Divide and Conquer: Cell Churches and Hijacks
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Wed May 10, 2006 at 11:29:24 AM EST
One of the most overlooked aspects of two particular trends in dominionism--the increasing trend towards spiritual abuse in certain dominionist movements and the trend towards hijacking of moderate Christian churches by dominionist groups like the Institute for Religion and Democracy--is a very successful tactic invented by, and spread by, the inventors of dominion theology--the "cell church" or "shepherding group".

In this post, I will focus on the history of cell churches in dominionist movements, with specific emphasis on how the use of cell churches was largely designed to hijack mainstream congregations...in at least one case, with frightening success, which has disturbing implications for mainstream churches having issues largely resulting from this.

Part 1: a brief explanation and history

What a cell church is isn't entirely obvious to most people who aren't members of churches which contain them.  Essentially, a cell church is designed as a "church within a church"--the setup of churches where the concept originated is much like a pyramid, with pastor, then deacons, then "cell leaders" who are heads of groups of anywhere from five to fifteen members of the congregation (and occasionally more than that, in sub-churches).  The closest analogue is actually not in church structures but in multilevel marketing schemes such as AmWay (and this is not by coincidence, as I'll note).

First, to get some backgrounder on why cell churches were invented, it helps to know how the very beginnings are related to two particular trends in the dominionist communities that invented it:

a) Megachurches largely got their birth in the dominionist community at this same time, partly through a major emphasis in getting as many members in a church as possible, and

b) "Sheep-stealing"--conversion of Christians to dominionism because the targets' home churches are seen as "not Christian enough"--has always been tacictly approved in the more hardcore dominionist groups.

Many histories of "shepherding" or "cell church" groups place the beginnings as being with the highly coercive Boston Church of Christ (nee International Church of Christ), but the full history actually goes a bit further back.  The origin actually goes all the way back to the birth of megachurches within the Assemblies of God and similar pente churches (and later the neopentecostal movement), which both have historically been dominionist and have had heavy emphasis on recruitment of new members (occasionally by deceptive practices such as "bait and switch" evangelism).

As early as the 1950's, the first major "front group" of the Assemblies and one of the most historically active in the dominionist movement both here and abroad--the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International--were promoting cell-group structures in Assemblies churches, notably in Paul Yonggi Cho nee David Yonggi Cho's Yoido Full Gospel Church (widely regarded as the largest Protestant church, and possibly the largest single church congregation *period*, worldwide).  (In other words, the Assemblies largely invented the concept as a method of megachurch management.)  

One of the better resources detailing the abusiveness and the history of the "cell church" movement is the book The Discipling Dilemma, which largely focuses on its use in the Boston Church of Christ but also focuses on its use in neopentecostal movements (notably, dominion theology promoters).  Chapter 8 notes that in fact the practice that the Boston Church of Christ became most infamous for may have spread there originally from neopente churches:

The last root of the discipling movement as it has appeared among churches of Christ is seen in the charismatic movement. This movement developed outside traditional denominational structures. Similar doctrines had been taught earlier in Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the Church of God, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church. In the late 1950s, however, a Neo-Pentecostal charismatic movement began. There was no structure to this growing movement. To this loose and amorphous group came five men offering leadership with a capital "L." They were known as the Shepherds of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These five leaders were Don Basham, Ern Baxter, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, and Charles Simpson. These men formed the "Holy Spirit Teaching Mission," later renamed "Christian Growth Ministries." They began producing tapes, books, and a monthly magazine called New Wine.

A 1975 article in Christianity Today discussed problems that followed in the wake of the new charismatic shepherding movement.

A dispute is taking place over issues of authority and discipleship. Powerful figures in the movement have built up a chain of command linking many local groups around the country to themselves. . . . Discipleship involves submission to the shepherd as he points the way-and points out flaws in behavior. . . . Some travel to Ft. Lauderdale to receive training directly from Mumford and his colleagues. . . . Those being
discipled must consult with their shepherd about many personal decisions. In some cases, shepherds forbid marriages, reject school and vocational plans, demand confession of secret sins. . . .9

The five Shepherds of Fort Lauderdale taught and practiced a style of leadership that they called "shepherding. " They used this term to describe attempts to control the private lives of their members. In 1972, shortly after they added the authoritarian tone to their teaching, Juan Carlos Ortiz came from Argentina to Fort Lauderdale. His presentations in Fort Lauderdale had wide reception--including some from the churches of Christ. Ortiz taught the same thing as Watchman Nee about one congregation to a city. He also taught authoritarianism to the point that he said disciples should be told which individuals they should take home with them for meals.10

Russell Hitt's article on the top religious news events of 1975 went beyond the discussion of Watchman Nee that was mentioned earlier. That article also discussed problems with the shepherding movement.

