SUTRISNA WIDJAJA, known as Ferry, received his master’s degree in pastoral studies from East Asian Pastoral Institute with thesis entitled The Theology of Salvation of David Yonggi Cho and Its Pastoral Challenges to Indonesian Christian Ministers. He now serves as the diocesan financial administrator, the parish priest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Bandung, Indonesia, and part-time staff at the Diocesan Major Seminary.
David Yonggi Cho is the co-founder and the senior-pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC) in South Korea. In 1958 he started his church using a discarded military tent with only five members. Within 30 years the number of the members of the church has increased up to seven hundred thousand. His influence goes beyond the boundary of Korea, particularly among the evangelicals and pentecostals in many parts of the world. His church is even considered “the largest church in the world”(Wagner 1984: 104).
In this article I would like to present Cho’s understanding of the Church and the roles it plays within a society. In his view, the Church must be characterized by the full presence of the Holy Spirit who continues the salvation work of Jesus Christ in this world. With the Holy Spirit within, Christians are called to serve the needs of the people as God wants us all to live in abundance, materially and spiritually.
In Cho’s understanding, the Church should identify itself with people in need. The New Testament Church, he argues, made a tremendous change in human history even though it had very few intellectuals and lacked financial resources. Related to this, Cho is convinced that the Church’s strength lies in its lay people and its use of the cell system for community building. He sees lay people as the most effective resource for evangelism; they are the ones who proclaim and bring the message of salvation to the world: to their families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. For this very reason a cell-system-centered Church and the laity are promoted in Cho’s Church. Finally, since the Church is constituted by the presence of the Spirit, its growth is never dependent on human capabilities and strategies. It is the Spirit-inspired vision that will lead the Church to full growth.
While I have serious questions about Cho’s exergesis, I present a summary of his thesis here because I feel that his reliance on the presence of the Holy Spirit and his belief in the effectiveness of a cell-system-centered community for evangelization, have a lot to say to us Catholics at the beginning of this millennium.
The Church of the Holy Spirit
Cho understands the church as “the manifestation of God’s kingdom to the world, the church of Jesus Christ” (1984: 15). In the YFGC’s organizational structure, the head of the church is Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Cho’s basic ecclesiological understanding is the church as the church of the Holy Spirit (1990: 17). Cho calls the Holy Spirit the “Senior Pastor.” He puts great emphasis on the presence and person of the Holy Spirit, encouraging his members to recognize, cultivate, and allow the Holy Spirit to manifest His gifts in the church. The church should be filled with the Holy Spirit for it is called to be and to become the church of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God who has a distinct personality of His own in unity with God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son of God. At the same time, only in the Holy Spirit is the church able to believe and proclaim “God as Father” (cf. Rom 8:15) and “that Jesus is the Lord” (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit is “God’s divine executive agent in the world today” (1989: 7). He continues the work of salvation that Jesus Christ has begun. We are born again in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit which enables us to experience the salvific presence and work of the risen Jesus Christ in the church and in the world. To Cho, the pneumatological mediation of salvation is very clear.
Cho is convinced that because of the Holy Spirit’s divine personal nature, we are called to develop an intimate and personal relationship with Him. There are three distinctive levels of our relationship with the Holy Spirit.1 First, “the Holy Spirit is with us” to convince us of our sins. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is with us to encourage us to repent and to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Secondly, “the Holy Spirit is inside us” when we receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord. Thus the Holy Spirit is inside us since this born-again experience. Thirdly, “the Holy Spirit is upon us” when we are baptized to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Then we become witnesses of Jesus Christ. At this stage, we do not only experience friendship with the Holy Spirit, but also are empowered by the Holy Spirit to work together with Him.
