Local Church

   The Local Church is an indigenous nondenomi-national Chinese Protestant body, also known as the Little Flock and the Assembly Hall Churches. The movement was founded in the late 1920s in Shanghai by Watchman Nee (1903-72). Raised a Methodist, Nee had had a gradual deepening of his Christian faith and had felt a call to the ministry. He also had come to feel that denomination-alism was wrong and that there should be only one church (fellowship of believers) per locale (or city). His movement was designed to operate outside of denominational divisions.
   Nee had also absorbed much from the Plymouth Brethren movement including dispensa-tionalism (a belief in successive historic-religious dispensations, or eras) and breaking bread (celebrating the Lord's Supper) as a sign of Christian unity. He also associated with representatives of the Keswick movement, from which he learned of the higher Christian life.
   The Local Church movement spread through the 1930s and survived the Japanese occupation, when fleeing believers spread the movement westward. After the Communist Revolution, Nee reassigned Witness Lee (1905-97), who had been largely responsible for the movement's growth in northern China, to work in Taiwan among the many refugees there. Nee himself returned to Shanghai, where he was arrested (1952) and tried (1954) on a spectrum of charges. While the new government's antireligious animus was largely directed against foreign-led churches, Nee's theology was condemned as counterrevolutionary. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he died in 1972.
   The movement in China was persecuted for its refusal to merge into the single Protestant church set up by the government. During the years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), it was, like all churches, totally suppressed. The Local Church eventually reemerged, again refusing to associate with the state church. The movement grew and actually spun off splinter movements, known as the Shouters and the Eastern Lightning. The movement thrived in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and began to spread through Southeast Asia. in 1962, Witness Lee moved to the united States, learned English, and focused on growing the church outside Chinese-speaking communities.
   The Local Church is organized congregation-ally, one congregation per city (though in larger cities the congregation holds more than one meeting). Each congregation selects its own leaders (elders). Witness Lee established Living Stream Ministry to serve the congregations as the major source of teaching. Several times a year, the ministry invites the leaders of the Local Churches together for continued training. it also oversees schools at which new coworkers and active laypeople are trained for special service, including evangelism. The Local Church is now the second-largest Protestant church in Taiwan. It has moved through the Chinese community in diaspora and far beyond to become a global movement.
   The Local Church has encountered opposition from the Chinese government over attempts to circulate copies of Lee's translation of the Bible (in Chinese). Officials from the Local Church have been exploring ways to normalize their relationship with the present Chinese government and bring the church into the legal system.
   Worldwide membership of the Local Church movement is estimated to be in excess of 1 million members, though the number within China is difficult to count. Living Stream Ministry is located in Anaheim, California. It is engaged in producing editions of the writings of Nee and Lee in a spectrum of languages. The church in Taiwan has assumed responsibility for publishing their writings in Chinese.
   Further reading:
   ■ The Beliefs and Practices of the Local Church (Anaheim, Calif.: Living Stream Ministry, 1978)
   ■ Witness Lee, The History of the Church and the Local Churches (Anaheim, Calif.: Living Stream Ministry, 1991)
   ■ ----, Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age. (Anaheim, Calif.: Living Stream Ministry, 1997)
   ■ Watchman Nee, The Collected Works, 62 vols. (Anaheim, Calif.: Living Stream Ministry, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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