Unity and Humility in the Body of Christ.
Bible Study with Jairus – 1 Corinthians 3
Have you ever wondered why Paul seems to expect Christians to leave behind spiritual childhood, while Jesus expects Christians to become like little children? Paul asked Christians not to be “infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1), yet Jesus commanded us all to “turn and become like children” (Matthew 18:3)
Which is it? Does God want us to become mature in Christ, or does he want us to become like little children?
The difference between spirit, soul, and body
To understand the answer to this question, it’s important to understand the difference between the spirit, soul, and body. To grow spiritually, our soul needs to be transformed, but that does not mean our physical self—mind, will, and emotions–remain immature and childish. Our will, along with our IQ and EQ, will continue to grow and develop as we mature.
What is important is for us to maintain “child-like innocence” in our hearts. A person controlled by the Holy Spirit should be very innocent. In other words, Jesus calls for our hearts to remain pure like the heart of a child.
Paul, on the other hand, encourages us to grow and mature, so that we do not remain immature, like an infant. Our souls need to experience transformation and renewal through Christ.
This discussion relates to a correct understanding of the heart, soul, spirit and body, and the ways they are perceived differently by different churches.
In the Local Church Movement (LCM), I was taught that a person has three parts – spirit, soul and body. A person’s soul consists of his mind, emotions and will. A person’s spirit consists of his conscience, fellowship, and intuition. A person’s heart consists of the spirit’s conscience and the soul’s mind, emotions and will.
Whether or not these definitions are complete is a discussion for another time. However, by using these definitions, we can focus the discussion on the difference between spirit and soul.
The founder of the LCM, Watchman Nee, preached that a person has three parts, spirit, soul and body, while other famous preachers from Chinese Churches hold the viewpoint that the spirit and soul are inseparable. One of the most famous preachers who holds such a viewpoint is Indonesian Pastor Stephen Tong. This discussion is present throughout the Western Christian community, where different theologians hold differing viewpoints. However, for today, we will focus on the differences between the teachings of Pastor Stephen Tong’s and those of the LCM.
Pastor Stephen Tong denies the three-part being (spirit, soul and body) and claims that spirit and soul are one. This teaching is more in line with the Chinese culture, and hence more widely accepted by Chinese Christians. Because Chinese culture does not differentiate between spirit and soul, many Chinese Christians have been influenced by this teaching.
The LCM, on the other hand, believes that Tong’s beliefs are not scripturally sound based on mainly two Bible passages. First, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The original Greek text clearly lists the spirit (‘Pneuma’), soul (‘Psuche’) and body (‘Soma), which are three distinct words in Greek. Second, Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Again, two distinct Greek words, ‘pneuma’ and ‘psuche’, were used to describe spirit and soul. From these two passages, spirit and soul are indeed distinct.
Pastor Stephen Tong does not agree that Hebrews 4:12 highlights the difference between spirit, soul and body. Instead, he believes that this verse is highlighting the power of God’s word in a metaphorical way. Personally, I tend to agree more with the LCM’s belief on this topic.
Teachings that do not differentiate between the soul and spirit lead believers to identify with their soul but not mature in their spirit. Many first-generation Chinese-American pastors have noticed that first-generation Chinese churches often devolve into a social club, where believers build friendships, share their culture, or even network for business. However, they are often lacking severely in spiritual growth. From my personal observation, this issue may be related to the lack of teaching on the difference between the spirit and the soul.
Watchman Nee’s nephew wrote a biography of his uncle, in which he admits that their teaching on the spirit life is an important strength of the LCM movement. Though the biographer disagrees with the One-City-One-Church principle of LCM, he admires their emphasis on spirit life. He admits that many other Chinese churches tend to be more worldly in their outlook and behaviors.
The LCM is a movement that originated in China but has now spread all over the world. In this discussion, however, I will be mainly referring to the Chinese segment of the LCM movement.
The LCM teaches that we can grow up spiritually and train our spiritual being through “exercising our spirit.” Just like we strengthen our muscles and increase their functionality through physical exercise, we can grow “spiritual muscles” by exercising our spirits.
There are many ways to exercise your spirit. One of the most common ways is to “Call Upon the Name of Jesus” and read God’s word meditatively and prayerfully. After I received Christ, these two methods helped me experience tremendous spiritual growth. However, the reputations of these two methods have been tarnished outside of the LCM. For this reason, people outside the LCM have not had the opportunity to reap the benefits of learning and practicing these spiritual disciplines. At LCM meetings, discussions center around spiritual matters, avoiding the problem of “social club” that many other Chinese American churches are facing.