Cho also explains the four steps to develop this relationship with the Holy Spirit (1983: 9-17). It is the call and responsibility of the whole church to be intimate with the Holy Spirit. First, we must develop our fellowship with the Holy Spirit by spending time with the Holy Spirit, to listen to Him, and to share our feelings and thoughts. We are called to recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence throughout the day: “Good morning, Holy Spirit,” “Good evening, Holy Spirit,” etc. We give thanks and praise to Him: “Thank you Holy Spirit for doing a great job for us,” “We praise You,” “We worship You,” etc. Secondly, we must develop a partnership with the Holy Spirit in all our activities. It is the Holy Spirit who is our Senior Pastor. We are only His junior partners. Our responsibility is to listen to our senior partner. The vision must come from Him. We only implement His plan. Thirdly, we should facilitate the transportation of the Holy Spirit to bring the love and grace of God to us and to take our prayers and supplications to God. Finally, we should always remember that we are united with the Holy Spirit. We are no longer individuals apart from the Holy Spirit. We are the church united with the Holy Spirit. It is then our main responsibility to maintain our divine unity with Him. This intimate communion with the Holy Spirit is indispensable for the Church.2
A Praying Church
In this context of our relationship with the Holy Spirit, Cho believes that the church should be a praying church. Praying is like “stepping on the gas pedal of a car” (1991: 24). Only by praying is the church alive and able to move. Cho and the members of YFGC are used to praying fervently and loudly. They go to the prayer mountain regularly to pray and fast.
Cho is convinced that we should pray longer. The longer we pray, the deeper we can experience the spiritual union with the Holy Spirit.3 With practice and discipline, we can pray longer and more intimately. Musicians practice their music for several hours day by day to develop and maintain their skill. Athletes do the same. Christians should also spend more time in praying to develop and maintain our relationship with the Holy Spirit.
In Cho’s opinion, we can also bind Satan and its evil forces through prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit. After the two devastating wars in Korea, Cho thinks that there were many people who were possessed by the devil and had mental problems. But since there were so many people praying, the power of the devil was very minimal. The power of prayer makes it easier to evangelize and to preach the gospel in South Korea than in other countries where the people do not pray much. At the YFGC, people enjoy praying; it is never considered a burden.
A Fourth-Dimensional Church
It is also in the context of our communion with the Holy Spirit that Cho invites the church to become a fourth-dimensional church. The fourth dimension is the language of the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit the church is not limited to the three-dimensional world. The fourth dimension is the spiritual realm where the triune God dwells. Cho writes, “So, let the Holy Spirit teach you the language of the Holy Spirit, the language of dreams and visions. Then keep those visions. Keep those dreams. Cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Obey His leading in your life” (1996c: 72). To live as a fourth-dimensional church means to live in God’s visions and dreams. Once Abram was taught to see the stars and to live according to God’s vision to make Him the father of many nations. Jacob, Moses, Joseph, Peter, and Paul all had similar experiences.
The Church is also called to renew its mind and to think in terms of “miracles.” When great emphasis is placed on the Holy Spirit, signs and wonders will follow. We should not follow the school of Philip when Jesus asked him to feed thousands of people (cf. Jn 6:1-15). Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough to give them a little piece each.” Philip’s language is the language of impossibility and difficulty. He is of little faith. Andrew is different. Andrew gave what he had, five loaves of bread and two fish, and let Jesus the Lord bless them. Miracles followed. The school of Andrew invites us to listen to God’s vision, to think in terms of possibility, to give what we have with faith, and let the Lord do the rest.4
In this context of fourth-dimensional thought, Cho introduces and teaches the four-step process of incubation. In the process of incubation we use our imagination and visualization. First, incubation must be done in the context of an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit and in faith. Cho invites us to follow the example of Paul who waited until the Holy Spirit gave him a vision to go to Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:9-10). We cannot move forward until we receive the visions and dreams from the Holy Spirit. There must be a burning desire in us. Cho believes that this desire is placed by the Holy Spirit. “...what the upright desires comes to him as a present” (Prov 10:24). “Make Your God joy and He will give your heart’s desires” (cf. Ps 37:4). At the same time, incubation must also be done in faith because “only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen” (Heb 11:1).
Secondly, we should ask clear-cut objectives. We must ask specifically like Bartimeus. Jesus Christ asked him, “What do you want me to do?” The blind man said to Him, “Rabbuni, let me see again” (Mk 10:51). In Cho’s interpretation, “Ask, and it will given to you . . .” (Mt 7:7) includes to ask specifically and definitely (1996c: 29).
