local church

Who are Watchman Nee and Witness Lee?

Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee were raised in Christian homes in the early twentieth century. As young men they began to serve the Lord in the 1920s in their respective hometowns in the south and north of China. Both diligently studied the classic Christian writers, and both had ministries that bore the unmistakable sign of God’s blessing. In 1932 Witness Lee joined Watchman Nee in Shanghai to carry out one work emphasizing the experience of Christ as life and the building up of the church. What followed was a remarkable move of the Holy Spirit. The depths of the truths in the Bible poured forth through their ministry as they labored diligently to bring the believers into a personal and corporate living that matches the New Testament. Their work attracted tens of thousands of followers among native Chinese, most of whom were newly saved.

By the time the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1949, several hundred local churches, often called the “Little Flock” by outsiders, had been raised up throughout the country. The local churches were able not only to survive persecution but also to thrive and flourish under it, because they strongly emphasized the need of every member to have a daily time with the Lord in His Word, to learn to serve Him in the gospel, and to have regular fellowship with other believers, including meeting from house to house (Acts 2:46). This pattern affected much of the “underground church” in China. Today it is estimated that there are between eighty and one hundred million believers there. Many of them offer much credit and gratitude to Watchman Nee for the survival of the church in China.

In 1949, prior to the establishment of the PRC, Watchman Nee, with the support of his co-workers, charged Witness Lee to go to Taiwan with the hope of preserving all that the Lord had revealed and established through their labor. This decision was shown to be under the sovereign hand of God. Nee was arrested two years later, along with many leading ones among the local churches. He was never released, and his direct ministry ended at that time.

The extent and reach of the work of these two men is remarkable. Five years after Watchman Nee’s arrest, and totally unbeknown to him, notes were published from a series of messages he had given in Europe in the 1930s. These notes were published in 1957 in a book entitled The Normal Christian Life. Over the next ten years it became tremendously popular in Europe, North America, and eventually on every continent. It is widely considered a twentieth century Christian classic and is receiving renewed interest today. In ensuing years several other titles by Watchman Nee, including Changed into His Likeness, Love Not the World, The Normal Christian Church Life, and Sit, Walk, Stand, were also published in English. Each achieved great popularity, and by the mid-1960s Watchman Nee had become one of the most widely read authors among Christians seeking a deeper experience of Christ and a more satisfying and biblical approach to the church. Christians from an entire generation, across a wide range of theological orientations, acknowledge Watchman Nee as one of the major influences on their Christian life. Now a new generation is discovering the wealth of spiritual riches in the writings of both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.

Upon his arrival in Taiwan in 1949, Witness Lee helped to bring about one of the most notable spiritual revivals of the twentieth century. From a modest beginning with five hundred believers, and in a country largely lacking the knowledge of Christ, tens of thousands soon embraced the Savior, and local churches were established in cities throughout the island. Within six years nearly fifty thousand believers were meeting in the local churches in Taiwan. Furthermore, the work spread throughout the Far East, with churches being established in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, and Korea.

In 1962, following the Lord’s leading and encouraged by a growing interest in Watchman Nee’s writings in the West, Witness Lee moved to Los Angeles and established the work of the ministry in North America. As in Taiwan, local churches spread quickly throughout North and Central America. Churches then sprang up in South America, Europe, Australasia, and Africa. Following the end of the Cold War, this spread continued into the Russian-speaking world. In recent years a number of local churches have been established in the Middle East. Today there are more than four thousand local churches outside of China. As there is no “headquarters” or formal affiliation, compiling the total number of members is difficult, but conservative estimates range from 1.5 to 2 million believers globally.

In addition to the extensive spread of the work that Watchman Nee and he began in China, Witness Lee left behind a remarkable breadth of written ministry. In total he published more than six hundred titles, many now available in more than fifty languages. His signature work, Life-study of the Bible, is an exhaustive expository commentary on the entire Bible with almost two thousand chapters and twenty-five thousand pages, all of which reveal and make practical the genuine experience of Christ as life and the proper Christian service for the building up of the Body of Christ. While he was ministering the Life-study series, he also wrote extensive outlines, footnotes, and cross references for a new translation of the New Testament called the Recovery Version. Many thousands of believers today, both within and outside the local churches, appreciate in Witness Lee’s writings the same spiritual quality and faithful, insightful development of the divine revelation found in Watchman Nee’s works. Most of the writings of these two servants of the Lord are available online at the LSM website ministrybooks.org.
Excerpt taken from an-open-letter.org

Witness Lee on the Local Churches

Recently I was reading the Life-Study of Revelation by Witness Lee and came across a section explaining how the universal church is expressed, realized, and made practical in the local churches.

The universal church as the Body of Christ is expressed through the local churches. The local churches, as the expressions of the one Body of Christ (Rev. 1:12, 20), are locally one (Acts 8:1; 13:1; Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 1:2). Revelation 1:4 says, “John to the seven churches which are in Asia.” Asia was a province of the ancient Roman Empire in which were the seven cities mentioned in 1:11. The seven churches were in those seven cities respectively, not all in one city. This book does not deal with the one universal church but with the local churches in many cities. The church is firstly revealed as universal in Matthew 16:18 and then as local in Matthew 18:17. In Acts the church was practiced in the way of local churches, such as the church at Jerusalem (8:1), the church at Antioch (13:1), the church at Ephesus (20:17), and the churches in the provinces of Syria and Cilicia (15:41). Except for a few written to some individuals, all the Epistles were written to the local churches. Not one was written to the universal church. Without the local churches there is no practicality and actuality of the universal church. The universal church is realized in the local churches.

What are the local churches according to the Bible?

