Concerning Local Church Modalism


If a person really believes something, then they would be able to express it in their own words. If I ask a person a question and they have to refer me to someone else for an answer, rather than answering the question themselves or giving references from the Bible, they may not realize that they may have already answered my question. For by doing so they show that they don't really understand. For if they did, they would have been able to express themselves. And in particular in this case, the issue had to do with the local church's modalistic view of the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but what I was given was a paper by Robert Govett on a list of paradoxes in the Bible. First I'll deal with this paper and then get back to the real issue at hand.

Govett's Paradoxes

In his paper on the Twofoldness of Divine Truth, Robert Govett proposes 16 paradoxes in the Bible. He offers no resolution to these paradoxes, but simply reveals them. But I don't find it particularly difficult to resolve any of them.

    1. The correlation between PREDESTINATION and FREE WILL is very simple. In God's election, it was his plan to take into account his foreknowledge of people's response to the gospel. Knowing how people would respond, he could speak in the past of their election as it was inevitable that they would come to believe, even though coming to faith in Christ is synergistic. (For a study on this see

    2. ATONEMENT: Christ payed for the sins of the whole world, but such atonement is only applied to those who have faith in Christ. This is a paradox only to Calvinists, but not to me. Yes, Christ did overpay for sin. For his payment was not simply a matter of satisfying the requirements of justice, but raather it was done graciously.

    3. ETERNAL SECURITY: Once saved, always saved. But also once saved, a person born of God will inevitably behave in way consistent with a child of God in a lifestyle sense. A person's performance is not the source of salvation, but rather it reveals the person's salvation status. (I recommend the study on 1John - The book of 1John clarifies this. Some find conflict with Hebrews, so I would also recommend checking the study guides on that

    4. FAITH and WORKS: Saving faith is an application oriented faith. Saving faith is a faith that works

    5. TRINITY: The allegory of the sun I find to be a good one. The Father being the ball in space separated from his creation. The Son being the light that comes from the sun. And the Holy Spirit being the heat that comes from the sun, which people can experience even in darkness. (See

    6. JUSTICE and MERCY: Hardly I would consider as paradoxical. The resolution of these two is clearly revealed in Christ's sacrifice of atonement.

    7. The DEITY and HUMANITY of Christ: Christ is one person of the Godhead. But for a time he limited himself to human form. I don't find that particularly difficult to understand.

    8. The 2 COMINGS OF CHRIST: I don't think this should be considered a paradox any longer. It may have been a paradox early on as Jews and the disciples had the misconception that the Messiah would come once. But now we understand that he comes twice.

    9. RITUALS IN WORSHIP: Baptism & Communion. Are they essential as Catholics make them? Or optional? These are not substantive of themselves but symbolic. They are official channels through which one can express genuine faith in Christ. And they do play some role in the Christian life, but are worthless if not done in faith.

    10. EVANGELISM: Hearing the gospel from a preacher OR from studying? This is no paradox, but simply a misunderstanding of the figures of speech used in the Bible. "Hearing" includes both hearing from a preacher and studying. The reason I suspect some consider this a paradox is that profession preachers make too much of their own words and try and invalidate people coming to faith in Christ apart from their own preaching. This is simply an invented paradox.

    11. SPIRIT OF WORSHIP: Fear or Bold? The spirit of worship should be one of faith, but not presumption. Fear is due to impending judgment. Believing in Christ is not the same as gullibly presuming one will escape judgment if one's behavior is not consistent with one's faith. Thus "fear" should be practice as Paul says in 2Cor 13:5 " Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" Simply stated: our confidence of faith should not be in our own faith, but in the atoning work of Christ. While the direction of our fear should be toward's God's judgement.

    12. MEANS OF GRACE: Public meetings or Private. This conflict was invented as an effect of unBiblical institutional philosophy. Institutional Christianity focusses on its institutions. They make a big deal about their buildings and their programs. That's how they measure their "fruitfulness". But Biblical Christianity values both public institutional programs as well as a private ones.

    13. THE CHURCH: Unity of priesthood or clergy-laity division? As is typical of profession Christians, "clergy" tend to make too much of themselves while treating the "laity" as a bunch of stupid and incompetent sheep. Contrary to what profession Christians would like to believe, all are priests. However, there is a variety of roles and giftedness in the body of Christ. Some have gifts of teaching and administration and become "clergy". But they fail to do their job if they are not helping the "stupid sheep" develop their own ministries.

