The History of the Church and the Local Churches, by Witness Lee


The Lord’s recovery took a definite form with Martin Luther’s stand for the truth concerning justification by faith. Luther was a great defender of salvation, of justification by faith, but he also made some big mistakes. On the one hand, he defended the truth. On the other hand, he made the mistake of becoming affiliated with the German government. This affiliation with the government was the source of the so-called state churches, or national churches. Do not think I am criticizing Luther. I realize that we all are human. On the one hand, we can be used by God to a great degree. On the other hand, we can be weak in other areas. Luther was strong for justification by faith even at the cost of his life. In his stand for justification by faith, he stood against the pope, the greatest power on earth at that time, but when he came to the question of the church, he was weak. This is according to the historical record. The first state church was the state church of Germany. Then many other European nations followed Germany such as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Eventually, the state church of England, the Anglican church, was formed. The Church of England is mingled with the government of England. Even today the queen of England is the head of the Church of England. The king of Denmark is the head of the Lutheran state church of Denmark, and the king of Sweden is the head of the Church of Sweden today. This came from Luther’s mistake. Even Luther himself admitted that he was weak in this point. All the defenders of the truth made some mistakes. There is hardly one exception to this. All these mistakes were due to one great lack—the vision, the proper unveiling, of God’s goal. God’s goal is the church. By the Lord’s mercy, the vision of the church, the revelation concerning God’s corporate goal, is so clear today. We all need to be clear about God’s unique goal—the church.


According to my feeling, Brother Watchman Nee has been the greatest gift that the Head of the church has given to His Body, especially in this century. I can also testify to you for him from my pure conscience that he was also a great defender of the truth concerning the church. According to my knowledge, Brother Nee did not make mistakes because he was so clear about God’s corporate goal—the church. As long as we have the vision of the church and are so clear about God’s corporate goal, we are safeguarded. The church, the Body, the new man, the corporate goal of God’s eternal purpose, is our safeguard. No matter how much we know the Bible, if we do not know the church, we will eventually make a serious mistake. If we are clear about the church, we are safeguarded. Nothing safeguards us so adequately as the knowing of the church, as the seeing of the Body. The Lord’s recovery is ultimately for the church life. All the foregoing items of the Lord’s recovery—such as the recovery of justification, sanctification, the inner life, and the proper understanding of prophecy—are for the present recovery of the church life. Today we are here for the church life. If we have really seen the vision of the church and that God only cares for the church, we will never be divided by any doctrine.

After the reformation with Martin Luther stressing justification by faith, the state churches eventually became empty and dead. The reaction to the deadness of the reformed churches was among the mystics who were still in the Catholic Church. The Lord raised up a group of people that included Madam Guyon, Brother Lawrence, and Father Fenelon. They did not care for the outward practices or teachings but only for the reality of the inner life. These saints, who were known as the mystics, were the start of the recovery of the living reality of the inner life. Their experience of Christ as the inner life began as a reaction to the emptiness of the reformed churches. However, the mystics, whom the Lord used for the recovery of the inner life, also made some mistakes because they did not see the Body, the church. They did not have the safeguard of the Body and the balance of the Body.

(The History of the Church and the Local Churches, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)