Thus far in this tutorial I
have tried to define the nature of the true church and identify
several key functions of Christ’s
church. I have tried
to show how the cell group ministry can
reveal the true nature of Christ’s Church in a fresh, vital
way. I have now chose to explore foundational truth
of the kingdom of God for two reasons:
Many scholars believe that
the kingdom of God motif is
the unifying theme throughout the Bible and thus a very important
It enlightens and expands on the role and function of the church in the
world, and in once sense, goes beyond it. It also opens up
a new way of understanding cell-based ministry today.
Many believe that the central, unifying theme of the Bible is the kingdom of God (Hasel 1982:52). In both the Old and
New Testament this theme appears again and again (e.g.,
Dan. 2:21; 4:24-25; Mt. 13). But what exactly is the kingdom of
God? George Ladd, who is a well-known expert on this subject, defines
the kingdom in terms of the ‘rule of God’.
He concisely states, "...the
emphasis is not upon the state of affairs or the final order of things
but upon the fact that God will rule. The state of affairs to be finally
introduced is but the inevitable result of the final vindication of the
divine rule” (1972:46).
For example, The psalmist declares, “Your kingdom is an
everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations”
(Psalm 145:13). The first words of Christ in Mark´s gospel are His
proclamation, “The time
has come, The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”
Jesus mean when He says that the reign (kingdom)
of God is near? Ladd
believes it is used in the sense of "reaching out" without the
full experience of all that the Kingdom is to involve. In other words,
the Kingdom has come in the person of Jesus Christ, but will be fully
experienced in the future (1959:127). It is that concept of ‘already,
not yet’ that Ladd is explaining.
example, In Luke 17:20, Jesus
declares, "...the kingdom of God is within you." An
alternative reading to "within" you is "among" you.
Ladd prefers the latter definition.
In other words, in the person of Jesus Christ, God's Kingdom is
now present! Ladd writes,
"The Age to Come has overlapped with This Age" (1959:
42). Matthew 12:28
brings this out very clearly. Jesus says to the unbelieving
Pharisees, "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then
the kingdom of God has come upon you."
How does this message of Christ's present power relate to the
church today? Is there a relationship? Perhaps it can be summed
up in the concept of the ‘gospel of the kingdom’. Jesus uses this
phrase in Matthew 24:14
when he says, “And this
gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony
to all nations, and then the end will come.”
already mentioned the fact
that the demonstration of Christ’s power over sin, sickness, and the demonic were a sign that the kingdom was here.
changed today. Every time a person is set free from sin, healed of
sickness, or delivered from Satan, it is a manifestation of God's
kingdom on earth. Yes, it is a powerful
message to proclaim, but sadly, this message has been largely forgotten
or ignored in much of the gospel
proclamation today. Salvation by faith alone is faithfully preached,
but the power of the kingdom message is oftentimes lacking.
gospel of the kingdom is more than a simple
“decision for Christ” Christ
wants to reign in every person’s life, and Satan and his demons will
resist every step. Shenk elucidates this truth,
“The context for mission is the cosmic struggle between the
kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. Christ is displacing Satan’s
rule by His own. This struggle is being carried on within history....To
announce the gospel of the kingdom is to side against the kingdom of
this world” (1983:213).
of confronting the powers of darkness and proclaiming a glorious kingdom
message, many of the churches
today are bogged down with division, power struggles, and inward focused
vision. Neil Anderson sums up his assessment of the present American
church situation after having talked with many denominational leaders
and missionary executives,
“…the most optimistic assessment is that 20 percent of the
churches are functioning as a living organism and bearing substantial
fruit. They [denominational leaders and missionary executives] estimate
that between 35 and 50 percent are dysfunctional, bearing no fruit at
all. Denominational leaders are overwhelmed with problems. They find
themselves,...spending most of their time trying to put out fires
instead of offering leadership and vision. The average churches are
operating as though their transmission were in reverse, and they have
jammed on the brakes” (1994:13).
be that church leadership has not come to grips with the real enemy? The
one behind the board splits, the petty jealousies, the extra-marital
affairs? The need for a kingdom message is greater than ever in our day
and age. Those who reject the power of the kingdom and in favor of
solely an intellectual
approach, might find themselves captive to the god of this world.
