Friday, February 05, 2016

Presenting CWWN v01 - The Christian Life and Warfare

kw: book summaries, watchman nee, christian ministry

Watchman Nee was born November 4, 1903 and given the names Henry and Shu-Tsu. He received Christ in February 1920, under the preaching of Dora Yu. The biography by Angus Kinnear, Against the Tide, states that he came to Christ "in his eighteenth year" (p. 36), meaning before the age of 18, but this is by Chinese reckoning, which adds a year for the time spent in the womb; he was actually 16 years and 9 months old.

He understood that the Lord wanted to gain him in two ways, both to life and to service. He struggled with this for several weeks until late April, when he fully dedicated his life to service to Jesus Christ. He sought a more fitting name for a consecrated Christian. His mother suggested a name that seemed to strike the right balance: To-Sheng, meaning Watchman.

After finishing college he began to write. He began publishing a small Christian magazine, The Christian, in November 1925, about the time of his twenty-second birthday. This was no eight-page rag. The first issue contained fourteen articles taking up more than 60 pages. Two years later he selected nine of the articles he had written and ten items by other English writers that he had translated and published in The Christian, and published his first book, The Christian Life and Warfare. The contents of this book, plus certain apparatuses, form Volume 1 of The Collected Works of Watchman Nee. His own writing has been translated to English, and writings that began in English are printed as found in their English versions as appendices. This frontispiece is from the June 1927 first printing.

It is said that, whatever income or support he received over the years, Nee spent a third of it on books, typically writing to booksellers in England with a "want list". The Christian Life and Warfare bears a strong influence from Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis of the Overcomer Literature Trust; she wrote seven of the articles he translated from English. The other three are by Charles Usher, Evan Roberts and S. D. Gordon.

The subject of the book is living a victorious Christian life, which requires spiritual warfare. It is a long exposition on Romans 6, primarily verses 11-13:
11 So also you, reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Do not let sin therefore reign in your mortal body so that you obey the body's lusts;
13 Neither present your members as weapons of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as alive from the dead, and your members as weapons of righteousness to God.
(The Bible translation I use is The Recovery Version, published by Living Stream Ministry*.) The first verb is central to Watchman Nee's understanding of Christian victory: Reckon. This word means more than just counting or calculating. It means fixing the will on the facts as presented by God in His Word, and acting accordingly.

To do so, we have to know where things are. Thus the book begins with a chapter explaining that we are tripartite, spirit, soul and body, as Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:23. The human spirit is our organ for contacting God and the things of God. Seeking God with body or with mind (part of the soul), is as foolish as trying to see with your ears. Fellowship between fellow believers must also be spiritual, not done in the soul, or it is vain. Thus, after exposing the folly of using fleshly and soulish means to carry out service to God, he turns to this word Reckon, in a chapter titled "Fact, Faith, and Experience".

Many have heard this kind of preaching: "First Facts, then Faith, and only then Feeling". The term "Experience" is more far-reaching than "Feeling". We may or may not have "feelings" while in our spirit. If we seek to have such feelings, we can be misled. The senses in our spirit are deeper and more delicate than our emotions, and in fact may contradict them. An experienced Christian knows what it is to be "in tears while obeying". The crucified flesh and "unemployed" soul might indeed evoke bitter tears, while the spirit, and shortly the whole person, rejoices in the Lord's burden and His strength to carry it out.

The Word of God contains certain facts, and for this passage, key facts include that we are "dead to sin", and "living to God". Later, in Romans 7, the example of a dead husband is used to show how death frees us from the bondage to the law. In Romans 6, death first frees us from bondage to sin, for the dead do not sin. Are we dead? Christ having died for us, we are reckoned dead to sin by God. Victory is that we also reckon ourselves as dead to sin, in Christ. How do the dead react to temptation? With indifference, with no reaction. For us, being dead to sin but alive to God, to react to sin with indifference requires that we lean on Him that His beauty draws us away from any temptation to sin. We really can be so enrapt with God that we don't notice temptations. Thus, we find that Satan desires to distract us from God's beauty, and we need to oppose such distraction.

Watchman Nee describes the kind of prayer that opposes Satan. It is refreshingly different from the kind of preaching I've heard from some, who seem to spend much time speaking to the evil one directly. According to the teaching here, we might indeed say, with the angel Michael, "The Lord rebuke thee, Satan", but that is the end of that, and we continue in fellowship with the Lord, persisting in our petition that He would do just that and rebuke the Devil. This is in accord with the poor widow of the parable, who spoke again and again to the unjust judge, but not to the opponent against whom her suit was brought.

I was also struck by a certain fact. When speaking of the hill of the crucifixion, Watchman Nee consistently uses the term Golgotha. In the ten articles by others that the editors of CWWN printed in their original form in English, those authors use the term Calvary. "Calvary" is from Latin, and occurs only once in the Authorized Version (KJV), in Luke 23:33. "Golgotha" is from Aramaic, the dialect of Hebrew used in Judea during the life of Jesus, and this term is used everywhere else in the four Gospels. Luke wrote in Greek and used the Greek word for skull, "kranios". Who knows why the translators of the KJV didn't just write "skull"?

Verse 13 of the passage above is equally important, to all the authors of these articles. We are weapons. That is a fact of our being. To whom then should we present ourselves? To Sin in the service of sins, or to God in the service of righteousness? This can only be accomplished by applying the crucifixion of Christ to our subjective experience, to serve Him by His life and His power. All things of "the old man" must remain on the cross.

These are high and powerful truths to be found in a book published by a young prodigy, not quite 25 years old!
*Some have criticized the term "recovery version", joking that the Bible's text doesn't need to be recovered. The Bible itself has been with us a long time, but it is poorly understood, even by many prominent Christian "authorities". In particular, most are influenced by this or that denominational viewpoint or doctrinal system. Within a few years after Watchman Nee received Christ, he saw that Denominationalism is sinful because it divides Christians (My own proverb is, "Doctrines are a filter used to figure out whom to exclude from fellowship"). This understanding is a foundational teaching of the local churches worldwide that follow his teachings, and of the leaders of the Living Stream Ministry in its publishing and evangelistic work. LSM was set up by Watchman Nee's most prominent co-worker, Witness Lee, who used the term "recovery" to refer to the process begun with the Protestant Reformation, and continuing today, of "unlocking" the truths that have been ignored and neglected for two millennia. The text of The Recovery Version is a readable translation from Hebrew and Greek; it is the notes and cross-references—which seek to help believers understand the text, particularly the neglected portions—that constitute the "recovery" of lost truth.

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