3 Nee, Watchman

Nee, Watchman

( 1903-197 2 )
   Chinese Christian founder of the Local Church
   Watchman Nee was born Ni Shu-tsu (Henry Nee) on August 4, 1903, in Swatow, Fukien, CHiNA.He was raised in a Methodist family and baptized as an infant by an American Methodist bishop. He studied at the middle school of the Church Missionary Society (Anglican) in Foochow. In 1920, influenced by his mother's devotion to Dora Yu (1873-1931), an independent Methodist evangelist, he professed faith and assumed a new name, Ni To-sheng (or Watchman Nee). Following a call to the ministry, he moved to Shanghai, where Yu had established a school.
   Nee made several symbolic breaks with his past including rebaptism by immersion (1921) and withdrawal from the Methodist Church (1922). He began to meet independently with fellow students to break bread (the Lord's Supper). In 1923, he became associated with Margaret Barber (1866-1930), who introduced him to a host of British writers, most of whom were associated with the Plymouth Brethren, such as D. M. Panton (1870-1965), or the Keswick movement, such as Jesse Penn-Lewis (1861-1927) and Andrew Murray (1828-1917). Nee graduated from Trinity College in Foochow in 1924.
   Through the mid-1920s, Nee began to work out a new understanding of Christian faith and practice, first published in The Spiritual Man (1928) and in several periodicals he edited. He also worked on a translation of Cyrus I. Scofield's Bible Correspondence Course, a sign of his acceptance of the DISPENSATIONALISM of the Plymouth Brethren.
   Crucial to Nee's thought was his concept of the church. Nee believed that denominationalism was wrong and hurtful to the church. He felt that there should be only one Christian congregation in each locale (city). He condemned and refused fellowship to those who continued to live within denominational barriers.
   After founding several churches, in 1928 he established a congregation in Shanghai that became the most prominent congregation in the Local Church (also called Little Flock or Assembly Halls) movement. He also resumed publication of The Present Testimony, which became the main organ of the movement. Through the next two decades, he continued to grow the Local Church fellowship, despite the Japanese invasion and occupation of Shanghai.
   In 1942, Nee (whose college degree was in chemistry) joined his brother in a business, over the opposition of his coworkers in the Shanghai church. At their request, he did not preach for the next six years, but resumed his ministry after a reconciliation in 1947. In 1952, he was arrested by the Communist government, and four years later brought before a public "accusation meeting" in Shanghai. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he died on May 30, 1972.
   Prior to his arrest, Nee had conveyed leadership of the movement to church leaders in Hong Kong and Taiwan, especially Witness Lee (1905-97), who eventually turned the Local Church into a worldwide movement based in the United States.
   Further reading:
   ■ Angus I. Kinnear, Against the Tide (Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1973)
   ■ Witness Lee, Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (Anaheim, Calif.: Living Stream Ministry, 1991). (Also available in Chinese)
   ■ Watchman Nee, Collected Works, 62 vols. (Anaheim, Calif.: Living Stream Ministry, 1994)
   ■ ----, The Normal Christian Church Life (Washington, D.C.: International Students Press, 1969).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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