The charismatic movement's oneness in the Spirit has been badly strained by a disagreement on the nature and methods of discipleship training between Bob Mumford of Christian Growth Ministries, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and a variety of charismatic VIPs....Mumford is charged with constructing an overly rigid, denomination-like hierarchy of "shepherds" whose spiritual authority over their charges is called a threat to . . . the interdenominational character of the charismatic movement itself. Mumford denies wanting to form a new denomination, but his opponents so far haven't had ears to hear.11

Bob Buess attributes many of these problems in the shepherding movement to the influence of Juan Carlos Ortiz. In his book Discipleship Pro and Con, he wrote,

Juan Carlos Ortiz came from Argentina to America and is now traveling in various parts of the world spreading his version of discipleship. . . . The shepherd is treated like an earthly father would be treated. . . . In neo-discipleship groups there is absolute submission to the shepherd. Everyone is submitted in a regimented (army type) authoritarian chain of command. Someone is between you and God at all times.12

In an earlier work, Buess had warned, "Some pastors and elders set themselves up as little 'Hitlers' over the flock. . . . Some even go so far as to demand submission to themselves rather than to the Lord. . . . You cannot make a decision for yourself."13

  1. Edward E. Plowman, "The Deepening Rift in the Charismatic Movement," Christianity Today, October 10, 1975, pp. 65-66.
  2. Juan Carlos Ortiz with Jamie Buckingman, Call to Discipleship (Plainfield, New Jersey: Logos International, 1975).
  3. Hitt, pp. 8-9.
  4. Bob Buess, Discipleship Pro and Con (Van, Texas: Sweeter Than Honey, 1974), pp. 18, 48, 143.
  5. Buess, 1974, pp. 11-13.)

For the record, the Boston Church of Christ--a "Bible-based" coercive religious group that is so abusive that it is used as a model of "Bible-based cults" in studies of spiritually abusive groups--started in 1979.

As you have probably guessed just from the above, cell-church groups often promote having heavy control over the lives of their members--often acting as a literal sort of "big brother" group.  In fact, the practices in "cell churches" are seen as some of the most abusive in dominionist groups--at least one dominionist neopente group, Maranatha (which later reorganised under the name Morning Star International and now Every Nation), was banned from multiple college campuses specifically because of the abuse that occured in the "cell church" groups.

The article also notes that one major vein of promotion has been in "parachurch" organisations; Campus Crusade for Christ is a group that uses cell-churches (and has also been noted as potentially spiritually abusive), the FGBMFI would count as a parachurch group that uses cell churches, and Promise Keepers also has used cell church techniques (leading eventually to criticism).

The idea behind cell churches, at least in dominionist groups like the Assemblies of God, is promoted like a "ground-up" organisation (much the same claim as is made for multi-level marketing) but in fact is a convenient way for dominionist churches to keep control.  Typically the size of cell groups is 5-15 members, each lead by a "cell leader" or "shepherd", these reporting to a "regional shepherd", and so on.

As you've probably noticed, the setup is not dissimilar to how, say, AmWay and other MLM schemes are set up.  It's not an accident--many of the very same people within the Assemblies who have been the biggest promoters of "cell churches" have been involved with AmWay/Quixtar/Alticor from its beginnings and are at high levels in the org, and no less than three of the four major recruiting arms of AmWay are controlled by dominionists with links to groups that use "cell churches" (and who use those uplines as recruiting tools for dominionist churches).  AmWay, much like the FGBMFI, got its beginnings in the 1950's, and it's likely that both the MLM and "cell church" models were birthed in the same crucible and inspired each other.

Needless to say, "cell churches" tend to be abusive--to the point many exit counselors tend to regard any church that openly promotes cell churches with suspicion.  Psychological studies would back this up--at least one study has indicated that people involved in churches promoting cell groups have changes in personality all tending to a specific type based on the length of their involvement, and a followup study showed that this is a trait that only shows up in groups that are coercive religious groups (i.e. no similar changes occur with, say, joining a mainstream church).  Interestingly, similar patterns of abuse to those that occur in "cell churches" have occured in coercive MLM organisations like AmWay, which indicates that the cell church model implementation is coercive in and of itself.

Rick Ross Institute details how shepherding works in practice in dominionist neopente groups:

What usually happens to a person who comes into the group in Berkeley or Vallejo:

Phase I. Initiation.

They pick you according to a desired prototype person who will most likely conform to their way. They invite you to one of their services and tell you that "you did not come on your own, God lead you here." If you do not commit on your first visit they request that you come "seven times" until "God touches your eyes."

There is an initiation into the group in which you are supposedly "spirit filled" with the evidence of speaking in tongues. However, upon close examination and observation, it is noted that most of the "tongues" consists of rapid chanting of the words "da-da-da" and "oh-oh-oh." The prayer warriors who pray with the converts actually yell in their ear to repeat this. Later the converts are baptized in water. There is never a formal joining of the Church - membership. No membership roll is kept, only offering records, baptismal certificates, and a church telephone book which is circulated among members in good standing.

