Local churches (affiliation)
The local churches are a Christian group whose beliefs and practice are based upon the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. They condemn denominationalism and instruct believers to meet together with no name or basis other than the city or locality in which they reside. They emphasize the subjective experience of Christ as well as the Biblical truths regarding Christ and the church. Local churches are found on every continent with millions of Christians meeting in them worldwide.
History of the Local Churches
The development of the local churches as a group can be traced to the conversion of Watchman Nee in Fuzhou, China. At an early age, Nee committed his life for Christian ministry even though he lacked formal training. Nee compensated for this lack with extensive reading of Christian literature and direct experience in evangelism and church-planting. Early in his ministry, Nee developed a reputation for profound insight into the inner Christian life and the New Testament church practices, which he expressed through books and magazines he published after moving to Shanghai in 1927.
One of Nee's followers who later became one of Nee's closest co-workers was a young man named Witness Lee. Like Nee, Witness Lee was third-generation Christian and had no background in Eastern religions. Watchman Nee and Witness Lee met for the first time in Chefoo in 1932. In 1934, Witness Lee moved to Shanghai to work with Watchman Nee and to be directly under Nee's ministry. Lee worked closely with Nee and was entrusted with many responsibilities, such as editing Nee's publications.
In the following years, Nee published many works and held regular conferences and trainings for church workers. Nee, Lee and other workers established local churches throughout China and Southeast Asia. By the time of the Communist Revolution in 1949, at least six hundred local churches were established. Because this group did not take a name for themselves, outsiders referred to them as the "Little Flock" because they sang from a Plymouth Brethren hymnal titled Hymns for the Little Flock. From early on, this group, following the teachings of Nee, emphasized an experiential knowledge of Christ and the recovery of the New Testament pattern for the local church.
Many of the group’s ideas, including plural eldership, disavowal of a clergy-laity distinction, as well as worship centered around the Lord's Supper, were first practiced in Europe by the Plymouth Brethren. Nee, however, considered the divisiveness that he observed among the Brethren to be unscriptural. Seeking a New Testament basis for the unity of all believers, Nee developed the teaching that there should only be one church per city. Such a practice would mean that Christians would meet together simply as fellow believers who live in the same city rather than meeting on the basis of any particular doctrine or person. Nee believed such a practice would eliminate the distinctions that divide Christians from each other and would provide the broadest basis upon which all believers can meet.
As the local churches were spreading and gaining more and more members, the Communist party took power and many local church members suffered severe persecution. Nee was imprisoned in 1952 and died in a labor camp 20 years later. Before his imprisonment, Nee decided to send Witness Lee to Taiwan to ensure that their work would survive the political turmoil and continue. By 1955, the work in Taiwan grew to encompass sixty-five churches with over 20,000 members.
In 1958, Witness Lee traveled to the United States and met with a group of believers in Los Angeles who wanted to practice the New Testament church as taught by Nee and Lee. Lee remained in contact with this group and eventually relocated to Los Angeles in 1962. By 1969, there were local churches in California, New York, and Texas. After moving to the United States, Witness Lee continued to develop and minister the teachings of Watchman Nee. With the rise of the Jesus movement in the 1970s, many sought a deeper spiritual experience and a church practice according to the New Testament. As a result, many people joined the local churches throughout the United States and other countries. Today, there are millions of Christians meeting in thousands of local churches throughout the world. In recent years, the local churches have been commended by several organizations and Christian leaders throughout the United States.
Beliefs of the Local Churches
The local churches teach that they hold the faith which is common to all believers (Titus 1:4; Jude 1:3):
- The Bible is the complete divine revelation inspired word-by-word by God through the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16).
- God is uniquely one, yet triune — the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (1 Timothy 2:5; Matthew 28:19).
- The Son of God, who is God Himself, was incarnated to be a man by the name of Jesus Christ (John 1:1; John 1:14).
- Christ died on the cross for our sins, shedding His blood for our redemption (1 Peter 2:24; Ephesians 1:7).
- Christ resurrected from among the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4).
- Christ ascended to the right hand of God to be Lord of all (Acts 1:9; Acts 2:33; Acts 2:36).
- Whenever a person repents to God and believes into the Lord Jesus Christ, he is regenerated (born again) and becomes a living member of the Body of Christ (Acts 20:21; John 3:3; Ephesians 1:22-23; Romans 12:5).
- Christ is coming again to receive His believers to Himself (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
"The Church in..."
Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee emphasized the New Testament's references to churches by the name of the city. For example, in Acts, the Christians in Jerusalem were referred to as "the church which was at Jerusalem" (NKJV). Other verses with this convention include 1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, 2:18, 3:1, 3:7, and 3:14. Nee and Lee taught that there should only be one church in each city and that the jurisdiction of a church was no greater than the city in which it was located. Consequently, members of the local churches usually refer to their congregations as "the church in (city name)." This statement, however, does not mean the exclusivism of "we are the only true church" but rather the inclusivism of "we are only the true church, just like all true believers."  (For further details, see Witness Lee.)
A unique characteristic of the local churches is the practice of mutuality in their meetings. This practice is based on verses such as 1 Corinthians 14:26 which says, "Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." For example, participants are free to request hymns, share testimonies, or offer prayers for mutual edification. A significant example of this practice is the "prophesying meeting," in which members endeavor to "[speak] for God and Christ and [speak] forth God and Christ."
- Watchman Nee
- Witness Lee
- Living Stream Ministry
- Recovery Version of the Bible
- Bibles for America
- The Lord's Recovery
- Plymouth Brethren
- The Shouters
- Local Church controversies
- Miller, Elliot. "Cultic, Aberrant, or (Unconventionally) Orthodox? A Reassessment of the "Local Church" Movement." ‘’We Were Wrong." ‘’Christian Research Journal’’ 32.06 (2009):10-11. Print.
- Melton, Gordon J., Saliba, John A., Goetchius, Eugene Van Ness, Stark, Rodney, Malony, H. Newton, Gaustad, Edwin S. ‘’The Experts Speak-The Testimony of J. Gordon Melton, John A. Saliba, Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, Rodney Stark, H. Newton Malony, and Edwin S. Gaustad Concerning Witness Lee and the Local Churches.’’ Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1995. Print.
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. ‘’Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China.’’ Church History 74:1 (2005):72. Print.
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. ‘’Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China.’’ Church History 74:1 (2005):84. Print.
- ‘‘A Memorial Biography of Brother Witness Lee.’‘ Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1998. Print.
- Miller, Elliot. ‘’Voices of Confirmation Concerning Watchman Nee, Witness Lee and the Local Churches.’’ Anaheim: DCP Press, 2010. Print.
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. ‘’Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China.’’ Church History 74:1 (2005). Print.
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. ‘’Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China.’’ Church History 74:1 (2005):73. Print.
- Adeney, David. ‘’China: Christian Students Face the Revolution.’’ Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press (1973).
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. "Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China." Church History 74:1 (2005), 69.
- Lee, Witness. Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age. Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1991. Print.
- Passantino, Gretchen. ‘’No Longer A Heretical Threat; Now Dear brothers and Sister in Christ: Why, Concerning the Local Churches, I No Longer Criticize but Instead Commend.’’ Christian Research Journal 32.06 (2009): 48-50. Print.
- Miller, Elliot. ‘’The Conclusion of the Matter: We Were Wrong.’’ Christian Research Journal 32.06 (2009): 47. Print.
- Hanegraaff, Hank. ‘’We Were Wrong.’’ Christian Research Journal 32.06 (2009): 04-05. Print.
- Hansen, Collin. Cult Watchers Reconsider: Former detractors of Nee and Lee now endorse "local churches." Christianity Today. 26 January 2009. Web. 4 March 2013.
- Lee, Witness Lee, "The Spirit and the Body" Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1976. Print.
- Towle, Dan. ‘’ Contending for the Faith: Modalism, Tritheism, or the Pure Revelation of the Triune God According to the Bible.’’ Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1994. Print.
- Passantino, Gretchen. No Longer a Heretical Threat; Now Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Why, concerning the Local Churches, I No Longer Criticize, but Instead Commend. Christian Research Journal 32.06 (2009):49. Print.
- Lee, Witness. ‘’The Genuine Ground of Oneness.’’ Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1979. Print.
- Nee, Watchman: The Normal Christian Church Life, pg. 74
- Piepkorn, Arthur C. Profiles in Belief. Vol. II, III & IV San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1979: 78, 79.
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. ‘’Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China.’’ Church History 74:1 (2005):74-77. Print.
- Lee, Witness. ‘’The Conclusion of the New Testament Msgs. (205-220).’’ Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1988. Print.
- Lee, Witness. ‘’The Church-The Vision and Building Up of the Church.’’ Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1993. Print.
- Hanegraaff, Hank. Are the Local Churches a Cult? Christian Research Journal 32.06 (2009):62. Print.
- Lee, Witness. The Practice of the Church Life according to the God-ordained Way. Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1996. Print.
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. ‘’Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China.’’ Church History 74:1 (2005):77. Print.
- Life and Work of Witness Lee
- Life and Work of Watchman Nee
- Published Works of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee
- Publications and Biographies of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee
- Online Recovery Version Bible
- Free Recovery Version Bible
- Christian Research Institute Journal on Witness Lee and the local churches
- An Open Letter Regarding the Local Churches