Holding to Truth

holding to truth in love for the building up of the Body of Christ

Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, Two Ministers with One Ministry

Watchman Nee and Witness Lee - Two Ministers with One Ministry They were two Christian workers from the same country—China. Both were brilliant students with promising futures. Both were dynamically saved as teenagers and became diligent students of God’s word and zealous gospel preachers. Both also became prolific speakers and writers. Both were persecuted for their ministry. Both changed many lives.

The ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee has brought a treasury of spiritual truth and life to the Body of Christ. Sadly, some amount of misinformation has left the greater part of the wealth of this printed ministry little known to God’s people.

So in this post, I’ll briefly tell the story of these two brothers and their blended ministry—one which I’ve been enjoying for over four decades. It’s my hope that this treasury of continuous ministry of nearly 75 years will become well known, thus bringing an immeasurable supply to the entire Body of Christ.

Who was Watchman Nee?

To introduce Watchman Nee, I can only say that he was a seer of the divine revelation in the present age. That’s also the title of the biography written about him by his co-worker, Witness Lee. I can’t do justice to Nee’s life and work in such a short post, so I can only recommend that you read the biography or check out this website on his life. I can say that in the span of his 30 years of public ministry, he made an indelible mark on the face of Christianity in China, and through his writings he also made a mark on Christians throughout the world, including many in the house-based churches in America.

Nee was born into a Congregationalist Christian family in 1903, in the Fukien Province of southern China. He was saved at the age of 17 in 1920. After hearing the prevailing preaching of traveling evangelist Dora Yu, Nee experienced a dynamic salvation. This salvation brought him into a life of spiritual pursuit and complete consecration to his Savior and Master that continued until his death in 1972.

In his early years, Nee was greatly helped by the perfecting of an older British missionary, Margaret E. Barber. Sister Barber helped Nee to know the divine life, the work of the cross, the life of faith, and the hope of the Lord’s coming. She also helped him to realize the errors of denominationalism and how it divides the Body of Christ. Through Sister Barber, Nee was introduced  to some of the classic Christian writings from the West, especially those of the Plymouth Brethren.

Nee was both a zealous gospel preacher and a diligent student of the Bible. He was also a voracious reader, studying both the expositions of his Western forbearers and the biographies of men of faith throughout church history. From his reading he gained profound insight into the situation of the New Testament church throughout the past centuries. Based on what the Lord showed him, Nee followed the Lord’s leading to publish Christian magazines and books.

Because Nee was faithful to obey the Scriptures, to drop traditions, and to establish local churches, he was misunderstood and persecuted by various Christian groups and the Chinese government. He was even mistreated by some of the churches raised up by him. Such persecution culminated in his being imprisoned by the Communist government in 1952 and kept in confinement until his death in 1972. However, the note he left just before his death indicates that he never lost his faith in his victorious Lord:

“Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee.”

Nee’s most widely-recognized and appreciated books are The Normal Christian Life and The Normal Christian Church Life.

Who was Witness Lee?

Witness Lee was born in 1905 in the Shantung Province of Northern China. He was also born into a Christian family, one of Southern Baptist persuasion. He was saved in 1925 at the age of 19. His dynamic salvation, accompanied by an immediate consecration of his life and future to the Lord, put him also on a pathway of pursuit that did not cease until he went to be with his Lord in 1997.

Lee began to study the Scriptures with help from the teachings of the Plymouth Brethren, diligently learning all the types, figures, and prophecies in the Scriptures. In the process of his seeking after God’s word, he came in touch with the publication work of Watchman Nee. Lee began to not only read but also to correspond with Nee, finding great help from Nee’s writings and letters.

Lee received much help from reading Nee’s publications. He considered Nee his spiritual father even though Nee was only two years his senior. In 1932, Nee invited Lee to join him in the Lord’s work. Lee willingly left his own prospering work in Northern China to serve in the ministry under Nee. He became Nee’s closest and most faithful co-worker, carrying out one work with him.

This relationship developed, and for 17 years the two labored together in China. Nee highly regarded Lee and entrusted the entire publication work to him, as well as much of the administration of the work among the churches established through their ministry.

In 1949, Nee called his co-workers together and said that Lee should leave China. Nee realized that the change of the government in China to communism could mean the end of their ministry there. He felt that if their work would be stopped in China, someone must go out so the light they had received from the Lord would continue shining. Nee indicated strongly that Lee should carry their ministry safely outside of China. Though Lee wished to remain in China, he followed the fellowship from Nee and left China for Taiwan, where he continued to labor throughout the 1950s.

