Wednesday, October 11, 2006

When is a denomination not a denomination?

I was planning to write out this long essay dealing with current troubles in "the local church" movement (aka The Lord's Recovery, the Witness Lee group). But, being 40 now, my attention span isn't so great anymore. let me try to give the nub of the gist.

Every personality driven movement has some sort of a split after the death of the personality. When Joseph Smith died the Mormon's split; when Charles Taze Russell died the Jehovah's Witnesses split; when the leader of the pack dies then the remaining sheep have to regroup and decide how to move on.

The Lord's Recovery is no different. Witness Lee was a strong, charismatic leader who had the devotion of thousands. When he died in 1997 I predicted that within ten years there would be a major split in the movement. Well, I was wrong; it only took nine years. But split it has.

Allow me to introduce some of the major characters. On one side we have Living Stream Ministry, led by "the blended brothers", basically a council of elders or a presbytery. They run the conferences now, they produce the books and other materials, they are the show. Among them are Ron Kangas, Ed Marks, Andrew Yu, Minoru Chen and some others. On the other side we have Titus Chu and a group known as the "Great Lakes brothers." They are Recovery leaders from Cleveland, Detroit, and surrounding areas.

Living Stream Ministry, as hard as they would like to deny it, is the headquarters for the Witness Lee "denomination." They will tell you otherwise; they are just a group of co-operating brothers preparing materials for the Lord's people, and propagating the ministry of Witness Lee. BUT... they only publish the materials of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, the churches that truly follow "the minister of the age" (i.e. Witness Lee) are the ones aligned with them, they have a de facto Bible College, the Full Time Training, where for two years young people go to immerse themselves in the riches of the ministry... they are for all intents and purposes the head of the organization. I might have been able to buy their explanations...

...but then came the release of a pamphlet entitled Publication Work In The Lord's Recovery, which contained quotes like these:

At times there may be writings among us that could be considered for publication as part of the one publication among us. As Brother Lee points out in the quote from Elders’ Training, Book above, these proposals should be “checked as to whether there might be some inaccuracy in the truth.” Discernment must always be exercised when expressing matters related to the divine truth, the divine life, and the gospel. The exercise of this sort of discernment not only protects the teaching among us and the spiritual supply to the saints; it also helps and protects those who endeavor to write. Hence, it is proper that those who endeavor to write in this way bring their work to those who take the lead in the ministry and those who take the lead in the publication work, and those who take the lead should exercise the discernment as to whether or not such proposals should be published as part of the one publication. (Emphasis mine)

Sure sounds like a headquarters trying to exercise some control over their members to me. Later on we see this passage:
Finally, all the churches and saints everywhere must understand that the matter of one publication is not a matter of the common faith but something related to the one ministry in the Lord’s recovery. The ministry is the sounding of the trumpet among us in the Lord’s recovery, and there should be no uncertain sounding of this trumpet, as Brother Lee has mentioned on a number of occasions. However, the one publication should not become the basis of our accepting or rejecting any persons in the communion of faith or in the fellowship of the churches; it should not be insisted on as an item of the faith. If any are not inclined to be restricted in one publication, these ones are still our brothers; they are still in the genuine local churches.
Remember that passage; we'll be back to it later.

Enter Titus Chu and the Great Lakes brothers. For as long as I can remember Titus Chu has been a "player" in the Lord's Recovery movement; he's been in Cleveland for years, I've heard him speak numerous times, and every time he has imparted the riches of Christ to me. I could never imagine why anyone would have a problem with him. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was a rift between Titus and Living Stream Ministry. This has to be something that the Internet geeks are just misunderstanding, I thought. Nope. Living Stream Ministry wanted Titus to stop publishing his books, stop leading his own conferences, and fall into line.

From June 2005 to June 2006 we wrote three serious letters to Brother Titus Chu on behalf of all the blending co-workers. These letters were the result of many years of fellowship among us after Brother Witness Lee’s departure. They were written with a view and a desire to rescue Titus and certain of his co-workers from their taking an increasingly divisive direction in their work. In the second half of 2004 many reports came to the co-workers related to problems caused by Titus Chu and his ministry, especially by the spreading of his publications with their different teachings, which brought in confusion among the churches. In March 2005 around fifty co-workers from different parts of the earth came together for fellowship concerning the Lord’s interests in His recovery. During those meetings a number of brothers stood up to testify about the problems that Titus Chu, his publications, and some of his workers were causing in the churches and in the work all over the globe. Based on those extremely disturbing testimonies, we determined to write Titus Chu to privately communicate our deep concerns to him and to plead with him to stop his
independent and damaging work of building up his own ministry in the name of the
Lord’s recovery. (A Faithful Word)
Sure sounds like they're trying to bring Brother Titus into line, even though they aren't a denomination and have no headquarters.

