Local churches (affiliation)

Local churches (affiliation)
Local churches/ The Church in "name of the city"
Leader Watchman Nee, Witness Lee and now "Blended Co-workers"
Associations Living Stream Ministry
Geographical areas Worldwide
Official website http://www.localchurches.org/

The local churches (one-city, one-church) (Chinese: 地方教會) is a Christian group based on the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and associated with the Living Stream Ministry publishing house. The term "Lord's Recovery" is also used of them because of their belief that truths, experiences and crucial elements from the Bible were lost in time and recovered from the Reformation onwards. One of the defining features of the local churches is their interpretation of the Bible idea of local church: that the Christians in a city or locality are in the local church. Many of the churches refer to themselves as "The church in (city name)", e.g. "The church in New York City" and "The church in Anaheim".

The group began in China some time after Watchman Nee (倪柝聲) became a Christian in 1920. Between 1920 and 1952 Watchman Nee established local churches throughout mainland China. Watchman Nee was imprisoned by the People's Republic of China in 1952. It is asserted by the Living Stream Ministry that before his imprisonment, Watchman Nee asked Witness Lee to go to Taiwan in 1948 in the event that the Communists took over so that their work would not be lost inside China. In 1962 Witness Lee moved to California. Local churches are now spread throughout the world: in the United States, the far East, Europe, Russia, South America, Africa and the Middle East.[1] The Shouters are an offshoot.[citation needed]



The term local churches was used by Watchman Nee to describe Christian churches that form based upon his teaching of the "ground of oneness" [2] although that phrase has become more frequently used to refer to any individual Christian congregation in a city in recent years. Watchman Nee's version of the local church began in Foochow (福州), China c. 1922; and after the communist revolution in China in 1949 was propagated outside of China by Nee's co-worker Witness Lee (李常受, 1905–1997). The local churches have deliberately avoided incorporation into a single entity, based on their belief that the Christian Church is not an organization, but rather a living spiritual organism.[3]

However, as is commonly the case when a group refuses or fails to name itself, outsiders who find it difficult to refer to a group that has no official name have labeled the local churches as "The Little Flock" ("小群"教會) or more recently for convenience and consistency of reference, "The Local Church".[4]

The early "Little Flock" designation stems from a hymnal used by many of the local churches in China titled "Hymns for the Little Flock."[5] The group itself has more recently employed the name "The Local Church" for reasons of brevity in legal pleadings.[6] Nevertheless, the local churches typically repudiate this and any name or label used to designate them, believing that taking a name would cause them to practice "denominationalism", to which the group is especially opposed.

Nee taught that all genuine Christian believers in their city comprise the local church in that city.[7] Individual local churches, therefore, are referred to by the name of their respective cities (e.g. "the church in San Francisco", "the church in Taipei" (台北市召會)). However, some local churches use signs at their meeting halls indicating only "The church in _____", implying to many a claim that only they are the church in that city. Thus, confusion arises in practice and that designation raises the ire of some other Christian churches. In an attempt to minimize this confusion and adhere to their beliefs concerning the proper scriptural understanding of a local church, some assemblies phrase the identifying sign with the expression "Meeting Hall [or meeting place] of the church in _____". This is intended to indicate that the physical building at that address is not in fact the church itself but rather only a place where the church in that city gathers for corporate meetings (Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 14:23), the church itself being spiritual and organic in nature (Ephesians 2:21–22). Some larger churches have multiple gatherings in a single city, which are referred to by their meeting hall (e.g. Hall 1 or Hall 2).[8]

Chinese language lacks capitalization and plural form while Chinese terms of Christianity were all translated from other languages. It is, technically, more difficult for Chinese-speakers to refer to their churches. In the beginning the standard Mandarin term "church" (教會) was used. But in recent years, the original Greek term "ekklesia" (召會) which is a new Chinese word coined by themselves is being adopted. To strangers, many would just call their church buildings "Meeting Halls" (聚會所) or "Assembly Halls". Many members of the local churches do, however, refer to their group as: the Lord's recovery (主的恢復) which refers to their beliefs concerning God's move in time that produced the present practice of the local churches. They may also refer to the group as the church life, which refers to their beliefs and practices concerning the corporate experience of enjoying Christ as the believers' life and living; the Church which may refer to their beliefs concerning "the one true Church" as well as to their particular practice of the local church as they believe is revealed in the New Testament; and the local churches (plural).[9]


According to Watchman Nee a local church should have at least four types of meetings: the Lord's Table meeting, the Bible study meeting, the gospel preaching meeting and the prayer meeting.[10]

Lord's Table Meeting (Sunday Service)

At the "Lord's Table meeting or Lord's Day meeting"[11] the unleavened bread is broken and wine or grape juice is shared while the attendees sing and pray and share their enjoyment of Christ.[12][citation needed] This is done in remembrance of the Lord's death until His Second Coming as referenced in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 11:26.[13]

Bible study meeting

Each local church holds Bible study meetings once or twice each week.[14] These may take place in private homes. The topic of study may be a Biblical passage, book, or subject. Some times a few selected verses, Recovery Version footnotes, or portions of a Living Stream Ministry publication are pray-read.[15] Members share their enjoyment of Christ, Biblical truths, and their experience supporting the subject being covered.