Phase II. Indoctrination.

The first step: Isolation and Regimentation. You are coerced into attending all services (approximately 16 hours weekly minimum.) Your absence is followed by an inquiring phone call from a "concerned" member. You are told to call ahead if you will be absent. You are informed of the danger of closeness to family, co-workers and friends who do not attend church. This is supported by scriptures proclaiming "come out from among them and be separate" and that your ultimate goal is to be a part of "God's Spiritual Family" and not the carnal "Family of Man."

Your social activities are scrutinized and censored. You are not to attend or participate in sports, movies/theater or social parties. These are replaced with more "spiritual" activities involving the church. (e.g. voluntary tasks around the church, cleaning, cooking, dish-washing, church security..) You are told to listen to church music and sermons and to watch videos of the services. You are told that it is a waste of time to visit other churches since they are steeped in ritualism and are void of the word and revelation of God. You are told that it is carnal to spend vacation time with family, on a trip (unless it is direction connected with Church activity). Lacy Hawkins also subliminally teaches that his church is the best among his affiliation and members have to ask permission from him to visit even these churches.

Even your association among church members are watched. You are rudely separated from members who are "weak" or "in a bad spirit." You are censored from close communication with former members. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend who do not join the group, you are aggressively coerced into ending the relationship. Even if you are married and your spouse does not join the group or drops out of the group, you are aggressively told that the relationship will fail and that in order to continue "with God" you eventually will have to end the marriage and re-marry in the church.

The second step: Loss of privacy and the Right to Exclusive Personal decision-making.

Your privacy is aggressively invaded. You are told that "there is no secrets in the Body" and that "you have no Business" that is private. Therefore, your intimate personal matters in which you have discussed innocently in private with the leader, and/or his elders, cunningly is exposed to church members. You are told that this may be part of "your Baptism by fire" and that it will help you to "overcome."

Your mate selection can only be another faithful church member and requires approval by the leader. You jeopardize excommunication if you marry someone who is not in the church or marry within the church without the knowledge or approval of the leader. When you marry in the church, you have to follow stringent guidelines for the ceremony which lasts about 15 minutes. The bride is not allowed to wear a veil or earrings. She can not be "painted up and looking like the world." The groom is not allowed to wear a tuxedo. Childbearing is discouraged. You are indoctrinated to believe that having children is part of the curse on man. Vasectomy, tubal ligations, and hysterectomies are above the "norm" in these two churches. Pregnancy outside of marriage not followed by abortion is grounds for disfellowship and excommunication. Fornication with non-members is outlawed. Fornication among members can be forgiven and may be followed by marriage. Marriage outside of the church one you've become a member is a "damnable sin" and may cause you to be "eternally judged." The leader decides which sins are forgivable.

You must get "covering" approval from the leader or elders before you purchase a home or a car, attend college, invest, start a business, etc. You are told that without guidance, your "salvation can be hindered" if you choose to do these things without counseling and that God doesn't have to bless you if you proceed on your own will.

You are aggressively discouraged to move out of the area of these two churches and if you want to attend another church in this affiliation, you have to get consent from Lacy Hawkins. You are told that the church is "your first priority." All of your financial planning should be aimed at giving "more" to the church, never give less willingly without "justifiable cause." Offerings generally exceed 10% of members income.

Questioning the Ministry

You are told to "be subject" to the ministry and disobedience constitutes rebellion - "the sin of witchcraft"...You can not question the ministry's judgments (your own or that of others, whether morally objectable or not.) "He has the divine guidance from God and God shows him what to do in each situation in order for that individual to be saved."

You can present Bible questions. However, this can only be done in services (and that only when he feels the spirit leads.) You can not ask doctrinal questions at private group gatherings. Once the leader has stated what is doctrine for the church, only he can change it. It can not be challenged. It is considered rebellion.

If you show any resistance, you are to be in a "bad-spirit" and "rebellious." Sermons are geared to induce fear in you and others if resistance is continued. You are said to be "working against the ministry." This can bring you the reward of "eternal judgment and damnation."

If you leave the group, you face the wrath of God. If you cause other members to leave or openly speak against the leader or the group, you are told to "sow discord" and "causes souls to be lost which is an unforgivable sin."

Unless you really have a personal love for God in heaven, you will leave the group discouraged and confused and bitter. Some members who have left and were victimized have gotten involved in self-destructive behaviors (such as drugs and crime.) One any bad news about former members gets to the leader, he informs his followers as this being God's judgment. He does not members of the positive growth and prosperity of former members.

In fact, Wikipedia specifically mentions cell churches in its article on spiritual abuse.

Part 2: A history of its use in targeting mainstream Christianity

Dominionist groups, particularly the FGBMFI and the IRD, have been using "cell church" seeding as part of their strategy for hijacking and splitting mainstream churches for decades.