The kingdom of God motif teaches
that the gospel is
powerful and life-changing. The proclamation of the gospel is a sign of
the kingdom’ s present work in our midst. Miracles, healing,
deliverance, and salvation should be present in a church that is
proclaiming the Kingdom and living by the Kingdom.
On a more practical
level, how does the gospel
of the kingdom include the cultural mandate along with
the evangelistic mandate? Is the kingdom only a spiritual reign
in the hearts of men and women or does it have practical social
implications in a fallen sinful world? Can we only talk about the gospel
of the kingdom in terms of spiritual warfare, signs and wonders, and power evangelism,
or are there social dimension as well? Johannes Verkuyl expounds on the
holistic implications of the kingdom,
miracles...provide special help in understanding how the kingdom is
revealed in this world. John’s Gospel calls the miracles signs which
point to the approaching kingdom and majestic character of the Messiah.
These miracles address every human need: poverty, sickness, hunger, sin,
demonic temptation, and the threat of death. By them Jesus is
anticipating Easter. Each of them proclaims that wherever and whenever
in God’s name human needs and problems are tackled and overcome, there
God’s kingdom is shining through” (Verkuyl’s
article in Winter 1978:42)
The comments of Stephen
Mott are illuminating in this area,
“The Reign is not an
idea or a purely ‘spiritual’ force. It is manifested as power in the
physical affairs of people as they are hindered by demonic forces....The
struggles against the demonic in general becomes concrete in the
struggles against the oppression exerted by the power structures of our
day. These can be discerned through a spiritual awareness of the
existence of social evil and the injustices through which they
work....In reaction to the liberal preoccupation with the social aspects
of the Reign, it has become fashionable in contemporary writings to
state that [the] Reign of God is not a social program and that people do
not bring it in. But the very fact that it is God’s reign and is
already present in grace means that our response cannot be
passive....the church is to be the community in which, through its
behavior and its mission, the Reign of God becomes visible,...It cannot,
therefore, remain passive in the face of the evils of society”
the gospel of the kingdom is the best way to
bring together an accepted conclusion today that the cultural
mandate along with the evangelistic mandate
is part of God’s agenda toward
a lost world. The one without the other is simply incomplete.
Earlier on in this paper, we contemplated
two prominent functions
of the church: discipleship
and social concern. These two are accurately brought together under the
gospel of the kingdom motif.
Granted, the evangelistic mandate has priority. The kingdom
must first invade the hearts of men and women. Without being personally
saved, no one will be ready for the
future reign of His Kingdom (John 20:18:36). Christ’s commandment to
make disciples of all nations must first and foremost be interpreted
from a evangelistic/perfecting posture. I agree with Bob Logan when he
states, “God desires that churches grow both qualitatively and
quantitatively so that the Gospel of the kingdom will spread to the
uttermost ends of the earth in fulfillment of the Great Commission”
(1989:18). I interpret Logan to mean that the
gospel of the kingdom primarily fulfills the evangelistic
Although I would
agree that evangelism must our central focus, the message of the gospel
of the kingdom challenges us to
think in a more global manner. After all, our Lord Himself
was not passive toward human
needs and suffering. He fed the hungry (Mt. 15:29-39), healed the sick
(Mt. 9:35), spoke against oppression (Mt. 21:12-17; 23:1-38), and ended
up dying on the cross for taking a stand
against sin (Heb. 12:4). Jesus Himself declared, “If the world
hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first....If I had not come and
spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have
no excuse for their sin” (John 15:18-25).
I believe that it is correct to assert that God’s present rule
on this earth should stir us to be concerned with all human suffering.