Many mainstream American church teachings also adopt the viewpoint that a person has three parts: spirit, soul and body. However, the LCM is unique in several ways. The LCM not only differentiates between spirit and soul, but also between our human spirit and God’s spirit. The LCM is unique in its emphasis of practical ways to exercise and strengthen our spirits. The LCM teaches believers to cleanse their consciences, deal with the flesh, and remove external things that suppress the spirit, thereby achieving breakthrough and growth in the spiritual life. Such an emphasis on exercising the spiritual person is something that I have rarely seen in mainstream American churches. Certain methods of spiritual growth, such as meditation and speaking in tongues, are promoted by preachers in both evangelical and Pentecostal churches in the US; however, the majority of believers in the US do not actually incorporate these practices into their daily lives. However, the LCM helps the believers to put these disciplines into rigorous practice.
A very important analogy that we can use to illustrate the LCM’s teaching is that of an apple tree. An apple tree does not need to try hard and exert extra effort to develop apples. It is part of its nature to grow apples. No matter how hard it tries to grow pears, it will not be able to do it.
However, in the growth process, the tree still needs to be cultivated. If weeds are not removed, fertilizer is not used, and branches are not trimmed, the apple tree will not reach its full potential for producing apples. In the same way, a spirit-filled life can be developed through trimming away things that hinder its natural growth, in order to allow our spiritual growth to reach its full potential. Just like weeds and wilted branches hinder the growth of the apple tree, our sin, guilt, and the flesh hinder our spiritual growth. Through the power of the Cross, we can remove these weeds and live an overcoming life that glorifies God.
Just like the apple tree’s nature is to grow apples, we have Christ’s nature within us, enabling us to live out Christ’s love, light, holiness and righteousness. Hence, we do not need to ‘make extra effort’ to live out these attributes of Christ. But we do need to remove the weeds and wilted branches that hinder the development of the spiritual life.
Renewal and transformation of the soul
Besides teaching the difference between spirit, soul and body and promoting the exercise of the spiritual man, the LCM also emphasizes the renewal and transformation of the soul. Besides the external factors that can hinder our spiritual growth, such as our sinful, fleshly self, a lot of hindrances also stem from the unrenewed mindset of the soul. As such, the LCM emphasizes the transformation and renewal taught in Romans 12:1. This verse teaches us to offer our bodies as a sacrifice and be transformed through the renewal of our minds.
Difficulties encountered in the soul will ultimately affect our spiritual progress and development. For example, when two brothers fight, their conflict is taking place in their souls. Both men harbor feelings of unforgiveness and the unwillingness to compromise and be united in their minds. However, when both are willing to come before the Lord to pray, they exercise their spirit and are ministered to by the Holy Spirit. As they unite their spirit with God’s, they recognize that the conflict is taking place in their souls. Through prayer, they exercise their spirits and recognize their ability to forgive and accept each other. As each man repents and both reconcile, the issue that they were fighting over gets resolved.
The LCM teaches believers to break free from their natural soul, exercise their spirit, and unite their spirit with the Holy Spirit. Believers in the LCM strongly encourage each other to break free from the natural soul and exercise their spirit-man. It is often said that the soul is the “city of problems,” a place full of problems that are difficult to resolve. However, the spirit is a “city of no problems,” where difficulties faced by the soul can naturally resolve.
Pastor Stephen Tong has sharp criticisms for this belief. He believes the LCM overly emphasizes spirituality, neglecting rationality. “I don’t know when it started,” he says, “but I do know that the Church in China is facing a catastrophe. Reason is seen as part of the soul, emotion is part of the soul, will is part of the soul. Believers are taught to only be spiritual, and to abandon anything related to the soul. So, everything related to thought and rationality is said to be part of the soul! Since the arrival of this catastrophe, intellectuals have left the church. The church is full of fools. The more anti-knowledge and anti-cultural Christians become, the less they are able to gain a reputable standing in the midst of global changes.”
From my personal experience in the LCM, I would counter that the LCM focuses on the transformation and renewal of the soul. The teaching emphasizes that as the spirit grows and changes, its benefits will overflow into the soul for its transformation and renewal. The LCM teaches that transformation in the spiritual realm will naturally lead to renewal of the soul. Hence, to solve problems in the realm of the soul, we would first need to grow in the spiritual life.
