Teachings

Other Crucial Scriptural Teachings

In addition to the major teachings, Watchman Nee received further clear revelation from the Lord concerning fifty-three other scriptural teachings crucial to the full understanding and practice of the Christian faith. (Some of the major teachings are repeated in this subsection.)

  1. The Assurance of Salvation
  2. The Distinction between Grace and Law
  3. The Difference between Salvation and Victory
  4. The Difference between Salvation and Reward
  5. The Difference between the Kingdom of the Heavens and Eternal Life
  6. The Kingdom Truths
  7. Rapture
  8. The Deviation of Christianity
  9. The Church, the Ecclesia, the Body of Christ
  10. The Two Aspects of the Church
  11. Denominationalism
  12. The Clergy System and Hierarchy
  13. The Universal Priesthood
  14. The Presbytery, the Proper Eldership
  15. The Difference between Office and Gift
  16. Baptism and the Lord's Table
  17. Head Covering and the Laying On of Hand
  18. Living by Faith in God
  19. Divine Healing
  20. The Death and Resurrection of Christ
  21. The Ascension of Christ
  22. The Coming of Christ
  23. The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit
  24. The Teaching of the Anointing
  25. The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
  26. The Tripartite Man
  27. Sanctification by Faith
  28. Christ as Life
  29. The Law of the Spirit of Life
  30. The Law of Sin and Death
  31. A Better Covenant
  32. The Overcoming Life of Christ
  33. The Calling of the Overcomers
  34. Spiritual Warfare
  35. The Boundary of the Local Church
  36. The Centrality and Universality of Christ
  37. The Ground of the Local Church
  38. Migration
  39. The Practicality of the Church Life
  40. The Reality of the Church
  41. The Oneness of the Church
  42. Seeing the Body
  43. The Authority of the Holy Spirit in the Body
  44. The Reality of the Holy Spirit
  45. The Authority of the Church
  46. The Building of the Church
  47. Coordination in the Church Life
  48. The Body and the Spiritual Warfare
  49. The Discipline of the Holy Spirit
  50. The Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit
  51. Using the Spirit
  52. The Region of the Work
  53. Handing Over All Things

The Assurance of Salvation

One of the first basic items which the Lord revealed to Watchman Nee was the believers' assurance of salvation. Throughout all of China in those days, the scriptural teaching of the assurance of salvation was seldom taught by any Christian group. Watchman Nee, however, became exceedingly clear concerning this matter and preached the gospel to Christians to help them realize that they were saved. He was able to show from the written Word that the believer can be absolutely assured of his salvation. He would help the doubtful to take a Bible verse like John 3:16 and digest it until it became a definite word to them that they could never perish. He also pointed out to them that the Spirit of God dwells in them and witnesses with their spirit that they are God's children (Rom. 8:16). A further evidence of the assurance of salvation was given by Watchman Nee from 1 John 3:14: "We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers."

The Distinction between Grace and Law

Most Christians in those days did not have the assurance of salvation, because they did not know the distinction between grace and law. Watchman Nee received the Lord's clear revelation that salvation is by grace alone, not by works of law. If salvation were a matter of law, it would depend upon our own works. But salvation is of the Lord's grace, depending only upon what He is and what He has done for us.

The Difference between Salvation and Victory

Some Christians did not know the difference between salvation and victory. This was another cause of uncertainty regarding their salvation. At the moment we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, our salvation is secured. Victory, however, is a matter of overcoming sin, the world, the flesh, the self, and all other negative things in our daily living. Our eternal destiny as children of God is forever secured by simple faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation. But victory is a matter of our daily life and is related to dispensational reward.

The Difference between Salvation and Reward

Any Christian who is not clear about the difference between salvation and reward will have difficulty being assured of his salvation. This distinction was fully revealed to Watchman Nee. Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), whereas reward is the result of working according to the Lord's will (Matt. 16:27; 1 Cor. 3:14).