In fact, understanding the global dimensions of the gospel of the
kingdom, should encourage those believers who
protest the abortion holocaust, speak out against the slavery of child
pornography, organize voters
to vote down unjust laws that destroy the family, establish orphanages,
etc. This is all part of the gospel of the kingdom. However,
it is my conviction, that we
should never forget the central place of evangelism in this
The Church And The Kingdom
The kingdom and the church are two distinct realities which at
the same time overlap. Ladd distinguishes
five vital principles which help discern the relationship between
the church and the kingdom (1964:111-119):
The church is not the Kingdom; It is only the people of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom creates the
church; Had the Kingdom not entered in the Person of Jesus Christ, there
would be no church.
The church witnesses of the
Kingdom through faithfully proclaiming the gospel.
The church is the instrument of the Kingdom; The works of the Kingdom
are performed through the body of Christ.
The church is the custodian of the Kingdom; Through her proclamation,
God will decide who will enter the Kingdom and who will not.
These helpful principles remind us that the kingdom is greater
than the church. God’s sovereign rule must direct all that the
church is and does. The
church is not an end in herself. She is to testify of
the gospel of the kingdom (Mat. 24:14).
She must hold in tension that already/not-yet reality of the
gospel. Her proclamation must include a glorious future hope, and yet be
powerful and life-changing in the here and now.
In a day when certain churches
are only concerned with market strategies, poll taking, and
modern techniques that attract people, the kingdom of God approach
calls the church back
to her primary mission responsibility.
There are several ways that the kingdom of God motif
can helpfully critique
the cell group movement. First, with regard to the cell group
agenda. The gospel of the kingdom teaches that discipleship as well as
social concern is fundamental
in the cell church. Ronald Sider’s words touch a raw nerve,
“Thousands of churches today have small groups--encounter
groups, biweekly groups, serendipity groups, prayer cells and an
infinite variety of action groups that aim at fellowship. Do these small
groups fulfill the same function as Living Word´s home meetings and
Church of the Savior’s mission groups?
Hardly ever” (1984:187).
However a balance is needed. Why? Because there are other small
group ministries who appear to have taken the opposite
Theology is a good example. In Latin America this movement has organized
itself into thousands of small groups called ‘base communities’ (Dyrness
1990:99-102). One can say with certainty that these groups are socially
concerned for justice and use the kingdom of God motif (Dyrness
1990:91). However to promote this social justice,
a Marxist analysis has been adopted which is not opposed to the
use of violence. In fact, at times it is necessary to promote their
gospel (Dyrness 1990: 92,93). This
interpretation of the gospel of the kingdom is certainly foreign to the
life and teaching of Jesus who is an
example of one who did not resort to violence before His enemies
(I Pet. 2:20; 3:14-18; 4:12-16) (Yoder: 1972: 123-134).
Secondly, God’s kingdom and rule must be central
in the cell ministry
agenda. The cells of any church must minister under God’s sovereign
rule. Each cell group is a
community of the living King who is actively reigning here and now.
Because of this fact, the cells should expect the intervention of God’s
reign in each meeting. The cell leader,
as well as the members, should
ask the hard questions, Are there miracles
in our midst? Did God meet our needs during the meeting?
When cells simply turn into fun, social gatherings, they cease to
be instruments of the
kingdom of God. Speaking of the power of the kingdom of God in many
newer apostolic congregations, George
“The apostolic congregations all feature small groups
prominently. Some of them define themselves as churches of small groups;
small groups are even more important in their identity as a church than
the large worship service. Why? They have discovered a transformative
power in the small group revolution that many other churches still need
to discover” (1996:82).
Finally, the kingdom of God should give
the cell ministry a cause for great hope. As God’s present
reign is manifested in the
group through glorious moments of fellowship and spiritual refreshment,
the group should be reminded
of a much grander and majestic future
reign. It is this hope of the future reign that motivates the cell
ministry to press on.
In the previous sections I have tried to establish a theological
foundation for cell-based ministry by reviewing the meaning of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. I have sought
to relate both of those concepts to cell group ministry. In this
chapter, I hope to examine the
role of ’cells’ in the
early church. I believe that such an examination
can give us a helpful base for comparing the modern cell movement
It has already been
mentioned that the early church did not have
their own buildings.