The LCM also teaches the removal of hindrances such as earthly sins and worldly distractions, so as to allow for the change of the soul. The LCM focuses on the shepherding of one’s soul, with special emphasis on helping new believers shepherd their souls and open their hearts to receive the life in the spirit.
The LCM teaches us to deny the natural soul life, since that represents our old life apart from Christ. But it does not teach us to deny the functions of the soul, such as the mind, emotions and will. They teach that the stronger our spiritual life is, the more our souls will be transformed. As we lead a spirit-led life, our thoughts will be clearer, our will stronger, and our emotions more filled with love. In my experience, the LCM has never denied rationality. Instead, they encourage believers to diligently study the Bible and other spiritual books. My personal experience of the LCM does not match Pastor Stephen Tong’s observations. Tong does not paint a full picture of the LCM’s beliefs, and his criticisms are overly harsh. As a result, many Chinese Christians have been discouraged from accepting the good teachings of the LCM.
Some drawbacks to the LCM’s teachings
While we can learn a lot from the LCM’s teaching on the spirit and soul, there are limits to the helpfulness of their stance. At times, the LCM neglects the care of the body and soul by over-emphasizing the growth of the spiritual life. For example, the LCM discounts miraculous healings because they believe Charismatics over-emphasize healings to the detriment of spiritual growth. However, many LCM believers struggle with physical pain and do not get the healing that they so desperately need.
For example, my wife and I struggled with infertility for 10 years while in the LCM movement. They were not able to help me in terms of praying for a miracle. I had to seek help from the Charismatic movement. There, through the gifts of healing and prophecy, a divine intervention occurred, and God gifted me a miracle baby.
Although many miraculous healings from the Charismatic movement may be questionable, my years of observation and learning in the Charismatic movement have led me to believe that more real miracles occur in the Pentecostal movement than in evangelical churches. I have personally witnessed and heard of many miracle healings and other miracles in the Charismatic church. God’s word says that “By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The LCM teaches believers to exercise their spiritual muscles, but it does not teach believers to exercise their faith to receive miraculous healings through the word of God. Therefore, their spiritual faith muscles remain underdeveloped, and they see few miraculous healings.
There are many sick believers in the LCM who do not get the help they need, which is a great loss to the LCM. This loss is not restricted to the LCM, but also exists in many other evangelical churches. After I left the LCM and posted a testimony of the miraculous healing God granted me, I received private messages from believers in the LCM who were sick. They were wondering how I received the miraculous healing. While I could not completely help them resolve their issues, most have admitted that the LCM provided limited help in this area of miraculous healing.
Secondly, the LCM also neglects certain areas of the soul. While Pastor Stephen Tong’s criticisms of the LCM were too harsh, he has an important point. They often over-emphasized the spirit.
From what I have observed, there is indeed an issue of over-spiritualizing things in the LCM. While there, I actively read my Bible, exercised my spirit, and sought spiritual growth. I did indeed encounter major changes in my life. However, my pursuit of spiritual growth did not resolve some issues that arose from within the soul.
To a certain extent, the seeking of spiritual growth was an excuse for me to avoid dealing with issues pertaining to the soul. For example, my father and I had issues with expressing our emotions and showing care for others. In my growing up years, I always witnessed my father’s coldness towards others and my mother’s anger towards him. As I imitated him, I also became a cold, unfeeling individual.
After I got married, I realized that the same issue that I’d witnessed between my parents was playing out in my marriage. Arguments between my wife and I often resembled those of my parents. I neglected my wife’s feelings, she became angry, and I felt hurt. This vicious cycle continued unabated in my marriage. Coupled with the inability to conceive, my wife and I went through many trials and difficulties. I tried my best to follow what the LCM taught, to diligently grow spiritually: to pray more, read the Bible more and take up my cross. Although it was helpful, it did not completely resolve our problem. We were then led by God to enter the Charismatic church, where we learned about deliverance ministries (casting out of demons) and inner healing ministries.
