As we have pointed out, the so-called theology in today’s Christianity is not just of one school. Christian theology has a least four or more major schools. Catholic theology is one major school, and it may be called sacramental theology. Then there is reformed theology, mostly based upon the teachings of John Calvin. This kind of theology also had much to do with the Reformation, which was under the leadership of Martin Luther. Then later on we can see dispensational theology, which is the theology of the Brethren. The Brethren are very much for Calvin in the matter of predestination, but they would not go along completely with reformed theology. Then there is what I call secular theology. This is not taught in the theological seminaries or Bible institutes, but in the secular universities which have schools of divinity. Their teaching of theology is what I would consider as a secular item. Even some theological schools are not so pure for theology itself, but are more in the realm of studying the Bible as a type of literature. We may call this kind of theology academic theology. All the books which are published and on today’s bookshelves come out finder these main schools of theology. Today in the United States we see all these kinds of theologies with their students.
Even among the Christian publications today the situation is quite confusing. It is hard to say which theological school is fundamental. Some claim to be fundamental and they use the term “orthodox doctrine,” but to some the orthodox doctrines are only those teachings which Jesus taught the twelve disciples directly while He was on this earth. If this were the case, however, then more than half of the New Testament books would be cut off. Fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written by Paul, who was not one among the twelve while the Lord Jesus was on this earth in the three and a half years of His earthly ministry. This kind of thought about orthodox doctrine is completely wrong. A few years ago at a certain conference, a number of Christians held up a banner which said, “We don’t follow Paul, we follow Christ.” Also, a number of years ago there was a conference held in Chicago which called people to go back to the early councils of the church before the papal system was established.
If we help the believers in the Lord’s recovery by using these books, we run two risks. First, we unintentionally bring the Lord’s recovery back to the old books which the Lord’s recovery has gone through already. From Brother Nee through our sixty year history, we have gone through those books. I do not mean that starting from Brother Nee we have read through all the books. This is impossible. However, mainly through Brother Nee’s work of looking through thousands of spiritual books and expositions, the Lord’s recovery has gone through all those old writings. Brother Nee also had much fellowship with me concerning the things he researched, and I learned much. I really appreciate Brother Nee. In my whole Christian life, I have never met one who had his degree of spiritual discernment. He was the top selector. Among the many books he looked into, he was able to make a quick selection of the books which were useful. This is why I say the Lord’s recovery has gone through all those old writings as a collective unit. Although I did not study in a Bible institute or a theological school, I am able to give you an analysis of the so-called theology in today’s Christianity. Many of these old writings are very good, but some of them are not good and are misleading, distracting, holding back, and some even destroy the faith.
Second, we run the risk of bringing the recovery backward and not onward. Since we began to go through these books, the Lord began to show us something further. History tells us that the Lord’s recovery did not begin from Luther. Actually the Lord’s recovery began from the fourteenth century. Since that time, the Lord’s recovery of the truth has been continuing all the time. It did not stop at Luther and it has not stopped with anyone. The problem is, though, that the followers of certain faithful brothers received the light, yet they all stopped with what they received. The followers of Luther stopped at the Lutheran faith, and the followers of John Wesley stopped at the Methodist faith. Even the followers of the Brethren stopped with Darby, but the Lord would not stop and He was never stopped. He kept going on and on. Brother Nee told me during his time that in both Europe arid America the Lord had no way to go on. The Lord was forced to go to China, “a heathen land.” Brother Nee considered that in that time as far as the Lord’s recovery was concerned China was a piece of “virgin soil.” He told me the Lord was forced to come to virgin soil to carry on His recovery. I have no doubt about this because when I was with Brother Nee I did see something new. What I had seen was not something new in the Bible, but something new in discovery and something new in recovery of the already existing items in the Bible. Even within the past twenty-two years in the United States there have been quite a number of crucial recoveries and discoveries of the biblical truths. The Lord’s recovery is something going on. It is not something going back.
The meeting hall in Anaheim was designed to have a big library downstairs. I intended to fill this library with all the classical books from the church fathers’ writings down to the present time. I also intended to have three or more readers, who would read all these books on certain major subjects such as the Triune God. They would read these books, make notes on them, and if needed even xerox certain paragraphs from them. Then whenever we write something for publication, we would not need to spend much time going to the books themselves. All we would have to do would be to go to our notebook. This would save us a lot of time in our writing. Then the news went out that there was a kind of trend. The saints thought we were going back to the old doctrines and some even came to me and said, “This is good because this shows people that this is not only Witness Lee’s writing, but all the writings of Christianity are here.” When I heard this, I immediately made a decision to stop what we had intended to do. I had even bought a set of writings in Latin on microfiche which was quite expensive, and we had built a table for reading this microfiche, but after I made this decision we returned it. The reason why I stopped what we had intended to do was because I saw the peril that this would bring the recovery back. We would not be going onward but going backward. Gradually, however, we collected the needed reference books, and whatever was needed we collected.
(Elders' Training, Book 04: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)