The Difference between the Kingdom of the Heavens and Eternal Life

Some Christians hesitated to say that they were saved, because the difference between having eternal life and entering into the kingdom of the heavens was not clear to them. When a person believes in the Lord Jesus for his salvation, he receives eternal life. But to enter into the kingdom of the heavens, one must live his daily life under heaven's rule. Such a living is an exercise in this church age and qualifies us to participate in the Lord's millennial rule in the kingdom age. Such participation is a reward for living a life under the heavenly rule and is not a matter of eternal salvation. Watchman Nee received a thorough and clear revelation concerning this matter.

The Kingdom Truths

Watchman Nee also saw the New Testament truth of the kingdom in its full scope. He saw that the New Testament distinguishes between the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God includes the entire reign of God from eternity in the past to eternity in the future. But the kingdom of the heavens is a smaller sphere within the kingdom of God; it is the heavenly ruling among the believers in the present church age (Matt. 5:3, 10) and a reward in the coming kingdom age (Matt. 5:20; 7:21). All regenerated believers are in the kingdom of God (John 3:5), but only those who live a life under the heavenly rule will inherit the kingdom age as a reward. The kingdom of God is related to salvation, whereas the kingdom of the heavens is related to reward.

Rapture

Along with the revelation of the kingdom, the Lord also gave Watchman Nee revelation concerning rapture. According to current fundamental theology, Christians are told that as long as they are saved, at the Lord's return they will all participate together in a general rapture with the whole church before the tribulation. But Watchman Nee came to see that not all believers will be raptured at the same time. Some believers will become matured overcomers before the tribulation; therefore, they will be raptured first. The majority of the believers, however, will mature later, so they will be raptured later. The kingdom is a matter of reward, and rapture is a matter of maturity. The rapture can be compared to a harvest. A crop is not harvested and taken into the barn when it is still green. It must first ripen into maturity. All Christians must ripen in life. When they are ripe, the Lord will harvest them and bring them into the heavenly barn. These two points must be kept clearly in mind: 1) the kingdom is a reward to the overcoming believers, and 2) rapture requires the maturity of the overcomers.

The Deviation of Christianity

Not long after they were saved, Watchman Nee and some other young believers who were still students began to realize, by studying the Bible, how abnormal Christianity is today. The Lord showed them that Christianity as it is practiced today has deviated in almost every point from the way God ordained in His holy Word.

The Church, the Ecclesia, the Body of Christ

The Lord gave Watchman Nee a clear revelation of His church. Brother Nee preached and taught that the church is not a building, an organization, or a Christian mission. The church, rather, is an organism. It is a living body. In another sense, it is the ecclesia, the gathering together of the called-out ones.

The Two Aspects of the Church

Watchman Nee saw that the church is both universal and local. In the entire universe there is only one church, the church of God (1 Cor. 10:32). This unique church is expressed in many localities on earth, and in each locality it is a local church. The universal church is composed of all the local churches, and the local churches are the practical expression of the universal church. In Matthew 16:18, the universal church is revealed, whereas in Matthew 18:17, we see the local church. Without the local churches, there is no way to participate in the universal church, and there is no way to have a practical church life. In the book of Acts, in the Epistles, and in Revelation, the church is expressed as local churches, i.e., the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Ephesus, etc. The government of the church is not universal but local.

Denominationalism

At the same time he received revelation concerning the church, Watchman Nee also saw the error of denominationalism. Denominations divide the Body of Christ into many organizations. This is condemned in the Scriptures (1 Cor. 1:11-13).

The Clergy System and Hierarchy

Watchman Nee also received light concerning the clergy-laity system. This system includes hierarchy, rank, and position in a form of Christianity which is reduced to human organization. The Roman Catholic Church has priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope. The Church of England has priests, bishops, archbishops, with the headship vested in the reigning sovereign. The Protestant churches have their pastors. This kind of clergy system is clearly contrary to the revelation of the New Testament and annuls the function of the members of the Body of Christ. Denominationalism cuts the Body of Christ into pieces, and the clergy destroys the function of all its members.

