Experiment: the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement
A Personal Account and Analysis
By Robin Arnaud
Copyright (c) 2002. Robin Arnaud. Used by permission.
I was very new to the Charismatic
experience and just 12 years old when this movement began, right in my
own hometown. Originally billed as "a return" to city-churches, it was
supposed to eliminate barriers and unify the church in every city. It
was to be a grand, courageous exercise in mutual submission that would
dissolve all remaining walls between Christians (denominational,
political, theological, financial, social). And such a unified church
would be so powerful that dominion would quickly follow.
"There were not separate churches divided by denominations in the first
century," the founders of the movement explained. "Churches were
city-churches, single entities in every city, which is why the gospel
spread so quickly despite persecution." The authors of this great
experiment (Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, and Don Basham) began it soon
after they had established very popular teaching ministries in Fort
Lauderdale, FL and founded New Wine magazine - now defunct, but then
hugely popular. New Wine was one of the earliest Charismatic "teaching"
magazines produced by the Charismatic movement. I grabbed every copy I
could get my hands on, and literally sat at Bob Mumford's feet on those
overcroweded Monday night teaching meetings -- first held at Memorial
Baptist Church and then moved to the Governor's Club Hotel in downtown
Fort Lauderdale to accommodate huge crowds of itchy-eared Charismatics.
All us pre-teens and teenagers sat up front on the floor to let the
grownups have the chairs. Besides, the closer to the front we could get
the better we liked it!
"Kingdom dominion" was the object of this movement from the very
beginning. The object was to unify the church, thus making her far more
powerful and influential. "That we may be one . . . perfected in unity
and in glory so that the world may believe that God sent Jesus," was the
appeal, based on a misapplication of John 17:21-23.
Early on, this movement wedded itself to "Kingdom Now" theology, which
most of the more orthodox churches (even Pentecostal ones) had rejected
as heretical and dangerous. But "Shepherding" offered a way to make
"Kingdom Now" actually work. It was to be the first practical
application of the concept, putting the ideals into practice through
mutual "shepherding." It was supposed to be the means to "establish the
unified Kingdom of God on earth," hastening the return of Christ. This
was my first exposure to any Post-millennial eschatology. I was
bewildered by it at first, then completely taken in by its appeal to
here-and-now dominion. And I felt lucky to be "on the ground floor,
right at the beginning" of the establishment of God's kingdom on earth
in the first city in it was to be achieved in our century.
The appeal of this idea was irresistable. We expected to become powerful
and influential. We expected to win the entire Broward County metro area
to Christ in just a few short years because of "the uninhibited flow of
the Spirit" through a "unified" Spirit-filled church. Dominion of the
whole world would follow within a generation or two, spreading from
right here in my own hometown. Here's how that unity was to be achieved:
Not really by His Spirit, but by Might and by Power.
The might and power of manipulation. The equivalent, I believe, of
witchcraft. Manipulation of others is witchcraft. A "pyramid" of
headship was laid out like an organizational chart with Christ at the
top, followed by three "apostles" (guess who? If you guessed Bob Mumford,
Derek Prince, and Don Basham, you win!), and from there to their
disciples, who would, in turn, train other disciples once they were
fully trained. Every individual in the whole city would be personally
discipled, by a "shepherd" who had himself been personally discipled,
etc. Right on up to the "top" - so that everyone would ultimately become
a disciple of Christ. Every person was assigned to a "shepherd" who had
been trained in discipleship by three "Apostles of the Church in Fort
But what kind of authority does a "shepherd" have? As we look casually
at examples of discipleship in the Bible, we get a picture of total
obedience. But it was not slavery! Any disciple in every Biblical model
was free to leave his teacher at any time. The Biblical model of
discipleship did not blur the lines between spiritual authority and
domestic authority. Biblically, the individual retained his own
responsibility and authority for his own vocation, family, children,
place of residence, etc. But this Shepherding movement blurred those
lines. In fact, it virtually eliminated them. There were stories of
abuse so hideous that they had to be quelled by stern orders from above.
There were no clear lines drawn to define the scope and limit of a "sheperd's"
authority over those he was "discipling." The authority of a spiritual
discipler is spiritual, not domestic, nor political. It is limited to
the training of the word of God. Except in godly application of
Scripture to all of life, a discipler has no authority to control every
aspect of a believer's personal life. But in this movement, such limits
were never defined. The proper application and limits of church
discipline were neither studied nor explained.
My own "shepherd," Andy Z., had a group of men living in his home who
kept 10% of the money they earned for themselves and turned ninety
percent over to Andy. I would have been one of them, but I wasn't old
enough to move out of my parent's house yet. My older brother, however,
was old enough. Already troubled by the abuse we endured at home, my
brother moved out of the house at the first opportunity that presented
itself - which happened to be Andy's newly-forming commune. I was very
happy that my troubled older brother had finally "come to Christ" and
that he was being "really discipled." He'd be okay after all, I thought.
But since his exposure to this cultish abuse of the Bible and
manipulation by so-called ministers of the gospel, by brother has
abandoned every form of discipline including self-discipline. He knows a
lot of theology and can quote a lot of Scripture. But he remains at
enmity with God. The abuse my brother suffered at the hands of this
"shepherd" and the men who formed this little commune was worse than the
abuse he had fled from at home. The damage was so profound and
long-lasting that my brother remains unable to maintain relationships
and function normally as an adult in free society.
To this day, if you look carefully, you might still find some of the
Lord's sheep limping back to their old feeding grounds in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, gingerly step, and asking one another: "Is it safe?
