Witness Lee

Witness Lee
Witness Lee
Born September 3, 1905 (1905-09-03)
Yantai, Shandong, Qing Dynasty
Died June 09, 1997 (1997-06-10)
Anaheim, CA, USA - His remains were later relocated in 2004 to Grace Terrace near Los Angeles[1]

Witness Lee (李常受, pinyin Lǐ Chángshòu) (September 3, 1905–June 9, 1997) was a Chinese Christian preacher associated with the Local Churches movement, and the founder of the Living Stream Ministry. He was born in the city of Yantai, Shandong Province, China, in 1905, to a Southern Baptist family. He became a born again Christian in 1925 after hearing the preaching of Peace Dang Wang. He later joined the work started by the late Chinese Christian worker Watchman Nee. Witness Lee moved to Taiwan in the late 1940s as the Communists were advancing in mainland China. During the 1950s, Lee worked with T. Austin-Sparks, who held conferences with him in Taiwan in 1955 and 1957. In 1948, Lee extended his ministry from Taiwan to cities in Malaysia and Indonesia. In 1950 his ministry reached Manila, Japan in 1957, the United States in 1958, and extending to other countries in the Americas and Africa, including Ghana by 1972.[citation needed]

Witness Lee's teachings emphasized the experience of "Christ as life" and the believers as the Body of Christ.[citation needed] Lee taught that God's goal can only be carried out as believers renounce all forms of sectarianism, adopt the proper standing as a church in their locality, and maintain the oneness of the Body of Christ.[citation needed] These "local churches" were soon established in the Western hemisphere and South-East Asia. In the last decade, a number of churches have been founded in Russia and in eastern European countries.[2] The Local Church movement is now in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.[3]



China (1905–1948)

According to the account provided by the local churches, Witness Lee was born in September 3, 1905 in the Shandong province of northern China and raised in a Southern Baptist home.[4] His older sister introduced him to a Chinese Independent Congregational Church in his hometown. At age 19, influenced by his sister and by a preacher named Peace Wang, he had a conversion experience and chose to dedicate himself to the task of preaching the gospel.[4]

He began researching the Bible and read some articles written by Watchman Nee.[4] Eventually, he left the Chinese Independent Congregational Church and began meeting with the Benjamin Newton branch of the Brethren Assembly in Yantai.[4] Striking up a correspondence with Watchman Nee, Lee became influenced by his call to "experience the divine life" instead of pursuing knowledge alone.[5] Leaving his job in 1933, Lee moved his family to Shanghai and entered full-time ministry with Watchman Nee, becoming responsible for his publishing operations.[6] Starting in 1934, Lee began traveling throughout China, preaching and establishing local congregations.[6] In the face of Japanese invasion during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Lee returned to Yantai.[6]

At the start of 1943, the church in Yantai is said to have experienced a revival lasting for a hundred days, during which some believers decided to become missionaries.[6] In May of that year, Witness Lee was arrested by the Imperial Army of Japan and spent a month in prison.[6] During this time he contracted tuberculosis and spent two years in Qingtao recovering.[6] At the end of World War II, fully recovered, Lee resumed his travels throughout China. Lee helped to recover Watchman Nee's ministry, which had been suspended for six years as a result of "several misunderstandings".[6]

Taiwan (1949–1962)

By 1949, the movement claimed 400 congregations.[6] At this point, with the Communists nearing victory in the Chinese Civil War, Lee was directed by Nee to evacuate to Taiwan, and to assume responsibility for continuing the publication efforts of Nee's Shanghai Gospel Bookroom outside of China, resulting in the formation of the Taiwan Gospel Bookroom and the Hong Kong Gospel Bookroom.[6] The two met once more in Hong Kong, where Watchman Nee entrusted the church in Hong Kong and all publishing operations outside of China to Witness Lee. This was the last time the two saw or communicated with each other.[6]