The Universal Priesthood

The universal priesthood was another truth revealed to Watchman Nee. He saw that the priesthood in the New Testament is different from that in the Old Testament. The priesthood in the Old Testament was eventually vested in the children of Aaron, resulting in a clerical class different from that of laymen. But the New Testament priesthood is granted to all believers (Rev. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). In the New Testament there are no clergy and no laymen; all are priests.

The Presbytery, the Proper Eldership

Watchman Nee received the clear revelation from the Scriptures that the church should be governed by a presbytery of elders. Every local church needs a group of experienced brothers to take the lead and to exercise oversight over the church's activities. In the Bible this group of men is called the presbyters, the elders, the bishops, the overseers.

The Difference between Office and Gift

From the Bible, Watchman Nee saw that the offices of the church are different from gifts. The church offices include elders and deacons, who are local (Phil. 1:1); whereas gifts include prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers, who are universal (Eph. 4:11).

Baptism and the Lord's Table

The Lord revealed to Watchman Nee that the proper mode of water baptism is by immersion. The Lord also showed him the scriptural way to practice the Lord's table. Baptism is the believer's testimony that his old life has been terminated and that he has been separated from the world to the Lord and His Body. The Lord's table is a remembrance of the Lord and a testimony concerning the oneness and the fellowship of His Body.

Head Covering and the Laying On of Hand

Watchman Nee also saw the scriptural meaning of head covering and the real practice of the laying on of hands. Head covering is an expression of submission and obedience to the headship of Christ in the church. The laying on of hands is an act of identification, indicating that what is being done is an impartation of something which is within the Body to other members of the Body. By the laying on of hands, spiritual gifts are imparted to the members, and fellowship is realized between the members of the Body of Christ.

Living by Faith in God

Watchman Nee saw that the real servant of God must live by faith in God and not be hired as the employee of a religious organization. The practice of living by faith was practically unknown in China in the early years of Watchman Nee's ministry. The Brethren assemblies do not hire the Lord's servants among them, but when the Brethren went to China, they thought it was impossible to teach the Chinese believers to live by faith in God. To live by faith was simply not in the Chinese Christian's concept; however, Watchman Nee both taught this way and practiced it himself.

Divine Healing

Watchman Nee not only believed in divine healing from the Scriptures; he experienced it himself. To him it was not merely an outward, miraculous gift, but an inward experience, producing the building up in life.

The Death and Resurrection of Christ

The Lord gave Watchman Nee specific revelation concerning the death and resurrection of Christ. He saw that Christ's death has two aspects: the objective aspect, which dealt with our sin, sins, the world, Satan, and the powers of darkness; and the subjective aspect, which dealt with our flesh, our self, and our old man. He also saw that in the death of Christ the old creation was terminated. This was the negative side of the cross. On the positive side, the divine life of Christ was released to germinate the new creation. In our Lord's resurrection, His divine life was released to regenerate the believers and make them members of the Body of Christ. From His resurrection the church came into existence, and also in His resurrection the Body of Christ is being built up. It is also in the power of His resurrection that believers are able to bear the cross and, in the fellowship of His sufferings, be conformed to His death (Phil. 3:10). While enjoying the resurrection life of Christ, the Lord's people are empowered to live a holy and heavenly life while they are walking on this earth. This resurrection is just the resurrected Christ Himself, and the Spirit of Christ is its reality.

The Ascension of Christ

Watchman Nee saw that Christ has ascended into the heavens far above all. Neither the gravity of the earth, the demons, the prince of the power of the air, nor all the powers of darkness could either frustrate or detain Him. These are all now under His feet. By His ascension He has been made Lord of all (Acts 2:36), and also by His ascension all His followers have been brought into the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). His position, His ministry, and His life are now all heavenly. He is now engaged in the work of ministering the heavenly life and the very heavens themselves into His people to make them the heavenly people, living a heavenly life on earth.

The Coming of Christ

Watchman Nee acquired a clear and thorough view concerning the coming of Christ. He saw that the Lord's coming (Gk., parousia) has a secret aspect and an open aspect. To the watchful ones, who have been seeking Him and awaiting His return, He will come secretly as a thief (Matt. 24:43; Rev. 3:3) from the heavens to the air before the great tribulation. But to those engrossed in the world, He will come as a flash of lightning (Matt. 24:27, 30) from the air to the earth after the great tribulation. In His secret coming, believers will be raptured to the air; whereas, His open coming will bring judgment to the world on the earth.