Thirdly, pray for assurance. We should bring these objectives to God and pray until we have the confidence that our answer is on its way, until peace and joy overflows. “I tell you, therefore, everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours” (Mk 12:24). Cho believes that in the Holy Spirit the future is already a present experience for us.
Fourthly, when we are assured, we must give thanks to God and positively proclaim everything through our mouth. We should show evidence of our faith. Cho states that we can release our faith power through our mouth confession. It happens in our regeneration: “That if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved. It is by believing with the heart that you are justified, and by making the declaration with your lips that you are saved” (Rom 10:9-10).
It can always happen again: “In truth I tell you, if anyone says this to this, mountain, Be pulled and thrown into the sea, with no doubt in his heart, but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mk 11:23). Cho interprets “this mountain” as “problems the evil devil is bringing to people” (1993: 40). Jesus had told us to command the mountain to be removed. Therefore, many times Cho gives an example how to speak affirmatively in faith, “Sorrow will depart from my home! All sickness will leave me! I will conquer sin! I am a child of God! I am a blessed child of God!” (1993: 41).
At this juncture, there is a reminder from Cho about the difference between logos and rhema (1980: 89). Logos is the word of God and general knowledge of the bible accessible to all who will read or hear. Rhema is a specific word to a specific person in a specific situation. Although there is truth in logos, it is rhemathat brings the faith that sparks us to fruitful action. It is the Holy Spirit who will turn logos into rhema. But we should wait in faith to accept rhema. Rhema is “the word” in: “But it is in that way faith comes, from hearing, and this means hearing the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). It is rhema which is heard by the sick man at the pool of Bethesda when Jesus said, “Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk around” (Jn 5:8). The sick man was cured at once. It is also rhema when Jesus said to Peter, “Come!” to invite him to walk on the sea (Mt 14:29). This rhema for Peter at that specific time cannot.5
Furthermore with this concept of the fourth dimension, Cho explores many areas to have a successful life. Cho is convinced that our success or failure depends upon our fourth-dimensional thinking (1996c: 57). Cho applies the process of incubation to many needs such as: church growth, healing, marriage, and practical needs.
Cho himself experienced how God gave him a vision of having more members in his church, first from only 600 members to 3,000 members. Then from 3,000 to 6,000 and gradually to 500,000 (1996a: 26-27). Cho believes that a church can only grow if it follows the process of incubation.
Cho also advises many people to incubate their healing and their future spouse. In one accident case, Cho prayed and asked the dying man to visualize his healing. The man was healed (1983: 69-72). Following Cho’s advice, a Japanese girl got a husband exactly like what she asked for in her prayer (1983: 31).
The principles of incubation can also be used for practical needs. Cho’s own first experience with the process of incubation was when he needed a table, a chair, and a bicycle in the beginning of his ministry. Cho was sure that God taught him to ask specifically. So Cho asked “a Philippine mahagony table, an iron chair with rollers, and a bicycle made in the United States with gears.” Then Cho followed the four-step process of incubation until he got exactly what he needed (1996c: 17-42). In Germany, Cho helped two lay ministers to get “a green and four-seat Volkswagen car” through the process of incubation.6
A Church Which Takes Care of the Needs of People
Cho believes that a church should take care of and meet the concrete needs of people. He asks, “Why should they go to a Christian church that does not speak to their needs or to cries of their hearts” (1981: 157). He does not mind if the YFGC is identified with people who have problems, sickness, and poverty. “In Korea, the intellectual people usually go to the Methodist Church and the rich people go to the Presbyterian Church. All the losers and paupers go to the Yoido Full Gospel Church” (1996a: 46). For Cho, the church should identify itself with the people in needs. According to Cho, the New Testament church, although it was not full of intellectuals and had few financial resources, was able to change history. It is because this church was able “to meet the needs of humanity in its most trying hour” (1984: 136).
In order to meet the needs of people, Cho preaches the message of hope based on 3 John 2: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (New King James Version). Using this verse, Cho is able to preach the message of hope from Genesis to Revelation (1984: 44). He develops the verse to the teaching of the threefold blessings of God: spiritual blessings, material blessings, and blessings in health.
