Minister of the Age
1 Corinthians 3
Minister of the Age Recovery Doctrine
The Lord’s Recovery teaches that there is one unique thing God is doing in every time period (every age). The doctrine asserts that, in every age, God is doing one thing in particular and is ministering that thing to His people through one person. Witness Lee, the Recovery’s main teacher, taught that there is a unique ministry and a unique minister in every age, thus the phrase “minister of the age”(MOTA).
“Wise Master Builder” Doctrine
As a part of MOTA doctrine, Witness Lee taught that in every age there is only one “wise master builder” (WMB), which is the same as the MOTA. The WMB title that the Recovery teaches is derived from Paul in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 3:10, in which Paul was referring to his ministry as someone who laid a foundation like a wise master builder.
Although the Bible doesn’t use the phrase “wise master builder” in this way, Witness Lee taught that WMB was referring to a specific person in every age:
There is only one blueprint and one master builder in the proper, correct building. The only master builder is the architect who has the blueprint in his hand. This is true in every age. The Lord issues the blueprint, the revelation, and the utterance, and through one man He supervises and completes the building work. All those who do not build, speak, or serve according to the blueprint released by the Lord through that man are void of light and revelation and are not serving according to the vision. Today in the Lord’s recovery some are preaching and publishing messages. The portions in their messages that impart light, revelation, and the life supply invariably derive their source from this ministry in the Lord’s recovery. Other than those portions there is no revelation or vision in their writings.Witness Lee; Crucial Words of Leading in the Lord’s Recovery, Book 1: The Vision and Definite Steps for the Practice of the New Way; Chapter 1, Section 8 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
Recovery Members’ Response to Wise Master Builder Doctrine
What do members believe about WMB doctrine? Who is the current WMB? In 1986, hundreds of elders signed a letter addressed to Witness Lee, saying:
We also agree to follow your leading as the one who has brought us God’s New Testament economy and has led us into its practice. We agree that this leading is indispensable to our oneness and acknowledge the one trumpet in the Lord’s ministry and the one wise master builder among us.Witness Lee; Elders’ Training, Book 8: The Life-Pulse of the Lord’s Present Move; Chapter 10, Section 5 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
The elders in the Lord’s Recovery believed that Witness Lee was the one WMB.
Witness Lee published this letter, saying, “After reading the contents, I am so grateful to the four hundred and nineteen brothers who signed it,” in the paragraph preceding the letter. Instead of rebuking the letter, Witness Lee was grateful for it and published it.
Although Witness Lee taught that there is one man whose own words are more important than all other men’s (the WMB), Witness Lee published a seemingly self-contradicting response to that letter:
Being one with the ministry is a crucial matter, and its effects are exceedingly serious. Its proper definition is not to follow any man, any doctrine or any movement, but is to be one with the Lord’s move today according to the Lord’s vision, without any intrinsic element of exalting any person or promoting any work.Witness Lee; Elders’ Training, Book 8: The Life-Pulse of the Lord’s Present Move; Chapter 10, Section 5 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
So what was Witness Lee saying? Was there a WMB people should follow? How could Witness Lee say he was grateful for the letter and the signatures which just uplifted him as the leader indispensable to the Recovery’s oneness and then somehow say they shouldn’t be exalting any person or promoting a certain work?
Witness Lee claimed WMB doctrine’s “proper definition is not to follow any man, any doctrine or any movement, but to be one with the Lord’s move today according to the Lord’s vision.” He equated his authority as the WMB as being one with the Lord’s move and vision today. Then he mysteriously reaffirmed that WMB doctrine did not exalt a man. That’s just doublespeak. WMB doctrine, by its own definition, exalts one man over all others.