The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

The crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ is now indwelling the spirits of His people as the Spirit of life, making Christ real to them. This indwelling Spirit of Christ is both the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of God. The main function of the divine Spirit is to impart the divine life into God's people, regenerating them, anointing them, sanctifying and transforming them by saturating them with the very element of God. Watchman Nee ministered on this matter extensively.

The Teaching of the Anointing

Along with the revelation he received concerning the Holy Spirit, Watchman Nee also received light concerning the teaching of the anointing. The anointing is the moving and working of the Holy Spirit within our spirit. The anointing teaches us everything from within (1 John 2:27). The law of life replaces the Old Testament law, and the teaching of the anointing replaces the Old Testament prophets. It is by the teaching of the anointing that we abide in the Lord.

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Watchman Nee saw two aspects regarding the Holy Spirit: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for life and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for power. On the day the Lord rose from the dead, He breathed into the disciples the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). At that time the Holy Spirit entered into the disciples and indwelt them for the purpose of imparting life. But on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples (Acts 2:4, 33). This pouring out of the Spirit was for the purpose of distributing power to the disciples. This second experience of the Spirit is what the Bible calls the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Most Christians do not see the difference between these two aspects of the Spirit. Watchman Nee, however, received a clear revelation concerning this distinction. Although he never spoke in tongues, he received repeated experiences of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Tripartite Man

In the early years of his Christian life, Watchman Nee came to see that man is composed of three parts: spirit, soul, and body (1 Thes. 5:23). He came to see that the soul is the personality of man; the body is the outward part of man for contacting the physical world; and the spirit is the inmost part of man for contacting the spiritual world. Since God is Spirit, we must worship and serve Him in our spirit (Rom. 1:9; John 4:24). Believers are regenerated by the Spirit of God in their spirit, the Spirit of God witnesses with their spirit (Rom. 8:16), the Lord Jesus is with their spirit (2 Tim. 4:22), and they are one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17). The spirit must be divided from the soul (Heb. 4:12) so that believers can walk, live, and work in their spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25) and be spiritual men (1 Cor. 2:14-15).

Sanctification by Faith

Some time prior to 1925, Watchman Nee came to see the matter of sanctification by faith. He received light concerning the holiness teaching of John Wesley and said that what Wesley taught was not really holiness but sinless perfection. Through his study he came to realize that the Brethren surpassed Wesley in their vision of holiness. Yet while their teaching on holiness was accurate, it was too objective and consisted merely of a sort of positional change. The Brethren taught that gold in the world was common, while gold built into the temple was sanctified. As a further example, the Brethren taught that sheep and cattle in flocks and herds were common, but when offered upon the altar, they were sanctified (Matt. 23:17, 19). In addition, the Brethren illustrated sanctification by pointing out that food in the market is common, but food on the table of Christians becomes sanctified with prayer. Watchman Nee pointed out that all these examples refer to an outward change of position, but none involves an inward dispositional change. He taught that sanctification is not merely a positional change, but that it must also be dispositional (Rom. 6:19, 22).

Christ as Life

To His believing ones Christ is life (Col. 3:4), and this life is the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2) in their spirit. Whatever the believer does must be done out of this inner life. Every believer should live by this divine life within (Gal. 2:20).

The Law of the Spirit of Life

The divine life that believers receive from the Lord is in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2). This divine life has its own law and characteristics, and its function is to regulate and supply us with God's divine element. This is not the mere outward letter of the law but the law of life (Heb. 8:10) enforced by the Spirit of God within us. Watchman Nee received a full revelation concerning this inner law. It is by this inner law, called the law of life, that we are freed from the law of sin and death and are able to live a righteous and holy life.

The Law of Sin and Death

Watchman Nee saw from the Scriptures that to sin and die is a law (Rom. 8:2). This law is in the members of our body (Rom. 7:23) and is derived from the evil life of Satan. Every fallen man is under its power. But the law of the Spirit of life is more powerful than the law of sin and death and is able to free us from it.

