Chapter 9 Spiritual Counterfeits – The Cell Church
If we are in the “last days” what are we to expect as Christians? Is their going to be a great revival as many “Christian” leaders are predicting or a falling away? The Bible is clear we are to expect apostasy, deception, counterfeits and persecution by the false church. We have been sharing about the apostate church, and urging you to rediscover the simple church life of the early Christians. So if you start to look around for alternatives, you will find the “cell church” and may think it is the answer. Proponents of the cell church criticize the organized church in much the same way we do. They speak of the early church and claim to be going back to its roots. Is this really true or is it just a subtle counterfeit? How can we know the difference between the two?
The co-fathers of the modern “cell church” movement are Juan Carlos Ortiz and David Yonggi Cho, from Argentina and Korea respectively. The movement has been popularized in the U.S. by Ralph Neighbors, Carl George and others. As we shall see later, it is closely linked to the apostles and prophets movement. We will discuss each and then take a close look at the “cell church” structure.
Roots in the Shepherding and Discipleship and Positive Thinking
Juan Carlos Ortiz began Cell Churches in Buenos Aires back in the 60’s and 70’s. He is credited with sparking the shepherding/discipleship movement in the U.S. by introducing his discipleship teachings to the Fort Lauderdale “Five”. He declares that everyone needs to be under someone’s authority. His first law of discipleship is, “There is no formation without submission” and his second is like unto it, “”There is no submission without submission.” (from Disciple by Juan Carlos Ortiz, pp. 111, 113) He clarifies this by saying, “Only when I am in line can authority pass through me to others…If you want the right to control others, you must be under the control of others yourself.” (ibid., p. 113, 114) He points to a structure where the commands for the body flow “from the top through the middle to the bottom.” (Ibid., p 125) Isn’t this analogy flawed when you look at our anatomy? Commands do not flow from the head through the neck, the heart, stomach, legs and feet to tell you to wiggle your toes. There is a direct connection between the head and the toes. There is no hierarchy in the body. Each member is connected through the nervous system to the “head.” That is precisely the difference between the old and the new covenant!
Another foundational doctrine of Juan Carlos Ortiz is the position of apostles in the church today. “The New Testament speaks often not of ‘Jesus doctrine’ but of the “apostles doctrine’. They were infallible.” This may be a good Catholic doctrine, but I doubt that any of the apostles would agree. Please remember this concept as we go on to the next chapter on the “apostles and prophets.” He ends with the concept of “one church, one city” – that all the pastors of the city are all co-pastors of one church. (ibid. pp. 128,129). This is an attempt to bring all Christians in a city under one group of “super elders” consisting of self-appointed apostles over the pastors and laity of a city. The basis for the cell church movement is an unbiblical approach to accountability where everyone is under or over someone else. We will discuss this in depth in the next chapter. So where is Juan Carlos Ortiz today? He is currently the Hispanic pastor at the Crystal Cathedral working hand in hand with Robert Schuller. For those who think he is anything but an apostate, this is just for starters, “Schuller's false teaching is an extremely serious matter in light of his wide influence. His is the most popular religion television broadcast in America. His books sell by the millions. He appears with presidents. His "self-esteem Christianity" has been adopted by multitudes. These believe they are Christians and attend churches; but in reality, they worship a false christ and follow a false gospel. Robert Schuller and his mentor, the late Norman Vincent Peale, are two of the key culprits in promoting this error.” (http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/exposes/schuller/) Please go to this website and read the whole expose at the site above.
