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local churches/ The Church in "name of the city"
Classification Protestant
Orientation Restorationist
Leader Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and now "Blended Co-workers"
Associations Living Stream Ministry
Geographical area Worldwide
Official Website

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.[1][2] They profess to be a part of God's move to recover truths ,experiences and practices from the Bible – which is "the Lord's recovery". One of the defining features of the local churches is their interpretation of the Bible that all of the Christians in a city or locality are in a local church. Many of the churches refer to themselves as "The church in -insert-locality-" (eg. The church in Corinth, The church in Ephesus, and likewise).

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.[3]


The name "local churches"

The term local churches was used by Watchman Nee to describe Christian churches that form based upon his teaching of the "ground of oneness" [4] 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 takeover of 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.[5]

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".[6]

The early "Little Flock" designation stems from a hymnal used by many of the local churches in China titled "Hymns for the Little Flock."[7] The group itself has more recently employed the name "The Local Church" for reasons of brevity in legal pleadings.[8] 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. The Christian members who meet as the local churches profess that to "denominate" themselves by taking a name is tantamount to denying the name of Christ and committing "spiritual fornication."

Nee taught that all genuine Christian believers in their city comprise the local church in that city. [9] 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).[10]

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).[11]


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.[12]


Lord's Table Meeting (Sunday Service)

At the "Lord's Table meeting or Lord's Day meeting"[13] the unleavened bread is broken and wine or grape juice is shared while the attendees sing and pray and share their enjoyment of Christ.[14].

Bible study meeting

Each local church holds Bible study meetings once or twice each week.[15] 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[16]. 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[17] 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.

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.

The Prophesying meeting

Many local churches practice having a meeting for ministering the Word on Sunday morning. [18]

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.[19] 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 Normal Christian Church Life, and Authority and Submission among others written by Watchman Nee.

Semi-annual international trainings for “Elders and Responsible Ones” are hosted by 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. As with all trainings attendees must agree not to disagree as a prerequisite to attendance. In studying the history of different movements in church history,[20] the local church's polity has been influenced mostly from the practice and government of the Plymouth Brethren in style and expression.


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. The place of baptism depends: a baptismal; a lake; a pool; or simply in a bathtub. Candidates, those who profess faith in Christ, are immersed. Apparently there are no age restrictions (though infant baptism is not practiced). [21]

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. Also, female members do not teach over the congregation with authority.[22] In the Recovery Version, the translation generally used by the believers in the local churches, one footnote for 1 Corinthians 14:34 reads:[23]

"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. ^ Entrepreneur, AC Magazine, Ling-Yuen Wu (with translator Ming-Deh Fu): Copyright 1999 AC Media Inc.
  2. ^ The Encycolpedia of American Religions, 5th edition, J Gordon Melton, Gale research, Inc. (1996)
  3. ^
  4. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Normal Christian Church Life, pg. 74
  5. ^ Piepkorn, Arthur C. Profiles in Belief. Vol. II, III & IV San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1979: 78, 79.
  6. ^ Bays, Daniel H., ed. Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996: 311-312.
  7. ^ Patterson, George N. Christianity in Communist China. Waco, Tx: World Books, 1969: 72-73.
  8. ^ The Local Church, et al., Petitioners, PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI to the United States Supreme Court [1]
  9. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Normal Christian Church Life, pg. 86, 89
  10. ^ Patterson, George N. Christianity in Communist China. Waco, Tx: World Books, 1969: 79-80.
  11. ^ Nee, Watchman: What Are We, booklet pg. 1, 8-9.
  12. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Assembly Life, chp. 3
  13. ^ Nee, Watchman: The Normal Christian Church Life (pages 163-188)
  14. ^ Lee, Witness: The Practice of Prophesying, ch. 3
  15. ^ Nee, Watchman: Church Affairs, Chp. 5 (The Different Kinds of Meetings)
  16. ^ Lee, Witness: Pray-Reading the Word
  17. ^ Lee, Witness: Basic Principles for the Service in the Church Life, chp. 5
  18. ^ Further Talks on the Church Life, Watchman Nee
  19. ^ The Normal Christian Church Life, [2]
  20. ^ Encyclopedia of American Religions, 5th Edition, [3]
  21. ^ Nee, Watchman: Messages for Building Up New Believers, chp. 1 (Baptism)
  22. ^ Recovery Version, 1 Tim. 2:12, footnote[4]
  23. ^ Recovery Version, 1 Cor. 14:34, footnote[5]

External links


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