Cho believes that God wants us to be successful in all aspects. Exception can happen only if God has a special purpose. He realizes that in life there is suffering and temptation:
Suffering comes to everyone. We must allow the suffering to turn into a blessing. If we do, we can expect to be prosperous in the area of our lives that was touched by the suffering. We will be healthy and we will be more enriched than ever. When suffering comes into your life, my friend, “think it not strange . . . as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Pet 4:12). Never think it is unusual. Accept it, knowing that somewhere the testings of God in your life will bless others and bring glory to Himself, as in Job’s and Joseph’s life (1986: 103-104).
There are also temptations. Some temptations are from God to test us and to bring greater blessings fterwards as in Abraham’s life. Cho is convinced that God does not bless us until we give up our humanistic ways and strength. Like Abraham, Cho himself experienced several breaking periods in his lives. Cho knows that, “According to the measure of faith working in us, Christians will go through as-good-as-dead experiences throughout life” (1995a: 139-140). God allows us to experience being completely broken, to die for ourselves, to be processed, to become more mature, and to be blessed. The experience of being broken is a preparation to becoming the servants of God who do not depend on their human abilities and talents.7
We should also be mindful that there are temptations from the devil. There are times when God lets us undergo trials and tribulation so He can determine our faithfulness like in Job’s experience. The intention of the devil is totally different.
The devil wants to steal, kill, and destroy us and our faith. Cho states that most of temptations come from the devil. God seldom puts us to the test of trial as He did to Abraham.8 But one thing is sure, God will not let us fall into suffering and temptation that would destroy us. As we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we must have faith that God’s hands will protect and deliver us. At the same time, it is our responsibility to rely on the Word of God, to live by faith, to be faithful to Him, to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, to persevere, and to give thanks. By doing so, God will keep us from falling into temptation.9
Cho provides three notes on how to have successful life. First, God wants us to be successful and prosperous in spirit, soul, and body. Successful life or prosperity means the threefold blessings: spiritual blessings, material blessings and blessings in health. For sure the most important thing is spiritual blessings, because it becomes the basis for experiencing other blessings for the service of the kingdom of God. Cho explains, “The threefold blessings which we are now learning about are primarily for our spiritual prosperity, in order that we should become good vessels to be used for a good purpose by a good God” (1987b: 50).
A Church of Spiritual Blessings
In order to receive spiritual blessings, we should repent from our sins and confess Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord. This event of spiritual salvation is also called as regeneration or being born again. For Cho, it happens only through miracle of the power of the Holy Spirit.10 It does not depend on our merits and good deeds. We are saved only because of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Once we are born again, our spirit has been made alive again and begins to prosper.
In this context, Cho teaches us how to discipline our soul and flesh.11 As we have noted earlier, human beings were created with body, soul, and spirit. When Jesus broke the bondage of sin, a conflict began between the spirit and the soul. Our spirit tries to discern and to follow the will of God, but our soul resists. In this situation, God lets us experience brokenness like Abraham and other servants of God did. Then Cho understands that it is our responsibility to educate and to discipline our soul and flesh. We should not be satisfied with the experience of being broken, but allow the Holy Spirit to continue to teach us. The soul must be disciplined and trained to follow the Lord day by day. Cho is convinced that the best book to train our soul is the bible. As we read and meditate on the Word of God, our soul will be changed.
In the case of our flesh, Cho thinks that there is no way to control the flesh, except to nail it to the cross and destroy it. The flesh can never be educated because it has no comprehension like the soul. Cho shows the three ways in the bible to nail the flesh to the cross: by being baptized in water, by being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and by fasting and daily prayer. While we are not saved by our merits and deeds, it is our responsibility to maintain our salvation in freedom and faith, to discipline ourselves through the Word of God, prayer, and fasting, day by day.
Secondly, we should be people who are yearning for a better tomorrow, people of expectation. Look at Bartimeus from Jericho (cf. Mk 10:46-52). Jericho symbolizes the world where sin, despair, the curse, and the devil exist (1995a: 14). Cho notices that Bartimeus never gave up his hope. He kept shouting to Jesus Christ although people scolded him to keep quiet. He only shouted all the louder, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Cho asks, “Do you think your circumstances are worse than Bartimeus’? Have you ever prayed a life-or-death prayer like this before?”