    14. DISPENSATIONS: The Law of Moses was given to the Jews not to Christians. We can't just take any command in the Bible and apply it literally to Christians unless the context justifies it. It's very easy to understand this. It is true that Christians should infer applications from the spirit of the Law, but not the letter. Reading what is written explicit to Christians in the New Testament makes this very clear. No paradox here!

    15. SCRIPTURES: Hard or easy to understand? Compared to Govett it seems I find that scriptures relatively easy to understand. What may be hard to understand is what is not explicity stated, or interpretations of visions and such. But what is essential has been explicitly stated. It is hardly a paradox to say that some things a book contains are difficult to understand and other things easy. And also things like Jesus' teachings - easy to understand for those who have the right attitude, but difficult for those with the wrong attitude.

    16. PRIVILEDGES: Diversity or unity? He gives the example of rulers. Once again this is only a paradox to those with an elitist menality, common among professional Christians. For so called "priviledges" are meant for the purpose of service and invoke responsibilities leading to judgement. So "priviledge" is balanced with responsibility.

As you can see, I find no difficulty resolve any of these supposed paradoxes. But these beg the question. For the issue at hand is not a paradox, but rather the local church's modalistic view of the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The Local Church's Modalistic View
of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit

I have found the local church tends to emphasize terminology equating Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit. This is the subject of a number of hymns frequently sung and the subject of much talk. The idea seems to be that the Son transforms himself into the Holy Spirit in a literal sense. That is modalism. There are verses that imply this, but I interpret them to be speaking metaphorically. So I decided to see if the local church people understood them metaphorically or literally and I stood up in a meeting and proposed that these verses were speaking metaphorically, but was denounced. This indicated to me that indeed, they understood these in a literal sense. Correct me if I misunderstand.

This issue is somewhat similar to the transubstantiation issue over the communion eucharist. But it's a more serious issue. Concerning the communion bread, the Catholics propose that it really and truly becomes transformed into the real and true body and blood of Christ. Just as the local church proposes that Jesus literally becomes transformed into the Holy Spirit, rather than the Holy Spirit being representative of Christ.

The Effects of Modalistic Theology

By equating Jesus with the Holy Spirit, the object of faith is drawn away from the Biblical Jesus and onto the Jesus that we feel inside. People make up their own Jesus and put their faith in that Jesus. People make much of their own experience while neglecting what the Bible says. I've seen its effect on evangelism. I attend the Friday night evangelistic study. When leading one to Christ, it seems all one has to do is not believe in the Biblical Jesus, nor even know anything more about him than his name. All one has to do is repeat the phrase "O Lord Jesus", breathing in Jesus - who is a viewed as a spirit wandering around in the atmosphere. Literally this was the case. There was a story presented in which a man in China used to ride his bike who tried to simply get other people to say that phrase "O Lord Jesus", he didn't present any other information. And in this way to save people who would repeat the phrase. That appears to be the gospel of the local church in practice and it is a false gospel of easy-believism. For many Jesus is simply the Jesus that they feel and not the Jesus of the Bible.

Here I've included some sections from my web page on the local church found at

Charismatic Influences

With the emphasis on feeling and experiencing that one often finds in Charismatic community, there is an equating of Christ with the Holy Spirit. Christ then tends to become whatever one feels or thinks and why read the Bible if you have the author living inside you giving you personal inspiration. On this issue I would hold a similar complaint with the Charismatic community as I do against the Local church. The Holy Spirit does not glorify himself, but glorifies Jesus as he is defined in the Bible. But to replace Jesus as the object of faith with the Holy Spirit is inappropriate. Different than the Charismatic churches, the Local church simply tends to redefine the Holy Spirit as being Jesus.

One verse they use to support this is 1Cor 14:45 "The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit." Presuming this to mean the Holy Spirit. But that is not what it means in context. 1Corinthians 15 is talking about the nature of the resurrected body and basically says that we'll have the same type of resurrected body as Christ had - a life-giving spiritual body. But if you look at what Jesus himself says of his body in Luke 24:39 "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." He says he is not a spirit. His body was corporeal. It was limited in space. It was in that body that he rose to heaven. And it is with that body that he will return at the second coming. It is not the same as the Holy Spirit. Thus this verse in 1Cor 15 cannot be used as a basis for Jesus becoming the Holy Spirit.