These ministries that the LCM neglected have really helped us. First, with the help of the Charismatic church, we were blessed with a miracle baby, who provided much healing in our marriage. Second, the Charismatic church’s teaching about inner healing and casting out demons was very helpful. Through Global Awakening, I took several certified, advanced courses on deliverance, miracle healing, inner healing, and prophetic training. In addition, I read extensively on the topic of inner healing and deliverance ministries. Through practical and hands-on learning experience, I have learned that when we see a cyclical pattern appearing in our lives, repeating through several generations, it is often due to generational curses that require the casting out of demons and inner healing. The Charismatic movement’s focus on inner healing and deliverance ministries is often done together with the gift of prophecy, where servants of God receive supernatural revelations from God to help fellow believers who are plagued with issues pertaining to the soul.
In January 2016, I attended a prophetic conference in Oregon. While there, I prayed for God to speak to me and give me healing as well. At the conference, I met a believer who was a former member of the LCM. She is Korean and had left the LCM and has attended a Charismatic church for many years. She shared that she left the LCM because of their unbelief in current-day miracles. At her Charismatic church, this sister received an obvious gift of healing and a prophetic gift.
I watched her praying for the sick. Rather than asking about the person’s condition, she received revelations from God as she spoke to him in tongues. She prayed for me in the same way. After the prayer, she shared that there was conflict between my father and I that drove us apart, and that I needed to forgive him. She also shared that my father was unable to show his love, not because he did not love me, but because he was being spiritually attacked and was bound by generational curses. She added that because I was called by God, Satan was torturing me by punishing my father, hoping that this would stop God’s call in me. She told me to forgive my father and pray for him, speaking out about the deepest pain in my entire life, which was hidden in my heart. I had never met her before, nor had I mentioned any of these secrets to her before her prayer.
God gradually healed the problems that I was facing. Through receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, deliverance from demons, and healing ministries, God provided the growth that I needed. I would not say that I am completely free of problems, but I do know that I have achieved a breakthrough that I never experienced while in the LCM movement.
Many Christians deny the fact of demon influence in Christians’ lives. Often, the life of Christ in the believer has not permeated throughout our inner being. Demons can take advantage of areas of our life that Christ has not fully occupied.
In the past, I thought that through reading God’s word, prayer, and exercising my spiritual man, I would be able to resolve all the issues that I faced. While these disciplines are important and useful in achieving growth in my spirit, they had limited effectiveness in resolving the issues in my soul. Issues of the soul must be managed directly, which the LCM is hesitant to do. For example, the LCM does not provide marriage counseling, since it is associated with issues of the soul. Many people in the LCM have diligently pursued spiritual growth, but still struggle in their souls. The LCM does not recognize the importance of ministries that address the struggle of the soul.
For example, the LCM neglects the gift of prophecy, which can effectively minister to the soul. (The LCM does focus on the forth-telling aspect of prophecy, but they do not believe in foretelling the future through prophecy.) In the Charismatic movement, the gift of prophecy is not restricted to predicting what is to come, but also includes visions, dreams, and revelations, helping believers understand the hidden difficulties of their souls. A minister from the LCM shared that in his many years of prophesying (in a forth-telling way), he has never witnessed a scene similar to the one depicted in 1 Corinthians 14:25, where “the secrets of his heart is disclosed, and so falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” However, this is a common sight in the Charismatic movement. Many times, I’ve seen a brother fall on his face crying as the secrets of his heart are shared through prophecy.
I spent many years in the LCM, where I grew spiritually, increased my Bible knowledge, and received much loving help from many brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I never have met anyone who helped me like the Korean sister in Christ who revealed the secret hidden in my heart. Many in the LCM could benefit greatly from her gift if they were open to it. Many LCM believers continue to bury their problems under the guise of pursuing spiritual growth. Neglected bodily ailments can also negatively affect some believer’s spiritual growth.
Randy Clark of Toronto Blessings further illustrates the importance of prophetic and deliverance ministries. Randy shared that several generations of men in his family have been involved in promiscuity and other sexual sins. He also sinned in this area, even after accepting Christ as his savior. Even though he had repented, he did not recognize a need to cast out a demon from his life.
Eventually, he met some believers with the gift of casting out demons. Through revoking the generational curses and casting out the demons, the spirit of promiscuity was chased away from his household. He then recognized that generational sin in his family was not a coincidence or his own weakness, but a generational curse. He testified that his son and daughters are not continuing in this generational pattern of sin.
