Local Churches (Watchman Nee)

A Christian movement rooted in the teachings of Watchman Nee, emphasizing the oneness of the church in each city and the experiential aspects of Christian living.

The Local Church movement, initiated by Watchman Nee in the early 20th century, is a unique and somewhat controversial Christian movement. It started in China and quickly spread to various parts of Asia and later to the United States. The movement’s foundational principle, as articulated by Nee, is that there should be only one Christian church in each city. This principle was rooted in an exposition of the seven churches in Asia as mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Early Development and Spread

Watchman Nee, born in China in 1903, established a church in Shanghai, which became the center of his ministry. His book “The Spiritual Man,” published in 1928, and his subsequent teachings contributed significantly to the movement’s growth. Witness Lee, a key figure who joined Nee in 1934, played a crucial role in expanding and publicizing the movement’s teachings. By the 1960s and 1970s, the Local Church movement had gained notable momentum in the United States.

Controversies and Legal Challenges

The Local Church movement has faced its share of controversies, particularly regarding its teachings and practices. In the 1970s and 1980s, books like “The Mindbenders” and “The God-Men” criticized the movement, leading to significant disputes and libel lawsuits. These publications accused the Local Church of sociological deviance and doctrinal errors. The movement’s members strongly opposed these accusations, leading to legal battles that resulted in substantial libel awards in favor of the Local Church. Despite these legal victories, the movement’s image was significantly impacted by these controversies.

Theological Beliefs and Practices

The Local Churches hold specific core beliefs, including the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the triune nature of God, the incarnation and divinity of Christ, and the importance of salvation through grace. They emphasize the concept of the church as the Body of Christ, inclusive of all genuine believers. The movement practices mutuality in meetings, where participants are encouraged to contribute actively through hymns, teachings, and prayers.

Persecution and Expansion

In the wake of the Communist takeover in China, Christians, including members of the Local Churches, faced severe persecution. Watchman Nee himself was imprisoned in 1952 and died in a labor camp in 1972. Despite these challenges, the movement continued to grow under Witness Lee’s leadership, particularly in Taiwan and later in the United States. Today, the Local Church movement has a significant presence worldwide, with hundreds of congregations and thousands of members.

Academic and Religious Evaluations

The Local Church movement has been the subject of extensive academic and religious evaluations. Notably, the Fuller Theological Seminary and the Christian Research Institute conducted thorough studies of the movement. These studies, particularly by the Christian Research Institute, led to a reevaluation and a more positive understanding of the movement’s teachings and practices.