Disclaimer: I have been meditating on this post for sometime now, and have hesitated posting it for fear that it may be misinterpreted. I want to make clear that I am not necessarily advocating the ideas proposed by Watchman Nee that I reference here. I am interested in thinking through the implications of the issues he raises, and reacting, from a standpoint of contemporary evangelical missions and a biblical concern for the unity of the Body of Christ. I am aware that some of the following quotes may be quite controversial. I am also aware that Witness Lee, and others, have taken the ideas of Nee on some of these points and put them into practice in a manner that many have considered sectarian.
If the following quotes from Watchman Nee's The Normal Christian Church Life (full text available on-line) are really reflective of God’s plan for the church and missions (or as Nee calls it, the “work”), there are some important consequences for the way we go about our work. I post this, more than anything, because I am interested in the reactions of the readers of Love Each Stone to these ideas. I would like to know specifically, as you read these quotes:
- Do you think Nee has a legitimate argument, from a strictly biblical perspective, for the things he says here?
- Do you think, independently of whether or not there is a solid biblical justification for what Nee has to say, that it is reflective of good missiology?
- If we were to take into account the guidelines that Nee records here, how would it change the way we do missions and church planting?
When a servant of God reaches a new place his first business must be to found a local church, unless there is already one in existence, in which case his one concern must be to help the church. The one aim of the work in any place is the building up of the church in that place. All the fruit of a worker’s labours must go to the increase of the church. The work in any place exists for the church alone, not for itself. The apostle’s goal is to build up the church, not to build up his work or any group of people that may have sent him out.
Wherein lies the failure of missions today? They keep the results of their work in their own hands. In other words, they have reckoned their converts as members of their mission or of their mission-church instead of building them into or handing them over to the local churches.
An apostle should go and work in a certain place if the local church invites him, or if he himself has received a revelation from the Lord to work there. In the latter case, if there is a church in the place he can write notifying them of his coming, just as Paul notified the churches in
and in Corinth . These are the two lines which regulate the work of an apostle – he must either have a direct revelation of God’s will, or an indirect revelation through the invitation of a church. Rome
When an apostle comes to a place where a local church already exists, he must never forget that no church authority rests with him. Should he desire to work in a place where the local church does not wish to have him, then all he can do is to pass on to some other part. The church has full authority either to receive or reject a worker.
Should he know unmistakably that God has led him to work in that place, yet the local church refuse to welcome him, if they persist in their attitude, then he must obey the command of God and go and work there despite them. But he must not gather believers around him, nor must he on any account form a separate church.
All the various God-given ministries have one aim, the establishing of local churches. In the thought of God only one company of people exists, and all His designs of grace center in that one company – His Church. The work is not a goal in itself, it is only a means to an end. If we regard our work as an end, then our purpose is at variance with God’s, for His end is the Church.
In addition to the quotes from Nee, I also include the following information, which I think gives some important additional background information in relation to the questions I ask at the beginning of this post.
From the: Report of the Consultation on World Evangelization, Mini-Consultation on Reaching Chinese, held at Pattaya, Thailand from 16-27 June 1980, Sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization
(iii) Should any effort be made to re-establish former denominational programs?
Since most Christians in China today have discarded the former denominational structures and are now united on the local level, the reintroduction of denominations would only be divisive and a hindrance to evangelization. Nothing should be done to disturb the peace of our brethren.
It is hard to tell how large the Little Flock movement was in
at the time of the revolution. One reason for this is the fact that Nee felt it was fleshly to consider numbers. Therefore there was no systematic effort made by Little Flock themselves to count their people. There was no formal membership in the group, since Nee believed membership in the body of Christ was determined by God, and there was no good reason for the church to try to draw up a list. China
According to Cliff, in 1949 the Little Flock had over 70,000 members in 500 assemblies. However, according to the Ecumenical Press Service the "Little Flock" had at this time 362 places of worship and 39,000 members in the one
. These figures were interpreted as indicating that members of the "Little Flock" made up 15-20 per cent of the whole Protestant church in provinceof Chekiang , and that they may have been the largest single denomination. In other words, this estimate would show anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 members for the Little Flock. Cheung affirms that there were "thousands" of assemblies by 1956, and that the Little Flock was the largest Christian group in China . China
Nobody has even hazarded a guess as to how many of the millions of Christians meeting in house churches today may be the outgrowth of Little Flock groups. Two things are clear: There are many house churches that are directly derived from Little Flock churches, and there are many other groups that owe a substantial debt to Little Flock doctrine and practice for their survival.
From the Wikipedia article on “house churches”:
Chinese house church - be aware that Chinese house churches typically have a leadership structure (including a pastor) that resembles "underground traditionally structured churches" (or "cell churches") in contrast to what is generally considered to be a "house church" in other areas.
A comment from an anonymous IMB “M” on Wade Burleson’s Grace and Truth to You blog:
This past year, a SB pastor from a traditional FBC "
" came to Small-town, SC on a vision trip. The M who coordinated the trip, took the visiting pastor and team to a Buddhist temple on part of a prayer walk. They encountered a woman and her pre-teen daughter praying and burning incense to Buddha. The women noticed the group praying and approached them and asked if they would pray for her daughter who had been mute since birth. China
Before the group prayed for the daughter they told the women that they were not praying to Buddha and that they would like to share some good news with her. The women responded positively to the gospel message and then they all laid hands on the young girl and prayed that her mouth would be opened and that she would be miraculously healed and speak.
Initially nothing happened. The group was still excited that the women said that she wanted to believe in Jesus and arranged to put her in touch with local Christians and they left the temple.
Before they could get down to the bottom of the hill, the young girl came running out of the temple and for the first time in her life was yelling "Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus" in her native tongue.
This cessationalist pastor was completely taken back and returned home with his dispensationalist, cessationist theology completely challenged. He said that if he had not seen and experienced this, he never would have believed it. He has only cautiously shared this story with certain people in his congregation for fear of retribution.
Before coming to the field as an IMB missionary eleven years ago, I came out of a dogmatic-cessationist, dispensationist church. Even after I graduated from a SBC seminary, my views were still firmly planted in that same theological position.
But soon after arriving in China and started hearing testimonies from many different Chinese believers from all over China, the foundation of my theological position began to crack. I found that I could no longer contain God to my tightly-formed theological box.
SB's have had a long love affair with China and we all love to marvel at what God has been doing in this country, even during the 40+ years that it was closed to the west. In my conservative estimate, I would say that 90% of all Christians in China would hold to the Continuationist view.
If dogmatic cessationists hold to their view consistently, then most of what has happened in China is NOT from God, but from the devil himself and the world's most populist country is more lost than ever imagined! 80 million people are being deceived and are in desperate need of theological correction! (said with a bit of sarcasm in my voice).
My colleagues and I have MANY MANY stories to share just like this one, but when we return to the states, we find ourselves toning down our stories for fear that the people will think that we are no longer Baptist missionaries.
Cautious-Continuationist, Bapist to the core, IMB M