The earliest documented examples of IRD-style church seeding for purposes of hijacking occured in the 60's with the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International and deliberate attempts to seed "Catholic Charismatic" groups in churches with the hopes they'd be hijacked.  As reported by a former member who left (ironically because he disapproved of Catholicism), "Catholic Charismatic" converts were encouraged to remain in their home congregations rather than join a pente church, with the explicit goal that the whole congregation would be converted.   One site critical of the movement details the history dating back from 1966, after one of the founders of the "Catholic Charismatic" movement was converted by a dominionist cell-church group:

It was not surprising then that Kevin Ranaghan was the first speaker on opening night at the 30th anniversary Conference.  After boasting that God had filled him to overflowing with the Spirit, Ranaghan recounted that in the early days, in order to "grow in the spirit", he and his friend sought spiritual advice from a Protestant prayer-group:

"In the beginning the contact with Pentecostals of our area helped us to grow in an understanding and experience of the charisms.  We met in the home of the representative of the Full-Gospel Businessmen.  And when he heard that a group of Catholics was coming, he rallied the troops, and brought in several Pentecostal ministers and a room full of prayer warriors to engage in what they were sure would be a hard-fought battle.  What they found was the most shockingly easy prayer-time they had ever known.  We claimed that we had already been baptized in the Holy Spirit, which they found hard to believe because, after all, we were Catholics."
. . .
He continued, "We said that we just wanted their help and advice on yielding to and using the gifts.  They laid hands on us, and one by one the whole roomful of us started to pray and sing in tongues.  No battle, just a victory celebration."      (thunderous applause)

Even to this day, the "Catholic Charismatic" movement has close connections with the Assemblies of God, including explicit promotion of "third wave" pentecostalism (a la Brownsville or Toronto).

The promotion of cell churches "proper" with dominionist churches continued with a meeting of what would be known as the Fort Lauderdale Five--five preachers, all connected with dominionist neopente movements (one of which was a "Charismatic Baptist"), who wrote the very playbook of "divide and conquer" that groups like the IRD use today, but back in 1974 it was in use by the Full Gospel Businessmens' Fellowship International.

Eventually, they would end up with one of the saddest successes and horrifying proof that cell churches could be used to hijack an entire congregation--the complete hijacking of the Southern Baptist Convention by dominionists:

It was the Full Gospel Business Men and Charismatic Renewal that brought in the Discipling or Shepherding movement, which continues to grow rapidly as many in leadership take the position they are neither to be doubted nor questioned. Parallel names for the theology involved are: headship, discipleship, covenant relationships, cell groups and accountability groups.

Bob Mumford and Ern Baxter were two of the instigators of the Shepherding movement. Eventually called the "Ft. Lauderdale Five", the main leaders besides Mumford and Baxter, were Derek Prince (Assemblies of God), Don Basham (Disciples of Christ), and Charles Simpson (Southern Baptist).

Bob Mumford of Lifechangers, recounts some of the history of his personal involvement in Shepherding in the article "Forty years later."  

"...In 1963, we took a position as Professor of New Testament and Missions at Elim Bible Institute in New York. While teaching at Elim doors began to open with the Full Gospel Businessmen, allowing us to teach on the renewal in denominational churches. During this same time we also became involved in the Charismatic Renewal because of the vision imparted to me by David Duplessis. He came as a visiting ministry and spoke about John 17:21 and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in mainline denominations around the world, and the need to facilitate unity in the larger Body of Jesus Christ...California in 1969 to work with Ralph Mahoney and World MAP...In 1971 we became officially involved with New Wine Magazine and Christian Growth Ministries in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Derek Prince (Assemblies of God), Don Basham (Disciples of Christ), Charles Simpson (Southern Baptist), and two years later Ern Baxter (Charismatic). There was a sense that out of the five of us there would be a diversification of teaching which would give more of a balance and less of a personality emphasized..."

 "In 1972, four of the teachers held extensive seminars on the truths of God's Word as we saw them emerging, namely: spiritual unity, spiritual authority, more personal pastoral care, covenantal understanding, and discipleship. Basically, the vision sought to establish the truth needed to prevent the Charismatic renewal from disintegration or a degeneration into subjectivism and experience fixation. The response to these truths was remarkable... Out of this came what is now known as the "discipleship - shepherding" movement. All of this was consummated in 1977 in what became known historically as the Kansas City Conference... We moved to Ft. Lauderdale for the primary purpose of the development and maturity of new leaders..."

