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PIETISM AND PROMISE KEEPERS (a four-part series)

Part II. Methods of Pietism

We must observe and avoid the Promise Keepers (Romans 16:17) because their doctrine and methods are derived from the errors of Pietism. They clearly do not trust in the efficacy of the Word or the Means of Grace. At the same time, they want to submerge all doctrinal differences by treating every denomination as the same.

The singular trait of Pietism is the lay led prayer or Bible study group, with many names today: affinity group, koinonia group, share or care group, cell group. The founder of Pietism, Philip Spener, was influenced by the Reformed in no longer trusting the external Word, the Gospel proclaimed and taught in church, to accomplish God’s work.

Spener set up the conventicles (collegia pietatis) which plague the Church today. Although they deny it, Pietists consider the congregation a convenient central location for the Real Church, their cell groups. Pietists consider the cell group members the genuine believers while those who only to go church on Sunday are thought to be unsaved or at a lower level of Christianity. Some Baptists, for instance, brag about never entering their own sanctuary while serving as Bible class leaders for decades.

The lay led cell group often sets itself against the congregation and pastor, calling their critics “possessed by Satan.” The cell group is always open to all denominations, so Pentecostals, Adventists, and other sects step in and lead the gullible to a higher, deeper, better Christianity which pretends to be free of doctrine. In fact, cell groups have a few doctrines which they protect by excommunicating dissenters: 1) Infant baptism is from Satan; 2) Each person must have a specific and colorful born-again experience; 3) Worship and holy communion are not important; 4) One must submit to the cell group’s authority; 5) All denominations are equal, except for the bad ones which emphasize sound doctrine. In many cases, women teach men and are in authority over them (1 Timothy 2:12).

Reversing its former trend against doctrinal laxity, the Wisconsin Synod has lately begun endorsing cell groups, following the example of Rev. Hybel’s Willow Creek Community Church and Rev. Paul Y. Cho’s Full Gospel (Pentecostal) Church in Korea. WELS pastors were paid to attend training in Madison, Wisconsin.

Introduction to Small Groups. Purpose of This Segment. 1. To introduce the concept of small group ministry. 2. To present the rationale (benefits and need for) small groups. 3. To impart a vision for small groups as a strategy for accomplishing our disciple-making mission.(1)

One of the leaders of the conference, a WELS pastor being trained in Church Growth at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, sold copies of a book by Cho, whose doctrines include teaching that the spirit world will give people what they demand in their prayers, as long as their list is specific.

The WELS cell group conference was not a fluke. Soon after, a WELS Seminary professor admitted that he was trained by a non-Lutheran, Lyman Coleman, in Serendipity cell group methods and endorsed them as good for WELS.

The point being made here is that the reason for having home Bible study in small groups seems to have shifted from the Pietists’ or parachurch groups’ goal of creating cells of people who will reform the church to having small groups as an integral part of a congregation’s work.(2)

Unionism causes doctrinal indifference; doctrinal indifference causes unionism. Promise Keepers cell groups will make Lutherans despise the Means of Grace.

“Making disciples” is another method of Pietism, leading to a pharisaic attitude toward others. If my faith is grounded in my own personal experience of salvation and not in the objective Gospel promises of God in the Scriptures, then how can I be certain of salvation? If baptism is symbolic, how do I know that the Holy Spirit dwells in me? The Reformed “monster of uncertainty” is the energy which fuels cell groups and “making disciples.”

–Pastor Gregory L. Jackson

(1) WELS Campus Pastors, Small Group Training Conference, Jan. 7-9,

1991, Madison. p. 2 (2) Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Spring, 1994. p. 127.