The Transforming Church (7)
CONTENTS of Part Seven
Introduction to Cell Churches
Up to now we have looked at the Church Growth model for change, and the house churches. But now we turn our attention to a different kind of enterprise - the cell church system.
At first glance, there seems little to distinguish cell churches from house churches, and the rhetoric appears to be identical. Both would denigrate the ecclesiastical structures of the old denominations; both would point out the small informal structure of the Early Church and urge Christians to transform their thinking about the way the Church is organised.
But there the similarities end. Christians could be forgiven for believing that cell churches are another method - a commendable method - of avoiding heavy shepherding and making sure that elders do not take on too much authority leaving the church members nothing to do but submit and obey like sheep.
Unfortunately the very opposite is true, for as we shall see, the cell church system is actually designed to enforce stricter obedience to the new order of apostolic government, and to ensure that this obedience is spread to local communities and eventually the entire world.
The purpose of cell churches is to transition the Church as a whole into a new order, to create a radical and ground-breaking reformation that will overthrow the established order and bring into being a pattern of apostolic government and prophetic revelation that will change the thinking of all Christians.
The introduction of this "new thing" has been likened to a virus that is introduced into the Body. If this virus has to infect a Body without a central nervous system and with many radically different blood types all at variance with one another, then it will have to conquer the opposing cells of these differing systems individually one by one until they all submit to its rule. This is a lengthy and arduous task.
However, if the virus enters a Body that is organised as one living organism, whose cells are all similar and act on an impulse from a central source, it will be a simple task to conform the entire Body to a new way of acting and believing. The time taken to infect the whole body is shortened dramatically!
This is the model from which the house church and cell-church draws its inspiration:
In the same commentary from which the above quote was taken, "The Reinvention of the church", (part of "Houses That Change The World" by Wolfgang Simpson), we read about the necessity for destroying the old structures in order to transform the Church according to a new pattern. We will later consider whether this new pattern is a fitting model for the Church of Christ.
Quite so. It IS indeed easier to destroy the old order when you want to overthrow it and move into something new. Imperial Russia discovered this when the people rose up in revolution and so did France in the 18th century.
We are witnessing the complete eradication of what we know and see of the Church today, in favour of the sort of "spiritual revolution" demanded by author William Beckham in "The Second Reformation":
But of what spirit? And what is the aim of this revolution? It is no less than world domination.
British author Brian Mills, doyen of the cultural reconciliation movement and author of the book "Sins of the Father", writes on the DAWN International website that:
Thus local churches and pastors are a hindrance to The Plan, unless they get with the program. "Prophet" Ron Wood says that they are "on probation" pending judgement:
What is to replace the system of local congregations led by autonomous pastors? It is a universal Church organised into small easily-monitored cells, all headed up by approved and specially trained mentors, elders and city-wide apostolic groupings, which in turn answer to and are led by the central apostolic government centred around such figures as C Peter Wagner as a leading Apostle.
Now if you feel that is putting a spin on the cell-church system that isn't there in reality, I feel the onus of proof is upon you, since the public statements of many who propose the system say just that, in effect. They just use a lot more words to get to the same point!
Growth is the Aim
Cell-church proponents say that "The goal of the Cell Church is to ‘make disciples’" whereas the goal of evangelism the bible way is to make CONVERTS.
Granted, converts do need afterwards to conform to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But discipleship is a matter of following Christ, who is the Head Shepherd, and furthermore, we cannot get to that point bypassing the conversion and spiritual transformation process that can ONLY take place when an individual is born again by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The virus analogy is frequently used by Church Growth "experts" who teach that cell division is the best way to expand a living organism and infection is the best way to implant Christian values in the whole population. But the task of the Church is not to "grow" but to "preach the Word!" Preaching the Word, even in the day of Jesus, did not necessarily lead to exponential growth!
It has to be said that with "growth" as the aim, the cell-church system is very effective for all kinds of organisations, as this statement from a Unitarian site testifies:
So what we have here is a winning formula for growth - but of what kind? Is the ease with which it is possible to influence people in the neighbourhood the ONLY measure of success for the Body of Christ?
And which religious creed will win this race for followers?
