Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Theology of Watchman Nee


Many of us are familiar with Watchman Nee’s books especially his, The Normal Christian Life, Sit, Walk , Stand and The Spiritual Man. What many of us are not aware is that there have been controversies about his theology and also about his understanding of church. In the last years of his life, Watchman Nee has been at odds with many other Chinese Christian leaders of his time.

Dana Roberts, a Watchman Nee scholar has written an earlier book, Understanding Watchman Nee. Now, years later and after more studies of Watchman Lee’s writings, Roberts has written another book in which he is more critical of Watchman Nee’s writing and theology. It must be noted that concern for the spiritual well being of believers are foremost in Lee’s writings and sermons


Some of the points of contention in Watchman Nee’s writings and sermons are:

• Scripture can only be understood by means of ‘intrapsychic’ working of the Holy Spirit in the believer and only if taught by the ‘spiritual’ man.
• The church is made up of ‘spiritual’ and ‘carnal’ Christians.
• The Christian is trichotomous: body, soul, and spirit. By a ‘normal’ Christian life, Lee meant that grace has been working on these three components of the person.
• The New Testament church has an inbuilt structure that inhibited the works of ‘carnal’ Christians while encouraging the works of ‘spiritual’ Christians. One of these influencing structures is ‘locality.’ That is why his emphasis was on the Local church.
• Christian leaders who will be from the ‘spiritual’ Christians group must be obeyed without question.
• At Christ’s return, the ‘spiritual’ Christians with reign with Christ in heaven while the ‘carnal’ Christians will reign on earth.

The Living Stream Ministry has made many translated works of Watchman Nee available free online.


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12 Comments:

Blogger Israel Lee said...

Surprisingly, my pastor was just talking about Watchman Nee on Sunday. (I think you have mixed the names of Watchman Nee and his co-worker Witness Lee in this posting.) I knew Witness Lee to be the controversial leader of the local church movement, but I never knew that Watchman Nee was very closely related to him and contributed to the concept of local churches.

And from your listed points of contention, the last two worries me the most because of its Gnostic flavour.

Ran a search on Google and found sites that refute Witness Lee's teaching of a modalistic Trinity. Thanks for the posting that showed me that we must not elevate servants of God too much until we blind ourselves to their weaknesses.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Israel,

No, I was not mistaken between Watchman Lee and Witness Lee. I am writing about the theology of Watchman Lee.

Witness Lee is the appointed successor of Watchman Lee.

Thanks for the important reminder not to elevate our spiritual 'heroes' too high that we never or didn't bother to check their theology.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Israel Lee said...

Hi Alex

I have never read Watchman Nee's books even though I have browse through Spiritual Man back in the varsity. At that time, I could not understand what he was saying even though my friends told me it was a good book.

Looking at the points of contention, do you think that there is a serious flaw in his theology on spiritual and carnal Christian? This reminded me of what I read about Albigenses, the Carthar sect which I believe is closer to Gnostic teachings than Christianity.

I was just reading Gordon Fee's book on Listening to the Spirit in the Texts. He said being spiritual is not about a division between the spirit and the flesh. Rather he understood the meaning of the word 'spiritual' as life in the Spirit and this was how it was used in the new testament.

From what I read online concerning Witness Lee (also on personal experience), I think his teachings is questionable. What surprises me most is that I never knew that Watchman Nee and Witness Lee were related in their ministry until you pointed me to the Living Stream Ministry.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Israel,

Yes, I believe there is a serious flaw in Watchman Lee's theology concerning 'spiritual' and 'carnal' Christians. I believe this stems from his exegesis. Watchman Lee exegese the Bible by the method we would regard as devotional rather than subject the text to the hermeneutic tools of historical-textual criticism.

Watchman Lee's theology is different from the Albigense Carthar's. Theirs is a syncretic religion of Christianity and Manichaeism.

Gordon Fee's book on Listening to the Spirit in the Texts is an excellent book and I love it. As he said, the word spiritual is in Greek pneumatikos which is related to the Spirit (pneuma). Hence we cannot separate the Holy Spirit and our spiritual life.

Now you know more about Watchman Lee and Witness Lee, there is much to think about :)

10:51 AM  
Blogger Israel Lee said...

Hi Alex

I think you brought up a good point about methods for exegesis. I am really concern that most of the sermons I hear on Sundays or during mid-week bible studies at my church stem from a devotional method of interpreting the bible. I think there is nothing wrong in reading the bible devotionally, but I think it is wrong for the leaders to think that this is the ONLY way for reading the bible.

