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News Watch

by William M. Alnor

A column from the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1988, page 5.

The Editor of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Turmoil in the Local Church

The "local church" movement may be experiencing its most severe crisis since it was imported to America from China in the early 1960s. Led by Witness Lee, former co-worker with the popular Watchman Nee (d. 1972), the movement has often experienced controversy and conflict with other Christian groups. But a growing dissatisfaction with the practices of Lee and his son Phillip Lee has given rise to unprecedented dissent within the movement, from Taiwan, to Europe, to America.

A 20-page pamphlet, Reconsideration of the Vision, has helped to fan the flames of dissent. Since its January 1988 publication in Chinese (since translated into English), much has happened in the movement.

The pamphlet, anonymously published and widely circulated to many local church congregations in Taiwan and the US, alleges that a "Mr. X," identified by people close to the church as Witness Lee, has engaged in questionable business practices, and states that he "arranged to have his eldest son as president" of a firm that went bankrupt. "Many saints were pressured to give their life savings to this business." When the firm went bankrupt, Lee asked one of his co-workers to persuade the investors "to consider the investment as a donation and not seek to be reimbursed," it states. "Many were stumbled at this and left the churches, and others who continued to demand reimbursement were ignored by Mr. X."

It also suggests that "Mr. X" may no longer be a"true apostle," and calls for the "saints" in the local churches to obey the Scriptures, not man. It accuses "Mr. X" of departing from the teachings of the Bible, as well as those of Watchman Nee. For example, it accuses him of teaching that every age is only allowed to have one spiritual leader -- with himself being that leader for today. It also questions "Mr. X's" behavior in several areas, accusing him of being "puffed up," of not disciplining his seriously erring "second son" (identified by former church members as Phillip Lee), of improperly insulting co-workers and elders, and of seeking to replace older and more spiritually mature leaders who might call him to accountability with "arrogant" but loyal younger followers.

The "local church" teaches that there should only be one church in each city, and that the movement spearheaded by Witness Lee is God's last-days "recovery" of the church which will precede Christ's second coming. The church's teachings on such doctrines as God, Christ, man, and the church have been called into question by many Christian authors, including Walter Martinand the Christian Research Institute (The New Cults, 1980). (Martin does not accuse them of being a non-Christian cult, however.) Lee has used the courts to remove at least two books critical of him from publication, including The God-Men (1981), by Neil T. Duddy and the SCP (i.e., the Spiritual Counterfeits Project in Berkeley, California).

Referring to opposing books that were written against the sect, the pamphlet Reconsideration of the Vision states: "Although they did not state the truth in its entirety, many of their observations regarding Mr. X were accurate and not fabricated from their imaginations. Due to the fact that the points in question were deleted from the written publications of Mr. X's ministry, verifications cannot be made. However, numerous cassettes and videos bear witness to the observations of the so-called opposers. During the lawsuit [against SCP] the saints were warned and pressured to keep silent, and many voluntarily kept silent for the sake of the Lord's Recovery. On some occasions when outsiders sought to interview saints, only special ones were selected who were 'safe' to be interviewed."

The effects of the controversy have been far-reaching. Former elder Robert Smith says that several congregations around the world have doubts about their continuing association with the Living Stream Ministry office (the publishing and ministry arm of the worldwide movement, which is run by Phillip Lee and which represents the authority of Witness Lee). At least one congregation, The Church in Rosemead (California), has broken ties altogether.

The extent of disaffection varies widely. Some are not yet willing to abandon Lee, but they do believe he has erred in some respects and needs to be restored. Others believe Lee has erred in practice to such an extent that he should no longer be personally followed; and yet they continue to adhere to his doctrines and call for a reformation within "the Lord's Recovery." Still others have broken with Lee's teachings as well as his leadership. Many in this latter category are now attending churches outside of the movement.

William Freeman, a former leader of the movement in America, has broken with The Church in Seattle, where he was an elder, and moved to Arizona. Freeman figured prominently in the legal action filed against the SCP. According to Smith, Freeman has suffered some disillusionment and is presently neither entirely in nor entirely out of the sect.

The Church in Anaheim, which for years had been the leading church in the movement (with Lee residing in that city), has been one of the churches hardest hit by the controversy. "We've obviously been having some difficulties," said John Ingals, a leading elder at the church. However, Ingals said the church has not achieved a complete break with Lee. He would not elaborate on many specific problems facing the congregation.

According to a transcript of a meeting at the church on August 28, an elder told members that "we dissassociate ourselves from those practices and" conduct found in the Living Stream Ministry office, and that the office has "no authority over this church." Further, the elder said, "We do not want the elders of any other churches to be telling us what to do. I feel very sorry that we have let this kind of thing happen here in Anaheim."

Tapes of a stormy October 9 meeting at the same church reveal that the root of the church's grievance with Lee (as well as that of other churches, such as The Church in Stuttgart [West Germany]) is Lee's longterm failure to deal with the "sinful" behavior of his son Phillip. It is contended that "gross immorality" and other sins were committed by Phillip Lee over a ten-year period, with Witness Lee's knowledge, and that Lee and his co-workers tolerated and covered up this behavior. Not only this, dissenters maintain, Lee and his associates have more recently identified Phillip with Witness Lee's own ministry (as the one who would carry it on), and promoted him to a place of unofficial but effective authority over the churches. Phillip Lee was reportedly in Taiwan, and could not be reached for comment.