Through Lee’s ministry, within five to six years the number of believers meeting on the island of Taiwan increased from three or four hundred to over 40,000. After ministering in Taiwan for nine years, the Lord led Lee to make some visits to the West. He  was first invited to conduct conferences in London, England, and Copenhagen, Denmark, in the Spring of 1958. He also made three visits to the United States from 1958 to 1961.

Through his travels, Lee saw a great spiritual need in the West. He became burdened by the Lord that some workers should go to meet this need. Eventually, the Lord burdened Lee himself to go. Though he would again be starting from almost nothing in a completely new country, Lee followed the Lord to the United States in 1962. He was led to Los Angeles to begin his ministry there and gave his first conference there in December 1962 on the all-inclusive Christ. (You can get a free copy of the book from that conference from Bibles for America or read it online.)

In his ministry in America, Lee endeavored to present the riches of Christ from every book of the Bible so that the believers would be enlightened to enjoy Christ as their life, giving Christ the first place in everything. He also labored to bring in church practice that matched the New Testament pattern, expressing the oneness of Christ’s Body and bringing every member into function.

Lee continued to travel and speak in weekly meetings as well as in numerous conferences and semi-annual trainings. He labored faithfully for the Lord until his death in June of 1997. His most notable publication was the Life-study of the Bible—a comprehensive study of the books of the Bible from the perspective of the believers’ experience and enjoyment of the divine life. The production of this work spanned over 20 years, from 1974–1995.

Witness Lee and Watchman Nee were two ministers sharing one ministry

Having read the writings of both ministers over many years, I can testify that their ministry was truly one, having one governing vision and goal—that of ministering Christ for the building up of the one Body of Christ. In Peter’s fellowship about the replacement of Judas with Matthias he said, “For he was numbered among us and was allotted his portion of this ministry” (Acts 1:17). The footnote on this verse in the New Testament Recovery Version says,

“…Though the apostles were twelve in number, their ministry was uniquely one—this ministry, a corporate ministry in the principle of the Body of Christ. All the apostles carried out the same ministry to bear the testimony not of any religion, doctrine, or practice but uniquely of the incarnated, resurrected, and ascended Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of all.”

This was my realization about these two servants of the Lord, about Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. They carried out one corporate ministry in the principle of the Body of Christ. One testimony to this can be found in the two volumes of Messages Given during the Resumption of Watchman Nee’s Ministry. You can review the series of messages in these books online at ministrybooks.org. In this publication are messages given when Nee and Lee came together in 1947–1948. Some chapters record Nee and Lee’s speaking in the same meetings, and you can sense that they were truly one.

However, some have said that Lee was different from Nee. They say that Nee was very good, but Lee changed and taught heresy. Thankfully, some of these erroneous statements have now been corrected by such respected organizations as the Christian Research Institute, in a special edition of their Christian Research Journal entitled “We Were Wrong.” But, unfortunately, much misunderstanding still remains.

However, a thorough review of Nee’s and Lee’s writings shows the close relationship between the two. They were the same in their ministry concerning the Triune God, the eternal plan of God, the person and work of Christ, the experience of the eternal life, the Spirit, the salvation of God, the church—both universal and local—and the New Jerusalem as the eternal dwelling place of God and His redeemed.

If you read their collected works, available from Living Stream Ministry, you’ll see that they taught the same thing, were of the same spirit, and ministered with the same goal—to minister Christ for the building up of the Body of Christ in oneness, expressed in local churches all over the earth. Interestingly, a man imprisoned with Watchman Nee, after being released from prison, went on a quest to find Witness Lee. He told the believers he met in America that Watchman Nee had told him, “When you see Witness Lee, you’ll see me.”

What does it mean to you as a Christian reader?

As a reader, you could take the critical concepts of some who have tried to separate these two authors and only receive the popular ministry of Watchman Nee. Or you could do your own research and explore the vast wealth of the full ministry of both authors now available online. The entire Collected Works of Watchman Nee can now be freely read online, as well as the entire Life-study of the Bible by Witness Lee. You can find them at ministrybooks.org. I hope you’ll take the time to compare.

For example, read Song of Songs spoken by Watchman Nee in 1934. Then read the Life-study of the Song of Songs spoken by Witness Lee in 1995. I believe you’ll be impressed by the harmonious relationship between these two authors. (Both  of these books are available to read online at ministrybooks.org.)

