The Transforming Church (Part One)
by Tricia Tillin
- Converting The World
This, you might think, is a very good thing! After all, the traditional man-at-the-front lecture-style meeting is, many feel, not what God originally intended for believers. Couldn't this move liberate pew-level Christians from what has become in many cases a dictatorial leadership and open up opportunities for them to exercise their God-given ministries in an informal setting?
The short answer is NO. The name of the game is CONTROL and the cell-church system is designed both to control and to monitor church membership and to achieve the ultimate goal of the apostate religious empire: to bring planet earth under the government of the Global Church!
I would say that the three driving forces governing the remaking of today's church are:
1. The dominion mandate: (based on such scriptures as Genesis 1:26-28; 9:1-3,7,10; Psalm 8:5-8) with the conclusion that God's people are to rule on earth with all authority over all creatures.
2. The drive for full visible unity of all churches, which is based on a misinterpretation of John 17:20-26.
3. The Great Commission: based on the scripture in Matt 28:17-20 subtly misinterpreted as the requirement to "disciple all nations" and thus christianise the majority of the world's population before the return of Christ can take place.
I would then add a fourth less prominent (but most important) principle that is driving the need for a transformed church: the return of the Shekinah GLORY to indwell the restored tabernacle on earth!
This belief, like many others, is a misinterpretation based on scriptures taken out of context, but which promises to set up a "temple" fit for the physical manifestation of God on earth. Obviously then, the stakes are high!
There is a desire - especially amongst young believers - to reform the Church into a looser, more effective and user-friendly shape. Utilising this desire, and steering it towards the cell-church system could be a very effective way of introducing the "church of the new age" governed by the above three principles, without alarming too many people!
At the same time, the doctrines of the revival have been planting the general and sometimes subliminal expectation of "millions" being harvested in the endtimes. The problem is, how exactly to win them and what to do with them afterwards?
The popular answer to these needs is to reconstruct the Church into a completely new shape - a network of cells:
"God is restoring the church to its New Testament pattern and power. Old wineskins cannot contain new wine; they will burst. New moves of God require new structures and forms to facilitate the new truths and ministry. Therefore as we move into Second Reformation/ New Apostolic Reformation we will need new wineskins." ["Restoring the New Testament Wineskin"]
Almost every denomination or church organisation is now eagerly looking into the small-group model or "transitioning" to a cell-church. From Salvation Army, to Unitarian, to Baptist, to United Methodist, to Roman Catholic - everybody is turning to small cells and home groups to maximise the potential for gaining new converts.
The devil has an agenda. He wants to transform our minds with an "altered paradigm" - which is said to be ESSENTIAL for making the move to a new structure such as the Cell Church.
A 'paradigm' is a pattern or model, a way of seeing things, and the way we see "church" - its buildings, ordained leadership and central role of the sermon, the Pastor and the Sunday Service - has to undergo a radical shift towards the "new paradigm" of cells, they say, before the final round in the battle for the world is won.
This upheaval is labelled the "Second Reformation" by some, who see the change as tremendous and vital as that of Luther's ninety-five theses in 1517. Without it, the long-term plans of the new "apostolic" network cannot be fully activated.
"We need to be the modern day reformers! We need to be the Luthers and Calvins and Knoxs our generation! We need to be the new paradigm thinkers and history makers! Lets rise up and lead the way in the Second Reformation and the restoration of the New Testament wineskin!" ["Restoring the New Testament Wineskin"]
Larry Stockstill, pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center, a cell-based church with over 600 cells in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, writes in his book, "The Cell Church":
"A paradigm controls how we interpret what we see and experience. It consists of a whole set of perspective shifts, which usually require effort and a stretch to perceive things differently, leading to a paradigm-shift .... But, without consensus among Cell Church visionaries for identifying and then implementing a standardized system of the structure and strategy of a 'pure' Cell Church, this Cell Church movement may never be realized! Yes, understanding our Cell Church system requires a paradigm-shift."
Frank Viola (home group leader) says in "Rethinking The Wineskin"
"In the language of the scientific philosopher Thomas Kuhn, we need a "paradigm shift" regarding the church before we can properly build it. That is to say, we need a new world view regarding the meaning of Christ and His Body--a new model for understanding the ekklesia--a new framework for thinking about the church."
What is being proposed here, amongst the more radical cell-church proponents, is a change from the accepted structure of the Church to one that is cell-based, led by the "laity" and that multiplies by division as does a human body. While some of the principles may be sound - and even attractive - the aim is no less than global government!