A Better Covenant

The new covenant which the Lord Jesus enacted for us with His blood is better than the old covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:6). The old covenant is according to the Old Testament law, with a priesthood according to the law of a fleshy commandment; whereas, the new covenant is according to the law of life, with a priesthood according to the power of an indestructible life (Heb. 8:10; 7:16).

The Overcoming Life of Christ

Because Christ has overcome Satan and every negative thing in the universe, His life is an overcoming life. If we live by Christ, His life overcomes every negative thing for us.

The Calling of the Overcomers

Watchman Nee received revelation concerning the calling of the overcomers. Because the whole church has become defeated, failing to meet the Lord's purpose, the Lord has come in to call some of His believers to be overcomers. This is clearly revealed in the seven epistles in Revelation 2 and 3. Because the whole church has missed the mark, the Lord has sounded His call to those who love Him to overcome the degraded church.

Spiritual Warfare

By 1925 Watchman Nee had seen the matter of spiritual warfare. He saw that for the accomplishment of God's divine purpose in this universe, there is a consummate battle shaping up between God and His enemy, Satan. This battle involves all of God's children. If they take sides with Satan, they are rebelling against God; if they take sides with God, they are fighting against Satan. All the overcoming believers must realize that they are on the battlefield; they are fighting for God's divine purpose. To fight in this spiritual warfare requires the believer to see his heavenly position. Ephesians 2 makes it clear that we are seated in the heavenly places, and Ephesians 6 indicates that we are fighting against the powers in the heavenlies. The believers must keep their heavenly position so that they can defeat God's enemies in the heavenly places. If the believers' position is on the earth, they are under the enemy, and they lose the position to overcome.

The Boundary of the Local Church

In the years 1933 and 1934, Watchman Nee saw that the boundary of the local church is the boundary of the city where the church is. He pointed out that within the boundary of a city there should not be more than one church. This spontaneously eliminates division.

The Centrality and Universality of Christ

In 1933 and 1934, Watchman Nee also saw the centrality and universality of Christ in God's eternal purpose. He saw that both in the universe and in the Christian life Christ should have the preeminence (Col. 1:18); he also saw that Christ is all and in all in the new man, which is the church (Col. 3:10-11).

The Ground of the Local Church

In 1937 Watchman Nee began to see the ground of the local church. This is a further step beyond the boundary of locality and indicates that believers should not be divided by anything. The ground of the church is the ground of oneness. Wherever we go and wherever we are, we should be one with the believers in that place. A city should have only one church. The church is not the church in a home, the church in a factory, the church on a campus, the church on a certain street, or the church with any other kind of designation. The local church is a church in the city. If there is more than one church in a locality, the believers in that locality will be divided.

Migration

Watchman Nee saw clearly from the book of Acts that there were two ways to spread the gospel: one by the sending out of the apostles, and the other by the migration of the believers (Acts 8:4). Under his ministry both methods were employed to spread the gospel.

The Practicality of the Church Life

In 1939 Watchman Nee received further light regarding the church, this time concerning the practicality of the church life. He received clear light from the New Testament about how elders should carry out their eldership practically and how deacons and deaconesses should serve the saints and the church. He also helped all the members of the church to participate in the affairs of the church.

The Reality of the Church

Along with the practical aspect of the church, Watchman Nee saw the reality of the church. He stressed that the content of the church must be Christ living in and being lived out through all the members. Anything that is not Christ is not the church. Practically speaking, the church is Christ. Christ, therefore, is the reality of the church, and the church should be the expression of Christ.

The Oneness of the Church

The genuine oneness of the church is the oneness of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3). Real oneness is not the oneness of doctrines, opinions, or certain practices; real oneness is the Spirit Himself. Even though we may be one in doctrine and in the way we do things, if we are not in the Spirit, we do not have genuine oneness.