The record of the book of Acts mentions that from earliest times the
believers met both in the
homes and in the temple (Acts 2:46). Paul substantiates this point in
Acts 20: 20 when he recalls his
ministry among the Ephesians,
“You know that I
have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but
have taught you publicly and from house to house.” John Mallison, who
has been actively involved in small group ministry for over twenty
years, testifies to this truth, “It
is almost certain that every mention of a local church or meeting,
whether for worship or fellowship, is in actual fact a reference to a
church meeting in a house” (1989:5). Hadaway, Wright and DuBose add,
“From the beginning, homes appeared to be the place for the most
enduring dimensions of early church life” (1987:40).
In Acts 12:5 we observe that the church was meeting and praying
for Peter in the home of Mary, the mother of John. It appears that
primarily because of the persecution that the early church confronted,
the role of the house church became normative (Barclay 1955:228).
Bruce supports this fact by stating,
“Household churches are frequently referred to in the NT
epistles. Sometimes the whole church in one city might be small enough
to be accommodated in the home of one of its members; but in other
places the local church was quite large, and there was no building in
which all the members could conveniently congregate. This was certainly
true of the early Jerusalem church; there we find one group meeting in
the house of Mary, the mother of Mark (Acts 12:12); and although Luke
does not specifically call that group the church in her house, it might
very well have been described thus. Priscilla and Aquila were accustomed
to extend the hospitality of their home to such groups in the successive
cities where they lived--e.g. in Ephesus (I Cor. 16:19) and Rome (16:5).
At Colossae itself Philemon´s house was used for this purpose (Philem.
“It was necessary and appropriate in apostolic times,.. to make
their homes available for the congregations of the saints....In a city
like Rome or Ephesus (I Cor. 16:19) there would be more than one such
congregation. Hence there would be other churches and it would be proper
to speak of the churches of Rome (1957:228,229).
The evidence suggests that these
house churches were not independent of each other. For example,
in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul both addresses the individual ecclesia which met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla (I Cor.
16:19), but he also greets the
ecclesia as a whole ( I
Corinthians 1:2 and II
Corinthians 1:1). This seems
to indicate that a general
(Neighbour 1990:44). Banks
confirms that point of view (1994:32).
can be said about the church in Thessolonica and in Rome (I Thess. 1:1;
II Thess. 1:1; Rm. 16:23). It might also be
suggested that on occasion the house groups gathered for special
celebration events. The Love Feast of I Corinthians 11 and Paul´s visit
to Troas in Acts 20:6-12 could be examples
of this type of joint celebration. Bruce comments,
“Such house churches appear to have been smaller circles of
fellowship within the larger fellowship of the city ecclesia”
(1957:310). George Hunter agrees,
“The early church experienced two
structures as necessary and normative for the Messianic movement. They
met as cells (or small groups) in ‘house churches’; and the
Christians of a city also met together in a common celebration or
congregation (except for periods when persecution prohibited public
celebrations and drove the movement underground, meeting in homes only)
debates the view that the
house churches were connected to a common celebration structure—at
least in Paul’s later usage of ecclesia. He insists that the house
churches were independent entities with no organizational framework to
bind them together. Banks does acknowledge
that Paul did seek to link the various house churches together, but this
was not through a common celebration model (1994:42,43). Banks believes
that Paul intentionally planted these independent house churches, so
that true Christian fellowship and community would be experienced (1994:
church is an example of both the celebration and the cell structure. In
Acts 2:46 we see the Jerusalem church meeting in the large area in the
temple (Solomon’s Colonnade) and in homes. Acts 5:42 indicates that
church continued to meet both in the temple courts and from house to
house. Finally, in Acts 20:20 Paul tells us that he taught in Ephesus
both publicly and from house to house (Malphurs 1992:212).