"We saw ourselves in a military model, like commanders involved in spiritual warfare...In 1975 the controversy began... We began to understand how dangerous it was for charismatic leaders to teach God's people what other pastoral leadership did not know. By doing this we were contributing to the injury, pain, and pressure of a church and society that was already fragmenting..." {Bolding added}

 "While many of these original principles have been mastered and adjusted, I still believe in them with all my being... 1984 saw the break up of the five teachers. My choice was to renew my relationship with the Elim Fellowship once again."29  http://www.lifechangers.org/

Elim Bible Institute in Lima, New York had several 1948 Latter Rain Movement members on staff, including the president, in 1976. Demos Shakarian invited the president of the school to a FGBM convention in 1953, which indicates there was Latter Rain influence in FGBM.  New Wine was also a conduit for Latter Rain teachings.30 New Wine Magazine was applauded at the National Religious Broadcaster's 1986 convention. 31 The issue, included in convention materials, presented a special report on "M.G." Pat Robertson who had denounced "the Five" in 1975. At the same convention, "shepherding leader Charles Simpson was with an elite party of guests at a private reception in Robertson's honor."32

In 1986, Bob Mumford sent a letter to his followers describing changes and that, "it seemed necessary to decentralize in order that we might minister more effectively."33 The strategy of decentralization seemed to work. By 1987, (Late) Don Basham appeared on Pat Robertson's 700 Club, and Bob Mumford appeared on Trinity Broadcast Networks' PTL talk show. 34

As early as 1974, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Don Basham, Charles Simpson and Ern Baxter entered into a `covenant relationship' with Ralph Martin and Steve Clark, founders of the Word of God Catholic charismatics in Ann Arbor, Michigan..." 35 Their alliance was called "The Council" and "its purpose was to strengthen the shepherding system across the denominational lines." By the mid-1970's, the Council had expanded to include Catholic shepherding stalwarts, Paul DeCelles and Kevin Ranaghan and also Larry Christianson, a leader in the Lutheran charismatic renewal. 36  

See: General Council Minutes of the "Ft. Lauderdale" Elders from 1974.

It was to Bob Mumford that Lonnie Frisbee went in 1971, when he left Chuck Smith of Costa Mesa Calvary Chapel, where he'd been unofficial youth Pastor since 1968.  At the invitation of Mumford, Lonnie entered the beginning of the shepherding movement "to join with other Jesus People leaders,"37 for five years of "intensive Bible study"38, where upon he returned to Calvary Chapel for a short time. He then joined John Wimber in 1980. Some suggest that Bob Mumford and Derek Prince gave the "discipling" a `test run' in one church which ended up splitting, followed by the Five going public, with similar widespread results.39  

Ern Baxter wrote the workbook study course, The Chief Shepherd and His Sheep  which organizers sold at the July 1987 Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization in New Orleans. Ironically, over 40,000 charismatics attended and received free copies of Charisma magazine. It had the cover story "After Discipleship", which was about the controversy of the `shepherding movement.' 40

Dennis Peacocke is one of the many disciples of Bob Mumford. Peacocke has been on the board of advisors of the Family Christian Broadcasting Network. (FAM/CBN) He networks with numerous shepherding and New Right organizations, including sponsoring right-wing conferences, at least one of which included Phyllis Schlafly. (CNP) 41 Anatole Fellowship was founded by Dennis Peacocke, who "shepherded" Colonel Doner, founder and director of Moon-controlled and financed Christian Voice mentioned in CNP biographies.

Dennis Peacocke leads The Convergence, a reconstructionist/dominionist global leadership conference "that is focused on the conversation that must take place between the Church and the postmodern secular world. By definition, convergence occurs when people of different ideologies begin to approach the same point, even though they may be coming toward it from different directions, and engage each other in meaningful dialogue. This dialogue can change the world by aligning it more closely to God¹s will and God¹s Kingdom." http://www.theconvergence.org/purpose2000.htm

For his opening address at The Convergence, Dennis Peacocke, also president of Strategic Christian Services, "called the principalities, powers, and rulers of darkness to task for their dissemination of lies in this century..." http://www.theconvergence.org/report1999.htm


The inaugural leadership conference, hosted by Dennis Peacocke and Strategic Christian Services was held in Santa Rosa, California on June 24-26, 1999. According to their Purpose, "The Convergence signaled the emergence of a far-reaching multinational movement to do exactly that: care enough to bring biblical solutions to the nations¹ wounds..."  http://www.theconvergence.org/report1999.htm

Besides Dennis Peacocke, the 1999 Conference included: Bishop Eddie Long, Senior Pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church (a 22,000 member Atlanta fellowship); Bishop Flynn Johnson, Senior Pastor of Atlanta Metropolitan Cathedral; Wallace Henley, former staff assistant to President Richard Nixon, former senior pastor of The Encourager Church, and now running for the U.S. Senate in Texas; John Kelly, former NFL lineman, founder of Antioch Churches and Ministries; Dudley Hall, President of Successful Christian Living Ministries and pastor-teacher at Restoration Church near Dallas; and Richard (Dick) Bruner, Senior Pastor of Christ Church North Bay and President of Sent International, a prophetic ministry."

Dick Bruner had worked with Kent Philpott, a pastor who had a youth ministry, in San Rafael/Marin County during the Jesus Movement.

