What Are We?by Watchman Nee
(The following is a message released by Brother Watchman Nee in Shanghai in January 1934, during the third Overcomer Conference. It is translated from notes taken by Brother K.H. Weigh.)
Today we will look at one question: what are we? What are we doing here? In the past we have not said much about this matter because it is somewhat awkward to do so. For this reason we have been reluctant to speak about ourselves. However, though we have not mentioned the matter, others have often asked us, “What are you?” Some have even said that we are the Revival Church, or the Little Flock Church, or The Christian [Editor’s note: Watchman Nee published a magazine, The Christian] Church. Hence, we would like to say a few words concerning this question.
First, we must clarify that we are not some thing. We are not a new denomination. Neither are we a new sect, a new movement, or a new organization. We are not here to join a certain sect or form our own sect. Other than having a special calling and commission from God, there would be no need for us to exist independently. The reason we are here is that God has given us a special calling.
Second Peter 1:12 mentions the words “established in the present truth.” The “present truth” can also be rendered the “up-to-date truth.” What is the up-to-date truth? Actually, all the truths are in the Bible; there is not one truth that is not in the Bible. Although they are all in the Bible, through man’s foolishness, unfaithfulness, negligence, and disobedience many of the truths were lost and hidden from man. The truths were there, but man did not see them or touch them. Not until the fullness of time did God release certain truths during particular periods of time and cause them to be revealed once more.
These freshly revealed truths are not God’s new inventions. Rather, they are man’s new discoveries. There is no need for invention, but there is the need for discovery. In past generations God revealed different truths. During certain periods of time, He caused men to discover these specific truths. We can see this clearly from the history of the church.
Take, for example, the raising up of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. God opened his eyes to see the matter of justification by faith. He was a vessel raised up by God to unveil the truth of justification by faith. This does not mean that before Luther there was no such thing as justification by faith. The fact already existed before Luther’s time. Luther was merely the one who realized this truth in a stronger way; he was particularly outstanding in this truth. For this reason, this truth became the “present truth” in that age.
Every worker of the Lord should inquire before God as to what the present truth is. We need to ask: “God, what is the present truth?” Although there are many major and crucial truths in the Bible, what we need to know is God’s present truth. Not only do we need to know the general truths, we must also be clear about God’s present truth.
From the sixteenth century on, God has been recovering different truths. The sixteenth century was the age of the Reformation. It was a time of monumental change in religion. This does not mean that before the sixteenth century there was no recovery. There were recoveries before that time. However, it was from the sixteenth century on that there were significant recoveries. We have to consider the history from the time of the Reformation as belonging to four periods. The first period is the period of the Reformation. The second period is the time immediately after the Reformation, from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century. The third period is the nineteenth century, and the last period is the present twentieth century.
First, let us consider Luther’s Reformation. When Luther was raised up by God, he saw the light and proposed that man go back to the truth in the book of Romans. Today many people evaluate Luther’s work from the political angle and consider it to be a political movement. However, having read Luther’s diaries, writings, and books, I see that his motives and goals were right. The best thing about him was his recovery of the truth of justification by faith. This is Luther’s particular recovery. Of course, God did not recover all the truths through Luther. Luther recovered only the truth concerning justification by faith. He did not make complete changes with regard to the church. For example, he still recognized the state church and approved of the church being part of the state. He did not receive light regarding this point. For this reason, not long after, the Lutheran denomination became the state religion of Germany. Luther himself once said that the church should not be controlled by the state. Yet he considered administrative questions transitional, temporal, and of the outer court, and not matters that belong to the Holy Place. Therefore, he was not thorough in this matter. God allowed the question of church administration to be left unsolved at Luther’s time. Although this matter was not successfully recovered, the truth of justification by faith was definitely recovered. God dug up this buried truth from all the traditions, human opinions, and creeds and caused this truth to be known and preached once more. If a person were born in that age, what he should have done was preach this truth and exhort others concerning this truth. If he did not do this, he should not be considered a faithful worker of God in that age.
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