They were two Christian workers from the same country—China. Both were brilliant students with promising futures. Both were dynamically saved as teenagers and became diligent students of God’s word and zealous gospel preachers. Both also became prolific speakers and writers. Both were persecuted for their ministry. Both changed many lives.
The ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee has brought a treasury of spiritual truth and life to the Body of Christ. Sadly, some amount of misinformation has left the greater part of the wealth of this printed ministry little known to God’s people.
So in this post, I’ll briefly tell the story of these two brothers and their blended ministry—one which I’ve been enjoying for nearly four decades. It’s my hope that this treasury of continuous ministry of nearly 75 years will become well known, thus bringing an immeasurable foundation.
To learn more about these brothers you can also watch this short Youtube video titled A Brief Affirmation of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.- See more at: http://holdingtotruth.com/2012/10/19/watchman-nee-and-witness-lee-two-ministers-one-ministry/#sthash.xuZTXMPY.dpuf
supply to the entire Body of Christ.
Who was Watchman Nee?
To introduce Watchman Nee, I can only say that he was a seer of the divine revelation in the present age. That’s also the title of the biography written about him by his co-worker, Witness Lee. I can’t do justice to Nee’s life and work in such a short post, so I can only recommend that you read the biography or check out this website on his life. I can say that in the span of his 30 years of public ministry, he made an indelible mark on the face of Christianity in China, and through his writings he also made a mark on Christians throughout the world, including many in the house-based churches in America.
Nee was born into a Congregationalist Christian family in 1903, in the Fukien Province of southern China. He was saved at the age of 17 in 1920. After hearing the prevailing preaching of traveling evangelist Dora Yu, Nee experienced a dynamic salvation. This salvation brought him into a life of spiritual pursuit and complete consecration to his Savior and Master that continued until his death in 1972.
In his early years, Nee was greatly helped by the perfecting of an older British missionary, Margaret E. Barber. Sister Barber helped Nee to know the divine life, the work of the cross, the life of faith, and the hope of the Lord’s coming. She also helped him to realize the errors of denominationalism and how it divides the Body of Christ. Through Sister Barber, Nee was introduced to some of the classic Christian writings from the West, especially those of the Plymouth Brethren.
Nee was both a zealous gospel preacher and a diligent student of the Bible. He was also a voracious reader, studying both the expositions of his Western forbearers and the biographies of men of faith throughout church history. From his reading he gained profound insight into the situation of the New Testament church throughout the past centuries. Based on what the Lord showed him, Nee followed the Lord’s leading to publish Christian magazines and books.
Because Nee was faithful to obey the Scriptures, to drop traditions, and to establish local churches, he was misunderstood and persecuted by various Christian groups and the Chinese government. He was even mistreated by some of the churches raised up by him. Such persecution culminated in his being imprisoned by the Communist government in 1952 and kept in confinement until his death in 1972. However, the note he left just before his death indicates that he never lost his faith in his victorious Lord:
“Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee.”
Nee’s most widely-recognized and appreciated books are The Normal Christian Life and The Normal Christian Church Life.
Who was Witness Lee?
Witness Lee was born in 1905 in the Shantung Province of Northern China. He was also born into a Christian family, one of Southern Baptist persuasion. He was saved in 1925 at the age of 19. His dynamic salvation, accompanied by an immediate consecration of his life and future to the Lord, put him also on a pathway of pursuit that did not cease until he went to be with his Lord in 1997.
Lee began to study the Scriptures with help from the teachings of the Plymouth Brethren, diligently learning all the types, figures, and prophecies in the Scriptures. In the process of his seeking after God’s word, he came in touch with the publication work of Watchman Nee. Lee began to not only read but also to correspond with Nee, finding great help from Nee’s writings and letters.
Lee received much help from reading Nee’s publications. He considered Nee his spiritual father even though Nee was only two years his senior. In 1932, Nee invited Lee to join him in the Lord’s work. Lee willingly left his own prospering work in Northern China to serve in the ministry under Nee. He became Nee’s closest and most faithful co-worker, carrying out one work with him.
This relationship developed, and for 17 years the two labored together in China. Nee highly regarded Lee and entrusted the entire publication work to him, as well as much of the administration of the work among the churches established through their ministry.
In 1949, Nee called his co-workers together and said that Lee should leave China. Nee realized that the change of the government in China to communism could mean the end of their ministry there. He felt that if their work would be stopped in China, someone must go out so the light they had received from the Lord would continue shining. Nee indicated strongly that Lee should carry their ministry safely outside of China. Though Lee wished to remain in China, he followed the fellowship from Nee and left China for Taiwan, where he continued to labor throughout the 1950s.