Another time, at the Toronto Blessing conference, a sister in Christ was unwilling to open up and share her heart, and Randy felt like his prayer was going nowhere. Another prophet, Larry Randolph, offered to give it a try. When Larry started praying, he used the gift of prophecy to speak of what the sister in Christ was keeping inside. As a result, this sister opened her heart and received the encouragement of Randy’s ministry. These two examples convinced Randy Clark to strongly promote the ministry of casting out demons and prophecy and to create courses to train others in these areas. I have learned a lot from his courses.
In addition, LCM has the tendency to lean towards over-spiritualizing. The LCM denies the physical aspect of heaven, teaching that heaven is a spiritual new Jerusalem, a mutual dwelling place for God and men. After my prophetic gift was activated in 2015, I experienced many visions of heaven, where I have seen architecture with glass, libraries, animals, gardens, many different types of transportation, various houses, fruits and vegetables that are found in heaven. Combining what I have read with the heavenly accounts of other prophets such as Choo Thomas, Kat Kerr and Lai-Wang Xiulan, I realize heaven is a real world, with mountains, seas, plants, houses, activities and gatherings. Heaven contains all the wonderful things of earth. It is not a purely spiritual realm with no physical things. Based on the words of Kat Kerr, heaven is unlike what people think. Many people think of it as flat, but it is round, like earth—just way bigger than the entire galaxy. In my prophetic encounters of heaven, I often saw different sizes of houses: some were small, and some were large. Kat Kerr believes the sizes of our heavenly homes are determined by how we live for Christ on this earth.
The LCM also tends towards speaking in absolutes. Pastor Tong shares his critique of the movement: “The faults of the LCM can be summarized in this way: they speak in absolutes about things that are often not absolute.”
Personally, I came to know Christ through a LCM church and have been blessed tremendously by them. I may be emotionally biased towards the LCM. I do believe Tong’s criticism of them is overly harsh and that he fails to take into consideration the positive teachings there. For example, the LCM invited Pastor Stephen Tong to study their teachings in greater detail, and to have a conversation with the LCM. However, Pastor Stephen refused this invitation. Pastor Stephen Tong made some sarcastic comments about the LCM and was reluctant to humble himself, converse with the LCM, and better understand them. He said that if the first bite tasted bad, he did not need to take a second bite. The LCM’s attempts to dialogue with Tong have not reaped positive results.
While I cannot completely agree with Pastor Stephen Tong’s criticism toward the LCM, I can admit that they have the tendency to perceive things in an absolute manner. The LCM is unwilling to accept the teachings of other Churches, and often does not venture beyond the framework of Watchman Nee’s and Witness Lee’s teachings. After leaving the LCM and joining the Charismatic movement, I have learned many new Bible truths, which helped me grow in areas that the LCM is weak in.
For example, the LCM speaks in absolutes about Christmas. It teaches believers not to celebrate this holiday, since the Christmas holiday originated in the worship of the sun god. They also teach that Jesus was not born in December. The shepherds would not have been out in the field during the middle of December, so Christmas is not the right time of year to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Other churches may concur with them on this point.
However, according to Choo Thomas’ book, “Heaven is So Real,” Jesus celebrated Christmas with her when he appeared to her. Also, American Prophet, Kat Kerr, had thousands of encounters in heaven, where she witnessed the presence of a Christmas town in heaven. In the town, Saint Nicholas was stationed to welcome children who wished to meet Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas used to give children gifts on Christmas, and the legend of Santa Claus is based on his life.
I attempted to share such testimonies with believers attending the LCM churches, but they usually reply with a standard answer: “We speak only of the Bible in the LCM.” The LCM is unable to accept prophetic and spiritual gifts; thus, they would rarely accept such testimonies. However, while these testimonies are not from the Bible, they do not deviate from the Bible. In other words, it is extra-biblical but not unbiblical. Those who have been truly saved will one day see for themselves what heaven is like. God has prepared a real world for believers in heaven.
Through these two examples about Christmas and heaven, we can see that the understanding of the LCM is limited. All of us have limited understanding, and we need to have humble hearts so we can learn and accept what God wants to communicate to us through other believers and other ministries. When we are unwilling to openly learn from others what God has in mind for us, we are unknowingly perpetuating factions amongst believers. We are claiming, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12).
I love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ from the LCM, and I know that they follow the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee out of reverence for God, rather than idolizing these two men. Many Chinese churches criticize the LCM for idolizing Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, which the LCM denies.