2Co 3:17 "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (kjv) This is also used to try and equate Jesus with the Holy Spirit. But again if you read it in context, Paul is referring to an incident in Exodus in which Moses went into the Tabernacle to speak to the Lord. In view of the fact that this very verse contains the phrase "the Spirit of the Lord", this indicates that he does not consider the two to be equivalent. Rather he is speaking metaphorically in saying that the Lord is that Spirit.

The viewed communicated to me is that Jesus is a non-corporeal spirit that pervades everywhere and you take him in by breathing saying the words, "O Lord Jesus." There's also alot of emphasis on his teachings in John 6 about eating Jesus. But in practice these tend to be thought of of taking him into one's feelings, but not into one's mind. As you will see from Lee's emphasis, thinking is discouraged. And also, taking him into one's body tends to become simply charismatic expressions of one's feelings, even jumping up and down, speaking loudly and so forth, rather than emphasizing actual obedience to the Word of God and changing one's lifestyle on substantive matters. "Release your spirit" is a common phrase used. But in practice this simply means to release your inhibitions. In these things, they are similar to Charismatism. In his book "Glorification - The Completion of Sonship", Lee notes, "Having passed through the teachings and the Pentecostal things, I can testify that they neither work nor supply us." Interesting to note that his reliance on his experience, rather than the Bible. He seems to be experimenting with different things and see what "works". In the same work he also says, "In the past, I taught many people how to speak in tongues". So he was not only a follower of Charismatism, but a teacher. And his Charismatic background is clearly evident from the beliefs and practices of the Local Church.

Local Church Dogma

Against Teachings and Doctrines

In Biblical Christianity there is a balance between truth and experience. We should believe the right things and conform our definition of Christ to how He has revealed himself in the Bible. But Christ also wants us to have a living relationship with him. The problem is that I sense that the Lee overemphasizes the living relationship to the point of defining Christ as "Jesus is how you feel". While most I consider brethren in Christ, I have met some in the Local church seem to have this New Age mystical definition of Christ, whereby Christ is simply a function of their experience. When I've show such people the Christ of the Bible, there is hostility and rejection. Such people reckon me to be a nominal Christian, a legalist, someone of the letter, but not of the spirit. Notice also Lee's discouraging of teaching and doctrine above and in the what follows:

We do not need the Bible study classes; we need the weeping classes to weep for the spiritual poverty and deadness.  We must listen to the Spirit--not just read what is written.  We must listen to the present, instant speaking of the living Spirit.

Why have Christians been divided?  It is simply because of the different teachings and doctrines.  The more teachings there are, the more divisions there will be.  All the various teachings and opinions have done much damage to the recovery of the church.  I fear that some of us are still under the influence of the Babylonian doctrines.  May the Lord have mercy upon us that we may forsake all of those teachings, regardless of whether they are right or wrong.  Let us go back to Jerusalem with the Spirit.  We all must have our "heads cut off."

By "heads cut off", he discourages people from thinking and discourages Bible study. He sees a problem in the practice of Christianity in other places, and tries to correct it, but manages simply to swing the pendulum in the other direction. I sense that Lee has good intentions, but he's simply creating his own form of artificial Christianity as he deviates from Biblical truth and guidelines. But again I have to say, that such deviations are not uncommon in the Christian community. Popular Reformed Theology is also deviant from Biblical Theology on a number of points too. He thinks the problem is "different teachings and doctrines" and thus attempts to eliminate all teachings and doctrines, but in reality attempts to replace them with his own teachings and doctrines.

My solution would rather be to get people away from mere dogmatism and back into a personal Bible study which is application oriented. Both unity and maturity can be achieved if people would focus not simply on their feelings, nor on human dogmatism, but on doing the Word. Intimacy with God is a function of obedience to God. (John 14:21) And God has spoken through the Bible.

"O Lord Jesus" - Easy Believism

I was recently at a gospel meeting when one was sharing about a story of a man in China who used to ride his bike around and simply call out "O Lord Jesus" and tried to get other people - who had no knowledge of Christ to do the same so that by doing so they would be saved, having "called on the name of the Lord." Ac 2:21 "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." In this phrase they take "calling on the name" out of context, not considering the figure of speech being used. But they should have realized their error if they simply read Romans 10

Romans 10:13,14
"for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"

To call on someone's name is not simply to mouth the words, as they advocate. One must first know the person. In reality what happens in such conversions is that a person is given the phrase "O Lord Jesus", and then sticks it on whatever idol the person has built in their own mind of what a "Jesus" is, rather than conforming their definition of Christ to the Bible. (But then again I find similar practices quite common in other evangelical churches too)

"O Lord Jesus" - Living the Christian Life

Col 2:6 "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him." The manner in which people receive Christ tends to also be characteristic of how they live the Christian life. Receiving him without hearing the message, but simply mouthing words "O Lord Jesus", leads to a Christian lifestyle in which following Jesus is simply repeating the phrase "O Lord Jesus".