I could see that because of such a perspective in reading the bible, the meanings of the texts and its challenges and relevance become lost in the subjective manner that it has been understood, without any reference to its original historical and social contexts. This is really worrying for me for the congregation respects and hold on these sermons for their faithful living. :-(

12:42 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Israel,

I agree with you that most of the sermons preached from the pulpit are devotional. I believe devotional has a place in our personal spiritual life.

Devotional is God speaking into our lives. It has a message meant for us individually. However the devotional message is not for the whole congregation.

This is my personal opinion but I feel that devotional messages should remain personal and preaching from the pulpit should be expository.

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Alex,
One Point sticks out on your Blog posting immediately- You keep referring to "Watchman LEE" as opposed to "Watchman NEE," the subject of Dana Robert's book and (I presume) your comments. The distinction is important since (as you are probably aware) WITNESS LEE was a co-worker of Watchman Nee, who developed his teachings. A number of evangelical scholars have problems with WITNESS LEE's writings & teachings, while (simultaneously) they don't have difficulties with Watchman Nee. (Of course there are some who have difficulties with both.) It's important therefore to distinguish clearly between Watchman NEE (who passed away in China in 1972) & Witness LEE who ministered in the USA until 1997. One website which has some comparisons is http://www.concernedbrothers.com/English.html
This "concernedbrothers.com" website also analyses the current teachings of the "blended brothers" associated with Living Stream Ministry (LSM)the publishing company established by W. Lee, which publishes books by both W. Nee & W. Lee.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

dear anon,

Thank you for pointing out this important mistake in my post. You are right in surmising that I was referring to Watchman Nee only.

Thank you also for the URL for comparison between W.Lee and W. Nee.

1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written, I thank God for men like yourself who boldly proclaim God's truth. It is Men like yourself that God used to rescue me from the Witness Lee Local church cult in chicago. IIt has been almost 3 years since I have stepped foot in thier meeting place... I pray 4 them regularly, and now attend a baptist church in my area that encourages mee to read and live out the scriptures. (This baptist church does not declare itself to be God's favorite or believe that God is exclusively working through them as I was taught at the "local church" of Witness Lee)I now know the importance of abiding in Christ through the scriptures w/o bieng co-dependent on a man's interpretation. (I was never really encouraged to study scripture withought a commentary by Witness Lee or his "recovery bible") . May God save them and show mercy on them by opening there eyes to the truth of scripture.

Jeannie Dai

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written, I thank God for men like yourself who boldly proclaim God's truth. It is Men like yourself that God used to rescue me from the Witness Lee Local church cult in chicago. IIt has been almost 3 years since I have stepped foot in thier meeting place... I pray 4 them regularly, and now attend a baptist church in my area that encourages mee to read and live out the scriptures. (This baptist church does not declare itself to be God's favorite or believe that God is exclusively working through them as I was taught at the "local church" of Witness Lee)I now know the importance of abiding in Christ through the scriptures w/o bieng co-dependent on a man's interpretation. (I was never really encouraged to study scripture withought a commentary by Witness Lee or his "recovery bible") . May God save them and show mercy on them by opening there eyes to the truth of scripture.

Jeannie Dai

6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written, I thank God for men like yourself who boldly proclaim God's truth. It is Men like yourself that God used to rescue me from the Witness Lee Local church cult in chicago. IIt has been almost 3 years since I have stepped foot in thier meeting place... I pray 4 them regularly, and now attend a baptist church in my area that encourages mee to read and live out the scriptures. (This baptist church does not declare itself to be God's favorite or believe that God is exclusively working through them as I was taught at the "local church" of Witness Lee)I now know the importance of abiding in Christ through the scriptures w/o bieng co-dependent on a man's interpretation. (I was never really encouraged to study scripture withought a commentary by watchman Nee, Witness Lee or his "recovery bible") . May God save them and show mercy on them by opening there eyes to the truth of scripture.

Jeannie Dai

6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it correct that you can analyze the writings of Watchman Nee and find things that are not totally correct. I also think you can study the works of Martin Luther and Calvin and find things that are not correct. Martin Luther in his final years said some things few would declare sound.

But that does not deny the impact of much of their ministry. Watchman Nee's writings had a great impact on me at a time I needed the spiritual encouragement.

Whether we totally agree with everthing he has written we can hope that our lives have as great an impact for the Kingdom as his did.

9:23 PM  

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