The most successful cell church by far is reputedly the largest church in the world in Seoul, South Korea which is pushing one million members. David Yonggi Cho is also closely connected with Schuller’s positive thinking movement, along with miraculous healings, prophecy, visualization, prosperity theology, and other charismatic practices. “Cho's teaching is a system of mind over matter (or rather, imagination over matter). He frankly admits that it is a Christianized version of precisely the same methods practiced by Buddhists, exponents of yoga, and the followers of other pagan, mystical, and occult systems…Of positive speaking (confession), Cho declares: "You can create the presence of Jesus with your mouth … He is bound by your lips and by your words …" As for visualization, the most powerful occult technique, Cho writes, "Through visualization and dreaming, you can incubate your future and hatch the results."” (Please see http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/exposes/cho/general.htm for more details on his ministry.) Cho teaches that the keys to success is in positive speaking, visualization and speaking to give birth to the physical reality. This is not Christianity. This is witchcraft!
Cho states that, “Our church has become a living organism. The home cell groups are living cells, and they function much like the cells in the human body. In a living organism, the cells grow and divide. Where once there was one cell, there become two. Then there are four, then eight, then sixteen, and so forth. Cells are not simply added to the body; they are multiplied by geometric progression.” (Successful Home Cell Groups by David Cho, p. 65). Cho’s church is not a network of “house churches” but a single church divided into cells with a hierarchical leadership and mandatory weekly services. It almost fits more into the “Meta Church” model of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.
A Pyramid Structure – Control and More Control
As we shall see, the cell churches are all pyramid structures where apprentice leaders are carefully trained and monitored but under the headship of another leader and the staff of the church. Although they claim to be “New Testament” forms, they are more rigid and authoritarian than the traditional structures we have today. Well known “church growth” consultant, Carl F. George describes his “Jethro I and II” systems (named after a system Moses established of ‘lay judges’). It starts with the individual followed by the apprentice leaders, cell group leaders leader of ten, the leader of five groups of ten, of a hundred and five hundred. The flaw here is that the Old Testament form of organization, including the temple and the priesthood were done away with by the New Covenant.
The Pastors develop a hierarchy clergy and lay leaders into an organization which can be drawn on a chart called a “Meta-Map”. “Skillful use of a Meta-Map helps staff and boards understand how their churches are configured so they can track such critical important factors as where leaders and potential leaders are, where new people are, how visitors are being handled, and where long-term members are relative to more recent members. A Meta-Map enables leaders to see what happens after everyone has gathered for corporate worship: Where do they go? What tasks to they take with them? What stations in life are they occupying?...Every visual symbol on a Meta-Map represents a leader to be supervised, a training site for producing an apprentice…) (Carl F. George, “The Coming Church Revolution”, p. 246) Far from being loosely organized and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, cell groups are tightly controlled within the church hierarchy.
Proponents feel that “the traditional, program-based church cannot contain the coming revival.” (Larry Stocksill, “The Cell Church,” p. 17) The following describes an ideal cell meeting: “Sometimes, in a home setting, everyone will move into the living area and begin the ‘icebreaker’ as naturally as any other topic of conversation. The group leader poses a simple question (written into each lesson) to which anyone can have a quick or humorous response. An ‘icebreaker’ is indispensable because it promotes group community as well as opens up the members to sharing…The next component is a discussion of four questions based around a passage of Scripture. Our groups generally discuss the topic from the previous Sunday’s sermon…The lesson closes with an ‘application’…After the lesson, the group focuses again on prayer and ‘vision.’ (ibid., pp.135-136) This is hardly a description of a spontaneous “early church” meeting where everyone is free to share what the Lord is doing in their life. Sharing is okay as long as it relates to the previous Sunday’s sermon. Where is the Holy Spirit in this?
In her excellent work on the subject, Tricia Tillian says, “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 organized.
