Local churches (affiliation)

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This article is about the group started by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. For other uses, see Local church (disambiguation).
The local churches
Classification Christian
Orientation New Testament, Nondenominational, Plymouth Brethren influence
Polity Connectional
Region Worldwide
Founder Watchman Nee
Origin 1927
Ministers Witness Lee

The local churches are a Christian movement founded in China whose beliefs and practice are based on the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. 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. Both Nee and Lee were influenced by the writings of the Plymouth Brethren, T. Austin-Sparks, and others.

Assemblies identifying as "local churches" can be found worldwide and claim 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. Mostly self-educated, he began to publish his interpretation of 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][6][page needed] [7][page needed]

The Plymouth Brethren Connection[edit]

Many of the movement's ideas, including plural eldership, disavowal of a clergy-laity distinction, and worship centered around the Lord's Supper, were adopted from the Plymouth Brethren, 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 group of Exclusive Brethren, 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10][11][12][13][14] (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][15][page needed][16]

In 1958, Witness Lee traveled to the United States for the first time and moved to Los Angeles in 1962. By 1969, there were local churches in California, New York, and Texas.[1][6][17][page needed]

In recent years, leaders of the local churches have sought recognition from several organizations and Christian leaders throughout the United States.[2][6][18][19][20][21]

Beliefs of the Local Churches[edit]

The local churches teach that they hold the faith that is common to all believers (Titus 1:4; Jude 1:3):[22][page needed]

  • 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).[23][page needed]
  • 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 local churches practice what they call "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.[24][25] This is particularly evident in "prophesying meetings" in which members speak one after another, usually based on commentary by Witness Lee studied the previous week."[26][27][28]

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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c Miller, Elliot (2010), Voices of Confirmation Concerning Watchman Nee, Witness Lee and the Local Churches, Anaheim: DCP Press .
  7. ^ Lee 2005.
  8. ^ Tomes, Nigel. "Watchman Nee Rejected the Exclusive Way" (PDF). Concerned Brothers.com. The Fellowship Journal. Retrieved 31 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Lee 2005, p. 73.
  10. ^ Passantino 2009, p. 49.
  11. ^ Lee, Witness (1979), The Genuine Ground of Oneness, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry .
  12. ^ Nee, Watchman, The Normal Christian Church Life, p. 74 .
  13. ^ Piepkorn, Arthur C (1979), Profiles in Belief, II–IV, San Francisco: Harper & Row, pp. 78, 79 .
  14. ^ Lee 2005, pp. 74–77.
  15. ^ Adeney, David (1973), China: Christian Students Face the Revolution, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press .
  16. ^ Lee 2005, p. 69.
  17. ^ Lee, Witness. Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age. Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1991.
  18. ^ Passantino 2009, p. 48–50.
  19. ^ Miller, Elliot (2009), "The Conclusion of the Matter: We Were Wrong", Christian Research Journal, 32 (6): 47 .
  20. ^ Hanegraaff, Hank (2009), "We Were Wrong", Christian Research Journal, 32 (6): 4–5 .
  21. ^ Hansen, Collin (26 January 2009), "Cult Watchers Reconsider: Former detractors of Nee and Lee now endorse "local churches"", Christianity Today .
  22. ^ Lee, Witness (1976), The Spirit and the Body, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry .
  23. ^ Kangas, Ron (1976), Modalism, Tritheism, or the Pure Revelation of the Triune God According to the Bible, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry .
  24. ^ Lee, Witness (1988), The Conclusion of the New Testament Msgs, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, pp. 205–20 .
  25. ^ Lee, Witness (1993), The Church—The Vision and Building Up of the Church, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry .
  26. ^ Hanegraaff, Hank (2009), "Are the Local Churches a Cult?", Christian Research Journal, 32 (6): 62 .
  27. ^ Lee, Witness (1996), The Practice of the Church Life according to the God-ordained Way, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry .
  28. ^ Lee 2005, p. 77.


  • 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) .

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