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An End Time Deception within the Church?


IS CHURCH GROWTH FALLING INTO AN END TIME DELUSION?

The content for this article was based on a paper submitted by Phillip Pastoral for the Koinonia Institute Issachar 1610 Strategic Trends Study, October 3, 2015


There is a segment of evangelical Christianity that is growing faster than any other religion, including Islam, and is associated with Dominion or “Kingdom Now” Theology, a belief that the church should control or “take dominion” of major institutions of society to cause the transformation of the world (Wagner, Dominion! 23-24). This phenomenon is called the church growth movement, a ‘people movement’ within the church led by highly popular media personalities whose growing influence have attracted a lot of attention from different sectors of society (including the United Nations and the Vatican) many of which eagerly seek to partner with them (Bourne). At the heart of the church growth movement’s mission is a call to “transform the world” through the mobilization of ‘people movements’. Is the church growth movement’s mission to “transform the world” Biblical? An examination by its major proponents’ interpretation of key scripture will show that this movement’s goal is not Biblical.


REDEFINING THE GOSPEL


The first error of the the church growth movement is that it misinterprets the message of the gospel as a social cause. The Lausanne Covenant is a Christian religious manifesto which has become the guiding document of the Lausanne Movement, a global movement comprising 2,400 Christian religious leaders from over 150 countries that mobilizes evangelical leaders to collaborate for world evangelization (Lausanne Movement, About the Movement). The following statement indicates that its interpretation of the gospel includes the pursuit of social transformation:


“The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead” (Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Covenant).


Compare this with the definition that scripture itself provides in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (“KJV”)


in John 3:16

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (“KJV”)


and in Romans 1:16

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (“KJV”).


Unmistakably, the message of the gospel is about eternal salvation for mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing in scriptures suggests it is about pursuing social causes, although without a doubt, salvation may lead to men pursuing social good as the result of transformed hearts. But that would be a byproduct of the mission of the gospel and not the mission itself.


REDEFINING CONVERSION

Another error of interpretation is that the church growth movement incorrectly redefines acceptance of the gospel as a collective decision requiring the mobilization of mass social movements. To understand why, an examination of a statement by one of its most influential proponents as he attempts to explain how people are converted is required. In C. Peter Wagner’s Preface to Donald A. McGavran’s book Understanding Church Growth, Wagner indicated that

"The Missiological issue is McGravran’s people movement theory." Before cultural anthropology was applied to evangelistic strategy, McGavran believed that decision-making processes are often different from culture to culture: While most western missionaries were expecting people to come to Christ one by one against the social tide, McGavran, with Waskom Pickett’s encouragement concluded “that this was not the way multitudes could or would come to Christ”.


In their view, decisions were "community decisions." Therefore, approaching the world with the gospel had to be through a:

"multi-individual, mutually interdependent conversion process whereby members of families, extended families, clans, villages, and tribes would become Christian simultaneously. This process was labelled a 'people movement’” (Wagner, Understanding Church Growth Preface).


The church growth’s leading proponents believe conversion is a “collective decision” rather than an individual decision because they make anthropological and cultural assumptions rather than rely on the Word of God. Scripture describes the conversion process in John 3:16, John 6:47 and in John 6:44. John 3:16 and John 6:47 are very clear that conversion is a personal decision. The word “believe” in the Greek is πίστις (pisteuo). According to the Blue Letter Bible:

“it is used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul”. Alternatively, it means “to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith” (Blue Letter Bible).


In no way does it imply that it is a decision dependent on others as in a consensus. The english word “trust” is often used to reflect its heart-felt meaning. Personal accountability is therefore imposed by God on each person with regard to one’s response to the message of the gospel. In John 6:44, conversion is initiated by God himself as He draws each person to respond to the message of the gospel.

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (“KJV”)


In other words, each person who comes to the point of conversion is merely responding to God’s personal call. So if Biblical conversion is an individual choice, what then is the basis for mobilizing ‘people movements’?


REDEFINING THE GREAT COMMISSION

To further justify the need for ‘people movements’ which is based on the false premise of “collective conversion”, the church growth movement misinterprets the Great Commission by incorrectly redefining the object of discipleship as socio-political entities. This statement from its leading proponent explains this view:

“Since right now we all find ourselves on earth and not yet in heaven, only by following certain earthly rules can we implement this social transformation. Human society is regulated by seven supreme molders of culture—namely, religion, family, government, arts and entertainment, media, business, and education. It should be obvious to anyone that for society as a whole to change, each one of these molders of culture needs to be led or “dominated” by persons of goodwill, whether Christians or non-Christians...My hope is that those who agree with God’s standards of human life will be those individuals who, at the end of the day, are in positions to have dominion over society, whether it be within cities or states or nations or other territories. The ideology underlying this thrust is called ‘dominion theology’” (Wagner, Dominion! 12 ).