Dennis Peacocke's Strategic Christian Services provides the parallel mission and support to The Convergence:

    "Our mission is to pioneer in transforming the world we know into the world God has intended. This transformation, which requires genuine, lasting change in every area of contemporary life, is the venture to which the men and women of Strategic Christian Services have dedicated their lives." http://www.gostrategic.org/Mainmenu.asp

Mr. Peacocke's associate, Jay Grimstead, drafted the "Worldview Documents," which involved cell groups for `sheep' and pastors. In 1986, Grimstead organized pastors of the National Association of Evangelicals into "accountability groups." 42 In other words, they became "shepherded."  

29  http://www.lifechangers.org/   Bob Mumford, Lifechangers' Mission
30   op.cit. Riss, p. 140
31   Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare; The Politics of the Religious Right; p.118; South End Press, 1989
32   Ibid
33   Ibid. p. 119
34   Ibid
35   Ibid. p. 122
36   Ibid.
37   Lonnie Cognate Essay by David Disabatino
38   Ronald Enroth, Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and C. Breckenridge Peters, p. 93, The Jesus People: Old-Time Religions in the Age of Aquarius. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
39   Online Discussion String, Statement by one who parents attended the church that split
40   Op.cit. Diamond, p. 111-112
41   Ibid. p. 128
42    Ibid. p. 128-129)

(Sara Diamond, of note, has done an excellent job in documenting in her book "Spiritual Warfare" how "cell churches" were largely used to infiltrate, and then hijack or split mainstream churches, as a form of "spiritual warfare" done by pente dominionists.)

Many of the architects of the shepherding movement, and of the seed of the SBC's hijacking, have long histories in the dominionist movement--especially the scarier branches.  Among other things, at least one member of the "Fort Lauderdale Five"--a major promoter of the use of "cell churches" to take over cities in the name of "spiritual warfare"--is connected with the "Christian militia" movement and has been investigated for threatening legislators.  In fact, almost all of the "Fort Lauderdale Five" have similarly unsavory histories and are similarly hardline dominionist.

The party most of interest in the "Fort Lauderdale Five"--and the hijacking of the SBC--is one Charles Simpson, who was the major Southern Baptist co-conspirator in promoting "cell churches".  He himself had been converted to a "Charismatic Baptist" by neopente groups, and until 1987 was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention:

Charles Simpson has been a pastor, Bible teacher, and overseer of churches since 1957. He was ordained Southern Baptist and attended Southern Baptist colleges and seminary. In 1964, during the Charismatic Movement, he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and became active in church renewal. Charles was associated with New Wine magazine for 17 years. He now is president of Charles Simpson Ministries, which publishes Christian Conquest magazine and a monthly pastoral letter.

Charles publishes Christian materials through CSM Publishing. This literature is distributed to more than 100 nations. He is the author of several books, including The Challenge to Care and Courageous Living.

(Of note, "church renewal" is a very, very common codeword for "dominionist infiltration".)

In fact, to this day Simpson is both the poster-child for, and a major promoter of, this tactic specifically to hijack mainstream churches:

In the past the religious spirit of shepherding-discipleship was confined primarily to small cell groups which operated under extreme authoritarianism working autonomously from the established churches. Today it has gained ascendancy within the denominations and among many independent churches, both charismatic and fundamentalist. Within this new context shepherding-discipleship is called covenantalism. Its focus is, as before, on small home groups, but this time under the sponsorship of churches. Thus it has gained respectability and acquired the confidence of pastors that it lacked in its previous life. In fact, covenantalism is increasing at a rapid pace among thousands of churches in the United States, and is spreading to many churches abroad.

Underlying the philosophy of covenantalism is a dominionist mindset which perceives the Church's mission as one of conquest over the nations. It is believed by those at the forefront of the covenant movement that the Great Commission is a mandate for the Church to take dominion over the governments of the world. This cannot be done unless a sufficient number of Christians submit to apostolic authority.

This apostolic authority is vested in certain apostles and prophets designated by a group of men and women whose religious philosophy grew out of the Latter Rain Movement of the 40s and 50s, particularly the Manifested Sons of God. This was the foundation of the shepherding-discipleship movement of the 60s and 70s. The 80s saw these movements take root among the established churches.

It is significant that Charles Simpson, one of the leaders of the old shepherding-discipleship movement, is the founder and Chairman of The Fellowship of Covenant Ministers and Churches (FCMC), head- quartered in Orlando, Florida. One of FCMC's purposes is to promote covenantalism with the goal of establishing pastors as the disciplers of a dominionist agenda.

Em Baxter, Simpson's associate in the shepherding-discipleship movement, is an Advisor to FCMC. In its first two years FCMC granted membership to some 120 churches as well as many independent ministries, and is growing steadily. In its first two years FCMC granted membership to some 120 churches as well as many independent ministries, and is growing steadily.