Many churches also criticize the LCM for being the most closed-up faction of Christians. The LCM denies it is a faction of its own. However, when we are unwilling to learn from others, we are naturally creating factions among believers. In effect, they are claiming, “I follow Watchman Nee” or “I follow Witness Lee.”
Similarly, many brothers and sisters in Christ from many other Chinese churches are not open to receiving the teachings of the LCM. Due to criticism from famous preachers such as Pastor Stephen Tong, many do not try to understand what God has given us through the LCM, nor do they try to understand the helpful practices that they teach. This is also equivalent to saying, “I follow Pastor Stephen Tong” or “I follow XXX preacher”. I know that there are many Chinese churches that are against the teachings of the LCM and those of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, especially Witness Lee. However, things are not as simple as they seem. I admit Witness Lee is not perfect, but I have learned a lot from his teachings.
We need to “rightly explain the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), objectively understanding and analyzing God’s word and the teachings of his servants, including Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. It is not wrong to be critical of their teachings. While I do not agree with Pastor Stephen Tong’s criticism, I do think he has the right to criticize.
Besides criticizing the LCM, Pastor Stephen Tong is also critical of the Charismatic church. Historical differences, as well as conflict between the LCM, the Charismatic church, and other Chinese evangelical churches, have prevented the uniting of the Chinese Church as one. After identifying the issues at hand, the Chinese Churches should learn to accept the differences and learn from each other, thus unifying the Chinese Church as one. Adopting a punitive, critical approach will not solve the issues.
God has indeed used the LCM to teach much truth related to spiritual growth. However, if we do not critically examine the strengths and weaknesses of the LCM, many people outside may treat them as heretical and refuse to listen to their teachings. As a result, believers like you and me will suffer.
In 2015, God led me to learn from the Charismatic movement. I have discovered that the teachings of the Charismatic Church and those of the LCM can complement each other. My doctoral thesis at the United Theological Seminary discussed this very point. Not only can the Charismatic Church and the LCM help each other, but other Chinese evangelical churches can also benefit from learning from the Charismatic Church and the LCM.
For example, the Charismatic church has been criticized for its over-emphasis on gifts and for neglecting the teaching about growth in holiness. This is precisely the area where LCM can be of assistance. The LCM can complement the Charismatic church by teaching on spiritual growth and holiness. However, many Chinese Charismatics have been influenced against Witness Lee by Steven Tong and others. They perceive Witness Lee and the LCM as heresy. Thus, they are not open to his teaching, and they miss out on an important opportunity to grow in their spiritual lives.
God has given me many revelations and visions of revival in China. In order for China to usher in this great revival, Chinese Christians need to be unified, especially on doctrinal beliefs. The LCM, Charismatic churches, and other evangelical churches need to work through their historical differences and doctrinal deviations. I believe that we need to work for unity so God can usher in the revival of the church in China.
Spirit and Soul
Pastor Stephen Tong discussed the issue of the soul and the spirit. He said, “The LCM attributes the mind, will, and emotions to the human ‘soul.’ May I ask for a scripture reference that backs up this point? There is no Biblical text that supports such a theological theory. To say that reason, emotion, and will are in the ‘soul,’ and that the spirit is not the same as the soul, is completely out of line with the Bible’s teachings. God is a spirit. Does God have reason, emotion, and will? Does God have a soul? If reason, emotion, and will are in the soul, and if God is a spirit, does God lack reason, emotion, and will?
“In reality,” Tong continues, “God not only has reason, emotion, and will, but his will determines his decrees. God’s decrees come from his will, God’s love comes from his emotions, and the truth of God’s revelation comes from his reason. Therefore, God is the source of reason, the source of emotion, and the source of will. God is not a soul, but a spirit.”
Pastor Stephen Tong rejects the separation of soul and spirit, but his argument above is illogical. We will not discuss whether God has a soul. However, humans, as God’s creation, do have a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Even though we were formed in the image of God, we are not God. Even if God is a spirit, and not a soul, that does not prove that human souls do not have reason, emotions and will.
We have a spiritual body within our physical body. People with prophetic gifts often have the prophetic experience of seeing their spiritual body walking outside of their physical body. Many prophets testify they have seen a spiritual body leave a person’s physical body at the moment of his or her death. They saw that these spiritual bodies have arms and legs, just like the physical body.