Peter Wagner in his book "Churchquake", says that the fastest growing movement in the world is the "New Apostolic Reformation". He says this is God restoring first century Christian leadership and government. And without both the "restoration of Apostles, and first century church principles for appropriate and effective discipleship" (aka cell churches), there it little hope of bringing this glorious vision into being!
If any organisation can win the race for the hearts and minds of the world's population, Wagner and the cell-church leadership are determined it shall be the Global Church of the New Apostolic Reformation. Abandoning the doctrines and modus operandi of the Church of the past two thousand years is a small price to pay.
I'm prepared to admit that many of these people have good intentions. They really do see the need for a radical transformation of the Church; they really do believe in the Global Mission and that the world can be won in a generation. I don't condemn them for that, but I do warn that there is a hidden agenda behind the whole transformation scenario that many of those involved simply do not want to see or cannot see.
The fact that they are throwing themselves and their followers into the arms of people who are organising a New Order on the earth, and all that that implies, is something that every true Christian should be shouting from the housetops. Whether the intention is good or evil, the end result is still the same and THAT is what should concern us.
Focusing in on the individual minister (who may be a wonderful person) and a small localised expression of the cell-church (The "I haven't seen any problems in MY group" syndrome) is too short-sighted an approach. We need to step back and see the plan as a whole.
That is what I plan to do here. I will not (and cannot due to space limitations) look in depth at every ministry and organisation and author, nor can I examine every single expression of cell-church activity. But sweeping with a broad brush over the scene I hope to show that there is a forward movement towards a universal church... and that church is not the true church as established by Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Perhaps the first rung of the ladder is the meta-church model. This model for transformation is led by Carl George and his books, in particular "Prepare Your Church for the Future" [Fleming H. Revell Company 1992]. The meta-church concept is an idea or philosophy, rather than a system and Carl George describes it in his book as both a change of mind and a change of form in the infrastructure of the Church. (p. 57)
The term "meta" in this system supposedly means "change" although one supporter likened the word "meta" to "metta - the "Buddhist focus on developing loving-kindness". The Greek word "meta" can indeed mean a turn-around or transformation. Thus the meta-church model seems, once again, to be all about TRANSFORMING THE CHURCH
Carl George is the former director of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism & Church Growth which is affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary and was founded in 1975 through the vision of C. Peter Wagner, then director of the Fuller Evangelistic Association. (John Wimber became the first director of the Institute, turning it over to Carl George in 1978.)
C. Peter Wagner In his foreword to "Prepare Your Church for the Future" praises the book as the most significant step forward in church-growth theory and practice since 1970.
Many churches are experimenting with the Meta Model throughout the United States and it is an integral part of the Church Growth movement of C. Peter Wagner. In Carl Georges most recent book, "The Coming Church Revolution", forty churches using the Meta Model are reviewed and analysed. These include churches like Willow Creek (Bill Hybels) and other seeker-sensitive or 'purpose-driven' church networks like Saddleback Church (Rick Warren), Cincinnati Vineyard and Fairhaven Alliance Church.
George's philosophy entails using the existing small groups within the church such as Sunday schools, pastoral aid groups, music groups, women's meetings or bible study groups and slowly and carefully steering them towards the required transition. This is less alarming and disruptive than imposing a pure cell system straight away.
A church using the meta-church model mixes cells, traditional church activities and the city-wide celebration to effect a gradual transition from a conventional single program-based church system to small groups and cells. But the small group is paramount: In his book George states that "the lay-led small group is the essential growth center, and everything else is to be considered secondary to its promotion and preservation.
But don't be misled by the term "lay-led" into thinking that mere pew-level members of the Church will gain any extra authority. This method has a strong emphasis on mentoring and proposes what is called the JETHRO system based upon Jethros counsel to Moses (Exodus 18).
Although the principle of delegation is a sound one, the Jethro system as practised by the cell churches is in effect a pyramid structure for mentoring church members where each candidate for leadership (apprentice) is carefully trained and monitored on his performance, put under the headship of another leader, and the "staff" at the head of the church thereby pull all the strings, from the top of the tree right down to individual cell level. (See a diagram of the Jethro Leadership Model by clicking the link above)
While loudly proclaiming their allegiance to the "New Testament Structures" of informal house-based cells, the writings of the Meta-Church leaders, in common with those of the other cell-church structures, are setting up a more rigid and authoritarian system of Church government that any that presently exists! This topic will be examined more closely in the section on Leadership in the Cell Church.