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.” (Please see “Transforming Church” by Tricia Tillin http://www.banner.org.uk/apostasy/cell-church7.htm Emphasis is ours)
As she points out, the purpose of this movement is to introduce the “new church order” of apostolic government and prophetic (extra Biblical) revelation. She goes on to quote 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:
"God is transitioning His People. It is a time to get ready, a time for change. .... He is getting His Church into the place and understanding where it can truly fulfill His purpose for it on the earth. ... He is looking for The Church to fill the earth with His glory, to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. He is looking for her to fulfill His purposes in the cosmos. He is looking for her to triumph over the principalities and powers.... a spiritual paradigm shift is taking place on a number of fronts, and in different ways. A redefining of commonly held understandings, and of familiar concepts. For the way we have previously understood aspects of His will have not been sufficient to usher in the final harvest, and to express His will on earth as it is in heaven. ...Previously we have seen church in terms of denominational models...all these distinctions will be redefined - for they are limiting and sectional. There is one church of Jesus Christ on earth. There is one church in each city. We must learn to redefine church.
We now talk of cell churches, youth churches, children's churches, house churches. We will also have to allow for other expression of churches in places of employment, in institutions and in communities where it is not appropriate for a denominational model to be. ...They are also to be defined in need-related terms... They will be redefined in employment. Businesses will model church for their employees and clients. People in the entertainment profession and the arts world already do church on their terms and in their premises.
Pastors will no longer only see their ministry in terms of pastoring a specific group of people, called a congregation. Pastors will be called to cooperate together across the streams and boundaries, so as to be pastors of cities. They will as such begin to take responsibility before God for the city and all its expressions of life. They will pastor local government, the police, the education services. They will pastor the unreached areas of the city, and seek to express church there in new ways.
The cosmic battle for the control of the world is joined. Not only do we see this in human terms in this era of globalization - we also must see it in cosmic terms. ...The Church needs to learn how it can also combat the cosmic powers of darkness - in unity of heart, mind, will and purpose, and in complete harmony with the purposes of God.... It is time for the Church as a global corporate entity to discover how to operate in unison. (Brian Mills. October, 2000 )
She concludes, “What is to replace the system of local congregations led by autonomous pastors? It is a universal Church organized 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 centered around such figures as C Peter Wagner as a leading Apostle.” (Ibid. Tillin, Part 7) Now you see how seductive the concept can be. The quotes above say a mouthful in few words. It goes from the cell church, to the apostles and prophets to dominionism – taking over the earth for “Christ and the Church.”
Ralph Neighbors popularized the Cell Church Movement in his book “Where Do We Go From Here?” He says, “Cell churches are the only way that true community can be experienced by all Christians.... The cell group is not just a portion of church life, to be clustered with a dozen other organizations. It is church life; and when it properly exists, all other competing structures are neither needed nor valid” (“Where do We Go From Here, p. 86). He believes this is the New Testament model and a cell is really a small community. But in practice cells constantly divide and people are not permitted to build long term relationships.
If you go on to research in detail the various books written on the subject you realize that their goal is to break down individual thoughts and get you to trust the group - “Group think”. Let’s talk about mind control and deception. The cell group is thoroughly controlled and choreographed through the processes of consensus building and conflict resolution. As Berit Kjos says in her work, Brave New Schools, she speaks of the dialectic process that involves students (but we could substitute “cell members”). “There is nothing inherently wrong with a free-flowing exchange of facts and ideas. Organized discussions can be either good, neutral, or manipulative, depending on the purpose, direction and control. But when teachers (cell leaders) lead group discussions based on biased information toward a preplanned consensus or conclusions that conflicts with prior values, they are manipulating the students. (cell members)” (p. 70)
The goal of the church growth movement is to bring about a paradigm shift in our thinking and they view their pastors as “change agents.” They use the small group meetings to challenge old paradigms and ways of thinking and gradually transform them. As Tricia Tillin quotes, “On the website of Berit Kjos, there is an excellent explanation of this process:
"When the Word of God is dialogued (as opposed to being taught didactically) between believers and unbelievers, with multiple Bible versions utilized (with King James usage discouraged) and consensus is reached – agreement that all are comfortable with – then the message of the Word of God has been watered down ever so slightly, and the participants have been conditioned to accept (and even celebrate) their compromise (synthesis). The new synthesis becomes the starting point (thesis) for the next meeting, and the process of continual change (innovation) continues. The fear of alienation from the group is the pressure that prevents an individual from standing firm for the truth of the Word of God, and such a one usually remains silent (self-editing). The fear of man (rejection) overrides the fear of God. The end result is a “paradigm shift” in how one processes factual information." [What's Wrong With The 21st Century Church?" by Dr Robert Klenck]
“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, counseling 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.” (Ibid., Tillin, The Transforming Church, Part 7)
There is something subtly attractive about the “cell church” movement because it seems to be bringing us back to the simple home meetings of the early church. Yet the clergy still exists, but for the purpose of training, overseeing and developing the cells – commendable if that were all there were to it. They do use the example of China and say that if the institutional church were shut down, their cells would continue, and that may be.