Likewise, there is a spiritual person in our soul-person, and the spiritual person may have the same function as the soul-person. Our spiritual man may also have mind, emotion and will, just as our soul has. Just as we are shadows of God, our souls are the shadows of our spirits. Kat Kerr shared that God clearly told her that his omnipresence has many “layers.” Similarly, humans have many “layers,” just as our soul does. Many prophets have the experiences of being transported. When they are asleep or in a trance or vision, their souls (not just their spirits) are brought to other places to minister. (Philip was even taken into other places physically.) These events take place not only in their spirits, but also in their souls. The mind in our soul recorded these experiences in dreams or visions. I have experienced similar situations multiple times in prophetic dreams. If a human’s soul can have many different “layers” that can enter different dimensions of time and space, I suppose there are even more “layers” in a person’s spirit, which function similarly. For example, when I am sleeping and having a prophetic dream, I could be brought to a different place, to testify to others about my testimony of having a miracle baby. Not only can I speak to an audience, I can also interact with them, and even see their tears. This is not just a dream, but my spirit and soul being brought to different places to testify. Hence, prophets can shed light on truths that were never known before. Possibly, when a person’s spirit matures, more layers can be developed. I understand it is still a mystery to us, just like no one knows where our spirit dwells, even though we all know we have a spirit.
However, practically speaking, it is difficult to separate soul and spirit, especially for less mature Christians. A seed contains the life of a tree inside just one seed. The seed can be said to have many “layers,” but is has not fully developed. Paul explained that “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (1 Corinthians 2:15). He also said, “But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually” (1 Corinthians 2:14, Recovery Version).
Some Chinese versions of the Bible translate this verse as “soulish man,” but since English does not have a category for “soulish man,” most English translations say, “Natural person.” However, in the original Greek, the word “Soul” modifies the word “man.”
While we cannot fully or clearly split the soul and spirit, it is important for us to learn and understand the differences between the two. This is something that Pastor Stephen Tong and many other Chinese preachers have missed, which I believe is a major cause of the tendency towards creating a “social club” in the church. It is a mystery for us to divide the spirit and soul, but we know for sure soul and spirit can be and should be separated in our spiritual experiences.
Both the LCM and Charismatic churches, as well as other evangelical churches, preach on the difference between soul, spirit and body. For example, a leader of the Modern Faith Movement, Kenneth Copeland, said, “We are a spirit, we have a soul, we live in a body.” He also focuses on teaching believers to receive healing and develop their faith through the Word of God.
John Sandford is a Charismatic leader who specializes in casting out demons and prophecy. He is also a pioneer in deliverance ministries. He has a strong prophetic gift and was considered a prophet in Charismatic circles. Often, in the process of casting out demons and inner healing, he receives prophetic revelations from God. He uses these revelations to help those who are suffering to receive inner healing and be free from demons. He can use his prophetic gift to pinpoint a hidden, secret problem in the soul or find out what demons are inside.
Jon Sandford has coined a term, “the slumbering spirit.” Through his many years of ministry in casting out demons and inner healing, John Sandford has learned about the important relationship between a person’s spirit and soul. When a child is young, if the child does not get sufficient affection, his spirit will not be able to develop. His emotions and thoughts (in his soul) will develop abnormally. Hence, in his ministry of healing and casting out demons, Sandford would first awaken the slumbering spirit in people, connect with them through their spirit, and slowly awaken their heart and emotions. Then he would be able to heal them. A lot of research has shown that when orphans who live in the orphanage do not receive sufficient hugs, their emotional and mental development is hindered. With sufficient hugs and through allowing them to experience God’s love in their spirit, their spirit would slowly become complete.
Sandford realized that if people only settled issues of the soul and did not resolve issues of the spirit, it would be challenging to resolve the issues of the soul. This point is similar to the teachings of the LCM, which teaches believers to exercise their spirit and receive God’s divine life to renew the soul. However, the LCM misses out on other aspects of John Sandford’s teachings, which is using the prophetic gift to reveal the innermost hidden problems of the human soul.
Issues relating to the soul are often messy, but God is all-knowing. Through the practice and development of the gift of prophecy, we can work with God to resolve the issues pertaining to the soul.
A Korean prophet prophesied over me, saying that God wanted to use me to bring healing to people’s spirits, souls, and bodies. He has given me a holistic, wholesome healing ministry. I respond to God’s call with a hearty, “Amen,” since God has allowed me to experience this kind of healing in the spirit, soul and body. I want to help others receive the same healing.