To be clear, Witness Lee never rebuked the letter. Directly proceeding the above quote, Witness Lee said:
May the Lord be merciful and gracious to us, that this action would not be misunderstood or misapplied by anyone in a way that would give the enemy Satan ground for utilizationWitness Lee; Elders’ Training, Book 8: The Life-Pulse of the Lord’s Present Move; Chapter 10, Section 5 (Emboldened Emphasis My Own)
So to Witness Lee, the elders’ signed letter of devotion to the WMB (who was Witness Lee himself) was justified, approved, an example of oneness. He warned that anyone who disagreed with the elders’ letter was misunderstanding it or misapplying it. That warning is tactic of pre-conditioning, manipulation by means of suggestion. He foreshadowed disagreement before it arose. Before anyone disagreed with Lee’s letter, he predicted the rise of opposers and suggested the reason for opposition was due to misunderstanding or misapplication.
This is WMB doctrine in the Recovery and its fruit, and it is not biblical.
1 Corinthians 3:3-4 vs. the Elders’ Letter
3 For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?1 Corinthians 3:3-4 (ESV)
Of the flesh. Jealousy and strife. Behaving human. How did the Corinthians get there? By saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos.” This is simple. The Christian follows Jesus Christ. When the Lord’s Recovery’s members claim that they follow Witness Lee, whom they believe to be the WMB, they are encouraging jealousy and strife, behaving in a human way of their flesh. According to the Bible, the fruit of giving special devotion to a single man is jealousy, strife, and the flesh.
The elders’ letter to Witness Lee called Lee indispensable to their oneness. They essentially said, “We follow your leading, Witness Lee.” How is that different from “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos?” The elders’ letter to Witness Lee directly opposed what 1 Corinthians 3:3-4 teaches.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 vs. Witness Lee’s Response to the Elders’ Letter
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (ESV)
What is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants. According to 1 Corinthians 3:7, not anything — nothing. He who plants (Paul) and he who waters (Apollos) are one. They are God’s fellow workers. There was no special distinction that one meant more than the other. Both were doing their part, but both were servants and workers, one.
Witness Lee’s response to “I follow Witness Lee” was (1) to publish a letter of devotion of others to himself, (2) show gratitude for it, and (3) mysteriously say, “Don’t exalt a man,” even though he taught WMB doctrine, which specifically distinguishes one man’s word as more important than others’ (i.e., exalting a man).
Paul’s response to “I follow Paul” was “I’m not anything.”
Witness Lee should’ve only published that letter to rebuke it. Instead, he was grateful for it. Instead, he propagated the letter in order to promote it. Paul’s response to others exalting him was to shut that exaltation down; by comparison, Witness Lee’s response was unbiblical.
1 Corinthians 3:10 vs. Witness Lee’s Wise Master Builder Doctrine
Witness Lee’s WMB doctrine states that there is only one master builder in every age. His members recognized him as that master builder, indispensable for oneness. But where does that phrase “wise master builder” come from? From 1 Corinthians 3:10, which says:
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.1 Corinthians 3:10 (ESV)
That’s it. That’s the verse. Witness Lee built an entire doctrine upon the idea that there was only one wise master builder, when in fact, Paul only said he was “like a skilled master builder.” The context of “like a skilled master builder” is “he who plants and he who waters are one.” Paul was one part of God’s ministry. There’s no indication that Paul being like a skilled master builder means there is only one master builder who is more important than all other ministers. It was simply a simile that Paul used to help others understand his ministry.
Paul’s ministry was just one part of the ministry of God to His people. He planted, but Apollos watered. Neither Paul nor Apollos were anything; only God gives the growth. Paul did not deem his speaking as higher or more important than Apollos’. Paul didn’t claim his ministry was singular in essence. By Paul’s own speaking, “He who plants and he who waters are one.” One ministry, multiple ministers, all one.
Conclusion: Wise Master Builder Doctrine is False Doctrine
WMB doctrine attempts to assert that, based on 1 Corinthians 3:10, there is only one wise master builder in every age. That assertion is not only unfounded, it’s discredited by the context of 1 Corinthians 3.