The Meta Church, while having small groups, is still a unified body running a single church program. This is seen by many as limited and falling short of the vision of the New Testament model. Therefore, in the "pure-cell" system that we examine next, the cells themselves ARE the church.
The difficulties of introducing this system into an established traditional church are well known in cell church circles and it's recognised that the only feasible way to start a pure cell church is, as Ralph Neighbour says "from scratch". Many use marketing campaigns to attract local attention, and employ church planting organisations, advertising groups and business success gurus to help them kick start a cell, hoping thereafter to multiply it into the required model.
The aim of the meta-church system is to transition its participating churches into a pure cell structure. Some, however, believe in establishing this system straight away, and are derisive of the halfway-house approach.
The basic structure of the "pure cell church" is a two-winged one, that of a cell and a celebration. This is similar to the Meta-Church. But unlike the Meta-church, the united weekly or monthly celebration and programs of the Pure Cell Church do not support and create the cells. It is the other way round. The cells ARE the church, and they drive all the other activities, including the shared "celebration" event. Without its cells, the Pure Cell church would cease to exist.
The champion of the system that is entirely based on cells is Ralph Neighbour who claims that "as many as 75 million people are participating in cell churches."
Author of "Where do We Go From Here (1990)," the definitive cell model textbook, Ralph Neighbour is thought to be the father of the cell church movement. He is the founder of TOUCH Outreach Ministries, which supplies an abundant amount of cell-related material for churches around the world.
According to the TOUCH website its mission is to "empower pastors, group leaders and members to transform their lives, churches and the world through “basic Christian communities” or cell groups."
In his book "Where do We Go From Here" he says::
In the search for a church structure that will, above all, reach the unchurched, Neighbour has little time for traditional denominations and even criticises the half-way houses of Meta-Churches as program-based.
He speaks of the ongoing quest for "spirituality" and the resultant crop of alternatives to the traditional, such as "Megachurches, Praise Churches, Restoration Churches" saying that "With each experiment, the traditional church loses ground" but they do not go far enough.
Neighbour has said that "there is the world of difference between a ‘church with cells’ and a ‘cell church’." He describes the pure cell system thus:
A useful summary of the pure cell church is found at this address: http://www.world-team.org/Cell/faq.htm Notice that the emphasis is on human relationships and "sharing" and that "The centre of the cell meeting is not the Word of God, but the Person of God. The meeting is not a Bible study nor a prayer meeting."
Another TOUCH book that is important to the cell-church lobby is "The Second Reformation" written in 1995 by William Beckham, then President of TOUCH. Like all the other cell church books it derides the present structure of denominational and local churches and proposes small groups as the only way forward; but the focus is firmly on NUMBERS and GROWTH as the aim and total social revolution as the goal.
In sections referring to the "Critical Mass" terminology beloved of the New Agers, Beckham states on page 221 of his book that critical mass does not "just happen automatically" but needs "certain components to come together in a prescribed way to cause a chain reaction" leading to the desired spiritual revolution. What are these components?
First he lists NUMBERS. "sufficient numbers are required to allow a chain reaction... a sufficient number of people joined together in a common purpose can cause synergistic results far beyond their numbers."
Beckham asserts that Jesus decided 120 people was a critical mass to launch his own "explosion" and to fulfill his own vision. For the vision of today's leaders to come to fruition, many more are needed. (Beckham lists the VISION of the church pastor or leader as the second component towards Critical Mass.)
So once more we see that the system being proposed, while trumpeting the cause of the poor lowly down-trodden church member and the disenfranchised people of our neighbourhood, simply recruits and uses these people as cannon fodder in the battle for world revolution. It is all about a vision to touch the whole world. Whether or not the vision is a biblical one should have been obvious from reading this series so far.
In all cell-church systems, however, one underlying principle emerges: don't put people off by being boring. And boring usually means, study and understanding the things of God. This is contrasted with the concept of "community" that the leaders teach is what God intends for all his people. Ralph Neighbour writes:
This is true, but the real question is - what is the "value system" that modern Christians are being taught?
The method being used to change the entire thinking and value system of Christians today (the "paradigm shift" so sought by the leadership) is the Hegelian Dialectic which removes a person's confidence in what he previously believed so that he is open to accept another way of thinking.