My father had challenges in building relationships and expressing emotion, which also hindered my own emotional development. Even though I actively pursued spiritual growth and Bible reading in the LCM, they never offered help in the area of emotional development. However, the Charismatic movement’s teaching and practice on inner healing, deliverance ministries, prophecy and the encounters with God, brought a greater breakthrough in these areas. My wife and I had a miracle baby, which provided tremendous healing for us emotionally.
The LCM focuses on the three-part distinction of spirit, soul and body. It emphasizes the exercise of the spirit and the soul’s renewal and transformation but does not focus on physical healing or inner healing and deliverance ministries. While the LCM focuses on the impact of spiritual growth on the soul, it does not focus on recognizing and resolving issues in the soul. It lacks tools in helping people resolve these issues.
The LCM also lacks in knowledge and practice pertaining to the gift of prophecy. Pastor Stephen Tong may be right that the LCM over-spiritualizes things, but his own complete denial of the separation of soul and spirit has also affected many believers negatively. His teachings lead to a lack of understanding of the difference between soul and spirit, a lack of spiritual growth and exercise, and the lack of assistance with issues in the soul. My personal experience of the LCM, my interaction with believers influenced by Tong, my subsequent experience with the Charismatic church, Randy Clark’s testimony on the gift of prophecy and casting out demons, and the teachings of John Sandford have all influenced and shaped my beliefs. These examples show that there are things to learn from the LCM, the Evangelical Church, and the Charismatic Church.
Paul reproached the Corinthian believers for claiming to “belong to Paul, belong to Apollos, belong to Cephas.” At the end of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
I prayed through this verse meditatively, as taught by the LCM, and the Spirit gave me an inspiration. The Holy Spirit impressed on my heart the words “so let no one boast in men. For all things are yours.” The Holy Spirit highlighted the word “for” in the verse. The reason why we say that “we belong to Paul, we belong to Apollos or, we belong to Cephas” (and the modern Chinese churches equivalent, “we belong to Watchman Nee, we belong to Witness Lee or we belong to Pastor Stephen Tong,” etc.), is because we have not recognized that “all things are yours.”
All things are God’s. All God’s things are for us, and we should be thankful to receive these blessings. Later, when talking about food sacrificed to idols, Paul instructed believers to receive all food from God with thanksgiving. Every denomination has received certain aspects of God’s truth. We must practice these aspects of truth, not so our denomination can be superior to others, nor so we can put down another denomination. Instead, we should be filled with gratitude and humility and seek to learn from one another. We should not flippantly judge others as heretics. We should not assume that we ourselves are completely right while others are completely wrong.
The Holy Spirit impressed upon me that we should not revere people. Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, the future–all belong to us, who belong to Christ, who belongs to God. Everything works together for the good of those who love God.
In the same way, Watchman Nee, Witness Lee, Pastor Stephen Tong—all of these belong to us, and we should learn from each of them. We belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. God has raised up different shepherds and servants, just like He has raised up Paul and Apollos. Each of us are called to different ministries by God. Some are called to plant seeds, some to water, and some to teach God’s word, all for the good of believers.
If we recognized “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints” (Ephesians 3:18), we would not be tempted to revere or idolize any man. They all have limitations. However, each of them plays apart in God’s kingdom. We should help each other for the benefit of those who love God. If we recognize the goodness of what God wants to share with us through others, we will be able to grow in Christ and not remain spiritually immature.
Some remain immature spiritually, because they only accept the teachings of their own denomination instead of learning from others in other ministries. Just like cross-pollination increases the quality of the plants and flowers, “cross-pollination” in the church would help us mature in our spiritual lives. We need to overcome the differences between denominations and learn from each other, so we can leave spiritual infancy far behind.
In this message, I have shared about the LCM, the Charismatic church, and other Chinese evangelical churches. We all need to be humble and learn from each other. Many readers or listeners may not be familiar with these three denominations that I have mentioned or with the Chinese church at large. But they can still agree with the principles of humility and unity.
In a prophetic dream, the Lord showed two rivers flowing towards convergence. While the Lord did not specify which two rivers these are, I believe that in our generation, different denominations or streams are going to come together, just like river waters that flow towards the ocean. In this way, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Let us humble ourselves to learn from others in the body of Christ!