It is clear that this proponent has taken one definition of the English word “nation”, as reference to a socio-political entity representing a single unit and applies it to the object of discipleship

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” in the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:19-20.


Based on an exegesis of the original language, the intended definition of “nations” is different from what the church growth movement asserts. According to the Blue Letter Bible:

the Greek word εθνος (ethnos), refers to “a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together” or “a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus” (Blue Letter Bible).


Clearly, the intended object of discipleship is a multitude of individuals, each of whom are personally accountable to God for their individual responses to the gospel. It does not imply in any way that a socio-political entity is being referred to. One cannot help but ponder whether such an erroneous definition of “nations” stems from the same proponent’s faulty premise that conversion is a “collective decision”.


DISREGARDING END TIME PROPHECIES AND DISREGARDING CHRIST'S WARNING ABOUT THE WORLD

Finally, the church growth movement disregards end time prophecies that warn of dark times before the Second Coming coming of Christ. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 and Revelation 3:14-16 the bible describes the conditions of the end time apostate church. In fact in Revelation 13:12, scripture warns of the emergence of a global religion that will aid the Antichrist. And yet the church growth movement disregards these scriptures and assume the opposite (that the church will make the world a better place, that it can “transform the world”). In fact, some church growth leaders have claimed to have received visions supporting a dominionist agenda (Cunningham) to “transform the world”.

But how can this be if the Lord Jesus himself warned his disciples that the world is our adversary in John 15:18,19, 20:

“If the world hates you, you should realize that it hated me before you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as one of its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant IS NOT GREATER than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.


CONCLUSION

The Church growth movement itself is untenable without a sound theological basis. It’s mission poses a threat to the church as a whole as it may distract the Body of Christ from looking to Christ’s return, corrupt the intention of the Great Commission and cause the waste of resources. Looking at the darker side, a willingness to partner with non-believing organizations under the banner of addressing social causes may ultimately lead it into deception. The church must confront this threat directly by exposing it as a deception. Churches must also ensure that the Gospel and the Great Commission are taught correctly to both church leaders and members.

Instead of looking to transform a fallen world which is destined for judgement, the church should watch and pray for Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36), fulfill it’s role as ambassadors of Christ's reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20) and look forward to His rule on earth during the Millennium which will result in real world transformation (Isaiah 9:7, Micah 4:2,3). He alone will receive glory for this impossible task. Anything else is just another form of Humanism.

The content for this article was based on a paper submitted by Phillip Pastoral for the Koinonia Institute Issachar 1610 Strategic Trends Study, October 3, 2015


WORKS CITED

Fig 1 Rick Warren and Pope Francis: West, Marsha. "Rick Warren will speak at Papal Mass in Philadelphia." Berean Research "Guard Yourselves in Steadfast Truth!". Spreeman Communications, 19 July 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. <http://bereanresearch.org/rick-warr...>

“About the Movement”. Lausanne Movement: Connecting influencers and ideas for global mission. 2015. Web. 28 Sep. 2015. <http://www.lausanne.org/about-the-m...>

Bourne, Lisa. “‘We cannot cave on this issue’: Evangelical leader Rick Warren defends marriage at Vatican conference”. LifeSiteNews.com. 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Sep. 2015. <https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/w...> Cunningham, Loren. "Transcript of Interview of Loren

Cunningham on Original 7 Mountains Vision." Reclaiming the 7 Mountains of Culture. Ed. Os Hillman. Marketplace Leaders Ministries. 19 Nov. 2007. Web. 28 Sept. 2015. <http://www.7culturalmountains.org/a...>

“ethnos” def. I and II. Blue Letter Bible. Sowing Circle. Web. 28 Sep. 2015. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lan...>

“Lausanne Covenant” Lausanne Movement: Connecting influencers and ideas for global mission. 2015. Web. 28 Sep. 2015. <http://www.lausanne.org/content/cov...>

“pisteuo” def. B(ii) and B(iii). Blue Letter Bible. Sowing Circle. Web. 3 Oct. 2015. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lan...>

Wagner, C. Peter. Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the Word. pg 23-24. Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2008. Print.

--- Preface. Understanding Church Growth. 3rd Ed. By Donald McGavran. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990. Print.