"He said, he said" letters flew back and forth, which I won't take time to quote from. (I will list several websites at the end which you can visit to get more information.) Rather than behaving like brothers, they seemed more like bickering boys. Then came the latest statement from Living Stream Ministry, "A Warning To All The Saints And All The Churches In The Lord's Recovery Concerning Titus Chu" (link here).
"We strongly testify that in the Lord's Recovery there is no global organization, but only the fellowship of the local churches in oneness. There is no hierarchy, but only the blending together of the saints for the building up of the Body of Christ....we solemnly exhort all the saints to join with us to mark Brother Titus Chu and those who disseminate his divisive views and his dissenting speaking, and turn away from them."

So on one hand they said that "the one publication should not become the basis of our accepting or rejecting any persons in the communion of faith or in the fellowship of the churches; it should not be insisted on as an item of the faith. If any are not inclined to be restricted in one publication, these ones are still our brothers; they are still in the genuine local churches." Yet now they are warning people to stay away from Titus Chu. Sure doesn't sound like they consider him to be a genuine brother and the Church in Cleveland to be a genuine church (in their estimation). There is no global hierarchy, but they are "solemnly exhorting" all the saints to turn away from him. They won't tell the saints what to do, but if they want to be "one with the ministry", they'll do this.

If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck....

So what's my angle here? Do I have a dog in this fight? No, but I do have connections. I'm watching the church in Elyria and the church in Lorain, two churches who have fellowshipped together for a long time, now act like feuding neighbors on opposite sides of the fence. Brothers who once held Titus Chu in Esteem now won't talk about him. The Church In Cleveland was the place where I saw Witness Lee in person. It was the place where I was baptized by immersion for the first time (and the discussion of that can wait; it is an experience that means a lot to me).

So I solemnly exhort the brothers with all seriousness to go lock yourselves in a room, get some pizzas and some brewskis, and realize that this whole thing is just plain silly.

For more information check out these sites:
http://lastadam.com/
http://www.afaithfulword.org/
http://concernedbrothers.com/English.html
http://www.clevelandonline.org/English/framesindex.htm
http://ministrymessages.org/

14 Comments:

Blogger CathylovesChrist said...

something really is twisted about your posts...wow
just living in your mind, i see

1:06 AM  
Blogger Sean MacNair said...

umm...OK....

5:55 AM  
Blogger JehovahsSon said...

I think it would be fair to let everybody know about the largest forum/message board on the Internet about the Local Church and Witness Lee:
http://thebereans.net/forum/index.php/board,21.0.html

9:33 AM  
Blogger JehovahsSon said...

WWW.thebereans.net
follow link to forum

9:35 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

i can't believe what you have said. but i do understand in some ways. this is all about Titus Chu and great lakes brothers vs LSM and the blended brothers. this will surely happen ... when opportunity comes. when bro.WitnessLee went to the Lord, some of his co-workers will surely felt "independence has come." but they have to act legitimately and within the compound of hidden agenda. well, Titus Chu and his co-horts did it. He has poisoned many to follow him. that is why about 80 churches in greatlakes area followed him ... not knowing the truth. well, here he tried to gather some followers but was stopped and discovered. well, i just think bro.Titus Chu is a great opportunist. if bro.Witness lee is alive ... he will surely be reprimanded. but that will not surely happen ... for he succeeded. But the churches and the saints are the Lord's. i've been in the meeting in a local church for 30 years now, but it seems things are progressing. but somehow ... never mind.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh saints! We must give ourselves to Him for His move on the earth. Do not allow yourselves to be caught up in this but rather stay in life, turn to your spirit and enjoy Him. The "Amen" in me is for the one New Testament ministry, for everytime I come to it I find myself drawn closer to the Lord, no person, no work, no headquarters. When I am not in this ministry I find myself dead and in the mind. May the Lord grant us mercy and grace us to be His overcomers to consumate the New Jerusalem!

12:16 AM  
Blogger WeRNowun said...

We would just need to pray for ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and even our enemies, those who are against us and/or prosecuting us. Our prayer, “Lord we thank You and praise You for what You have done for us. You died for us to wash away our sins, and You resurrected for us that we may Your life and nature and call you Brother and having the same Father. You even prayed for us that we would be one with You and one with our Father, thank You Lord that we are now one with the Triune God. Now You are calling us in which ever church that we are in: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Lord give us ears to hear Your calling, eyes to see You, and a heart to have the same desire as You are after. Lord may You be the real One that lives in and through us, that we may pick up our crosses and follow You, by denying our self and allowing You to be the preeminence One in us. Lord reigns over us; our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our enemies, we all from every Christiandom churches would have the same the purpose to live an overcoming life and become the manchild to bring You back, end this age, and may You set Your kingdom here on earth. One with You Lord to shepherd all the nations and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Amen

12:34 AM  
Blogger Alberto said...