According to the thinking of those at the forefront of covenantalism, dominion cannot be achieved without worldwide evangelism which, in turn, is dependent upon a sufficient number of Christians being groomed to "take their communities and nations by force." This does not mean preaching the Gospel, although that is a part of the program. Rather, it means taking control of the spiritual and temporal forces that govern the world system. It is by nature ecumenical and concerned more with establishing a society based on biblical ethics I than on true righteousness in Christ.

What seems to appeal the most to pastors is the idea that covenantalism implemented through home cell groups can result in growth for their ministry. Recognizing that the pulpit ministry is insufficient to build membership and to meet the needs of the people, they have come to realize that close-knit home fellowships can be used to their benefit.

The article continues in noting the highly coercive nature of cell churches in actual practice:
Those who would take the role of shepherd in these home cell groups must first demonstrate their loyalty to the pastor's vision for his church and a willingness to move those he disciples in the direction the pastor deems appropriate. In essence, the home fellowships are for the benefit of the congregation only to the degree that they benefit the pastor's programs. If any spiritual benefit is realized by an individual it is certainly acceptable and even touted as a reason for others to join. But if the leadership is not also benefited the home fellowships are often dismantled or imbued with an even stricter authoritarian structure.
. . .

The method of implementing the new shepherding-discipleship program in the churches is to require members to sign covenants with the pastor wherein they agree to perform certain duties in order to be considered in good standing. Among other duties, these include:

  1. commitment to a small group headed by one who has previously covenanted with the pastor to follow his "vision";

  2. commitment to hold one another accountable for their personal lives;

  3. commitment to tithe to the church;

  4. commitment to a minimum standard and time of prayer;

  5. commitment to consistent and faithful attendance at services and meetings.
. . .
It is not difficult to see that at the heart of these covenants is a shepherding mindset that gives leaders a psychological edge in herding the sheep into line with their "visions."

The Coalition on Revival (COR), head-quartered in Mountain View, California, is one organization actively working to implement covenantalism in the churches. Through the influence of shepherding proponents on the Steering Committee of COR, covenantalism has taken root. This is evidenced in the COR Covenant as well as many of its sphere documents (see "COALITION ON REVIVAL: Putting Feet On The Dominionists' Agenda," Media Spotlight, Vol. 10 - No.1).

In its sphere document, "The Christian World View of Pastoral Renewal," COR addresses the concept of the pastors' vision:

We affirm that every pastor, to accomplish his task and stay encouraged, needs to surround himself with a few trustworthy and loyal men from among his church's leaders who are in the process of catching his vision for their church and are eager to play their part in it and to be discipled by him in how to be Christ-centered, Bible-obeying men of God!

Local pastors and seminary administrators must be made aware of the pastor's need to create around himself a loyal, faithful band of elders and staff who are committed to his vision for their church and to helping that vision be accomplished, and who are being discipled by that pastor.

(Yes, you may recall the Coalition on Revival--the first dominionist group for the explicit purpose of promoting "renewal and revival" dominionist movements in mainstream churches, as well as networking of dominionist pastors.  This shouldn't be surprising--Dennis Peacocke, one of the "Fort Lauderdale Five", is a founding member of the Coalition on Revival which is one of the earlier "modern" dominionist groups.)

The Institute for Religion and Democracy to this day uses the same playbook--meeting with a few "friendlies", then "breeding" dominionist-friendly congregations within the present congregation--with the goal of eventual hijack.

As I recall, COR signatories took an oath until death to work towards the goals of The Coalition On Revival. Wasn't it also a blood oath ? Or am I imagining that aspect ?

by Bruce Wilson on Thu May 11, 2006 at 06:58:53 PM EST
Most of the references I have seen so far re the COR and blood oaths seem to be in the symbolic sense (not in the literal "signing in blood" sense), but there's a few interesting comments:

(from COR expose)

-  An 11-page document from a COR-sponsored "Continental Congress on Christian World View III" held July 2-4, 1986, in Washington D.C. says, "The Coalition on Revival was called into existence as a catalyst to help unify and mobilize leadership in the Body of Christ to cause 'God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.'" This Manifesto-Covenant was signed by 60 of COR's Steering Committee members. They made "A Solemn Covenant" with God and each other to live by its terms until death, natural or martyred. COR signers made a public covenant with God to establish a theocracy in place of democracy. They admitted that the covenant is "a recruiting tool" to pool believers into an army. The other objective is to use the covenant as a means to "teach" (indoctrinate) believers with COR's brand of Christianity. (As we shall see later in this report, discipleship, according to COR, requires political activism. What COR requires of those who sign its covenant is to be willing to die in the attempt to establish a theonomic political state. This statement makes the COR Manifesto-Covenant more than just a covenant; it is a blood covenant, sworn to on the life of the signers; cf. Matt. 5:33-36.)

(For reference sake, Matthew 5:33-36 is a general admonition against oaths and was likely inserted by the author criticising the COR; the post is originally from an apologetics site.)