I hope you will ask the Lord to give you revelation as you read these simple words from Ephesians 3:14-21 which describes the true nature of the church:
“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name and that he would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, and that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen
We are “born again” into His family and our inner man is strengthened through His Spirit. It doesn’t say anything about going to a church, participating in programs, a hierarchy structure or even meetings, but a relationship with God and one another. If each member has such a relationship with Christ, He will overflow life to others. It is when each member has a living relationship with Christ and is flowing life and love to others that we comprehend with all the saints the love of Christ. It doesn’t say that the pastor, or the cell group leader does it all and we just follow along. No, the body requires all members to function and allow the life of God to flow through. God isn’t glorified by a “superstar” preaching to large crowds but in the functioning of every member of His corporate body – the church. You receive life directly from the Lord and by being properly connected in the body of Christ to other living members.
Now this may sound fanciful and impractical because you can hardly get anybody involved these days. Besides, the average “church going” Christian doesn’t have much real experience with Christ on a day to day basis. He doesn’t have much to share or say because he is too busy keeping up with the Jones, serving the task masters at work, and flopping in front of the TV at night to just vegetate until he goes to bed so he can get up the next morning and repeat the process all over again. If you say, that is what we hire pastors for, then you are bound for a life of immaturity, deception and death. You will never have the maturity in Christ and the solid relationships with other Christians to stand in that evil day.
Cell church groups function much like the cells historically used in communist societies and they serve to reeducate the masses. Their purpose is control and brain washing. They also tie you into relationships that will prove stronger than truth in the end. In the last chapter we pointed out that Rick Warren said that statistically, if people have at least seven friends, the church would hold them. But there is a great division coming. Speaking of the end times, Jesus says, “But you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all on account of my name.” (Luke 21:16-17) You must love the truth more than any relationships! If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
There are counterfeits that intend to deceive you, presented as a new wineskin, a paradigm shift by change agent pastors, promising to bring you back to Biblical models, but beware! That is what deception is all about! It will be good, and it will fool everyone except those that have learned to follow His voice. Those you love the most will try and draw you away. But you don’t have to be completely alone.
There is some truth in what the cell church advocates say. We do need other Christians. We can’t stand alone, so ask the Lord to bring you to those of a like mind. As we will see in the next chapter, and as we discussed in the last chapter, Jesus talks about us being a vine, not a tree. Each Christian is directly connected to the Vine. The toe takes orders from the head, not the foot. There is no hierarchy of authority under the New Covenant. Each member in the body must function. These are not elective offices or positions but life functions. One member is not better or higher than another. They are not connected because they belong to the same organization but because they share a common life and that life should be expressed by EVERY member.