In 1:11 the voice said to John, “What you see write in a book and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” This verse is composed in a very important way. In this verse we see that the sending of this book “to the seven churches” equals the sending of it to the seven cities. This shows clearly that the practice of the church life in the early days was that of one church for one city, one city with one church. In no city was there more than one church. This is the local church, local city-wise, not street-wise or area-wise. The jurisdiction of a local church should cover the whole city in which the church is; it should not be greater or lesser than the boundary of the city. All the believers within that boundary should constitute the one unique local church within that city. Hence, one church equals one city, and one city equals one church. This is what we call the local churches.

Why can’t we just solely have the one universal church?

The church needs to have its expression. If we talk about the church without having the expression of the church, our talk is entirely theoretical; it is not practical. For the church to be real and practical, there is the need of the local churches. If you do not have the local churches, you do not have the church. Likewise, if you do not have the members, you do not have the Body. If you do not have the local church, you cannot have the universal church, for the universal church is composed of all the local churches just as the human body is composed of its many members.

Local Churches not being another Denomination:

In 1963 I was asked to speak at a certain place in Missouri. At the end of the meeting, the host stood up and, in a nice, humble, polite way, said, “Brother Lee, please tell us why you call yourselves the church in Los Angeles.” I replied, “Brother, if we don’t call ourselves the church, then what should we call ourselves? We simply are the church. This is not only the truth but also the fact.” We are what we are. Although we might pretend or presume to be something else, that is not what we truly are. Before the Lord’s recovery came to the United States, no Christians said that they were the church in Los Angeles. Therefore, when we came to Los Angeles, we had to call ourselves the church in Los Angeles.

Revelation 1:20 says, “The mystery of the seven stars which you have seen on My right hand and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are seven churches.” When John saw the seven stars in the right hand of Christ and the seven golden lampstands in the midst of which was Christ, it was a mystery to him. He did not realize the significance of the seven heavenly stars and the seven golden lampstands. Hence, the Lord unveiled the mystery to him, saying that “the seven stars are messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are seven churches.” The significance of this was not only a mystery to John, but also to believers today. All believers need the unveiling of this mystery to see the churches and their messengers.

The churches, signified by the golden lampstands, are “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2, 9) in the divine nature, shining in the dark night locally, yet collectively. The churches should be of the divine nature—golden. They should be the stands, even the lampstands, that bear the lamp with the oil (Christ as the life-giving Spirit), shining in the darkness respectively and collectively. They are individual lampstands locally, yet at the same time they are a group, a collection, of lampstands universally. They are not only shining locally, but also bearing universally the same testimony both to the localities and to the universe. They are of the same nature and in the same shape. They bear the same lamp for the same purpose and are fully identified with one another, not having any individual distinctiveness. The differences of the local churches recorded in chapters two and three are all of a negative nature, not of a positive nature. Negatively, in their failures, they are different and separate one from another; but positively, in their nature, shape, and purpose, they are absolutely identical and connected one to another. It is easy for believers to see the universal church, but it is difficult for them to see the churches.

A Beneficiary of Witness Lee’s Ministry and the Recovery Version Study Bible

I have received much spiritual benefit from the ministry of Witness Lee. His ministry not only has brought me to believe in the Lord and get saved, but also has nourished me to grow in the Lord and to love the Lord Jesus to the uttermost. There are two specific times in which his ministry has had a direct impact on my spiritual life. Both times were from the reading of the Recovery Version Study Bible, which contains footnotes written by Witness Lee.

In college, I was seeking to answer the seemingly unanswerable questions `Why am I here?’, `Is there an absolute truth?’, etc. I was a Physics major, and at that time the only things I had confidence in were theories backed by experiment. I was agnostic, not knowing if there was a God or not. I believed that belief in God was only a mental exercise. I would seize every opportunity to argue with anyone who believed in God and try to overthrow their beliefs. During my last year in college, I came in contact with a Christian who got me to read the Bible. She gave me a Recovery Version Study Bible. My original intention in reading it was to find contradictions and flaws in the Bible in order to show her that the Bible was written by men, not by God. As I began to read the Bible with the footnotes, I found myself being attracted to this wonderful person, Jesus Christ. I began to realize that this person is more than just a man, but is God himself. This realization was triggered by one short sentence in the footnotes which says, “With darkness is falsehood, the opposite of truth” (John 8:44 note 3). I realized that the reason I questioned whether there was an absolute truth was because I was in darkness. The Lord Jesus Himself is the Light who unveils that His being God is the only absolute truth in this universe. This realization lead me, after a week of inward struggles, to open my heart and receive the Lord Jesus into me. I began a new life. I will remember that short sentence from the footnote for eternity.

Another time that Witness Lee’s ministry helped my spiritual life in a very direct way was to bring me to the realization that I needed to be baptized. After I received the Lord, I began to read and study the Bible. In the beginning of my Christian life, I had the concept that I didn’t need to get baptized. My concept was that baptism was merely a religious practice. I held to this concept quite strongly until I read the footnotes in the Recovery Version Study Bible. One particular footnote of Matthew 28:19 convicted me concerning baptism. It states that baptism has two aspects: the visible aspect by water and the invisible aspect by the Holy Spirit. “Without the invisible baptism by the Spirit, the visible baptism by water is vain, and without the visible baptism by water, the invisible baptism by the Spirit is abstract and impractical.” (note 3) I realized there was a need of an outward confirmation to the inward reality of my salvation. A few weeks later I got baptized. That was a big step forward in my Christian life.

These are two examples of the spiritual benefit I have received from Witness Lee’s ministry. I thank the Lord for the gifts He has given to the church, His Body.

The testimony of Scott Young taken from The Local Churches website.