"Troutfishing" on DailyKos, who regularly reports on articles of interest here on Talk2Action on that blog, has also noted the use of blood oaths; however, I'm not sure if this is symbolic or literal.  A MetaFilter post seems to indicate the same source was used (the apologetics site expose of the COR).

A copy of the manifesto itself is available in HTML format here (warning: site pro-dominionist) or from the COR's website itself here.  It is apparently one of multiple documents of similar tone.

The Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression, an anti-censorship group with a long history (they helped fight some of the "Banned in Boston" laws, for instance), has noted that COR Steering Committee members are required to take a life-oath (EFF archive here; not coincidentially, this list is a veritable who's who of dominionism (yes, including the PMRC entry--the PMRC has, over the past ten years, been led by dominionists, was in part co-founded by a dominionist (Susan Baker, who is also on the board for Focus on the Family), ; the PMRC has also historically promoted material from "Back In Control Training Center" (a dominionist group that claimed to "de-metal" and "de-rap" youth and which operated coercive "behaviour modification" facilities and which--disturbingly--was actively supported by the LAPD) and Bob Larson Ministries (a "deliverance ministry" preacher who has claimed since the 60's that all secular, and practically all "Christian contemporary" music as well, is Satanic and has even claimed the peace sign, the Magen David, and the Nike swoosh are all covert Satanic symbols) and has even partnered with a group run by Phyllis Schlafly which distributed texts that promoted frank antisemitism, Holocaust revisionism, and racism).

Speaking of scary movements, there are known links between Dennis Peacocke (the "ringleader" of the Fort Lauderdale Five) and the Liberty Lobby, a right-wing group that was blatantly antisemitic and can even be argued to be close to the core of the modern "racist militia" movement; as it turns out, Peacocke was the "shepherd" for an Assemblies of God pastor who was the "spiritual advisor" for William Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby.  (Yes, the Assemblies does have longstanding links to neofascist movements, sadly.)   Peacocke also notably has links to one of the most spiritually abusive neopentecostal groups ever documented, Maranatha aka Morning Star International aka Every Nation (Maranatha and its various renamings are almost universally considered a bona fide "bible based cult" and in fact Maranatha was so abusive it was literally banned from multiple state college campuses).

Interestingly, at least one site also mentions rather specifically the role of "cell churches" within the COR.  

by dogemperor on Thu May 11, 2006 at 09:39:57 PM EST

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by maroso on Wed Sep 20, 2023 at 02:22:20 AM EST

They used this term to describe attempts to control the private lives of their members.
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by maroso on Thu Mar 07, 2024 at 10:30:44 AM EST

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by Daniel Teeseling on Thu Nov 05, 2020 at 06:23:45 PM EST
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by Daniel Teeseling on Thu Nov 05, 2020 at 06:25:12 PM EST

These five leaders were Don Basham, Ern Baxter, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, and Charles Simpson, contact us.

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by Thomas Maxwell on Wed Dec 02, 2020 at 06:29:12 PM EST
Megachurches largely got their birth in the dominionist community at this same time, partly through a major emphasis in getting as many members in a church as possible pressure washing

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They began producing tapes, books, and a monthly magazine called New Wine.
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by Thomas Maxwell on Wed Nov 18, 2020 at 06:24:18 PM EST
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by Thomas Maxwell on Tue Dec 15, 2020 at 01:00:39 AM EST

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by maroso on Mon Sep 13, 2021 at 07:05:51 AM EST

Your privacy is aggressively invaded. You are told that "there is no secrets in the Body" and that "you have no Business" that is private.


by madmardigan on Mon Nov 22, 2021 at 04:57:58 AM EST

He also taught authoritarianism to the point that he said disciples should be told which individuals they should take home with them for meals.
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by horeakaii on Tue Apr 26, 2022 at 08:20:31 PM EST

That article also discussed problems with the shepherding movement.

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by rickluck90 on Mon Feb 20, 2023 at 06:02:08 AM EST

 There was no structure to this growing movement.
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by maroso on Tue May 02, 2023 at 04:47:56 AM EST

The most ominous branches of the dominionist movement, many of the architects of the shepherding movement and the seed of the SBC's takeover, have extensive backgrounds. | www.spartanconcretepros.com  

by madmardigan on Fri May 05, 2023 at 11:04:25 AM EST

If any spiritual benefit is realized by an individual it is certainly acceptable and even touted as a reason for others to join. civil rights attorney San Bernardino

by maroso on Sat Aug 12, 2023 at 01:54:32 AM EST

Cell churches are a type of church organization in which members are divided into small groups, or cells, for worship and fellowship. This model is often seen as a way to make church more personal and connected, and to facilitate discipleship.

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by Jon889 on Wed Aug 30, 2023 at 03:19:21 PM EST

This movement developed outside traditional denominational structures.
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