And the method is the complete dismantling of the present-day denominational church structure and its REPLACEMENT with a system that is conducive to their aims.
Yes, hidden in the fancy rhetoric about the cell structure is the move towards an apostolic reformation of the Church, the leadership of self-appointed apostles and prophets, heavy shepherding, the removal of bible-study and classic bible teaching with a shift towards seeker-sensitive, social programs and self-indulgent "sharing", and the tracking and databasing of all church members.
It is a shift away from preaching the gospel for individual salvation, and the subsequent teaching, bible instruction and discipline which is needed for individual sanctification; a shift towards "growth" because numbers are all-important in the race to convert the world, therefore anything that does not contribute to numerical growth in your church MUST GO. It is also a shift towards mass conversion of people-groups, and a shift towards what is called "discipling" which is another word for CONTROLLING church members once you have them under your cell roof!
Even the supposedly biblical and attractive proposition of ending the monopoly on ministry that the Pastor and elders have had for many years, transferring power to the people, and showing them the principle of every-member ministry - even this has a sting in the tail, for not only are the members of cells strictly led by shepherds, mentors, disciplers and elders in a pyramid structure to rival that of Rome's priesthood, BUT the effort being put into the transferal of ministry functions is primarily to "tap the resource" that is in the churches: ie, to train up millions of obedient little workers to go out and harvest "the unchurched". Put in that light, the "paradigm shift" doesn't seem so innocuous or benevolent.
OFFSITE LINK: "Catching the wave of spiritual renewal" by Wesley J. Gabel
Rev. Roger Swanson, conference director of Operation Evangelization, said in his "New Wine for the New Wineskins" workshop in Leesburg that in the last fifty years secular culture has become the churchs competition, with more people in the United States becoming unchurched than churched. Despite that, people are "very spiritual" and looking for spiritual meaning, but they are "not studying Christianity" but looking at Christians to learn how to fulfill their most pressing needs. So the Church has to change to reflect those facts, says Swanson, for "reaching unchurched people, is a matter of changing the system each church has for making disciples."
He says churches need to shift their thinking from programs that generate activity, to meeting spiritual needs by helping people get in touch with God and planning for results. Churches need to develop a "vision to serve," Swanson said, and should be going out asking people what their needs are, because "Churches grow when they meet human needs," he said.
Of course, he is right. All kinds of organisations, and not only churches, "grow when they meet human [and spiritual] needs" as psychiatrists have found, and pornographers, and crystal healers, and abortionists!
Worse, behind the cell-church altered paradigm is the age-old dominion mandate, and the plan for the glorified Church to conquer and rule the earth (all "in the name of Christ" of course!!). One of the "prophets" put it this way:
"It is time for the Church to take Her rightful position, operating victoriously in winning this earth for Gods divine purpose. However, for this to happen new wine (new Church order) will have to be poured out, and only those with "new wineskins" can and will receive it. In 1993 the Lord spoke very clearly to me and said, "Any ministry that is not connected to the prophetic ministry in months and years to come will miss my next great move." He also said, "Ignorance often comes disguised as tradition anything growing will change, be open, be willing, be flexible to change." [Pastoral Dependence/A Sign Of Disorder, Clay Sikes]
But because of the desperation for fellowship, and loneliness experienced by those who have been put out of, or put off, their churches in the past ten years, will there be a move towards cell churches despite the dangers? I fear so! A drowning man clutches at a straw.
The devil has no doubt noticed the hunger amongst the remnant believers for something fresh, something more intimate, something detached from the globalist intentions of the super-churches. Here's where the danger lies! There's nothing whatsoever wrong with desiring the freedom to worship in the Spirit unhindered by conventions, or looking for simple home meetings where all are valued equally as ministers and participants. The Church "outside the camp" is something the Lord has been creating for decades and I myself have encouraged it on this website. But the devil is preparing to home in on this need and heartfelt desire, and turn it to his own advantage.
I believe the devil is, in fact, trying to preempt something that God is preparing for his own true believers. God is putting ones and twos and small groups together in spiritual harmony, on an informal basis, releasing them from the restrictions that denominations have put upon their development, and encouraging them to grow in ministry and gifts. This represents our best chance for spiritual growth for centuries. It also offers unique opportunities for refreshment, worship, prayer, healing, deliverance, and one-to-one sharing of the gospel.
