Contending for the Faith—Watchman Nee, Witness Lee, and the Local Churches

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June 10, 2014 – DCP letter with an announcement published in World Journal
June 6, 2014 – DCP letter correcting misinformation related to recent events in China
April 29, 2014 – Statement by Congressman Joseph R. Pitts, “Watchman Nee and Witness Lee,” entered into the Congressional Record
December 21, 2012 – Living Stream Ministry statement on aberrant religious groups in China
Christian Research Institute videos and PDFs discussing the local churches and the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.
July 30, 2009 – Statement by Congressman Christopher Smith, “In Recognition of Watchman Nee,” entered into the Congressional Record

The ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee has produced well over three thousand churches on all six inhabited continents and has opened up the truths of the Bible concerning the subjective experience of Christ for the building up of the church as the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, as with every move of the Lord, there have been critics. While the primary purpose of this Web site is to address controversies that have arisen, it is important to first see the big picture, the greater context, surrounding the ministry of these two servants of the Lord.

Watchman Nee‘s ministry of spiritual nourishment and his unique ability to expound the Scripture along with his firm testimony in the face of persecution has been widely recognized by Christians as a significant contribution to Christian faith and practice in the twentieth century. His writings have been appreciated by Christians around the world and translated into many languages. His book The Normal Christian Life has been widely hailed as a Christian classic. He has been quoted and praised by Christian leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Corrie ten Boom, and Warren Wiersbe. He has been included along with such influential Christians as John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, and Hudson Taylor in collections such as Barbour Publishing’s Heroes of the Faith series, David Lindstedt’s Faith’s Great Heroes, Geoffrey Hanks’ Seventy Great Christians, and Who’s Who in Christian History, edited by J.D. Douglas and W.C. Phillip.

The more than six hundred local churches raised up in China through the ministry of Watchman Nee before the Communist revolution have had an undisputed impact on the formation of the Christian church in China. That impact is also acknowledged in much of Southeast Asia. Watchman Nee’s work has been studied and emulated as a pattern of indigenous Christian work by Christians of many countries and of various doctrinal persuasions. His martyrdom in prison for refusing to deny his faith was the Lord’s seal upon his life and work.

In 2009, Watchman Nee’s contribution to the church in China and his influence on Christians in the West was recognized in a statement by Congressman Chris Smith on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. At the conclusion of his statement, Mr. Smith related the following: “After Watchman Nee’s death, when his niece came to collect his few possessions, she was given a scrap of paper that a guard had found by his bed. What was written on that scrap may serve as Watchman Nee’s testament: ‘Christ is the Son of God Who died for the redemption of sinners and was resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee.’”

Some of his early books in English were first printed in India and then in the 1960s in the USA by Christian Literature Crusade (CLC) and the International Students’ Press. In 1965 Witness Lee established Stream Publishers, which later became Living Stream Ministry (LSM), to publish his books and those of Watchman Nee. From that time many more of Watchman Nee’s books became available in English. In 1994, after an extensive project to collect and translate Watchman Nee’s available writings and records of his speaking, LSM published a sixty-two volume set entitled The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, which are available both in print and in electronic form. Watchman Nee’s nourishing ministry is treasured by seeking Christians in many expressions of Christianity. Furthermore, his ministry is prophetic in that he not only called Christians to return to the roots of the biblical Christian faith, as have others, but he also identified the crucial biblical truths and practices that made such a return, or recovery, a practical reality.

Witness Lee was Watchman Nee’s closest co-worker in China and was sent by Nee to carry their vision and practice to the world outside of China. Witness Lee faithfully fulfilled this commission for almost fifty years, spreading their ministry and the biblical practice of the local churches to all six inhabited continents. He was also a prolific speaker and writer, though his books are generally less well known to the Christian public than Watchman Nee’s. They both stress the same general theme of the Christian’s experience of Christ as life for the building up of the Body of Christ in many practical ways. To date this ministry has produced over three thousand local churches with over 100,000 members, not including an estimated one million members in China.

