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 1934 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.
This is an excerpt of An open letter from the Local Churches and Living Stream Ministry concerning the Teachings of Witness Lee.
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