Monday, April 04, 2016

Presenting CWWN v03 - The Christian (1)

kw: book summaries, watchman nee, christian ministry

Watchman Nee established the Gospel Book Room and began publishing The Christian newspaper in 1925, and produced 24 issues over the next two years. Volume 3 of The Collected Works of Watchman Nee is the first of six volumes containing the entire run of articles that Nee wrote for The Christian. Material written by others is not included, but a full index of all articles is at the end of the sixth volume (v8 of CWWN).

This volume is in two sections. The first 104 pages contain six articles titled "Meditations on Genesis", on the first two chapters of Genesis. Nee opens with an explanation of "The Gap", condensing the discussion by G. H. Pember in his 1876 book Earth's Earliest Ages*. He briefly yet comprehensively adduces the proofs and other indications in Scripture that, as my mother told me sixty years ago, "A lot happened between the first two verses of Genesis." Nee shares, in much more detail than my mother did, how the six days are not the original creation, but a re-creation after an earlier creation had fallen into disaster and judgment. Most importantly, he shows that an understanding of The Gap, which some commentators have called "an interval of unknown duration", began in the Third or Fourth Century, including in the writings of Augustine (this translation of CWWN has "Augustus"). Thus The Gap is no reaction to modern geological studies, nor to any idea that the Earth is millions or billions of years old. When Augustine wrote early in the Fourth Century, his notion of a Gap was no doubt a duration of "myriads", or tens of thousands, not millions of years. But the principle remains.

The first article also, but briefly, decries the notion of biological evolution and Darwin's theory. Watchman Nee was firmly anti-evolution, as are most of his followers today. This occasionally rankles me, and I occasionally discuss the proper understanding of both the theory of natural selection and of the relevant scriptures, to show that evolution is no threat to revelation, and the Biblical story of creation cannot in any way be used to pronounce judgment on biological science. This review is not the venue to discuss this further.

The other four articles primarily concern the dispensational and spiritual meaning of the six days of (re-)creation. I received much help as a young Christian, learning how the steps in the six-day process are mirrored in the process of spiritual growth that we all undergo. Nee focuses more on the dispensational progress of God's purpose through the generations from Adam onward unto eternity, while not neglecting the personal aspects.

An aside: the theological term "dispensation" is translated from the Greek word οικονομία, or "economy", and economy is understood as its decomposition into "home" and "law". Your economy is how you run your house. So with God's economy. Thus, whereas God has a purpose or plan, this plan is carried out in different ways in different eras. Each is called a different dispensation in older theological literature, but it is better understood as the economy of God for each era. Thus the era of Moses' Law, called the dispensation of law or the Jewish economy, describes how Jehovah God dealt with His people Israel from the time the law was given through Moses until the time of John the Baptist, who announced in the Messiah a new economy, which is being carried on today in this, "the church age" or the economy of the churches.

Watchman Nee had more to say about the church economy in his "Meditations on Revelation", the long section that comprised Issue #2 of The Christian, and takes up 74 pages in this translation, including a four-page outline of the subjects of Revelation. Focusing on the statement of Jesus to John in 1:19, "…the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which are about to take place after these things," he shows that chapter 1 deals with the first item, "the things which you have seen," chapters 2 and 3 deal with the second, "the things which are," and the rest of the book is prophetic, dealing with "the things which are about to take place after these things." In particular, "the things which are" refers to the condition of seven selected local churches in about the year 95 AD, as exemplars of the prophetic progress of the economy of God for the churches throughout this era. Nee wrote about this in more detail in later issues of The Christian and in other publications.

The strongest portions of this long article are two. Firstly, Nee strongly exhorts all Christians everywhere to actually read Revelation. In the early Twentieth Century the book was severely neglected by most, as being too hard to understand or too contentious, on one hand, and was subject to the most flamboyant flights of interpretation by a few enthusiasts on the other. Here both pernicious trends are combated very distinctly. Secondly, Nee shows how this book is related to numerous prophecies in both Old and New Testaments, most particularly Daniel, but also several strong prophecies in Paul's writings and in Jesus's statements in the Gospels. He shows how, just as many former prophecies were fulfilled literally, so will the prophecies of the apostle John; to spiritualize away their meaning is damaging to faith.

Watchman Nee was almost alone in his understanding that "the Rapture", or the "taking away" of the believers, is to happen in stages. Numerous verses that seem to point to different times of being caught up to Christ show us that certain believers are taken up "pre-trib" as some like to call it, and some are taken up "post-trib". I can do no better than to quote:
"All those who have the cross working profoundly in their life will be raptured. Those who are saved generally but who are mingled with the world and who go along with sins will remain on the earth and will pass through the great tribulation. Only the overcoming saints will be raptured. The remaining saved believers will pass through the great tribulation until the trumpeting of the seventh trumpet. Then they will be caught up." (p 174)
The section closes with the briefest sketch of "the things to come," before the outline at its very end.
* Full title Earth's Earliest Ages, and Their Connection With Modern Spiritualism and Theosophy. In Pember's day, those were fighting words.

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