The Shouters

A dynamic Christian movement embroiled in controversy and persecution within China’s strict religious landscape.

Originating in the early 1980s within China, the Shouters are an informal Christian movement deeply influenced by the teachings of Chinese Protestant ministers Watchman Nee (1903–1972) and Witness Lee (1905–1997). This group gained attention for its practice of “calling on the name of the Lord” loudly, which is supported by various biblical passages. The movement, however, became controversial and faced significant persecution following incidents in Dongyang and Yiwu counties in Zhejiang province in February 1982, leading to its classification as a xie jiao (“heterodox teaching”) by the Chinese government in 1983, a term indicating banned religious movements under Chinese law​​​​.

Watchman Nee’s ministry was characterized by a congregational form of church government, emphasizing the importance of each city having only one church, which led to the emergence of the name “Local Church.” Witness Lee, sent by Nee to Taiwan in 1948, expanded the movement internationally, especially in the United States, where it attracted members from both Chinese American communities and the wider populace. Lee founded Living Stream Ministry in California in 1962 to support his teaching and writing, further developing what became known as the “Lord’s Recovery,” a concept suggesting a return to the practices of the early biblical church. This concept posits that the true essence of church life, as outlined in the New Testament, had been lost over the centuries and was being restored through the efforts of figures like Luther, Wesley, Nee, and Lee himself​​.

The Shouters’ practices and teachings, especially their loud prayers, drew the ire of both the official state-sanctioned church in China, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and the Chinese government. This led to significant confrontations in the early 1980s, notably the Dongyang/Yiwu incidents, where the group faced severe persecution, including raids on their meetings by TSPM representatives and public security officials, beatings, and arrests. These events marked a pivotal moment in the history of the Shouters, leading to their branding as a criminal cult and initiating a cycle of persecution and resistance that continues to affect their members and similar Christian groups within China​​.

Despite their controversial status in China, the Shouters have sought refuge and recognition internationally, with courts in countries like Italy granting asylum to members facing persecution. This highlights the ongoing struggle for religious freedom faced by unregistered Christian movements in China, underscoring the complex relationship between state control and religious expression in the country​​.

The term “Shouters” itself has been broadened and used somewhat interchangeably with “Local Church” in different contexts, reflecting the diverse and complex nature of Christian house church movements in China. This ambiguity, alongside the movement’s continued growth and the international support it has garnered, illustrates the enduring influence of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee’s teachings, as well as the resilience of their followers in the face of adversity​​.

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