Can we come out now?"
You will also find the church in Fort Lauderdale more sharply divided
now than in most other communities, and only a few dying remnants of the
old "glory days" of the great experiment. New Wine magazine is nowhere
to be found. Memorial Baptist Church has closed it's doors, and the
once-grand Governor's Club hotel no longer hosts crowds of itchy-eared
Charismatics. Charismatics in Fort Lauderdale, as a matter of fact, are
scattered into several "independent" churches. Many have found
themselves mending in the spiritual care of orthodox churches, thank
God. But many have ended up like my brother: Severely damaged by the
failure of the church to define the Kingdom of God for what it is - the
spiritual reign of Christ in His people. It is not a carnal, physical
imposition of righteousness from without. The Kingdom of God is within
us. It is not imposed from outside. It is not physical nor temporal nor
political. Kingdom life is not lived through the obedience of the people
to earthly shepherds, but through the obedience of the One (Romans 5:19)
who has qualified us for citizenship in His Kingdom.
May God grant that the Church will never forget the tragic lessons of
the ill-considered but well-intentioned attempts to "bring in " the
Kingdom of God, to unify and perfect it so as to hasten Christ's return.
But only the Holy Spirit can create and perfect such unity and power in
the Church. The nature of the Kingdom is spiritual! Human attempts to
make it "real" by imposing man-made inventions have always resulted in
abuse and tragedy. This Shepherding/Discipleship experiment is just one
recent example of it.
But there are other, emerging and growing even now. Again the lines that
Scripture draws between the earthly and the spiritual - between the
temporal and the eternal - are being blurred by the same seuctive appeal
of "Kingdom Now" dominion teaching. Certain aberrant forms of theonomy
are just more of this same dominion theology that birthed the
destructive Shepherding/Discipleship movement in a different wrapper.
Such forms seek to "bring in" the Kingdom, to "make it real in the here
and now" and to hasten the return of Christ by ushering in a physical,
earthly, temporal, political expression of the Kingdom of God.
Reformed theonomy, by very definition, does not teach any such concept.
Biblical Christian theonomic communities have thrived here and there
since the first century (see Acts 4:32-37). But in such communities the
bounds and limits of spiritual and domestic authority are clearly
defined; not blended and blurred as they were in Christian Growth
Ministries' unbiblical dominion experiment.
While the Shepherding movement sought to "bring in the kingdom" through
the imposition of another's will upon individuals under the guise of
submission to "shepherds," theonomy seeks to apply the Law of God to
Christian society. The distinctions between God's moral law, his
decreative law, and even the civil laws of ancient Israel are blurred or
eliminated in the Shepherding movement, while Reformed theonomists
maintain those distinctives when applying God's law to Christian
For example: The primary function of the civil government, according to
Scripture, is the administration of justice (see Romans 13), by
promoting an atmosphere conducive to the safety and liberty of
individuals and their commerce. This administration of justice enforced
by the sword is not the function of the Church! The weapons of our
warfare are not carnal, but spiritual. A church can discipline it's
members for violations of God's moral law, by admonition, by withholding
the Lord's Supper for a season, or in extreme cases by excommunication.
But the church has no duty and no authority to impose fines,
imprisonment, or physical punishment upon anyone. Again, our weapons are
spiritual. Our kingdom is not of this world. But while we are in this
world, we are to be salt and light, influencing our civil government as
much as we possibly can, that its administration of justice will be
might be righteous and fair. We do so by promoting Christian morals in
the society in which we live.
Looking back through history since the first century AD, one can see v
ery clearly that any attempt to "bring in the Kingdom" which fails to
honor those distinctions has resulted in untold suffering imposed on
whole nations until they collapsed from within because "the kingdom" was
imposed from without. From Charelemagne's reign over "the Holy Roman
Empire" to the smaller, lesser-know but just as destructive
Shepherding/Discipleship movement, history is replete with examples of
this folly. Every attempt at it in history has failed. And yet the idea
continually resurfaces and finds adherents. But it is based on a false
It appeals so seductively to by our own inner groanings and eagerness
for the revealing of the children of God! Paul describes it:
"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing
of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not
willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the
creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption
into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that
the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.
And not only this, but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the
Spirit, even we groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for adoption as
sons, the redemption of our body (Rom 5:19-23, NASB)."
We don't want to wait for God to accomplish this in His own time and in
His own way. We can hardly resist the temptation to hurry this up, to
relieve our groanings and longings for the liberation of all creation
from the curse of sin. If we are not careful, we will lose hope in God's
providence (Romans 8:28-30) and take matters into our own hands. Yet,
any visible outward glory we can create can't compare with the glory
that God is preparing. And besides, hope that is seen is not hope at
all, but unseen hope produces perserverance (Rom 8:24-35).
It's easy to see why dominion theology is so appealing. It's easy to see
why so many people, inwardly groaning for the revelation of the children
of God, lose patience (Rom 8:25) and assign themselves the task of
"bringing in the Kingdom." But any attempt to do so that is unbiblical
is not only harmful, but doomed to failure. Whatever new forms this
error takes, they must be avoided! And Christians must be warned to stay
clear of this seductive error.
"A Dominion Experiment" was published in two parts in the June & July
editions of "Delivered!" newsletter (see "Archives"). This essay was
also published on the website, www.the-highway.com, along with other
original essays. Robin is owner and host of a discussion group called
ExCharisma for former Charismatics currently adhering "Reformed"
theology. "ExCharisma" is not the "Ex-Charismatics" forum hosted by our
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