(Henry) Watchman Nee

Excerpt from Chapter 27 of Christ’s Faithful Servants, copyright 2023

. . . Back in Shanghai with Ruth Lee, Watchman recognized that the seeds they had planted needed to be watered. So he started a nondenominational church on Hardoon Road which grew rapidly and acquired the nickname, the “Little Flock.”[1] Watchman was a gifted preacher, who could make complex theological concepts seem simple. He preached without notes, and appears to have had a photographic memory. His command of the scriptures impressed everyone who heard him. But the message at the heart of his preaching was faith. At a time when many emphasized the need for righteous behavior, Nee focused upon Christ’s death and resurrection, and preached salvation through faith in Christ alone. An English Christian, Charles Barlow, visited in 1931, and sent glowing reports back to England about Watchman Nee and his “Little Flock” church. This would lead to a year-long visit by Watchman to England in 1933 and 1934.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1925, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek,[2] a transportation explosion occurred—roads, railways, and airplanes opened up the interior of China as never before. Watchman saw this as an opportunity to spread Christianity, and he encouraged the members of his Little Flock to do so. He followed his own advice by undertaking a dangerous missionary journey with a Christian brother, driving a Model T Ford into the remote mountains and valleys of southwestern China to preach to the villagers there.

Marriage. After returning from his trip to England in 1934, Watchman learned that his childhood friend and sweetheart, Chaing Pin-Hwai, also known as Charity Chang, was in Shanghai. He had fallen in love with her in 1922, but her resistance to his Christian faith had forced him to abandon any thoughts of marriage. Now, twelve years later, after obtaining a degree in literature from Yin King University, she had embraced the Christian faith. Upon meeting her again, he knew that her conversion was sincere. Charity’s sister, Faith Chang, played matchmaker and helped arrange the wedding. Watchman and Charity were married in Hangchow[3] on October 19, 1934, exactly thirty-five years after the wedding of Watchman’s parents.

Word soon came that the Little Flock’s sponsoring church in England, the London Group of Brethren, had accused Watchman of “compromising the fellowship” during his trip to England by taking communion with members of a Christian group of which the Brethren did not approve. The elders and members of the Little Flock church stood by Watchman, but the London Group did not—they withdrew their support. Watchman was particularly hurt when he saw that his friend, Charles Barlow, had supported this action.

By 1937, the Little Flock had 128 full-time missionaries throughout China. Watchman himself led a group into Tibet. The missionaries planted local churches, and stayed until they had trained ministers who could shepherd the flock after they left. They distributed copies of Watchman’s sermons and magazine articles, which explained Christian beliefs in easily understood language. Watchman said in 1936 that this vision of local churches had come from the Lord. The wisdom of these methods would become apparent after the Communist takeover in 1949. . . .

Christ’s Faithful Servants is available on Amazon.com.

[1]. The name came from a hymnbook which Watchman translated and incorporated into the church’s worship service. The hymnbook was entitled, Hymns for the Little Flock.

[2]. Chiang lived from 1887 to 1975. He had helped Sun Yat-sen overthrow the Chinese monarchy in 1912 and then served in Sun’s government before eventually taking over leadership of the army. When Sun died in 1925, Chiang took his place as leader of the Chinese government. He was a staunch anti-communist who favored good relations with the West. Although he claimed to be a Christian, he was ruthless in many of his policies—including his efforts to exterminate the Chinese communists in the 1930s.

[3]. Hangchow—now known as Hangzhou—is located about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, along the eastern coast of China.