Seeing the Body

In the years 1939 to 1942, Watchman Nee was consistently burdened concerning the revelation of the Body of Christ. He was burdened to help Christians see the Body, not in a doctrinal way but in a practical way. He continually stressed that seeing the Body makes it impossible to be individualistic. Once one sees the Body, he behaves and acts in a corporate way.

The Authority of the Holy Spirit in the Body

Watchman Nee saw that since the Body of Christ is an organism, the Holy Spirit must have authority over everything in every part. All the activity of the Body must be under the authority and direction of the Holy Spirit.

The Reality of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the reality of all spiritual things. The term spiritual things is vain and empty unless the Holy Spirit Himself is the content and reality of every spiritual thing. The Holy Spirit is the reality of the Christians' life and also the reality of their living. Whatever they are and do must have the Holy Spirit as the reality.

The Authority of the Church

For the practice of the practical church life, Watchman Nee saw the necessity of authority. The authority that Christ as the Head imparts to certain members of His Body is called deputy authority. The local churches must be under this kind of deputy authority in a marvelous order. This authority is crucial for the building up of the local church. By this means the church becomes a vertical vessel. For this, submission is necessary.

The Building of the Church

The Lord has revealed through Watchman Nee that believers must be practically built up with others in the local churches under the authority of the church. This kind of building is a test to genuine spirituality. If one cannot be built up with others in a local church, his spirituality is questionable.

Coordination in the Church Life

Another revelation received by Watchman Nee, which is closely related to authority and building, was the revelation concerning coordination in the church. All the members in the local church need not only to be built up with others but also to coordinate with others. The service of the church cannot be carried out individually. All the members must serve in a coordinated way.

The Body and the Spiritual Warfare

In the early years of his ministry, Watchman Nee saw the spiritual warfare as a personal matter. However, from 1939 on, he saw that it was not just a personal matter, but a matter of the Body. The warrior in Ephesians 6 is not an individual believer but the Body. Watchman Nee stressed strongly that if believers are individualistic, it will be difficult for them to fight against the powers in the heavenlies. To fight the enemy we need the Body. We need to be not only in the heavenlies but also in the Body.

The Discipline of the Holy Spirit

The period from 1942 to 1948 was a period of longsuffering for Watchman Nee. During this time he learned to see the need of the Holy Spirit's discipline for the reconstitution of our being and for the breaking of the outer man. He saw that God sovereignly arranges our environment to work good for us through the discipline of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit arranges our environment and disciplines us through our environment in order to reconstitute us within with the divine element.

The Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit

While he was undergoing his longsuffering from 1942 to 1948, Watchman Nee saw the breaking of the outer man and the release of the human spirit. The Spirit of Christ dwells in our spirit. If our outer man is not broken, our spirit with the Spirit of Christ is confined in the shell of our outer man. For this reason, there is a crucial need for our outer man to be broken in order that our spirit with the Spirit of Christ may be released to impart life to others. The discipline of the Holy Spirit is both to tear down some aspects of our natural life and to break our outer man.

Using the Spirit

Along with the light he received concerning the release of the spirit, Watchman Nee also saw that the believer must learn how to use his human spirit. In ministering the Word, in preaching the gospel, in contacting people, and even in matters of daily living, believers must use their spirit first, not their mind, emotion, or knowledge. The spirit must always be ahead of these. By our spirit we can touch another's spirit. Only by his spirit can the believer convey the Spirit of life and impart life into others.

The Region of the Work

In 1948 Watchman Nee received revelation that while the church is local, the work is regional. The church is a matter of locality, but the work is a matter of region or district. The churches under Peter's work were in respective localities, but Peter's work was in a district which comprised all these localities. It was the same with Paul's work and the churches raised up through his work.

Handing Over All Things

In order for the work to accomplish its purpose and for the local churches to be built up practically, Watchman Nee saw the necessity for all the believers in the Lord's recovery to hand over not only themsleves but all their possessions to the work. By this means the believers are delivered from being selfish and individualistic. This also helps believers to submit to the Lord's authority. It even affords the Lord an opportunity to use their possessions for His purpose and to grant them more physical blessings.

Source: Watchman Nee—A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, by Witness Lee, pp. 151-167

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