Since the Dark Ages, seeking Christians have stood on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before them to open God’s word more and more. In like manner, Nee and Lee endeavored to further open the treasury of God’s word to God’s people. All I can say is that Witness Lee received everything from Watchman Nee, and then went even further. He stood on Nee’s shoulders. He simply added another layer to the same building on the same foundation.

Resources

To learn more about Witness Lee and Watchman Nee you can also watch this short Youtube video titled A Brief Affirmation of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.

For more on Watchman Nee you may want to read Author Spotlight: Who is Watchman Nee? on the Bibles for America blog.

For more on Witness Lee you may also want to read Author Spotlight: Who Is Witness Lee? on the Bibles for America blog.

 

About Tom Smith

Hi. My name is Tom Smith. I'm the writer behind Holding to Truth in Love, and I love the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Please feel free to send me an e-mail through the contact page if you have any questions. I hope you'd take a moment to subscribe to the Holding to Truth blog. Then you'll be sure not to miss a post. Thanks!

28 Replies

  1. This article is an excellent introduction of these two servants of God in our age. We are honored to know them and read their writings which open up the Word of God for us to know Him and experience Him in a deeper way. It is amazing to see that they both wrote the same thing, being in the same ministry and under the same vision, the vision of the age.

    One important point concerning brother Lee’s and brother Nee’s ministry is that they did not do this “for their own ministry” or for creating yet another division in the Body of Christ, as many other ministers do. No, what they spoke and wrote is for the entire Body of Christ and it is a continual source of supply and nourishment for all the believers in Christ. As you read their books and commentaries you will fall in love with the Lord more and you will want to experience and enjoy Him more. You can truly call their ministry as the continuation of Paul’s ministry, a betrothing ministry for all the believers in Christ.

    At http://www.agodman.com I daily dig into the Word of God with the footnotes and the life-studies, with the expositions and life-studies by these two dear brothers, and the riches of Christ which come out are so wonderful!

    When it comes to the relationship between the two of them, opposite to any other two great speakers or ministers which many times have 2 different ministries and distance one from another, they stayed one in their speaking, ministry, vision, and even practice. Such a oneness has surely invited the Lord’s blessing on their seeing, speaking, writing, and ministering to the Body of Christ!

    1. Tom Smith

      What’s such a striking characteristic of these two ministers is that they practiced to serve in the same new covenant ministry as the apostle Paul spoke of in 2 Cor. 2-4. It’s the ministry of the Spirit that betroths us as a pure virgin to Christ (11:2). I agree, that this ministry has caused me to love and enjoy the Lord Jesus much more. And the Spirit is for the Body. When we enjoy the one Spirit, were able to live in the one Body (Eph 4:3-4). Thanks for the confirming comment.

  2. David

    I appreciate the ministries of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. Watchman Nee is the better known of the two but Witness Lee has written what I would regard as some classics that should be read and appreciated by all Christians. One would do well to acquaint themselves with the Life-Study of Genesis, his commentary on the book of Genesis. This in my mind is a classic that is not well known but should be. Another book of his that I think is a fine exposition on the experience of the Christian life, especially as it relates to spiritual growth, is the book The Experience of Life. I have read widely from both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and would describe their ministries as complementary. In regard to Witness Lee he has come under some scrutiny for his teaching concerning the church. He has been dismissed as too idealistic when it comes to the matter of the church but within every Christian there is a longing for the fulfillment of the Lord’s prayer in John 17. His ministry speaks to that longing. If one comes with an open heart and an open mind one will find much that is nourishing in his writings.

    One thing that saddens me is that today it’s hard to find what I would call Christian classics. There use to be a good selection in my local bookstore but, alas, no such section exists any longer. Most of the classics have been absorbed into a general section titled, “Christian Living.” You have to poke around for authors like Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer, and A.B. Simpson. Even then you might not find them. There is a hunger today among seeking Christians for solid food and in the 21st Century I can’t think of two better authors than Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.

    1. Tom Smith

      I agree with your recommendation of the Life-study of Genesis. Those 120 messages were a strong foundation to me. They deeply affect my Christian life to this day. For example, the presentation of man being in God’s image with God’s dominion (in Gen. 1:26-28), deeply impressed me with the purpose of God’s creation of man. That is, God made us in His image so that we might contain Him and express Him–just like a glove made to contain a hand. He also desires that we would exercise His authority to deal with His enemy Satan. This is the commission of the church to fight the spiritual warfare (Eph. 6).

