Cell Churches
alias Life groups (cells), Cell groups, Neighborhood Groups, Oikos (household),
Basic Christian Communities, Shepherd groups etc.
by Jo Gardner, Adullam News No 7, Feb. 97

Just what we wanted! What a wonderful idea! recognition of house fellowships as churches! But wait! Jesus does say that ‘where two or three come together in my Name, there am I in the midst’  Matthew 8:20. Such a group IS a church in action, perhaps more so than some Sunday services. It has the imprimatur of Christ Himself. The first Christians met together in homes, and continued this way until Constantine declared Christianity an acceptable faith in the 4th century AD. Although this meant they could use public buildings for meeting, this edict was not good for the Church as it was immediately pressurized to conform to the culture of the time. The new Cell churches although outwardly appearing to be like the New Testament church, differ
PROFOUNDLY and are a subtle means of transforming the members` world view to the New Age cosmic-bound mind .

In Spring 1996, YWAM hosted a Cell Church Conference in Britain. However this brand of apostate infiltration and change is well established in Singapore; Brisbane, Australia; New Zealand; and Africa (especially the Ivory Coast and South Africa); and has been operating in Ichthus (Britain) for some time.

I understand that Ivy Cottage, Manchester, Bryn Jones` New Covenant churches, New Frontiers International and the youth section of Colin Urquhart`s Kingdom Faith community have now taken up the idea. So has Tom Chipper’s Isleham Baptist Church and other churches of his E. Anglian fraternal. If you know of others, we would be glad to hear from you.

The man behind this movement is Ralph Neighbour, Director of Church Planting for Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions. He conducts courses on campus and in Singapore. His major book on Cell group Churches is entitled Where do we go from here? Touch Publications, Singapore, 1990, ISBN 1-880828-54-5. He is keen to tell the reader that this book ‘may be the second most important book you have ever read’ and he considers his idea as the ‘second Reformation’. He says ‘I have longed to see the new church in all its glory before I go to Glory. Praise God, it's here’  p7. RN is right in
suggesting that community is important for growth (p. 238), but, in this book he is not  prescribing true community centered on Christ, only a manipulative human bonding.

Do not be deceived! The scheme works much as cults do, though it gives the impression of attempting to be genuine Christian fellowship of the sort we all long for. Neighbour cites the example of the early church [See Ad. News 4]; and he uses the descriptions of what they did - Acts 2:42 - but there the similarity ends. The New Testament house fellowships centered on ‘the apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer’. ‘The focus of the apostles` teaching’ is the Lord Jesus Christ. The focus of the cell churches is HUMAN NEED. It is attractive, yes, to share your burdens and problems, but also self-centered, not Christ-centered, and not God's way to bring about conformity to Christ- likeness and maturity. In the Cell Church groups, needs are met through the use of spiritual gifts, according to Ralph Neighbour. The Word of God which is God's truth and external to, and higher than all cultures, plays no part in the group activity: The groups are expected to meet the needs of believers but ‘it is not the place for bible study’ p.197. Bible study courses are provided for individuals who want them but they would seem superficial in content.

Groups start with 3-8 people, are expected to grow quickly to 15 members when they must divide and start again. They must meet weekly and understand that they are ‘under authority’, a ‘part of a greater vision’. They are assured they will be assisted by a (hierarchical) pastoral team. There was no institutional hierarchy in the N.T. church. Note the word ‘vision’.

When the concept is truly in operation, the long term group members are required to ‘covenant’ with one another, and cell leaders covenant with their pastors to report on the attitudes and states of group members (like Chinese communist street committees). This reporting forms the basis of the Sunday preaching. The preaching is therefore need and discipline centered not the preaching of the ‘whole counsel of God’ Acts 20:27.