In an intimate home setting, burdens can be shared, personal problems resolved, the weak lifted up and encouraged and the proud and ambitious humbled. Each one comes into a knowledge of their unique value to God and to the Body. Each one can be given a chance to move in the gifts and to find their footing in God, to develop their own ministry. The Holy Spirit can be allowed to rule overall, and He is given place in prayer and worship, and in teaching, so that the many-facetted truths of the word can be explored and explained in ways far beyond the scope of a conventional church sermon.
So, I highly recommend simple autonomous home meetings and believe they are the provision of God for those of us who are left stranded outside the corrupt and apostate church system.
That said, there's a world of difference between simple home meetings and the move to cell-churches.
How many will distinguish between the different groups and understand that not all home meetings are the same?
The Second Reformation is not about home groups that are locally-organised and autonomous; they are creating CELLS of the worldwide BODY that is rapidly becoming the great and powerful Apostate Church of the last days.
Ultimately home-groups will become the foundation upon which the entire church will be built. Home group ministry teams will actually provide the bulk of the work in equipping the saints, including teaching and pastoring Rick Joyner.
What we have here is a disaster in the making, with the prospect of many naive unsuspecting converts being ushered right into the globalist system, on a fast-track route to its massive database of participants. And there is also a huge potential for deceiving the wandering, disaffected remnant believers who are simply looking for fellowship! Having jumped out of the frying-pan of the revival churches, they may just jump straight into the fire of the cell-groups.
The trend towards small groups and cell churches, which began quietly in the 50's and has now exploded into the 21st century as the "new way of doing church", was in fact launched and promoted by the Church Growth movement centered around Fuller Seminary in southern California.
OFFSITE LINK: See here for an article about CGM and cells.
We cannot understand the thinking and aims behind the cell-church movement without considering the Church Growth principles that have governed it from the very beginning.
The father of Church Growth was Donald McGavran, a graduate of Yale Divinity School who served as a Disciples of Christ missionary in India. Born in 1897 to missionary parents, he completed his college and post-graduate education in the United States before returning to India in 1923 as a missionary with the United Missionary Society.
Concerned by the slow growth rate of churches, he sought for some scheme to ensure numerical success, and came upon the work of various 18th century missiological theorists who studied church growth with the intention of Christianizing the world, and who - from a post-millennial outlook - were moving away from individual decisions for Christ to mass conversions of tribes, cultures and nations.
In an extended letter published in "Mission Frontiers", the Bulletin of the US Center for World Missions, McGravan explains his emphasis on "people groups" and ethnicity:
"The goal of Christian mission should be to preach the Gospel and, by God's grace, to plant in every unchurched segment of mankind "a church" or "a cluster of growing churches"? By the phrase "segment of mankind" I mean an urbanization, development, caste, tribe, valley, plain, or minority population. One-by-one conversion, is relatively easy to accomplish (but) each convert, as he becomes a Christian, is seen by kin as one who leaves "us" and joins "them." He leaves "our gods" to worship "their gods." A church which results from this process looks to the peoples of the region like an assemblage of traitors. It is a conglomerate congregation. It is made up of individuals who, one by one, have come out of several different societies, castes or tribes.
"Now let us contrast the other way in which God is discipling the peoples of Planet Earth. The goal is not one single conglomerate church in a city or a region. That must be a cluster of growing, indigenous congregations every member of which remains in close contact with his kindred. This cluster grows best if it is in one people, one caste, one tribe, one segment of society. For example, if you were evangelizing the taxi drivers of Taipei, then your goal would be to win not some taxi drivers, some university professors, some farmers and some fishermen, but to establish churches made up largely of taxi drivers, their wives and children and mechanics. As you win converts of that particular community, the congregation has a natural, built-in social cohesion. Everybody feels at home. Yes, the goal must be clear.
"Encourage converts to remain thoroughly one with their own people in most matters. They should continue to eat what their people eat. They should not say, "My people are vegetarians but, now that I have become a Christian, I'm going to eat meat." After they become Christians they should be more rigidly vegetarian than they were before. In the matter of clothing, they should continue to look precisely like their kinfolk. Encourage converts to remain thoroughly one with their people in most matters.
Try to get group decisions for Christ. If only one person decides to follow Jesus, do not baptize him immediately. Say to him, "You and I will work together to lead another five or ten or, God willing, fifty of your people to accept Jesus Christ as Savior so that when you are baptized, you are baptized with them." Ostracism is very effective against one lone person. But ostracism is weak indeed when exercised against a group of a dozen. And when exercised against two hundred it has practically no force at all.