Lee started directing conferences and training sessions in Taiwan.[7] Outside of China, the Taiwan Gospel Bookroom became the public face of Watchman Nee's works.[7] Lee's magazine, The Ministry of the Word, ran from 1950 to 1986.[7] The churches in Taiwan experienced a season of growth, claiming 20,000[8] to 40,000 members over "five to six years".[7] Lee began efforts to minister in the Philippines as well, and the workers trained at his sessions went to other locations in the "Far East".[7]

United States (1962–1997)

After having been to the United States and to London on speaking engagements, in 1962, Witness Lee decided to move to the United States and began holding English-language conferences in Los Angeles, eventually moving to Anaheim in 1974.[9] Lee founded Stream Publishers in 1965, which would eventually become Living Stream Ministry, the publisher of the local churches movement.[9]

In November 1980, Witness Lee filed a lawsuit against a countercult organization called Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP), denying that the church of Witness Lee is a cult.[10]

Lee began to preach messages in expository fashion, moving book by book through the Bible.[9] These messages became known as his "Life-Study" series. He also wrote notes, outlines, and cross references for the New Testament, to eventually be included in the movement's Recovery Version of the Bible.[9] In 1984, Lee began working on a "'small group' church life", focusing on meeting at homes to study the Bible and to pray, and also including door to door evangelism and a system for teaching new believers individually. Lee continued training others, establishing two training centers for those serving in full-time ministry, and also traveling to Taiwan and other local church congregations around the world.[9]

At the age of 91, Witness Lee died of cancer[9] on June 9, 1997.[8]

Ministry and teachings

The Lord's recovery

Witness Lee referred to the Local Churches as “the Lord’s recovery”. The Living Stream Ministry’s version of the Bible is called “The Recovery Version”. Lee taught God was always moving to first establish something, and when it was damaged by Satan, God would move a second time to “recover” what was lost. This happened first in creation. According to Lee the record of God creating the universe is in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The next verse continues with, “And the earth became waste and empty,” indicating something was lost in the original creation. Then the heavens and the earth were “recovered” in 6 days beginning with “God moved upon the face of the waters.” Similarly the Jewish temple was built by Solomon and then destroyed and subsequently “recovered” when the Jewish remnant returned from Babylon to Jerusalem as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. Lee taught that Christ came to build His church; it was established in the 1st century, lost in the Dark Ages, and is now being recovered. mainly beginning during the Reformation and continuing until now. According to Witness Lee, the Lord's recovery can be traced back to many including Martin Luther and the reformers,[11] Madame Guyon, Count Zinzendorf, the Moravian Brethren, John Nelson Darby, the Plymouth Brethren, Watchman Nee, and himself.[12] The Living Stream Ministry teaches that the local churches are the issue[clarification needed] of the recovery of the reality of Christ and the Church. Hence they refer to themselves as simply, “The Lord’s recovery” and appraise Nee and Lee with this summary, "Watchman Nee was indeed a seer of the divine revelation in the present age, and Witness Lee was just as certainly a wise master builder according to this same divine revelation in the present age."[9]

Lee also taught many vital practices needed to be recovered among believers, practices including calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21),[13] mingling the reading of the Word with prayer,[14] testifying and proclaiming the Word everywhere (1 Pet 2:9, 2 Tim 4:2)[15][16] and prophesying in the church (1 Cor 14:24).[17]

According to Witness Lee, "the Lord's recovery" is simply the "recovery of Christ"

"Some may define the Lord’s recovery as the recovery of the genuine oneness, but genuine oneness is simply Christ Himself. Others may define the Lord’s recovery as the recovery of the proper church life, but the proper church life also is Christ. Thus, the Lord’s recovery is the recovery of Christ as everything to us." [18]

Church ground

Witness Lee taught that one of the primary elements which God used both Watchman Nee and himself to recover, was the way for believers in Christ to remain in oneness. Witness Lee taught two aspects of the Lord's church (local and universal). He taught that churches should be the expression of the Body of Christ in a locality. According to Lee, the universal aspect of the church was presented by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16 and by the apostles in the Acts and the Epistles (1 Cor. 12:3). The local aspect of each church was presented by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18 and by the apostles in Acts (8:1; 13:1; 14:23), the Epistles (Romans 16:1; 1 Cor. 1:2; Galatians 1:2), and Revelation (1:14).[19]