Meeting weekly is deemed important because it is the human bonding [as in PK (Menmeet)] which fuels the determination to fulfill the ‘vision’. Every group meeting has 4 stages:

1. The Icebreaker stage: light refreshment while members are expected to share the most important thing that has happened to them in the last week. All MUST participate.
2. The Worship stage: where ‘Christ enters their midst in all His glory’ on the basis that at Pentecost 'the Glory entered (the disciples lives), and their spirits and words were under His control. Power for ministry had come to the Body of Christ' p.110.
3. The Edification stage: here the group focusses on the needs of those present. The people are the point of focus, not the Lord or the scriptures, and ‘spiritual gifts’ - prophecy is described as prediction - are expected to be exercised by all to build each other up and ‘remove obnoxious waste’ p. 140.  ‘..  the goal is forming relationships - if no bonding, the group will not be healthy’. ‘if bonding has happened ..  the group will be effective’ p. 232.
4. ‘sharing the Vision stage’: which will ‘always focus the attention of the group on their calling, the vision of the cell church group, and their ministry to unbelievers’. ‘If people leave with a vision, they will feel Christ has been in their midst in a very special way’. ‘This should be the highest point of bonding in the entire session’ p. 225.

Whilst we agree that reaching the unbeliever is a primary activity of the church, is this the way to prepare Christians to do it? Also although much lip service is given to activity of the Holy Spirit, the huge number of different ‘Equipping’ manuals on offer belies that fact. And the final structure is undoubtedly man inspired and man dominated.

The question also arises: what is meant by ‘evangelism’? What gospel is preached? It would seem similar to Arnott`s gospel of love, a New Age love devoid of morality. [John Arnott is reported as saying “When we were first saved we were concerned with and concentrated on Truth and winning the lost for Jesus. We now know that was wrong. We now know that the most important thing is a personal revelation of the love of God.”  See AdN 6 ]

Unbelievers are seen as ‘target groups’ according to their status etc. and needs. They are invited to meals and encouraged to share their problems. These are addressed by the use of spiritual gifts and prayer. The Latter Rain word ‘battleground’ is used. In the Ivory Coast, if a group goes 2 weeks without converts, the leader is asked what is wrong. ‘Always, always the measuring stick for the health of a cell is not how much they pray or study the Bible but how much they minister’ p.171. Maturity is measured by how responsible a person is (?conforming to what is required) p.219.

Groups must divide at 15, therefore it is difficult to see how real relationships can be made, real  ministry or real Christian growth come about, especially without a foundation in the Word. “Faith come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” Romans 10:17. It is more likely that people will be kept so busy ‘fulfilling the vision’ and continually in a whirl of activity, that they will be easy to manipulate and rule.  Also in order to fulfill the vision it would seem that most members must be involved in 2 weekly meetings and perhaps a course as well. Where is there time for the Lord, for family, for prayer, for bible study?

It is clear that this scheme will suit the new churches as it disguises their falling numbers. Anyone joining a cell group is to be counted as a ‘church member’. It will also facilitate the apostate church's determination to break down the denominations, by infiltration and by publicity. Doctrinal statements are not seen as relevant - and the cell group leaders [Shepherds] are not chosen for their biblical knowledge! The intent is to blur all doctrinal distinctions. Without ‘statements of faith’ etc., it is easier to change and promote Restorationist/LR/WF/New Age/Interfaith beliefs: i.e. ONE WORLD RELIGION belief, but presented in different terminologies.

This sort of group is the perfect environment for bringing about major changes within the person as well as the group. Group dynamics come into play, a condition that makes one feel it necessary to compromise established rules or standards if one wishes to maintain group acceptance, build group cohesion, and fulfill the leader's vision. Whoever controls the agenda for deciding the questions asked, controls the answers as well. This is a use of Hegel`s dialectic (a paper on Hegel`s Dialectic which is being used in education, politics, interfaith meetings etc. is available for 20p + sae). The aim is to break down a person's confidence in what he believes, say, about God/truth/morality, to free him from God-given constraints so that he is open to listen to others and compromise his position in order to bring about a group consensus. Each group meeting will become part of a  continual process of change.

One of the activities of the groups is to ‘spiritually map’ the households in their area in order to facilitate expansion. All available official data is to be collected and then members are to find out such things as marital status, incomes and leisure activities and build psychological profiles of local households in order to use the most appropriate way of ‘winning’ the people.

Throughout the book the church is usually referred to as the ‘Bride of Christ’. Clearly from the context, the Latter Rain meaning is implied and Scott Peck, a ‘Christian’ New Ager is quoted.

To sum up: Cell churches are:
1.  centered around human need (which is a bait);
2.  fueled by the impetus of human bonding;
3.  intent on demolishing biblical truth, and replacing it with a ‘this world’/apostate paradigm: a man centered/satanic world view with the goal of building the One World Religion.