This is how history repeats itself..We brothers should learned the lesson in 1 Cor. 1. to focus only Christ and no one else.
We should love the brothers more than ever. And think of reconciliation rather than division. May the Lord Jesus find us faithful servants. Amen

10:00 AM  
Blogger kidnyc said...

growing up in the church, i appreciate your candor and even the levity of what you wrote. after doing the research and evaluating the fruit, its obvious that brothers on both sides of this rift are living in their ego and care little for practical needs of the saints or expressing true divine unconditional love for the Body. sadly, the local churches have devolved becoming a defacto denomination and have lost their focus. scandal and drama will continue to rock on if the source is not Spirit. where is the prayer? love? service? faith? accountability? divine life regulates from within not by rules, edicts, publishing empires or paper popes. if your faith is in God, then have faith God will work it out. it's a tragedy that the current condition of the "recovery" resembles a bad reality show more than a divine dispensation. show me the content and i'll show you the result. perspective is an interesting quality depending on the eyes you use...

5:46 AM  
Blogger trojann said...

Kidnyc, you literally took the words out of my mouth! I too grew in "the recovery" and am still meeting with the church. I must state that there are far too many rules and regulations in today's Local Church (and so too in all other denominations), maybe not by intentional design, but it just turned out this way – aka. Allowed by our Lord. The important thing is that we don’t let ourselves trapped in all these. We all know that “LIFE IS TO BE ENJOYED.” But if we keep on focusing on the negatives, sorting out what or who is right or wrong…Mmm…. we are like dogs barking on the wrong tree, the tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Let us focus on partaking from the Tree of life – aka. God himself! I am a little younger than “The Man”, but I am starting to feel that time is short. Live your human life to the full along side with spiritual life despite what you’ve been told. Over time through Life transforming, you will Seek the Kingdom of God “First”! Go churching with both groups of saints, ie. LSM and Titus Chu, even other denomination groups. Blend with ALL the saints, even Titus! Don’t let other saints’ well intended protective views, formed out of maybe their own fears or pride, stop you from LIVING!

2:22 AM  
Blogger brerjohn said...

Hi Sean:

This matter of what kind of church the Lord is after is also very crucial to me. I also wanted to reply to something you mention publicly concerning two particular localities, but I don't know quite how to do it without sounding as though I were defending one. But since efforts were repeatedly made to reach out for some time, even as the other group leaned away, it seems some kind of rectifying remarks should be made. But instead of being specific, maybe I can make some general remarks that would demonstrate the principle observed by one of those assemblies.

A group that stands uniquely upon the oneness of the Body of Christ should be recognized as representing the Body where they live. I believe God honors this. When some such group, however, decides to pledge allegiance to some organization and acts in party with it, others who once reached out in the name of oneness and inclusiveness now have to treat the situation differently, lest they expose their own members to something no longer healthy or conducive to what they are standing for.

I do not believe, as some might get from your comment, that any individual is loved any less by those from either assembly. I trust we love all believers in Christ Jesus and do our best for them regardless how they choose to affiliate themselves.

What might rightly limit or restrict fellowship between one assembly with another, when the goal is the building up of the one Body of Christ? I believe the primary thing to consider is whether the stand of an assembly is upon the oneness of the Body of Christ, or upon something broader or narrower than the Body. That is, does the group claiming to be the church stand upon the ground of the Body, or take for themselves some other ground?

If an assembly recognizes another assembly when that other assembly has chosen some OTHER standing than the oneness of the Body of Christ, not only does the first assembly endanger its own "health" if it exposes its members to that group's sectarian stand, but it also tacitly endorses whatever produced its desertion or separation in the first place, hurting the possibility of their eventual return to the ground of fellowship as fellow-testimonies in that oneness.

Might the Lord open a provisional avenue of fellowship to facilitate a group's recovery to the ground of standing and fellowship they had left? That is up to the Lord and those who truly labor with Him in His work, for who but the Lord is sufficient for such things? But once any group, regardless of their history or lack of history with other churches, takes up that stand, they become those who, along with all others representing the one Body, enjoy its flow of fellowship.

There is something wonderful to be experienced upon the ground of the oneness of the Body of Christ, and between the churches who stand together for the sake of its testimony.

I believe this somewhat explains the perspective of one of the assemblies you mention.

9:36 PM  
Blogger brerjohn said...

I also want to mention that a website mentioned above (bereans), like most others, requires some discernment... I tried to dialogue upon it for awhile, but found it not always so "Berean"! (although I am sure others would claim it was I who was unable to act "bereanly").

9:45 PM  
Blogger holycrap said...

i think what is more important is to just love the Lord. what is there to seek after all these? why bothering about who's right or who's wrong?

sigh. may our Lord have mercy on us.

10:12 AM  
Blogger LiveOutLoud said...

The proof is surely in the fruit. A defacto denomination, for sure. But as one that doesn't recognize the validity of another ministry on the earth with a living minister, how can this be what God is doing? Doesn't exclusion qualify it for a cult standing? Such nice people, I know, but how can they be in touch with God while living under such delusions. Thank HIm for His mercy, but I had to leave it.

7:32 AM  

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