Is Reconstructionism Merging with "Kingdom Now?"

Is a marriage of Reconstructionism and "Kingdom Now" underway? Yes, says pastor David Baird of the Victory Christian Center in Fairfax, Virginia.

He organized and hosted the "Symposium on Kingdom and Covenant" to help do just that at his church in September.

The August issue of Charisma magazine contained a full-page advertisement inviting 200 pastors and church leaders to the symposium. Pictured in the ad, along with the question, "What will these spokesmen for the kingdom of God be doing September 15-17?", were Earl Paulk, Dennis Peacocke, Gary DeMar, David Chilton, George Grant, Don Meares, Charles Nestor, and Ern Baxter.

"It was an attempt to merge Reconstructionism with 'Kingdom Now' theology, and it was successful," said Baird, a former Assemblies of God minister turned Reconstructionist, in a telephone interview. "The result is still yet to emerge, but will become clear in the next couple of years," he added.

"Kingdom Now" is a movement spearheaded by Paulk, Bishop John Meares, and others who believe that the church, as a manifestation of the kingdom of God, will eventually take over society. Only when the church is in a position of power will Christ return to rule, Paulk and other leaders teach. Paulk is bishop of the 10,000-member Chapel Hill Harvester Church near Atlanta.

Reconstructionism is a postmillennial movement which originated within the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition in America. Reconstructionists speaking at the symposium were Gary North, DeMar, Chilton, and Grant.

Baxter and Peacocke were leaders of the controversial "shepherding movement" which taught that individual believers must submit themselves to a "covering" or chain of command before making many decisions. Although the movement has fragmented in recent years, many of its teachers and teachings have merged into the "Kingdom Now" or dominion movement. Baird said Baxter worked hard behind the scenes to pull together the two camps.

The reason he and others have been seeking to unite the two movements is because "the charismatic movement has grossly failed," Baird said. "I feel we have been too loose in our theology. And this is also Paulk's concern."

He added that the Reconstructionists have some difficulties with some of Paulk's theological positions "such as his understanding of the office of prophet." But, on the other hand, "Reconstructionists would agree with the five-fold ministry (as taught by Paulk and many charismatic teachers) as a historic reality in the church."

Baird said the camps have decided to begin a new publication called The Basileian ("kingdom" in Greek) Journal containing articles from both "Kingdom Now" and Reconstructionist writers.

A merger of the two camps has long been predicted -- sought after by some. In a widely circulated letter to Peter Lalonde, editor of The Omega Letter, North wrote that increasing criticism of kingdom (dominion) leaders will result in "pressuring the dominion people into the Reconstructionist camp" -- which he welcomes. "We were shepherds without sheep. No longer."

Stillborn Infant Death Devastates South Carolina Doomsday Group

The stillborn birth of a three-week overdue, 11 pound infant boy last summer at the campground of a South Carolina doomsday prophet has devastated his small sect.

As reported in the Summer JOURNAL, Brother R.G. Stair, of Walterboro, South Carolina -- self-proclaimed as "God's end-time prophet to America" -- had been attracting a national following. He claimed that God told him America would be devastated in an economic collapse followed by the removal of President Reagan and a nuclear war before the end of the year.

Stair's 15-minute "Overcomer" radio broadcast was heard on almost 100 stations nationwide, resulting in a growing band of people selling their possessions, turning over their money to Stair, and joining him at rural sites.

Stair also preaches against doctors and the use of medicine. This advice was followed by a couple that recently joined Stair -- the parents of the stillborn infant. The baby died as a result of "anoxia," or an absence of oxygen caused by a prolonged delivery, according to Colleton County Coroner Robert Bryan. No criminal charges were filed against the couple or Stair, but Bryan ruled the death could have been prevented with medical care. (Unlicensed midwives at Stair's camp helped with the delivery.)

The incident caused a tremendous backlash after Stair proclaimed the fetal death was God's will. Dozens of radio stations canceled his program and Stair ran into financial difficulty. At press time Stair was selling off some of his rural land where he had planned to build survivalist camps.

"Mormon Mafia" Cited in FBI Discrimination Case

Three hundred-eleven Hispanic FBI agents won a class action suit against the agency on September 30. A central argument in the suit was that their careers were stymied by the religious bias against non-Mormons of ranking FBI officials who are Mormon (LDS).

Charges of a "Mormon Mafia" in the FBI's Los Angeles office have been circulating for years, but no one had taken the FBI to court on the matter until Matt Perez, an agent working out of El Paso, initiated the suit.

In ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Judge Lucius Bunton of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, El Paso Division, agreed that the Hispanic agents' careers were affected by discrimination in hiring practices and promotions. Bunton said there was insufficient evidence for him to rule the agency had discriminated against the plaintiffs in issuing assignments.

The plaintiffs sued for $5 million in damages and retroactive promotions and back pay. At press time the judge had not yet made a decision on the damages award. The FBI, admitting the discrimination practices and pledging to end them with the recent appointment of a new director, had no plans to appeal the ruling.

Just after the case was filed, Richard T. Bretzing, 49, head of the Los Angeles division of the FBI since 1982, retired to become the Managing Director of the LDS Church's security department, according to the LDS Church News. Bretzing retired after 27 years' service (three years short of the 30-year government retirement plan).

End of document, CRJ0094A.TXT (original CRI file name), "News Watch" release A, May 10, 1994 R. Poll, CRI (A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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