Author Spotlight: Who Is Witness Lee?
In a previous post, we wrote briefly about the life and background of Watchman Nee, one of two authors of the books we give away. The other author is Witness Lee. But who is Witness Lee?
In this post, we’ll provide a short biography of Witness Lee. By looking into his testimony, we can gain an increased appreciation for his depth as a believer and his ministry of the Word of God.
Witness Lee’s early life
Witness Lee was born into a Christian family in 1905 in northern China. His mother made a great financial sacrifice for him to attend a Southern Baptist Chinese school and later the Presbyterian English Mission College. However, although he received an excellent education, he was not saved at the time.
After one of Lee’s sisters experienced the salvation of Jesus Christ, she began to pray for her brother and bring him to church meetings in their hometown of Chefoo. In one of these meetings, the gospel preaching of a sister in the Lord touched Lee deeply, and at the age of 19 he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Previously, Lee held lofty ambitions for his future. But at his salvation, he consecrated himself to serve the Lord for his whole life. From the very beginning of Lee’s Christian life, he loved the Bible and became a serious student of God’s Word. He read and collected Bible expositions and also read other Christian writings.
Lee was particularly helped in matters of the divine life by articles and books by Watchman Nee, and began corresponding with him about the Bible. At the same time, he began to meet with the Brethren Assembly in Chefoo to learn from their extensive expounding of biblical truths; he stayed with them for seven and a half years.
A great turn from doctrine to life
Eventually, Lee realized that though he’d amassed a great deal of teaching and scriptural knowledge, he had experienced very little of the divine life. This caused him to have a deep repentance to the Lord. Climbing to the top of a small mountain near his home each morning, Lee cried out to the Lord, wept, and confessed his deadness and fruitlessness. He continued to pray in this way for several months.
In 1932, Lee and others invited Watchman Nee to visit Chefoo. The two had much fellowship, and Nee emphasized to Lee the importance of experiencing the divine life.
“My time with Watchman during those days deeply impressed me with the sweetness, loveliness, attractiveness, and newness of the Lord. Those days provided a new start for me in following the Lord and caused me to have a basic turn from knowledge to life. Because of those days with Watchman Nee, I began to have fellowship with the Lord in a more intimate way. The Lord became more precious to me. That experience was even greater than my experience of salvation. Those days with Watchman affected my pathway in the Lord throughout all the following fifty-nine years, since 1932. For eternity I can never forget those days! What a mercy and grace it was to me.” (Witness Lee, Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, pp. 288-289)
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Serving the Lord full time
Shortly after his time with Watchman Nee, Lee began to sense the Lord Jesus calling him to serve Him full time. After much struggling and prayer, Lee obeyed the Lord in faith and resigned from his job. His decision to serve the Lord was confirmed afterward by other brothers and a timely letter from Watchman Nee concerning the matter. He remained faithful to this calling for the rest of his life.
Co-laboring with Watchman Nee
Lee then spent several months with Nee in Shanghai and received much fellowship from him regarding knowing Christ as life; the Lord’s move in China from the time of Watchman Nee’s salvation; church history; and knowing the Bible in the way of life. When Lee later moved to Shanghai, Watchman Nee entrusted him with the responsibility for Nee’s publishing work.
Witness Lee and Watchman Nee worked closely together in China for the next 20 years in the ministry of the Word, both spoken and written, and traveling throughout the country to preach the gospel, perfect the believers, and raise up churches. Through the labor of these two brothers, the Lord gained more than 400 churches in more than 30 provinces in China.
Watchman Nee’s commission to Witness Lee
With the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Watchman Nee foresaw the persecution of Christians there. Realizing this persecution would imperil the spread of the truths they’d seen in the Word, Nee commissioned Lee to go to Taiwan and continue their ministry. Nee wanted to ensure that all the scriptural truths and spiritual principles the Lord had shown them would not be lost but would continue to nourish and edify believers outside of China.
Witness Lee moved to Taiwan in 1949. Through his labor and the Lord’s blessing, the small number of believers increased rapidly, reaching over 40,000 in six years. Lee continued the publishing work in Taiwan, as commissioned by Nee. He also ministered for several months each year in the Philippines, where eventually over 100 churches were raised up.
In the late 1950s, Lee received invitations to minister in London and Copenhagen. He also made several visits to the United States of America, and became deeply burdened for the many Christians he met who lacked the deeper truths of the Word. In 1962, the Lord led Lee to immigrate to the US, leaving the work of the Far East in the hands of co-workers he’d trained there.
Witness Lee’s ministry in America
Witness Lee settled in Southern California and gave his first conference in Los Angeles in December of 1962. The messages from this conference now comprise the book The All-inclusive Christ, which BfA gives away for free.
Lee received invitations to minister from a wide variety of Christian groups and traveled often throughout the US. He also frequently traveled to minister in Europe, the Far East, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. He continued to publish in America, as he had in China and Taiwan. He also wrote extensive notes, outlines, and cross-references for a new translation of the Bible, the Recovery Version.
Near the age of 70, Witness Lee began his major work, Life-study of the Bible—a rich, comprehensive, book-by-book exposition of the entire Bible, focused on the experience of Christ as life in the Word; it took twenty years to complete. Simultaneously, he gave thousands of messages on Christian life and service, much of which has been published as over 400 books. His ministry emphasizes the experience of Christ as life and the practical oneness of the believers as the Body of Christ.
Lee spoke publicly for the last time at a conference in 1997, just months before his death. At the age of 91, God’s faithful servant went to be with the Lord Jesus.
Today, over 2,300 churches have been raised up globally, and tens of thousands of Christians have come to know Christ as life through the ministries of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee.
Excerpts by Witness Lee and Watchman Nee are featured in the commentary of the Mosaic Bible, published by Tyndale House Publishers. Witness Lee’s entire body of published work is available through his publishing company in the US, Living Stream Ministry.
Witness Lee’s biography of Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, published by Living Stream Ministry, includes some details of Lee’s own life, especially as it relates to Nee’s. For a more detailed biography of Witness Lee, visit www.witnesslee.org.
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