Lee taught that the expression of this oneness begins with the practice of believers in their city meeting as the church in that city (for e.g. epistles of the apostles addressed to "the church in Ephesus", "the church in Corinth", "the church in Thessalonica", etc.)[20] having only one eldership in each city (with many elders) (Titus 1:5, Acts 14:32) and accepting all believers in Christ as members of the church in each city regardless of racial, cultural, social, doctrinal or observational differences as long as they hold the common faith. Nee called this practice meeting on "the ground of oneness" (see Local churches (affiliation)). Lee continued to teach this after being sent by Nee out of China.

The believers meeting in this way may declare that "we are the church", with the understanding that the "we" is inclusive not exclusive of some.

"The church is expressed on this earth in localities, and where there is an expression of the church, that expression must be one. Let us be simple. Let us not be complicated by the confusion in Christianity. It is a shame to ask people what church they belong to. If someone is a brother, that is all we need to know. I belong to the church, and you belong to the church. We all belong to the church." [21]

According to Lee, "every local church should receive all kinds of genuine believers in Christ", and having a name, such as Baptist, Methodist or Catholic, was divisive and contrary to the oneness all the saints have inherited in Christ.[22]

"If a believer prefers to keep the Sabbath whereas we take the Lord's Day, or if he eats only vegetables whereas we eat every kind of food, we still must receive him. We must receive him because God has received him (Rom. 14:3) and because Christ has received him (Rom. 15:7). We must receive every believer in Christ according to Christ (Rom. 15:5)." "If a church does not receive all kinds of genuine believers, it is divisive and becomes a sect." "Therefore, although we should practice things such as baptism by immersion, the presbytery, and head covering, we should not make these things a special item that divides us from others. Furthermore, we should not make them our creed, and we should not designate ourselves by a name, such as Lutheran, Baptist, or Presbyterian, that is according to a particular teaching or practice." [23]

God's economy

'God’s economy' was a phrase frequently used by Witness Lee. The English word "economy" is the anglicized form of the Greek word "oikonomia", which occurs several places in the New Testament, but is usually translated as "dispensation".[24] According to Lee, many Christians were unfamiliar with God's economy, even though it is the subject of the Bible, the meaning of human life, and the desire of God’s heart.[25] He defined it as God's household ("oikos") law or arrangement ("nomos") for dispensing Himself into His chosen and redeemed people as their life, life supply, and all in all, in order to gain a corporate expression of Himself through the building up of the church which will consummate in the New Jerusalem in eternity. Witness Lee taught that Babylon the Great represents the Roman Catholic Church, the "mother of harlots" and that her "daughters", the harlots, represent the Protestant denominations. He preached that the system of religious Christianity, which includes Roman Catholicism as well as sectarian Protestant denominationalism were contrary to God's economy and would culminate in Babylon the Great, but that all the overcomers throughout the church age who remain faithful to and hold fast the ministry of the Apostles will obtain the reward during the millennial kingdom,[26] and that all true believers would eventually be built together, culminating in the New Jerusalem, which is the glorious Bride of Christ.[27]

The New Way

In an attempt to revive and spread the Local Churches, Witness Lee spent from 1984 through the remainder of his life defining and establishing “the new way” due to the perceived degradation and oldness that had crept into the Local Churches.[28] The new way consisted of 4 major pillars:

  1. establishing meetings in homes according to the pattern set forth by the initial church (Acts 2:46) [29]
  2. going forth to proclaim the Word, especially through door-knocking (2 Tim 4:2,5) [30]
  3. growing in life through experiencing Christ in the practical daily living, to minister Christ as life (1 Pet 2:2, 2 Cor 3:3) [31][32]
  4. perfecting the saints to function properly in the church by having the practice of the church life in the homes (1 Cor 14:1,26,31, Rom 12:6)[33]