Elmer Towns goes is quite insistent about this type of structure
when he says, “To be a whole church, it must have the cell as well as the
celebration. I conclude that the norm of the New Testament church
included both small cell groups and larger celebration group” (Towns
quoted in Geroge 1993.136)
have seen that the
celebration (large gathering of the church) and the cell (gathering of a
small group) were normative in the early church. The early church
benefited both from the larger church (celebration) and from the small
group (cells in homes). This was necessary because conservative
estimates tell us that the size of the Jerusalem church along was
probably around 20,000-25,000 people (Malphurs 1992:212). With such a
large congregation, it seems impossible that the
Jerusalem church was able to care for such a large group of
people. However, Acts
2:46 seems to give us the clue.
This verse tells us that In
addition to the huge gatherings in the temple, the believers were
treated to the closely knit intimacy of the cell.
early part of the first century A.D.
the celebration/cell experience took place on a daily basis.
However, due to persecution, as
the history of Acts progresses,
the celebration ceased to be a daily experience. Although they
were forced to emphasize home meeting more than the gathered celebration
(persecution would have made this impossible), it does appear that there
were periodic celebration events. One can find from church history an
abundance of evidence that the church has always met in both homes and
large celebrations (Beckham 1995:108).
about house churches today? There
is no doubt that they follow the pattern of
meeting in homes, as the New Testament lays out. Yet, what about
the larger celebration context? As we have seen, it appears from the
Biblical evidence that there was a dual function of both the
general assembly of believers and the individual house churches.
Therefore, if a house church does not recognize any authority beyond
themselves, it is doubtful that they are following the New Testament
pattern, Speaking of
house churches in general, Neighbour asserts,
House Church stands alone....Often they may not grow larger than their
original number for years, having no aggressive evangelistic activity.
They do not become a true movement of church expansion....In contrast,
the cell group church recognizes a larger structure for church life. It
is composed of many cells, but no one cell would ever consider existing
apart from the rest” (Neighbour
opinion, one of the great dangers in the house church movement is their
independence. If the shepherd exercises control without important
outside accountability, it seems that false doctrine and other problems
could develop. On the other hand, the cell movement rarely has that
problem due to the close connection with the church. Hadaway explains,
“Deviations of any major sort are unlikely in home cell groups,
however, because, unlike house churches, they are closely tied to a host
church. Leaders are trained and supervised by church leaders, and
potential problems can be quickly spotted and resolved” (1987:248).
not to say that all house churches are independent entities. Many do
have accountability structures among themselves. At least one group of house churches has even constructed a separate headquarters
to meet the needs of the various house churches (Hadaway, Wright, Dubose
1987: 242). Some house churches seek
a relationship with other house churches.
Del Birkey writes as a representative of the house church
movement and as a house church pastor,
“…single-cell house churches can grow by forming an
interdependent nexus with one another. In this way each comes under an
umbrella of fellowship while remaining dynamically single-celled”
when house churches exists under an ‘umbrella of fellowship’ between
themselves, I have to wonder if this type of informal relationship does
justice to the cell/celebration practice of the New Testament. Especially, under normal conditions, the primitive church
clearly favored the approach that included both cell and celebration.
today that have returned to this New Testament pattern of
cell/celebration have tended to follow one of two patterns. One of these
models is used in much of Latin America today. It is a satellite
church model. There
are various mega- churches in Latin America (and around the world) who
have given birth to daughter churches
(whether house churches or actual congregations),
who maintain an intimate connection with the mother church. In other
words, the daughter church is only ‘semi-independent’. The mother
church expects the
to meet with them for a
monthly or bi-monthly celebration service. Concerning one such
church, Peter Wagner writes,
“Pastor Javier Vasquez of the Jotabeche Methodist Pentecostal
Church in Santiago, Chile, allows his 80 thousand members to come to the
main sanctuary only one Sunday night per month because it seats only 16
thousand persons. The other Sundays they are ministering in forty
satellite churches around the city,...” (1976:104).