Through Lee’s ministry, within five to six years the number of believers meeting on the island of Taiwan increased from three or four hundred to over 40,000. After ministering in Taiwan for nine years, the Lord led Lee to make some visits to the West. He was first invited to conduct conferences in London, England, and Copenhagen, Denmark, in the Spring of 1958. He also made three visits to the United States from 1958 to 1961.
Through his travels, Lee saw a great spiritual need in the West. He became burdened by the Lord that some workers should go to meet this need. Eventually, the Lord burdened Lee himself to go. Though he would again be starting from almost nothing in a completely new country, Lee followed the Lord to the United States in 1962. He was led to Los Angeles to begin his ministry there and gave his first conference there in December 1962 on the all-inclusive Christ. (You can get a free copy of the book from that conference from Bibles for America or read it online.)
In his ministry in America, Lee endeavored to present the riches of Christ from every book of the Bible so that the believers would be enlightened to enjoy Christ as their life, giving Christ the first place in everything. He also labored to bring in church practice that matched the New Testament pattern, expressing the oneness of Christ’s Body and bringing every member into function.
Lee continued to travel and speak in weekly meetings as well as in numerous conferences and semi-annual trainings. He labored faithfully for the Lord until his death in June of 1997. His most notable publication was the Life-study of the Bible—a comprehensive study of the books of the Bible from the perspective of the believers’ experience and enjoyment of the divine life. The production of this work spanned over 20 years, from 1974–1995.
Two ministers sharing one ministry
Having read the writings of both ministers over many years, I can testify that their ministry was truly one, having one governing vision and goal—that of ministering Christ for the building up of the one Body of Christ. In Peter’s fellowship about the replacement of Judas with Matthias he said, “For he was numbered among us and was allotted his portion of this ministry” (Acts 1:17). The footnote on this verse in the New Testament Recovery Versionsays,
“…Though the apostles were twelve in number, their ministry was uniquely one—this ministry, a corporate ministry in the principle of the Body of Christ. All the apostles carried out the same ministry to bear the testimony not of any religion, doctrine, or practice but uniquely of the incarnated, resurrected, and ascended Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of all.”
This was my realization about these two servants of the Lord, about Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. They carried out one corporate ministry in the principle of the Body of Christ. One testimony to this can be found in the two volumes of Messages Given during the Resumption of Watchman Nee’s Ministry. You can review the series of messages in these books online at ministrybooks.org. In this publication are messages given when Nee and Lee came together in 1947–1948. Some chapters record Nee and Lee’s speaking in the same meetings, and you can sense that they were truly one.
However, some have said that Lee was different from Nee. They say that Nee was very good, but Lee changed and taught heresy. Thankfully, some of these erroneous statements have now been corrected by such respected organizations as the Christian Research Institute, in a special edition of their Christian Research Journal entitled “We Were Wrong.” But, unfortunately, much misunderstanding still remains.
However, a thorough review of Nee’s and Lee’s writings shows the close relationship between the two. They were the same in their ministry concerning the Triune God, the eternal plan of God, the person and work of Christ, the experience of the eternal life, the Spirit, the salvation of God, the church—both universal and local—and the New Jerusalem as the eternal dwelling place of God and His redeemed.
If you read their collected works, available from Living Stream Ministry, you’ll see that they taught the same thing, were of the same spirit, and ministered with the same goal—to minister Christ for the building up of the Body of Christ in oneness, expressed in local churches all over the earth. Interestingly, a man imprisoned with Watchman Nee, after being released from prison, went on a quest to find Witness Lee. He told the believers he met in America that Watchman Nee had told him, “When you see Witness Lee, you’ll see me.”
What does it mean to you as a Christian reader?
As a reader, you could take the critical concepts of some who have tried to separate these two authors and only receive the popular ministry of Watchman Nee. Or you could do your own research and explore the vast wealth of the full ministry of both authors now available online. The entire Collected Works of Watchman Nee can now be freely read online, as well as the entire Life-study of the Bible by Witness Lee. You can find them at ministrybooks.org. I hope you’ll take the time to compare.
For example, read Song of Songs spoken by Watchman Nee in 1934. Then read the Life-study of the Song of Songs spoken by Witness Lee in 1995. I believe you’ll be impressed by the harmonious relationship between these two authors. (Both of these books are available to read online at ministrybooks.org.)
Since the Dark Ages, seeking Christians have stood on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before them to open God’s word more and more. In like manner, Nee and Lee endeavored to further open the treasury of God’s word to God’s people. All I can say is that Witness Lee received everything from Watchman Nee, and then went even further. He stood on Nee’s shoulders. He simply added another layer to the same building on the same
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