Keeping the oneness was paramount to their existence as "local churches" standing on the ground of oneness. This translated into keeping the fellowship and teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42),[34] the same spiritual diet (1 Cor 10:4),[35] and one ministry (2 Cor 4:1).[36] Although all believers are received according to God and not doctrine or practice (Rom 14:3),[37] ones who cause such division should be refused (Titus 3:10).[38] In the mid 1980s four leaders who had been with Witness Lee for years believed the churches were no longer practicing the Biblical oneness and resigned as elders and coworkers. Lee responded by calling them “a fermenting rebellion” that needed to be “quarantined”. This was a term that was similar to but distinct from the Brethren’s term, excommunication, borrowed from Leviticus 13:4, and Numbers 12:14 ("shut up outside the camp" until clean).[39] In spite of these and other difficulties, the works of Witness Lee continues to increase and spread Local Churches around the globe.

Witness Lee's View of Christianity

Witness Lee preached that the apostle Paul addressed Titus as his "genuine child according to the common faith" (1:4). Lee identified this as "the faith that is common to all believers" (Recovery Version, footnote). Jude exhorted the believers to earnestly contend for the faith: "Beloved, while using all diligence to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you and exhort you to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Witness Lee stated that this is "not subjective faith as our believing but objective faith as our belief, referring to the things we believe in, the contents of the New Testament as our faith (Acts 6:7; 1 Tim. 1:19, 3:9, 4:1, 5:8, 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 3:8, 4:7; Titus 1:13), in which we believe for our common salvation. This faith has been delivered once for all to the saints".[40]

Although Lee saw the local churches as holding the same faith as the rest of Christianity and that Christians should be made one, Lee distanced himself from other Christian church groups and organizations,

"The Lord is not building His church in Christendom, which is composed of the apostate Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations, "[41]!"

Lee taught that any church not organized on the foundational principle of one church per city (what he called "the local ground of unity") was apostate. He thought that recognizing such churches by attending services in anything but a qualified stance was sinful. Lee states,

"The apostate church has deviated from the Lord's word and become heretical. The reformed church, though recovered to the Lord's word to some extent, has denied the Lord's name by denominating herself, taking many other names, such as Lutherans, Wesleyan, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. ... To deviate from the Lord's word is apostasy, and to denominate the church by taking any name other than the Lord's is spiritual fornication.".[42]

So although Lee sought to be viewed as an integral part in the recovery of Christian truths and practices alongside a long line of Christian preachers, the result was to be separate from the same:

"I am afraid that a number of us are still under the negative influence of Christendom. We all have to realize that today the Lord is going on and on to fully recover us and bring us fully out of Christendom."[43] and, "But the organization of the denominations in which they are is not of God. The denominational organizations have been utilized by Satan to set up his satanic system to destroy God's economy of the proper church life." [44]

These and similar statements set up a dividing line between the local churches and other Christian groups. Lee cared little for the acceptance of his contemporaries. He wrote,

"We do not care for Christianity, we do not care for Christendom, we do not care for the Roman Catholic church, and we do not care for all the denominations, because in the Bible it says that the great Babylon is fallen. This is a declaration. Christianity is fallen, Christendom is fallen, Catholicism is fallen, and all the denominations are fallen. Hallelujah!"[45]

Teaching that Christianity had become hopelessly corrupt, he followed a unique theology based on Watchman Nee's. It emphasized a deep, personal, ongoing encounter with God, and a practical, daily commitment to one's local church. Lee taught, as Nee did, that all Christian work was ultimately for the sake of edifying the church and that all other benefits were secondary. He thought that since the rest of Christianity was organized in a way that invalidated its stand as the proper church, there could be nothing for him to learn from or to build upon.


Published works

In English there are approximately 200 books written by Lee that are available, all published by Living Stream Ministry. Many of his speeches have been edited and published as over 400 titles in as many as 11 different languages, such as Chinese, Korean, Spanish, etc.[46]

Witness Lee's major work, The Life-Study of The Bible, comprises over 24,000 pages of commentary on every book of the Bible from the perspective of the believer's enjoyment and experience of God's divine life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. They were originally messages spoken over a number of years by Lee during trainings to believers who met in local churches.