The following are excerpts from Witness Lee's magazine, The Stream.

"Then the fourth thing that we must see in order to participate is life!  We all must know life.  Revelation is a book of life.  Do not pay attention to the forms, the regulations, the teachings, the doctrines, Christianity and religion.  No, we must pay our full attention to life.

Today, if you were to ask me how to be victorious, I would tell you that there is no need for you to try to be victorious.  Just say from deep within, "O Lord, Amen, Hallelujah!  O Lord, Amen, Hallelujah!  O Lord, Amen, Hallelujah!" and you will be so victorious."

My Experience with Local Church Dogma

In Local Church Bible studies the Bible is used only infrequently and Witness Lee's writings are treated as if they were the Bible. I often am the only one to clarify to those who have never read the Bible before that such writings are not the Bible, but merely the opinions of Witness Lee. But it seems that since Christ lives in Witness Lee, then whatever he says must be treated like the Word of God! Well if that's the case, then since Christ lives in me too, logically my words should also be taken as the Word of God. But I've been informed (by Dana), that Christ doesn't live in me. And therefore, being a non-local church outsider, my opinions are not treated the same. However this is a paradox to those who accept me as a brother in Christ. This is a problem with the much of Charismatism and even modern Evangelicalism which equate "Word of God" with whatever Christians say rather than equating it with Bible.

Local Church Paradoxes

1. If the local church accepts the priesthood of all believers and that Christ lives in all believers, then why is it that only the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee are emphasized?

2. If the local church believes the Bible, then why is it that local church Bible studies tend to consist exclusively of the commentaries of these two men, as if their writings were the Bible?

3. How is it that a person is considered "saved" simply by repeating the phrase "O Lord Jesus", yet not believe or even not know of the Biblical Jesus - seeing as the Bible never teaches that?

4. Why is it that the local church seems to teach that living the Christian life comes down to repeating the phrase "O Lord Jesus", while the Bible teaches that it involves a change of behavior and obedience to Christ's commands and the Bible actually teaches against simply saying phrases?

5. In the Recovery Version, Witness Lee states that his commentary represents the crystallization of what the saints have attested to in the last 2000 years. However, he also incorporates the Purgatory idea, which is absent in the history of Protestant Christianity. Yet he also considers the Catholic purgatory to be heresy. So where in the crystallization of 2000 years of Christian thought does he derive his purgatory idea from? (See my web page on the Local Church)

6. How is it that that Local church affirms the Bible in name, but then seems to teach that we should mindlessly follow the teachings of Witness Lee gullibly and without question?

7. How is it that the local church is against denominationalism, but speaks and acts as if it were its own denomination?


These are just some sample paradoxes. I have a number of problems with Witness Lee's theology. But I find that most local church people, because they are discouraged from thinking, either tend to dogmatically hold on to Witness Lee's teachings without comparing them to the Bible, or just don't take anything doctrinal seriously, who consider "thinking" itself to be an enemy to the Christian life. If you wonder what I'm doing at the Local Church, my objective is very simple - to get people into the Bible. If people are caught up in Witness Lee's dogma, or Govett's or Watchman Nee's, yes I can deal with those, as I compare them against the Bible. While there are good things about the Local Church such as its Ecclesiastical structure, which allows me to do ministry, though an outsider, I have found a number of disturbing things as well - such as the Purgatory doctrine, the elistist division between overcomers and non-overcomers, the chanting of O Lord Jesus in a Hindu mantra fashion, the easy-believism, the modalistic equating Jesus with the Holy Spirit, the suppression of thinking, the suppression of development of Christlike behavior beyond the emotional level, the equating of the release of the Spirit with the release of one's inhibitions, shallow Bible study and preaching, a contemptuous attitude promoted towards non-local church people. But then again many of these and other such things are not atypical of most Evangelical churches, who think of themselves perhaps a bit too highly than they should. The development of spiritual maturity in the local church will be largely dependent upon people's level of humility. It will be interesting to see that with Witness Lee gone and no strong leadership to take his place, what direction the local church will take. For as also in Paul's ministry, the struggle is going to end up being between the Bible and man-made dogma.

Steve Amato
The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources