Local churches (affiliation)

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The local churches
OrientationNew Testament, Nondenominational
FounderWatchman Nee

The local churches are a Christian movement which was started in China. As per the movement all Christians "who have left the denominations, the divisive sects, and stand on the proper ground are a local church in their locality." Members of the group believe that Christian believers should emphasize the subjective experience of Christ as well as Bible interpretation concerning Christ and the church. They also believe that Watchman Nee and Witness Lee are the ministers of the age, and their ministry to recover the lost church practices and interpretation of the Bible as the ministry of the age. The movement is conformed to this ministry.

Assemblies identifying as "local churches" can be found worldwide and have several million members.[1][2]



The development of the local churches can be traced to the conversion of Watchman Nee in Fuzhou, China. At an early age, Nee committed his life to Christian ministry and began to publish his works on the Christian faith and of church practice after moving to Shanghai in 1927.[3]

Watchman Nee first met Witness Lee in Yantai in 1932. Two years later, Lee moved to Shanghai to work with Nee. One of Lee's responsibilities there was the editing of some of Nee's publications.[4][5] In the following years, Nee published many works and held regular conferences and trainings for church workers. Nee, Lee and other workers established over six hundred local churches throughout China and Southeast Asia before the Communist Revolution of 1949.

Some outsiders referred to the group as the "Little Flock" as they sang from a hymnal entitled Hymns for the Little Flock. From early on, members of this group emphasized a personal experience of Christ and the establishment of a pattern of church practice according to the New Testament.[1]

Plymouth Brethren Christian Church Connection[edit]

Many of the movement's ideas, including "one church in every city,"[6] plural eldership, disavowal of a clergy-laity distinction, and worship centered around the Lord's Supper, were adopted from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, a conservative, low church nonconformist, Evangelical movement whose history began in Dublin, Ireland, in the late 1820s. From 1930 to 1935, there was communication internationally between the local churches and the Raven-Taylor-Hayles group of Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, which saw the churches in China as a parallel work of God. However, Nee and other Chinese leaders disagreed with their prohibition of celebrating The Lord's Supper with Christians outside of their own meetings. Matters came to a head when it became known that Nee had worshiped with non-Brethren Christians, including T. Austin-Sparks in London and Thornton Stearns in Hartford, during a 1933 visit to the United Kingdom and North America. After a series of letters exchanged between leaders in New York, London, and Shanghai over a two-year period, on 31 August 1935, the brethren in London sent communication to Shanghai terminating their fellowship.[7]

Nee taught that there should only be one church in every city, that Christians should meet together simply as believers living in the same city regardless of differences in doctrine or practice. Nee believed that this would eliminate divisions between Christians and provide the broadest basis upon which all believers could meet.[8] Both Nee and Lee emphasized the New Testament's references to churches by the name of the city (for example, in Acts, the Christians in Jerusalem being referred to as "the church which was at Jerusalem" (NKJV), as well as other verses with the same convention, including 1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7 and 14). Since Nee and Lee taught that there should only be one church in each city, and that that city was the extent of a church's jurisdiction, members of the local churches usually refer to their congregations as "the church in (city name)." However, they assert that such statements are not to be taken as a claim of exclusivity, but rather inclusivity.[9][10][11][12][13] (see Witness Lee, ‘The Basis for the Believers' Oneness in the Church’).

Developments after 1949[edit]

The Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 led to severe persecution of Chinese Christians, including members of the local churches. Nee was imprisoned in 1952 and died in a labor camp 20 years later. Nee had already sent Witness Lee to Taiwan to ensure that their work would survive the political turmoil. By 1955, the work in Taiwan had grown to more than twenty thousand members in sixty-five churches.[1][14][page needed][15]

In 1958, Witness Lee moved to the United States, settling first in Los Angeles in 1962. By 1969, there were local churches in California, New York, and Texas.[1][16][17][page needed]

Church Meetings[edit]

The local churches practice "mutuality" in their meetings, based on verses such as 1 Corinthians 14:26 ("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."). Participants are encouraged to request hymns, offer brief comments, or pray at will.[18][19] This is particularly evident in "prophesying meetings" in which members speak one after another usually based on what they studied from the books of Witness Lee and from the periodical Holy Word for Morning Revival in the previous week.[20][21][22]

Local church's practice is strongly governed by the ministry books of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. During exhortation, the members read and exhort from the periodical publication called Holy Word for Morning Revival which is a booklet containing excerpts from the books published by Witness Lee and Watchman Nee. These booklets are published by Living Stream Ministries. Living Stream ministries also publish the hymnal for the local churches. For the sake of uniformity, Recovery Version of the Bible, which is edited by Witness Lee and published by Living Stream Ministries, is used as authorised version. The footnotes, written by Witness Lee, from the Recovery version are often quoted and prayed over during the meetings. [23][24][22]


The local churches believe that:

  • The Bible is the complete divine revelation inspired word by word by God through the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16).
  • God is uniquely one, yet Triune — the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (1 Tim. 2:5a, Matt. 28:19).
  • The Son of God, even 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 Pet. 2:24, Eph. 1:7a).
  • Christ resurrected from among the dead on the third day (1 Cor. 15:4).
  • Christ ascended to the right hand of God to be Lord of all (Acts 1:9, Acts 2:33, Acts 2:36).
  • After His ascension Christ poured down the Spirit of God to baptize His chosen members into one Body and that the Spirit of God, who is also the Spirit of Christ, is moving on this earth today to convict sinners, to regenerate God’s chosen people, to dwell in the members of Christ for their growth in life, and to build up the Body of Christ for His full expression.
  • Whenever any person repents to God and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is regenerated (born again) and becomes a living member of the one Body of Christ (Acts 20:21, John 3:3, Eph. 1:22-23, Rom. 12:5).
  • Christ is coming again to receive His believers to Himself (1 Thes. 2:19).
  • The overcoming saints will reign with Christ in the millennium and that all the believers in Christ will participate in the divine blessings in the New Jerusalem in the new heaven and new earth for eternity (Rev. 20:6, 21:2). [25][26]

Living Stream Ministry and the Local Churches[edit]

Local churches consider Watchman Nee and Witness Lee as the ministers of the age and their ministries as the ministry of the age. For this reason the members are encouraged to read and promote the ministry publications of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.[27]

To avoid doctrinal confusion only the publications by the Living Stream Ministries are read in the church meetings. Every meeting halls are recommended to showcase and promote the books of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee by displaying the books at the entrance. [28]

The Recovery Version of the Bible with footnotes, The Life Study Messages, The Holy Word for Morning Revival, The Ministry of the Word magazine and the Ministry Digest all written by Witness Lee are recommended to be read by the members on daily basis. [29]

Witness Lee said,

“My burden is for the recovery based on the interpretation of Brother Nee and me. I am the continuation of Brother Nee; I would like to have a continuation of me, and this needs a corporation...The Living Stream corporation will continue this ministry” (from unpublished notes of a meeting of Living Stream, July 12, 1996).

Witness Lee placed the direction of this corporation for the continuation and publication of the ministry in the hands of a group of blended brothers.[30]

Witness Lee had made it a point to differentiate his ministry from the local churches. Contrary to the popular beliefs he never imposed that the members in the local church follow his ministry. In the Elders’ Training, Book 7: One Accord for the Lord’s Move he wrote:

“The ministry is not like the Senate. The ministry is not a Congress for anyone to come here to express his opinion. The ministry has no capacity for that. The ministry is altogether filled up with a fighting spirit. I do not control any church. All the saints who have left the denominations, the divisive sects, and stand on the proper ground are a local church in their locality. They can express their opinions, but they may have nothing to do with this ministry... This does not mean that I ask you to stay away from your local church or that your local church is no longer a local church... I am not talking about the churches, I am talking about the ministry. The ministry is one thing, and the churches are another thing. These two things can be differentiated in the Epistles written by Paul. Paul’s ministry is one category, and the churches are another category. Paul never tried to force all the churches to follow him in his ministry, but Paul surely had a ministry for the churches.” [31]


Local churches have been subjected to theological and organisational controversies. To a large extent these controversies stem from the rapid increase and spread of the local churches in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s. During 1970s they became a target of opposition of fledgling countercult ministries. Unsupported criticisms of anti-social behaviors led to three libel litigations. In addition, some criticized the teaching of Witness Lee on the nature of God, God's full salvation, and the church.[citation needed]

It was solved through libel litigation and evaluation by Christian research organisation such as CRI and Fuller Theological Seminary. [32] [33]

Statement from the Fuller Theological Seminary[edit]

Fuller Theological Seminary had studied the practices of the local churches and released the following statement on their findings

"It is the conclusion of Fuller Theological Seminary that the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect. One of the initial tasks facing Fuller was to determine if the portrayal of the ministry typically presented by its critics accurately reflects the teachings of the ministry. On this point we have found a great disparity between the perceptions that have been generated in some circles concerning the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and the actual teachings found in their writings. Particularly, the teachings of Witness Lee have been grossly misrepresented and therefore most frequently misunderstood in the general Christian community, especially among those who classify themselves as evangelicals. We consistently discovered that when examined fairly in the light of scripture and church history, the actual teachings in question have significant biblical and historical credence. Therefore, we believe that they deserve the attention and consideration of the entire Body of Christ."[34]

Evaluation by the Christian Research Institute[edit]

The Christian Research Institute had originally labelled the movement as heretical, but later, after six years of reevaluation, they published several articles on the local churches in a 2009 special issue of their journal, including one entitled: "We Were Wrong." It stated:

It [the 'local churches' movement] was greeted with suspicion by the evangelical community, and it was not long before CRI and other discernment ministries began labeling it heretical. But, after a six-year reevaluation, CRI has concluded that the LC has been misunderstood and is neither cultic nor aberrant, but merely different.

Christian author and talk-show host Hank Hanegraaff wrote:

Perhaps no three words are more likely to stick in our throats than the words, “I was wrong.” Yet for a ministry committed to the maxim, “because Truth matters,” the willingness to utter these words is not an option, it’s an essential. ... In sum, along with Christians from a broad range of persuasions, the local churches are dedicated to both proper doctrine (orthodoxy) and proper practice (orthopraxy). As such, we march together by the maxim, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity."[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Miller, Elliot (2009), "Cultic, Aberrant, or (Unconventionally) Orthodox? A Reassessment of the "Local Church" Movement", Christian Research Journal, 32 (6): 10–11
  2. ^ Melton, Gordon J; Saliba, John A; Goetchius, Eugene Van Ness; Stark, Rodney; Malony, H. Newton; Gaustad, Edwin S (1995), 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
  3. ^ Lee 2005, p. 72.
  4. ^ Lee 2005, p. 84.
  5. ^ A Memorial Biography of Brother Witness Lee, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1998
  6. ^ "Hayes Press Christian Resources, Gospel Tracts, Posters, Booklets, Gifts". Hayespress.org. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  7. ^ Tomes, Nigel. "Watchman Nee Rejected the Exclusive Way" (PDF). Concerned Brothers.com. The Fellowship Journal. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  8. ^ Lee 2005, p. 73.
  9. ^ Passantino 2009, p. 49.
  10. ^ Lee, Witness (1979), The Genuine Ground of Oneness, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry
  11. ^ Nee, Watchman, The Normal Christian Church Life, p. 74
  12. ^ Piepkorn, Arthur C (1979), Profiles in Belief, II–IV, San Francisco: Harper & Row, pp. 78, 79
  13. ^ Lee 2005, pp. 74–77.
  14. ^ Adeney, David (1973), China: Christian Students Face the Revolution, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press
  15. ^ Lee 2005, p. 69.
  16. ^ Miller, Elliot (2010), Voices of Confirmation Concerning Watchman Nee, Witness Lee and the Local Churches, Anaheim: DCP Press, p. 6
  17. ^ Lee, Witness. Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age. Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1991.
  18. ^ Lee, Witness (1988), The Conclusion of the New Testament Msgs, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, pp. 205–20
  19. ^ Lee, Witness (1993), The Church—The Vision and Building Up of the Church, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry
  20. ^ Hanegraaff, Hank (2009), "Are the Local Churches a Cult?", Christian Research Journal, 32 (6): 62
  21. ^ Lee, Witness (1996), The Practice of the Church Life according to the God-ordained Way, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry
  22. ^ a b Lee 2005, p. 77.
  23. ^ Hanegraaff, Hank (2009), "Are the Local Churches a Cult?", Christian Research Journal, 32 (6): 62
  24. ^ Lee, Witness (1996), The Practice of the Church Life according to the God-ordained Way, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry
  25. ^ https://www.localchurches.org/beliefs/
  26. ^ http://gemeindeinfrankfurt.de/en/our-belief
  27. ^ http://ministrypropagation.org/church-book-service-workshop-an-opening-word/
  28. ^ http://ministrypropagation.org/church-book-service-workshop-an-opening-word/
  29. ^ https://www.lsm.org/ministry-digest/index.html
  30. ^ https://www.lsm.org/onepublication/
  31. ^ http://www.lsm.org/onepublication/
  32. ^ http://www.open-letter.org/
  33. ^ https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-03-16-me-27090-story.html
  34. ^ http://www.lctestimony.org/FullerStatement.pdf
  35. ^ Christian Research Journal. Christian Research Institute. 2009.


  • Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei (2005), "Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China", Church History, 74 (1).
  • Passantino, Gretchen (2009), "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 (6).

External links[edit]