LSM as “only a business office”

The CBs present a document, “Concerning the LSM Promulgation…,” which provides a number of quotations from Brother Witness Lee regarding the Living Stream Ministry office. According to the introductory comments in the document, these quotations “should alarm the readers about the accuracy of the quotations of Brother Lee’s writings and the intention of the writing in the LSM’s booklet [Publication Work in the Lord’s Recovery].” What should we be alarmed about?

The first quotation the document presents relates to LSM as “only a business office.” The authors who quote Brother Lee apparently feel that the alarm about accuracy and intention here is self-apparent, but I am not sure everyone would agree. The use of boldface type at least helps us narrow down what it is that is so alarming to the authors of the document. (Note: The emphasis is their own, not Brother Lee’s.)

“The Living Stream Ministry office is only a business office to serve my ministry for two things: to publish the messages in book form and to distribute these messages in both video and audio tapes. That is all the ministry office should do and nothing else. I did not have much time to check on everything related to the office in the past, but the ministry office has always had this specific function and no other function. This little office is a Levitical service serving my ministry to put out the word of God in print through video and audio tapes.”
(Witness Lee, A Timely Word, p. 39, 1988; Witness Lee, Elders Training Book 9, p. 61, 1992)

From these emphases we must conclude that we should be alarmed about LSM taking on some new role in the Lord’s recovery. Brother Lee characterizes LSM as two things: a business office and a ministry office. I believe that the authors of this document would like the saints to focus on Brother Lee’s statement that “the Living Stream Ministry office is only a business office,” but they cannot at the same time expect the saints to ignore that he also referred to this business office as “the ministry office.” Indeed, there is an aspect of LSM that makes it a business office. It is incorporated in the State of California; it has US Federal IRS tax-exempt status; it owns real assets; it has employees; it buys and sells goods. But is that all LSM is, a business office? If so, why does Brother Lee also call “this little office” a ministry office? Is it any less a ministry office just because it is also a business office. By analogy, most of the local churches in the United States are incorporated as nonprofit organizations in their respective states, and many of them enjoy tax-exempt status; many have “employees” and own real assets; some buy and sell goods. But who in their right mind would say that the local churches are simply nonprofit organizations? Who among us would deny that they are more intrinsically the churches of God? Somehow almost all the saints everywhere are able to hold in mind a distinction between a church’s spiritual status and its legal one. But the authors of this document are either incredible simpletons or they hope to obfuscate the same distinction that exists with LSM. Certainly LSM is a business office; no one needs specialty in corporation law to understand that. But at the same time, LSM is “the ministry office,” and this is intrinsically what it is in the Lord’s recovery. To ignore LSM’s intrinsic spiritual function as the ministry office is as perverse as claiming that the The Church in Anaheim as a California nonprofit corporation (for example) is all there is to the church in Anaheim.

Brother Lee does indeed says that LSM “is only a business office,” and if he had stopped there and moved on to some other point, we could limit his meaning to what the authors are probably hoping to emphasize. But again the authors are hoping that their readers will ignore what they have not emphasized with bold type. It is worthwhile to quote the sentence unadorned with the authors’ distracters. “The Living Stream Ministry office is only a business office to serve my ministry for two things: to publish the messages in book form and to distribute these messages in both video and audio tapes.” Forgive me all for speaking as a linguist, but the word only is a limiting adverb that necessarily has a scope to its limitation. The authors hope to make the saints understand that the scope of the word only limits just the phrase that follows it, a business office. But we understand the scope of the word only as limiting the entire noun phrase with its following purpose infinitive modifier, a business office to serve my ministry for two things…. This, to me, seems to be the more natural reading. But the deeper question is, would Witness Lee care for only a business office? That doesn’t sound like him at all. What does sound like him is his having a ministry office that is at the same time a business office for extrinsic, legal reasons. Perhaps the authors would not agree, but I believe that Brother Lee was both a very spiritual person and a very righteous and conscientious person. Thus, while he would entrust the work of publishing the ministry to a proper service office (“the ministry office” that he later characterizes as “a Levitical service”), he would at the same time insure that this office had a proper legal standing and a proper business practice (“a business office”). I do not think that Brother Lee is saying what the authors are hoping to make him say, that is, that LSM is only a business office. Such would not be in keeping with how we know Brother Lee was. Rather, it seems that he is saying that LSM is only a business office that serves to publish and distribute these messages; it is not an office that does anything else. However–and this is the point to be emphasized–it is an office for the publication of the ministry, even if on an extrinsic level it is a business office.

The authors of this document and the CBs who promote it wish to suggest that LSM is taking on some larger role in the Lord’s recovery. They wish to suggest that because of the co-workers’ statement on publication work in the Lord’s recovery, LSM is now in a position to control the local churches. Their logic is mystifying. As I understand it, they claim that if the churches were to be restricted in one publication (as Brother Lee ministered), and if LSM were to serve with the co-workers to determine what is of the one publication (as the co-workers’ statement describes), then LSM would be in a position to control the local churches. Of course, if LSM can control the local churches, then it has gone far beyond its station as
“only a business office.” But I fail to make the leap that these brothers can. How would LSM’s involvement with the co-workers in the publication work put it in a position to control the local churches? I can see that LSM could be accused of being able to control the publications among us. But hasn’t LSM always been the sole publisher of the ministry among us? (I know that the CBs will take exception to this, since
for them “the ministry” is conveniently amorphous and includes, I suspect, much more than what most saints would be comfortable with.) How then do we get from what has long been the situation among us regarding the ministry publications to pervasive and pernicious control of the local churches? We don’t. Not much has changed among us through issuing of the co-workers’ statement on publication work: LSM still publishes the ministry materials for the local churches, and what it publishes is generally recognized by the churches as the ministry. If anyone wants to write something as part of those ministry materials, the co-workers, who take the lead in the ministry, and LSM, who has the years of experience in publishing the ministry, fellowship over the proposal and decide if such writing is worthy to be released as part of the one publication.

Does this mean that no one can write anything unless the co-workers and LSM approve it? You wouldn’t be reading this note right now if that were the case. But I am quite clear that this note is not part of the one publication. Certainly, I hope that many saints will read this, but I do not at all feel that what I am writing here is the ministry. Of course, I have not taken up the task of writing here without first fellowshiping with brothers who bear responsibility in the Lord’s recovery. But my fellowship with them was not to ascertain whether or not what I am writing is part of the one publication; my fellowship with them was to determine if my writing would help neutralize some of the poison that the CBs are fomenting. Thus, even as what the CBs promote is certainly not part of the one publication (only they would suspect that it is ministry at all), so also my response to them is certainly not part of the one publication. But that does not deter me from writing, Further, I am not worried that some arm of the co-workers and LSM will wrench around my neck and stifle what I have to say. That is not the situation among us, no matter how the CBs try to portray it in their insidious ways. Dear brothers and sisters, there are no machinations by the co-workers or by LSM to dominate the local churches. These are the delusions of a few disaffected among us.

The CBs, through a promulgation of their own, hope to plant the evil thought in the minds of the saints that LSM has gone far beyond its proper function. But its proper function has always been to publish the ministry materials as the one publication among us for the churches everywhere. Further, these brothers hope to twist Brother Lee’s reference to LSM as “a business office” in order to deny his more intrinsic characterization of LSM as “the ministry office.” But they do so against the very character of Brother Lee and according to their own character of sowing suspicion and discord among the saints. This is the “alarm” they send up among the saints. Shame on them!