Who Was Watchman Nee?

Who Was Watchman Nee? June 16, 2016

Who was Watchman Nee and why is it important that we know about him?

Watchman Nee

Watchman Need was a somewhat controversial author and Christian teacher who taught very questionable beliefs and has led many into error, yet his fame spread worldwide last century. Watchman Nee or Ni Tuosheng (November 1903-May 1972) was one of nine children born to Lin He-Ping and Ni Weng-hsiu, who the latter, happened to be a highly respected officer in China’s Imperial Customs Service. Both of Nee’s parents were baptized and members of the Methodist Church, a very conservative church at the time of the early 20th century. When he was only 13, Nee entered the Church Missionary Society to begin his Western-style education. After he entered Trinity College in Fuzhou, China, the teachers were stunned by his intellect and ambition and his test scores consistently placed him at the top of his class. His mother, a Methodist convert, changed his name from Nee Shi-Tsu to “Bell Ringer” or in the native tongue, “Watchman,” thus his name became Watchman Nee.

Early Life

When Nee was only 17, he attended a ten-day revival of the Church of Heavenly Peace in Fuzhou and that was where the stirrings within his soul for soulwinning began. It was on the night of April 28th, 1920 that he saw the heavy weight and severe penalty of his own sins and that his sins had placed him in the path of God’s wrath. That was when he cried out to God and claimed to believe in God for the very first time. He had read about but had never fully comprehended the thorough cleansing that the blood of the Lamb of God could bring. He quickly began to witness to his classmates in college as many had never had a real conversion before. Nee wanted to fix that gap and, at one time, he had a list of 70 students for whom he would pray for on a daily basis. He had caught the bug of evangelism at Trinity College but more so at the revivals in 1920 at the Church of Heavenly Peace.


Questionable Beliefs

Later in Nee’s life, he began to believe and teach things that were extra-biblical and highly questionable. This path to error began when he attended a Bible school in Shanghai and came under the influence of a female teacher, Miss Yu. Miss Yu then directed him to Miss M.E. Barber who taught him the Keswick concept of the filling of the Spirit and in February 1922, claimed he was “baptized in the Spirit.” After being exposed to the teachings of John Darby he rejected all other clergy preaching from the other churches, seeing them as apostate in their duties of teaching biblical truths. Adopting yet another person’s beliefs, he was then influenced by Elizabeth Fischbacker who introduced to him the idea that speaking in tongues were evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence, even though the Bible teaches no such thing.

Doctrinal Errors

Many believed in Watchman Nee’s teachings, but slowly and surely, his teachings began to unravel when placed against Scripture. It seemed that every time Nee would meet someone with different beliefs, he would incorporate their beliefs into his own philosophy, often claiming it as his own. It was like a smorgasbord where he could pick and choose some of this and some of that but excluding those things that are explicitly taught in Bible those things that he didn’t especially like. He began to see emotionalism as the evidence of conversion, saying that the Spirit only flows through the channel of emotions. Nee never let theological certainty or clarity to stand in the way of his preaching and thus, there was his downfall. He was right on the gospel but it was the non-essentials that he made into essentials. He believed all denominations were in error and very sinful but without a sufficient explanation as to why. At times, Nee would place “spiritual experiences” above that of the written word. His “two-tiered” teachings were that some had been sanctified by letting Christ live in them while others were obviously false converts. He looked at the outward actions and response of individuals as evidence of an inward conversion.


When Mao-Tse Tung came to power in 1949, Nee was seen as an imperialist since he was a factory owner, and was imprisoned until his death in 1972. Some believe his tongue was cut out so that he would no longer preach. He once asked, “Do you not realize that edification is not a question of doctrine, but of spirit? If your brother speaks through his spirit, you will be washed and cleansed each time his spirit comes out and touches you.” [1] He taught that any teaching of doctrine which does not result in reviving the spirit can only be considered as dead letter, and on that, he may be right.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

1. Nee, Watchman. The Release of the Spirit. Christian Literature Crusade, 1989. p. 90.

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  • pud


    For several years throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Mike Warnke was the leading evangelical speaker when it came to Satanism and the practice of worshiping the devil. Perhaps it was unsurprising, as Warnke claimed to have been a member of a satanic church in his earlier years before eventually seeing the light and converting to Christianity.Using his insider knowledge, Warnke shaped the view of many evangelists when it came to Satan. In particular, he revealed the supposed ritualistic practices carried out by his and other cults throughout the United States.Warnke parlayed this fame into a career as a stand-up comedian, releasing several albums in addition to books such as The Satan Seller. He even made an appearance on ABC’s 20/20 in an episode devoted to demonic practices.The problem? It was all a lie. Christian magazine Cornerstone investigated Warnke’s claims and couldn’t find a single person to corroborate his stories. In fact, the college friends he spoke of all claimed that he had never taken drugs and was not involved with any satanic cults of any sort. Warnke was thoroughly discredited by the investigation, though he sometimes still claims that he was a member of a satanic cult. Today, his platform is limited to occasional preaching and stand-up shows.

  • pud

    Just one more delusional nut case in a long long list of psychotic “believers” in the absurd.

  • jesse100

    I’ve been an avid reader of Watchman Nee for years and can say I’ve never read any of the errors you speak of here. An unfair appraisal of the life of a man that has edified countless Christians over the years and gave his life for the Gospel in China.

  • Ekundayo Babatope

    I strongly agree with Jesse. Sir i think this article should be taken off, as it might hinder people to get an enriching book out of his books especially , SECRETS TO SPIRITUAL POWER ( a compilation of writings of Watchman Nee) because can’t seem to understand why something would be put up against him, whose whole life he dedicated to soulwinning and last words on a piece of paper after imprisonement were “Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee.”