Gospel meeting

Unbelievers in the community are invited to attend gospel meetings by church members who sometimes hand out printed invitations while going 'door-to-door'. The church members are encouraged to join the gospel meetings[16] to share their testimonies, sing hymns, and invite people to "call on the name of the Lord" and be baptized. Gospel meetings may or may not be held on a weekly basis.[citation needed]

The prayer meeting

Sometimes a local church may have a separate weekly meeting to pray. However some local churches consider all meetings as meetings in which they pray or pray-read.[citation needed]

The Prophesying meeting

Many local churches have a meeting for ministering and sharing enjoyment of The Word during Sunday meetings.This is just the exhibition of the rich enjoyment of the saints of Christ.[17]

Church Polity

Ecclesiastical polity generally follows in the line of presbytery with key differences in the appointment of elders and their relationships among congregations. Teaching that only apostles appoint an elder is emphasized by the group, based upon their interpreted beliefs of teachings of the Apostle Paul in the first century.[18] Since the death of Witness Lee, who was universally considered by Local Church leaders as the sole remaining Apostle on the earth, no new Elders have been appointed in the churches. With new Elders no longer being appointed, the few remaining "officially appointed" Elders are now being assisted by "helpers" or "serving brothers" (but not Deacons) in their direction of each Local Church. This approach is problematic in that it has created two distinct levels of church leaders - (1) those who were appointed or approved by Witness Lee directly while he was alive, and (2) those with good leadership qualities who were raised up later on. This arrangement, which is contrary to the pattern shown in Scripture (a plurality of Elders on equal footing who direct Deacons), bestows a higher level of local authority on those men who were approved or appointed to serve as Elders by Witness Lee himself. This artificially created dual level of authority in leadership - spiritual Tenure - can easily interfere with the fresh leading of the Holy Spirit. In the Local Churches in the U.S. it is difficult to find even a mention of the office of "Deacon". But to their credit, the local church in Seattle WA is one exception. As the congregations follow the expositions of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, details of Local Church ecclesiastical polity can be found in writings such as Further Talks on the Church Life, The Living Stream Ministry. The objective of these trainings are to facilitate coordination between co-workers and elders as well as to provide specific ministry considered to be vital to the advancement of the spiritual life of the individuals participating as well as their respective congregations. In studying the history of different movements in church history,[19] the local church's polity has been influenced mostly from the practice and government of the Plymouth Brethren in style and expression.[citation needed]


The beliefs, practices and worship of the local churches follow the puritan form, and in their relatively short history have experienced turbulences (positive and negative) similar to those that have passed through Puritanism since the Protestant reformation.


A baptism may be held after the 'Lord's Table Meeting' (Sunday service) or gospel meetings, though there is no explicit time required. The place of baptism varies: a baptismal; a lake; a pool; or simply in a bathtub. Candidates, those who profess faith in Christ, are immersed. There is no age limit to baptism. The only requirement is conscious will and intent to be baptized. There is also the belief that any brother or sister can perform a baptism - the only requirements being that they believe, and that they themselves are baptised.[20]

Role of women in the church

Women are accepted both in the church ministry and also to full participation in church worship. Female members take part in prophesying, prayers, testimonies, singing, and communion with their head covered. (Head covering is encouraged, as it is scriptural, though not strictly emphasized as a regulation or requirement for worship. Also, in western countries, this custom is often overlooked.) Female members do not lead meetings when a male member is present who is qualified for the same role (although at smaller meetings, this custom is often overlooked). Also, female members do not teach over the congregation with authority.[21] In the Recovery Version, the translation used by the believers in the local churches, one footnote for 1 Corinthians 14:34 reads:[22]

"According to 1 Corinthians 11:5, women may prophesy (both in public and meetings), that is, (mainly) speak for the Lord and speak forth the Lord with their head covered, and Acts 2:17, 18 and 21:9 confirm that women did prophesy. However, they must do this under the covering of the brothers, because they are charged here to be subject. But 1 Tim 2:12 says that women are not permitted to teach, that is, teach as authorities (there, teaching is related to the exercising of authority), so as to define doctrine. Hence, according to the New Testament principle, for women not to be permitted to speak in the church meetings means that women are not permitted to teach with authority in relation to the defining of doctrine."

See also


  1. ^ http://www.lordsrecovery.org/history/iv.html
  2. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Normal Christian Church Life, pg. 74
  3. ^ Piepkorn, Arthur C. Profiles in Belief. Vol. II, III & IV San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1979: 78, 79.
  4. ^ Bays, Daniel H., ed. Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996: 311–312.
  5. ^ Patterson, George N. Christianity in Communist China. Waco, Tx: World Books, 1969: 72–73.
  6. ^ The Local Church, et al., Petitioners, PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI to the United States Supreme Court [1]
  7. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Normal Christian Church Life, pg. 86, 89
  8. ^ Patterson, George N. Christianity in Communist China. Waco, Texas: World Books, 1969: 79–80.
  9. ^ Nee, Watchman: What Are We, booklet pg. 1, 8–9.
  10. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Assembly Life, chp. 3
  11. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Normal Christian Church Life (pages 163–188)
  12. ^ Lee, Witness: The Practice of Prophesying, ch. 3
  13. ^ Recovery Version, 1 Cor. 11:26, footnote
  14. ^ Nee, Watchman: Church Affairs, Chp. 5 (The Different Kinds of Meetings)
  15. ^ Lee, Witness: Pray-Reading the Word
  16. ^ Lee, Witness: Basic Principles for the Service in the Church Life, chp. 5
  17. ^ Further Talks on the Church Life, Watchman Nee
  18. ^ The Normal Christian Church Life
  19. ^ Encyclopedia of American Religions, 5th Edition
  20. ^ Nee, Watchman: Messages for Building Up New Believers, chp. 1 (Baptism)
  21. ^ Recovery Version, 1 Tim. 2:12, footnote
  22. ^ Recovery Version, 1 Cor. 14:34, footnote

External links

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