IIn 1920 Chinese university student Nee To-sheng became a Christian during the visit of a native evangelist to Nee’s birthplace, Fuchow. In the course of the next eighteen years Nee developed out of his study of the Bible a faith that he communicated to his converts and disciples and that combined the traditional theology of the nineteenth-century missionary revival with a radically undenominational doctrine of the church. The Christian name Watchman that he took reflects his understanding of his own apostolic mission. Under his leadership and that of his followers a reported 636 local assemblies committed to his views, with a total membership estimated at 118,000, ultimately came into being in the Orient prior to the communist takeover of mainland China.
Nee lays great stress on the universal church as the body of Christ, of which individual Christians are the members. The purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel he sees as the creation of local churches—meetings for the “breaking of bread” or the Lord’s Supper. He holds that the only basis for dividing the universal church into churches is the “God-ordained method of division on the basis of locality,” with a “locality” understood as a city or as a comparable administrative unit in a metropolis or in the country.
Piepkorn, Arthur C. Profiles in Belief. Vol. II, III & IV San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1979: 78, 79.