As the cell church leadership have realised, this can best be done in a group setting providing love and support, but more importantly to ensure that each person is pressured to compromise his/her established rules or standards in order to be accepted as part of the group and to properly submit to the mentors and trainers set over them.
The aim is not to establish objective truth, on the basis of God's word and the nature of God, whether people like it or not, but to ACHIEVE CONSENSUS.
Group meetings in an informal context are the best place to do this, and that's where the change in thinking is taking place, as well as in the arena of seeker-sensitive megachurches and the revival churches where study is abandoned in favour of music, worship and experiencing God. What little teaching takes place emphsises over and over the need to conform, unite, love everybody, despise rational and critical thinking of all kinds, and agree as one for the good of the whole.
One commentator interviewed for a radio show comments:
On the website of Berit Kjos, there is an excellent explanation of this process:
Studies of this concept of the Hegelian Dialectic, and what Dean Gotcher has called DIAPRAXSIS have been undertaken, and you should not be put off by the scholarly nature of this discussion for at its heart is the basic building block of the New World Order. See for example this article on another website: Dean Gotcher's booklet and an overview and summary here: How Diapraxis manifests itself in the Church Growth Movement.
What is wanted by the cell church leaders is experiential knowledge of God in spiritual intimacy, the miraculous, group hugs, laying on of hands, singing and dancing, food, fun and thrills. Bible study, teaching and preaching the Word are downplayed and in some cases derided, and the main focus is on meeting people's "felt needs", relating to one another, "sharing", social activities, psychology, counselling and using spiritual powers to effect changes in the people who attend or who are being drawn to the group. Developing community life is deemed much more important than establishing objective truth in the heart of the individual.
Referring to what he sees as the church of the future, Carl George says:
One example of cell meeting activities (St Patrick's Tawau, Malaysia) consists of five W's:
The "word" portion is the discussion of the Pastor's sermon, and not individual bible study.
In the early cautious stages of cell development, says Larry Stockstill in his book "The Cell Church", stories, sharing and fun is about all that happens. Later on "fellowship" emerges with the use of "icebreakers" (ie, tell us a funny dream; or, what car did you first drive?) and food and enjoyment are the agenda. This develops a sense of belonging and group loyalty, Stockstill claims.
Even after several months of this, the next stage refers to "evangelism" as "lots of fun breakthroughs occur with creative outreaches such as barbeques, and community service projects." When the group attracts enough new members, it splits into two and begins the process all over again - thus the cells multiply and the "church" grows. You might say the same of the Women's Institute or your local Avon sales team.
But it is not for nothing that these churches label themselves "Seeker-Sensitive" and the "Purpose-Driven Church". Meeting the needs of those around them may seem like a worthy cause and in some cases might truly result in a conversion, but it's hit and miss (mostly miss) when it comes to preaching and teaching the "doctrine of Christ" in all its fulness, according to the word of God.
Jesus commanded his disciples (all of them, not just the "anointed ones"!) to go into all the world preaching the gospel and making disciples, "teaching them to observe ALL things that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:20) How can this be done without close study of the scriptures?
Paul who was a "minister according to the stewardship from God" fulfilled his calling in this way: "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily." Col 1:25-29
Acknowledging that it was hard work, Paul still STRIVES to preach the word in fulness, teach every member and warn every member so as to instill the fulness of Christ's doctrine to all. Only in that way will he bring about any kind of maturity or completion in the believer! Forsaking this step of discipleship in favour of "ministry" that looks into how people feel about themselves and meets their needs is falling far short of what Jesus intended.
The overseers of the Church must "be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." (Titus 1:7-9) and how can they do that if sound doctrine is despised and not taught? But the charge to Timothy is:
The answer to the pragmatism of today, and the self-indulgent, hedonistic, subjective lifestyle that people demand, is not to steer AWAY from doctrine, study and understanding in order to cater to their needs, but to redouble our efforts, to LABOUR like Paul to show every man approved before God.
By all means make learning about God enjoyable and rich, even fun, but not empty, meaningless froth pandering to the flesh!
And that leads us on to look at the "seeker sensitive" churches, in the next section.
Continue to Part Eight: "Purpose Driven Churches"
© 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.