Indigenization Strength and Syncretism Risk of Watchman Nee’s Spiritual Knowledge Teaching

This paper chooses Watchman Nee’s teaching to analyze the indigenous theology’s indigenization strength and syncretism risk in a Chinese context. Even though there are already many research results about Watchman Nee’s teaching, existing research contributes very little to indigenization and syncretism. This research finds that Nee’s emphasis on the intermedium role of man’s spirit aligns with the “Inward Transcendence” feature in traditional classics of China. Also, his statement about the necessity of divine illumination and the limitation of man’s reason brought out his “Spiritual Knowledge” teaching. This is also the implicit impact of “Inward Transcendence.”
This research finds that Nee’s teaching about the “Local Church” organization is the indigenous application of his “Spiritual Knowledge” teaching. Since it matched the context in China, this application has benefited the Chinese Church in Nee’s generation. It also blessed the survival of the Chinese Church under extreme political circumstances and the revival after. But just like any sound indigenous theology, there is a risk of syncretism in Nee’s “Spiritual Knowledge” teaching.
This paper uses a specific case to present how extreme and unbalanced teaching can grow from “Spiritual Knowledge.” This widely spreading teaching, so-called “Quiet Sects,” denies church ministry and impacts many Chinese Churches. Leaders of Xiaoshan church, a national “Local Church” network that also grew up from Nee’s tradition, noticed the wrong teaching of “Quiet Sects” and responded in a well-spread internal published article. The biblical and practical response from the Xiaoshan church shows us a way to resist syncretism while keeping the indigenization strength of Nee’s teaching of “Spiritual Knowledge.” This encourages those engaged in developing indigenous theology in the Chinese context. If we insist on the authority of the Bible and are sensitive to the impact on church ministry, keeping the “indigenizing” principle and the “pilgrim” principle is possible.