The other contemporary model, which I have been promoting in this
paper, highlights the Sunday morning service as
event while providing small
home groups for the people
to attend throughout the
week. Paul Yonggi Cho’s church in South Korea, the largest church in
the history of Christianity, has made this approach popular . Cho has
managed to provide the thrill of the large gathering with the intimacy
of the small gathering. Each gathering has a distinct purpose
strength of this paradigm consists in the fact that the groups are small
enough for intimate fellowship and the celebration is large enough for
From a practical, experiential standpoint, it seems that this
model is to be preferred. I’m speaking purely from a practical,
experiential standpoint. From my research, there is common agreement
that a cell group must be small enough so that all the members
can freely contribute and share personal needs. Many scientific studies
have been conducted concerning small
group dynamics. Most experts agree that a group of eight to twelve
people is ideal for maximum sharing and communication. Mallison states, “Twelve
not only sets the upper limit for meaningful relationships, but provides
a non—threatening situation for those who are new to small group
experiences…It is significant that Jesus chose twelve men to be in his
like George set the number at ten. He
is more emphatic by
insisting that the perfect size for a cell group is ten
since it is “...the time-tested, scientifically validated size
that allows for optimal communication” (1993:136). Although perhaps a
bit dogmatic, George’s point
is well worth hearing. He feels that
in order for a leader to give quality
pastoral care, the
group must be kept small (1990:125-127).
I personally (along with others) believe
that fifteen is a healthy limit, the point is that a cell group must
remain small enough in order to maximize personal sharing. Therefore, I wonder if a house church of 30-50 members can
experience a constant face
to face intimacy? Except for the warmth of the home atmosphere, it might
not be much different from a small local congregation.
This question should
also be raised about the satellite
conclusion, it is not possible to emphatically state
that the cell/celebration
model is the only Biblical way to structure the church. However, I would
argue that the New Testament does offer strong
support for this model. And from a purely pragmatic basis, I
would argue that a structure which supports
small cell groups (6-15) and
a large celebration service provides both the intimacy needed for
sharing as well as the largeness that is very important for worship and
This tutorial has attempted to
define the nature of the true church and the nature of the
kingdom of God. More importantly, I have sought to reflect on the
cell-based movement in light of these two theological concepts.
not intended to infer that cell
groups are necessary for the existence of Christ’s Church. Christ has built His
church, and it will stand on Him alone. I have tried to make it clear
that I’m dealing with what it means to experience the true Church of
Jesus Christ not the ‘positional aspect’ of whether one is truly
part of Christ’s church. Positionally, we are members of His church at
conversion. However, many are not experiencing the reality of Christ’s
body. Therefore, I’ve
argued that cell groups are
a vital part of experiencing the
fullness of Christ’s Church.
ministry brings God’s people together in a way that no other ministry
can. It allows the people of God to exercise their gifts, minister to
one another, participate in the body of Christ and truly be the living
organism that Christ has intended for His Church.
also tried to emphasize throughout this tutorial that cell group
ministry empowers the
Church to fulfill the Great Commission. We’ve discussed the various
level of discipleship, and I have concluded that we can most effectively
accomplish His commission through intentional, evangelizing communities
within the local church. Since the Church must glorify God by being
a missionary church, we have seen the
effectiveness of small groups in reaching the lost.
Non-Christians oftentimes feel more comfortable in a home
environment before integrating into the local church, and therefore the
cell group ministry does serve as a vital evangelistic tool.
tried to show relate social
concern to small group ministry. Although the local church still has a
role to play, it oftentimes does not
knows the intimate needs and wants of the members. Small groups
uniquely meet this need by providing a close, intimate time of sharing
I have wrestled with the kingdom
of God, as both an encouragement to small group ministries, as well as a
critique of the cell movement. We have analyzed the Kingdom of God as His rule both in this present world as well as the entire
universe. Healing, Miracles, power encounters, and outreach to the poor are present day signs that the Kingdom
of God is present and reigning. The Kingdom of God paradigm reminds us
that God’s ultimate rule will be perfect and just. It is His rule that
we seek to follow in the cell group ministry today.
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