In contrast to the guided discussions by “cell group” leaders, we should learn to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. We should focus on the Lord, who He is and what He is doing in our lives. What do you have to be thankful for? What has He showed you lately from His Word? What has He been dealing with you about? In other words, what real, current, fresh experiences do you have in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If you don’t have any, you had better go back to the drawing board. What is His body if it isn’t people sharing what He is doing in their lives because he is alive in His saints? I would rather hear what the Lord did this week in “Molly Homemaker’s” (not to be derogatory) life and how the Lord is dealing with her. God is (or should be) always dealing with us every day – being in us what we can’t be ourselves. But if He isn’t active in your life, you may as well go be entertained by some worship group and pastor. Go get your ears tickled and sit with the masses while you are fed milk and pabulum from the pulpit. When you start to listen to Him speak, and let Him reveal Himself to you, and deal with you, you will be ripe for a meeting with other Christians who have similar experiences.
The true “church life” depends on the various parts of the body being connected and living. If each member is “alive” and experiencing the Lord daily, something wonderful will happen when you get together with other Christians. However, if you are all “dead”, you may as well go warm a pew some where. It is not a matter of finding the right way to meet. It is not a matter of how or what you do. It is not a matter of having “prepared for the lesson”. It is a matter of whether you are dead or alive. The church is full of dead men and good actors. If we have a vibrant relationship with the Lord, we will have plenty to share and will build one another up. If we don’t have a fresh relationship with Him, we will feel guilty, empty, critical of others and angry if we aren’t fed and taken care of. There is no magic bullet, no system of organization, form of meeting. The true “church life” is spontaneous and Spirit led – not scripted, not following a form or pattern of worship. You may sing. You may not. You may just share experiences. You may pray spontaneously or read the Word, or share what the Lord did in your life or showed you. You will find that, as all enter in, the Holy Spirit will lead you and most of your meetings will usually follow a theme (selected by Him). You will be amazed that everyone had similar experiences. The thing about the “church life”, “body life” or whatever you want to call it, is that you can’t fake it. If the Lord has worked in your life during the week, you have something to share, something to praise Him for, to be thankful for, to share how He used you, etc. If you are a phony, you will know it and so will others. The church is simply where two or three gather together. Its fun to have 20 to 30, but the issue isn’t numbers. The issue is “life”. If you share “war stories” about how God dealt with you 20 years ago, or something from the latest book you read, that doesn’t work. That’s someone else’s revelation. You need to get manna fresh every day or it rots. Experience the Lord every day. You can’t rely on what the Lord did in your life 10 years ago if you are barely holding on today.
Meetings don’t depend on a leader guiding you through a series of questions designed to draw you in and brainwash you. Meetings depend on your ability to sense the leading of the Holy Spirit and follow it. One time He may lead you to just praise and thank Him, or to just pray. Another time, there is open sharing about what the Lord is doing in your life. Focus on what is fresh, living and real – not something you have read or heard from other people. You may have a musical person and are led to sing. Fine! There is no form, no right or wrong. Imagine being crammed into a small living room with a dirt floor and little light with other early Christians in this great description of the early “church meeting:”
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, the Father and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)
Early Christians may have been persecuted, but they sang, shared, gave thanks, etc. If we spent less time complaining and talking about other people and more time giving thanks, and focusing on the Lord and what He is doing in our lives, our meetings will be rich. The other thing I would like to briefly point out is that people didn’t submit to a leader, to a professional “pastor” but to one another. We think in terms of hierarchy and position. The Bible speaks of attitude, spirit and mutual respect and need of all the members of His body. In Romans Paul speaks of the Church in these terms:
“For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another, and since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8)
Paul doesn’t talk about offices or positions, but functions. We are members of the same body but have different functions, and to have a healthy body, every member should function. You don’t need to go to Bible School and Seminary. We shouldn’t think so much of ourselves and we should recognize the measure of every member. You just need to function with the gifts and life God has given you. There is no hierarchy, just different functions. No member is more important. No one “lords” it over the others. There are no programs, no “order of worship”, no choreographed “worship groups”, no systems, no set agenda, no organization, just living saints flowing life and love to one another.
This is all a far cry from the tightly controlled cell churches. Next, we move on to the “apostles and prophets” movement where we will see how this all ties together.
Continue to Chapter 10