      Lee also shows from Gen 2 how God made man with three parts–body, soul and spirit (v. 7) as a vessel to receive God, signified by the tree of life (v. 9). He makes it so clear that God’s first commandment to man is related to man’s eating 1:17). We must not eat the tree of knowledge of good and evil but eat the tree of life. Oh, there is so much more there. I do hope that the Life-study of Genesis would be the spiritual food to nourish every seeking Christian.

      Possibly you might consider writing a post on one of these classic books so that others might find the spiritual help from them that you have enjoyed.

      Thanks for the encouraging comment!

  3. Andy

    My great grandmother was saved by the ministry of Watchman Nee. My grandmother then introduced the ministry of Witness Lee to her family. Since then their children and grand children have been the beneficiaries of this ministry. And I just want to testify that what a blessed life to live under this ministry.

    1. Tom Smith

      You are really a blessed beneficiary to have three generations of believers that have stayed in such a ministry that focuses on the experience of Christ for the building up of the Body of Christ. I am also deeply grateful to the Lord for attracting me to Himself and to His eternal plan through the ministry of these two servants of the Lord, Thanks for the comment.

  4. Juan Delgado Solis

    Gracias por este trabajo de amor. Bendiciones . Honramos a los hermanos Watchman Nee y Witness Lee. Me inclino reverente ante la Cabeza de la iglesia: JESUCRISTO.

  5. josephena

    When I started reading the books by Witness Lee and Watchman Nee I realized that my God is a God of purpose. Now I’ve become a lover of my Lord who redeemed me and living in me as life. I was crucified and resurrected along with my Lord. It’s the time to work for Him and for His Body for the construction of new Jerusalem. Now Christ is every thing to me and He is living in me.

    1. Tom Smith

      Josephena,

      I also have been greatly helped by the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee to see a fuller view of God and His eternal purpose–to dispense Himself in Christ into us as life for the building up of the Body of Christ. Through seeing such a revelation of Christ as life to His believers, I’ve come to know the Lord not only as my Redeemer and Savior, but my indwelling Lord and life. As the Spirit, He lives in us so that we may live Him in a day by day and even moment by moment way. By the rich supply of His grace, we can labor with the Lord, by dispensing His riches to many other hungry people who would also be called by Him to live such a life of enjoying Christ for the building up of the Body of Christ. Such a life and work will usher in God’s eternal consummation the New Jerusalem. Thanks for the confirming comment.

  6. Joe Putnam

    Books by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee have both been so helpful in my Christian life. I really appreciate how they both extensively read other Christian authors and were able to synthesize what those authors had written in addition to thoroughly studying the Bible. Both brothers are excellent examples of ones who “cut straight the Word of God” like the apostle Paul mentions 2 Timothy 2:15.

  7. Mario Tse

    Hallelujah! Glory to God. I was educated in christian schools all the way from kindergarten to university in Hong Kong. I felt that denominationalism was wrong but I just did not know deep enough what went wrong. I was so lucky I was saved 15 years ago in the local church after meeting a few very loyal saints at work. I was attracted by the great publications written by Brother Nee and Brother Lee. After I was saved, my parents, both at the age of 80’s, were saved. Then my children. What a marvelous God so full of love!

    1. Tom Smith

      Glad you found real benefit from reading the publications of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. Their blended ministry continues to be a channel of spiritual light and life supply enabling me to grow in Christ unto maturity.

  8. Shalom

    I am so encouraged

    1. Tom Smith

      Glad you found the post encouraging. The riches of the ministry through these two servants of the Lord–Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, has been a source of great encouragement to me for many years and I am very glad that I could share this same encouragement with others like you. May you continue to enjoy this rich supply to grow in Christ for the fulfillment of His eternal purpose.

  9. Isaac Tosin

    Pls how can I get PDF of Witness Lee books sir

    1. Tom Smith

      Isaac, There are seven titles that you can get for free through Bibles for America. Just follow this link to the “Books” page on their site and click download.

      Please let me know if you have any further questions.

      Enjoy the riches of Christ through the ministry of the Word!

      Tom

  10. Tom Smith

    Thanks for linking to the post on Nee and Lee – Two Ministers with One Ministry. It’s really my hope that more of those who hunger for the depths of divine truth in God’s word would discover the treasury in this one ministry and find a hidden storehouse of spiritual food to supply Christ’s Body in order to prepare Christ’s bride.

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