life or death. The water here (Genesis 1:2) signifies death as a result of God's judgment on the pre-Adamic universe. (The Recovery Version: Footnotes of Genesis)
The sun signifies Christ...the moon can be considered a figure of the church, the wife of Christ...the stars first signify Christ…although Christ is the real sun, He does not appear as the sun during the present age of night. Rather, He shines as the bright Morning Star. (The Recovery Version: Footnotes of Genesis)
My (Lee's) burden is to show you clearly that God’s economy and plan is to make Himself man and to make us, His created beings, God...Christ is of two natures, the human and the divine, and we are the same: we are of the human nature, but covered with the divine. He is the God-man, and we are the God-men. He is the ark made of wood covered with gold, and we are the boards made of wood covered with gold. In number we are different, but in nature we are exactly the same...God can say to His believers, ‘I am divine and human,’ and His believers can reply, ‘Praise You, Lord. You are divine and human, and we are human and divine’. (A Deeper Study of the Divine Dispensing, The All-Inclusive Christ, The Triune God to Be Life to the Tripartite Man)
The number seven in the Bible is composed either of six plus one, e.g., six days plus one day equals one week; or of three plus four, as in these two chapters, in which the seven churches are divided into one group of three and another group of four. At the end of each of the first three epistles, the ear for hearing is mentioned first, and then the call for overcoming. At the end of each of the last four epistles, the order is reversed. This proves that the first three epistles form one group, and the last four another. Six plus one is seen in God’s creation, whereas three plus four is seen in God’s new creation, the church. Since all things were created in six days, the number six signifies the creation, especially man, who was created on the sixth day; and since the seventh day, as the conclusion of the six days, was the one day of God’s rest, the number one signifies the unique Creator. Hence, six plus one signifies that all things were created unto God for the accomplishing of His purpose. The unique Creator, God, is triune, signified by the number three. Since the creation is represented before God by four living creatures (Revelation 4:6-9), the number four signifies creatures, especially man. Hence, three plus four means that God is added to the created man, and thus His purpose is being accomplished. The church is not only the creature, but the creature with the Creator as the Triune God dispensed into her. She is the real number seven: the real three, the Triune God, added to the real four, created man. Therefore the number seven denotes completion in God’s move, first in the old creation and then in the new creation, the church. (The Recovery Version: Footnotes of Revelation)
Last but not least –
Now, even while we are participating in the church life, we are sitting with Him (Jesus) in the heavenlies. On the one hand, we are in the church on earth; on the other hand, we are in Christ in the heavenlies. There is a great deal of traffic between the heavens and the church, traffic that moves faster than the speed of light. (Life Study of Colossians)
Based on everything above, Witness Lee probably scored an 8.5/10 on the wacky-lunatic scale.
- The Economy of God (1968)
- The All-Inclusive Christ (1969)
- The Knowledge of Life (1973)
- A Deeper Study of the Divine Dispensing (1990)
- The Triune God to Be Life to the Tripartite Man (1990)
- The Life-Study of the Bible (1974-1994)
- The Spirit within Our Spirit (1994)
- The Recovery Version of the Bible (1991, 1999, 2003)
- See the Wikipedia article on Watchman Nee.
- See the Wikipedia article on John Nelson Darby.
- See the Wikipedia article on G. H. Pember.