I encourage you to meet in twos and threes and  more, and have fellowship: koinonia: fellowship with each other in the Lord and in His Word, which is the New Testament pattern.  My House Fellowships booklet [£2.25 plus sa label] might be useful. (end of article)

Also available Guide for Bible Discussion group Leaders Ed. Jo Gardner, £1 from Adullam or St. Matthews Publishing, 24 Geldart St, Cambridge, CB1 2LX. This is an excellent aid for real relevant bible study for groups.

Further notes added since February 97

The Cell church book is permeated by Latter Rain terminology and the New Order ‘continual learning’ scenario which is in fact another way of making sure peoples thinking continually changes to bring about the NWO and the One World Religion where no distinction is made between the holy spiritual and the evil spiritual: as in Interfaith and New Age.

Culling out local household psychological profiles is to be a task with the aim to get in the households using psychological means are not taught doctrine, this helps to produce a fog in the area of doctrine so no one knows what is not biblical

Link between Restorationism doctrine and Interfaith/One World doctrine: all are New Age though couched in different terminology.

Ichthus has been organized on the Cell church model for some time. Recently we have heard of a St Albans church and another in northern Devon. The idea is being promoted by a team from Brazil nationwide and youth groups are especially vulnerable. The RC church apparently is commending the idea and we gather that it has been said that it is not necessary for the group leader to be a Christian.

April 1998

New Christian Herald 11.4.98 had a long article on prayer advertising  "Community Prayer Cells by John Vries, David Spriggs and Jane Holloway, and published by the EA and CPAS £7.50. Presumably it was put together while DS was still working for the EA. Quote: ' If you want a powerful tool to help you impact the people around you, just launched is the Community Prayer Cell project "A CPC is a group of Christians who live, work or study in the same area, meeting regularly to pray for, and witness to, their neighbors." Resources available from the CPC Co-ordinator, EA.  The article was by David Sladden who is now involved with Brian Mill`s international prayer ministry. Brian Mills is involved in C. Peter Wagners unbiblical Sp. Warfare activities. These are based on WordFaith/Prosperity gospel teachings. Word Faith believes that Jesus was a human being who became a god, not God who became man. Word Faith believes we can become ‘gods’ after the pattern of their heretical Jesus so that our words have power to command demons and health etc.

The CC idea is rampant in youth work. The bible is nowhere seriously studied. Of course all these groups are open to applying the Ralph Neighbour principles either slowly or fast and the leaders decide. Also it is likely, I think, in the charismatic churches that they could possibly become occult prayer circles since much of the 'listening' these people do is to spirit guides [though they think it is the Holy Spirit].

The idea is being promoted in various ways. Many of these look ‘reasonable’, except for their lack of centering around the Lord Jesus Christ and his written Word. However most of them could be used to gradually get an unhealthy grip on the members as in communist road cells and ‘heavy shepherding’.   The groups are, also of course, just right for the application of Hegelian Dialectic.

June 1998

I have now been able to assess Cell It: How to start youth cells, Laurence Singlehurst, Liz West, Paul Hopkins, Jo Quilty, ed. Clive Price, all of YWAM. It is firmly based on the Ralph Neighbour principles. There is a vagueness about terms used e.g. love: what do they mean? Being for youth and using the Hegelian dialectic, it means that young people will conform to what is expected of them through peer pressure. I wonder how many will say they are Christians when they are not? Throughout bible study is played down and readers are told ‘Be sure to communicate that this isn't a bible study’ p.18. Study of the Word of God is almost nil. How are the young people to make decisions and plan activity which would please God and be according to His will since they do not know the Word? P.20 ‘Hearing from God for other members of the group is something  that should be encouraged at all times.” No way! This is not biblical. We should never act on words ‘from God’ from other people unless they confirm what we ourselves have already heard, which the other does not know about. We should also have other guidance which confirms before we assume the way is ‘of God’. P. 20 also gives an example of encouragement to use visualization as a basis for prayer. The understanding of prayer throughout is clearly influenced by YWAM `s embracing of C. Peter Wagner`s unbiblical Spiritual Warfare which is based on Word Faith teachings that Jesus was a man who became a god and is an example for us to follow. That is, we can command demons etc.. Real caring would be impossible as groups are expected to split at frequent intervals.

Jo Gardner
Adullam Register  4.98
From: The Adullam Register, 86 Manor Way, Croxley Green, Herts, WD3 3LY