In America, Witness Lee’s ministry found hearty reception among seeking Christians in the 1960s and 70s and local churches began to be raised up throughout the USA. At that point a small group of critics, apparently unable to see what most saw in this ministry and in some cases motivated by a sense of religious rivalry, began a very aggressive effort to discredit the ministry of Witness Lee and the practice of the local churches. The leadership of the ministry and the churches, including Witness Lee, objected to the mischaracterization of their teaching and practice by that small group of critics and thus a controversy arose. That story and its subsequent development is the main focus of this Web site.

The Responses section of this site chronicles various answers given to our critics on matters of truth.1 These answers are thorough, balanced, and biblical. They demonstrate our adherence to the common faith that all genuine Christians uphold, and they present the deeper truths from the Word, truths concerning which our critics seem to lack understanding. Sadly, our critics have chosen not to respond to our answers, but instead have either ignored them or rejected them out of hand. Instead, they seem to be engaging in a well-known principle of propaganda—that a falsehood repeated often and vehemently enough is often believed, regardless of the facts.

On the other hand, those who have spent the time to thoroughly examine our teachings and to dialogue with us have come to the conclusion that we are, as a faculty panel from Fuller Theological Seminary stated, “genuine believers and fellow-members of the Body of Christ.” In 2002, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) conducted a careful inquiry into the teaching in LSM’s publications. Having been fully satisfied with the orthodoxy they found there, ECPA’s Board granted LSM full voting membership.

Fuller Theological Seminary‘s faculty panel conducted a multi-year review of the teachings of Witness Lee and the local churches and concluded “that the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect.” They further reported, “We have found a great disparity between the perceptions that have been generated in some circles concerning the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and the actual teachings found in their writings.”

Two leading apologetics ministries, Christian Research Institute (CRI) and Answers in Action (AIA), jointly conducted a six-year project to research the teaching and practice of the local churches. Hank Hanegraaff, the President of CRI concluded, “Finally, the local churches are an authentic expression of New Testament Christianity. Moreover, as a group forged in the cauldron of persecution, it has much to offer Western Christianity.” Similarly, Gretchen Passantino, Director of AIA and a co-author of some of the earliest criticisms of the local churches in the United States, wrote, “The teachings of Watchman Nee, Witness Lee, and the local churches affirm the essential doctrinal positions of the historic Christian Church.” In a landmark issue of its Christian Research Journal, CRI published its own rebuttal of accusations against the local churches based on their reassessment of the teachings of Witness Lee. Elliot Miller, the Journal‘s editor-in-chief, authored a seven-part series of articles addressing many of the common misrepresentations of Witness Lee’s teaching.

Today the rich ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee is available in many Christian bookstores, directly from Living Stream Ministry, and electronically via the Web site www.ministrybooks.com. The Life-study of the Bible with Witness Lee radio program, which is carried on many Christian radio stations, expounds the Bible book-by-book from the perspective of our experience of Christ as our life. This program features excerpts of Witness Lee’s spoken messages and commentary from many of Witness Lee’s close co-workers. Further, contact information for many local churches is available through the Internet. These publicly accessible resources should enable fair-minded people to properly appraise the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.

With all that is available, it is indeed sad that a few individuals continue to spread unfounded rumors and unwarranted accusations that were refuted long ago. They either rely on old and discredited “research” or brandish a few quotes from the copious ministry of Witness Lee that have been carefully excised from their proper contexts. In so doing they create a biased perception of the ministry of Witness Lee without care for truth or fairness. It is our hope that the information on this Web site will equip the Lord’s lovers and seekers in the truths of His Word and will help them to appreciate and understand the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and the practice of the local churches.


Notes:

1Unfortunately, some of those critics went far beyond doctrinal disputes. They wildly labeled the ministry and churches as a cult and falsely ascribed immoral and illegal activities to them. Due to the refusal to correct these false and defamatory accusations, the conflict led in three instances to litigation to resolve, not doctrinal, but truly libelous misrepresentations. These disputes are dealt with in a section of this site called Libel Litigation. It is not true, as some have alleged, that these lawsuits were over doctrine. Rightfully, no court should insert itself into such matters; the U. S. court system is not the forum for theological issues. However, the courts are the appropriate forum for false allegations concerning immoral, criminal, and socially aberrant behavior.

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