Lee began another major work, Crystallization-Study of the Bible, using messages designed to take a look at the high points, or "crystals", of each book of the Bible. However, Lee died before completing this work.

Witness Lee was the chief editor of a new translation of the New Testament into Chinese, which he called the Recovery Version (Chinese). He also directed its translation into English.

Witness Lee wrote, collected, and translated Christian hymns. From 1963 to 1964, Witness Lee wrote the lyrics to about 200 new hymns which he collated with hymns from other authors. He categorized them by topic for the current edition of Hymns, totaling 1348.[47]

Living Stream Ministry

In 1965 Witness Lee founded Living Stream Ministry (LSM), located in Anaheim, California, which publishes Witness Lee's and Watchman Nee's books.

Radio broadcasts

A radio broadcast of his messages can be heard on Christian radio stations in the United States.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Witness Lee's re-burial Meeting at Grace Terrace in Los Angeles, CA – 3/27/04
  2. ^ AC Magazine, Entrepreneur
  3. ^ local churches (contact us)
  4. ^ a b c d Witness Lee's Life and Ministry, heading God's Saving Work. Note that the city of Yantai was known as Chefoo at the time, and Shandong was known as Shantung.
  5. ^ Witness Lee's Life and Ministry, heading Turned from Knowledge to Life
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Witness Lee's Life and Ministry, heading Building in China with Watchman Nee. Note that Yantai was known as Chefoo at the time, and Qingtao was called Tsingtao.
  7. ^ a b c d e Witness Lee's Life and Ministry, heading Building in Taiwan
  8. ^ a b Witness Lee Obituary
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Witness Lee's Life and Ministry, heading Building in the West
  10. ^ "The God-Men by Neil T. Duddy and SCP". Defense and Confirmation Project (a local-churches-affiliated initiative to respond to criticism of the movement). http://contendingforthefaith.com/libel-litigations/god-men/index.html. 
  11. ^ The Lord's Recovery - Reformation History
  12. ^ The Lord's Recovery - Post-Reformation History and Recovery
  13. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=2905
  14. ^ Witness Lee, Enjoying Christ as the Word and Spirit through Prayer, Chapter 7
  15. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=7798
  16. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=6977
  17. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=4604
  18. ^ Witness Lee, Crucial Elements of God's Economy, Chapter 2
  19. ^ Lee, Witness: Christ as Life, pg. 117
  20. ^ The Lord's Recovery - Pre-Reformation History
  21. ^ Witness Lee, Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, Chapter 2
  22. ^ "The Recovery of the Church Ground"
  23. ^ Witness LEe, A Brief Presentation of the Lord’s Recovery, Chapter 2
  24. ^ (1 Timothy 1:4; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2; 3:9; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Colossians 1:25)
  25. ^ God's economy
  26. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=8751
  27. ^ Footnote(s): Rev 22:21 #3, Rev14:8 #1 (Recovery Version)
  28. ^ Witness Lee, The Lord's New Way and His Ministry Today
  29. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=2961
  30. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/bibleverses.asp?fvid=6728&lvid=6731&ol=on
  31. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=7772
  32. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=4801
  33. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=4608
  34. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=2955
  35. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=4415
  36. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=4847
  37. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=4054
  38. ^ http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=7124
  39. ^ Witness Lee, The Intrinsic Problem in the Lord's Recovery Today and Its Scriptural Remedy, Chapter 3
  40. ^ Recovery Version, Jude, footnote 3
  41. ^ Witness Lee, The New Testament Recovery Version, note 184 (Matthew 16:18)
  42. ^ Witness Lee, The New Testament Recovery Version, note 83 (Revelation 3:8)
  43. ^ Witness Lee, The History of the Church and the Local Churches, p. 132
  44. ^ Witness Lee, "Message Thirty-Four" in The Life-Study of Genesis, Vol. 1, p. 464
  45. ^ Witness Lee, The Seven Spirits for the Local Churches, p. 97
  46. ^ [1]
  47. ^ Witness Lee Hymns
  48. ^ LSM radio


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