The last principle I stress is this: Constantly emphasize brotherhood. In Christ there is no Jew, no Greek, no bond, no free, no Barbarian, no Scythian. We are all one in Christ Jesus. But, at the same time, let us remember that Paul did not attack all imperfect social institutions. For example, he did not do away with slavery.
As we continue to stress brotherhood, let us be sure that the most effective way to achieve brotherhood is to lead ever increasing numbers of men and women from every ethnos, every tribe, every segment of society into an obedient relationship to Christ. As we multiply Christians in every segment of society, the possibility of genuine brotherhood, justice, goodness and righteousness will be enormously increased. Indeed, the best way to get justice, possibly the only way to get justice, is to have very large numbers in every segment of society become committed Christians.
Our goal should be Christward movements within each segment. There the dynamics of social cohesion will advance the Gospel and lead multitudes out of darkness into His wonderful lite. Let us be sure that we do it by the most effective methods." [Mission Frontiers article: "A Church in Every People: Plain Talk about a Difficult Task" by Donald A. McGavran]
A man's eschatology - his view of the prophetic scriptures about the end of the world - will govern his understanding of what is achievable or supposedly called-for by God in the latter day.
As a-millennialists or postmillennialists, many 18th and 19th century missionaries believed that it should be possible to convert the world and "complete the Great Commission" if only they used the right techniques both for creating church membership and for maintaining them in suitable units.
However, it was self-evident that the Church of their day could never grow at the rate necessary to "save the world" nor did they have the leadership ready to "disciple the nations", so something had to change.
In order to ensure the flood of new converts that they expected, adding new members to the church became of overriding importance. "Conversion" gave way to "discipling" as the central focus of church growth, but "discipling" in the context of CGM means making sure a person believes in Jesus Christ [not necessarily saved], is willing to be obedient to God, and is prepared to become an active church member. No salvation is thought to be valid outside the structure of the Church, because the concept of obedience is much more a submission to church leadership than knowing and heeding the voice of God as an individual.
The basic premise of CGM, and the cell-church system it promotes, is that one should not demand too much from people before adding them to the church membership database. The important thing is simply getting them into the church and further instruction can follow on afterwards.
In a foreword to "Target Earth: The Necessity of Diversity in a Holistic Perspective on World Mission" Ralph Winter writes:
"The number of people in the world who do not claim to view things from a Christian point of view ... is steadily decreasing in proportion to the surging number of people in every land who are embracing the fatherhood of a loving and merciful God, striving to work with Him to restore the intended goodness and beauty of his creation. [Target Earth] presents an invitation to all good people of every nation to view and to participate in the final assault on the powers of darkness." ["Target Earth" 1989, Published by Global Mapping International, Pasedena California: Editor Frank Kaleb Jansen.]
It does not matter whether "people of goodwill" are born-again or not according to this viewpoint, as long as they are all contributing to the overthrow of evil in the world and the establishment of the kingdom. This is the message that cell-church lay ministers will convey to their neighbourhood.
The numbers-driven approach has led to a downgrading of the gospel message to the 'felt needs' approach to evangelism - the belief that meeting people's needs - real or perceived - will give an opening for conversion. Wagner defines a felt need in this way: The conscious wants and desires of a person; considered to be an opportunity for Christian response which stimulates within the person a receptivity to the gospel.[C. Peter Wagner, ed., Church Growth: State of the Art (1986), p. 44.].
This was the thinking that produced the cell system and the entire Church Growth mechanism.
- (1) "The Doctrine Of Justification: The Foundation Of The Church's Life And Its Work"
Presented to the Pastor/Teacher Conference of the Manitowoc Conference : October 6, 1995 :St. John Ev. Lutheran Church : Newtonburg, WI by Bruce A. McKenney;
- "An Evaluation of the Church Growth Movement", Kirk Wellum, Pastor, Sovereign Grace Community Church, Sarnia, Ontario.
- "The History of the Church Growth Movement" section from "Law and Gospel in the Church Growth Movement" By: Robert Koester [Dakota-Montana Pastoral Conference - September 18,19, 1984]
- "Introduction to Church Growth" by A Scott Moreau.
- "Church Growth Movement" by A. Scott Moreau.
- "For the Sake of Christs Commission": The Report of the Church Growth Study Committee of The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod 2001
© 2003 Tricia Tillin of Banner Ministries. All rights reserved. Cross+Word Website: http://www.banner.org.uk/ This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.