When Jesus stopped and called him, Bartimeus threw his only cloak, jumped up, and went immediately to Jesus. His cloak was the only thing he had. Yet he cast it away when Jesus called him. Bartimeus was confident that he would never be the same man. He completely left his cloak, his life in the past, his guarantee and protection. He embraced his future life in Jesus Christ. When Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” he said, “Rabbuni, let me see again.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has saved you.” At the end of the story it is written that “And at once his sight returned and he followed Him along the road.” Bartimeus never came back to his old life. He began to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple. Following Bartimeus, we should have a burning desire for a completely new life in Jesus Christ.
Finally, we should have the proper motivation and attitudes. We must be clear between what we should ask first and what we can ask later. To seek first the kingdom of God and to serve Him must be our first motivation. “Set your hearts on His kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well” (Mt 6:33). We cannot serve God as an idol only to fulfill our needs. We must believe and confess our conviction that God will give us abundantly. We must give thanks always. At the same time, Cho is sure that when we serve God faithfully, God will provide and fulfill our needs.
A Church of Material Blessings
Cho is sure that we should correct the idea that poverty is a Christian virtue. In creation, God created and prepared the beautiful material world for us. Poverty was then only a result of sin. However, by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are already redeemed from poverty as a result of sin. In Jesus Christ we can ask anything, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it” (cf. Jn 15:7).
In this connection, Cho invites us to see the difference between prosperity and greed. Prosperity is for him an attribute of God and His children. Greed is a characteristic of the devil. Cho writes, “Unless God has a special plan for us, He wants us to live in comfort, with our needs met” (1987b: 54). In Cho’s own experiences, the special plan from God is when God wants to teach His servants to trust Him completely in difficult circumstances. Other reasons are when we volunteer to become poor by giving all we have to the work of God or under persecution we become poor to give glory to God. Or sometimes God permits us to go through paths of hardship and hunger to teach us a lesson: that we should not live by “bread” only (cf. Mt 4:4). Cho is convinced, “Other than these reasons, if we do not enjoy the prosperity provided for us by Jesus Christ, but we live in poverty, we bring shame to the name of Christ who became poor so that we might become rich” (1987b: 68). God wants us to become or not to become prosperous only for the service of the kingdom of God.
In this context of the message of prosperity, Cho explains the proper understanding of financial giving. At the YFGC, financial giving is a privilege, part of their worship to God. There are three types of financial giving: tithes, pledges (for mission, building, etc.), and freewill offerings. Members of the YFGC are taught to see financial giving as a joy and not as a burden.
In Cho’s view, if the tree of knowledge is the symbol of God’s sovereign power in the Old Testament, these days the tithe (cf. Mal 3:7-9) is the symbol of God’s sovereignty in today’s material world (1987b: 73). The tithe is not ours, but God’s. We give tithe to express our obedience to God. Even though we may be poor, we must still give our tithe. God’s blessings will be poured out for those who acknowledge God’s sovereign power. Tithing should be the first fruits of one’s entire income given to the glory of God. By tithing we also show that we do not love money more than God. Cho believes that regular tithing to one’s local church is a key to become prosperous. At the same time, we should not use tithing as a means to receive material blessings. Material blessings should not be our main motivation.
On the other hand, Cho is convinced that, “When we are obedient, it follows that God’s blessings come to us and we prosper in all things (1987b: 78). In this context, Cho explains the three laws of material blessings (1987b: 78-82). First is the principle of sowing and reaping: “But remember: anyone who sows sparsely will reap sparsely as well - and anyone who sows generously will reap generously as well. Each one should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. God is perfectly able to enrich you with every grace, so that you always have enough for every conceivable need, and your resources overflow in all kinds of good work” (2 Cor 9:6-8). When we give, we ought to give cheerfully and freely. We must not give grudgingly, nor only because it is necessary. We should give in faith and obedience to God.
Secondly is the law of investment: we give because we want to invest and participate in the work of God. When we invest in the work of God, He will reward us with abundance. We follow the examples of the widow at Zarephath to give “a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (cf. 1 Kgs 17:7-16) and of a small boy with “five barley loaves and two fish” (cf. Jn 6:1-15).
Thirdly is the law of echo: when we do something which gives glory to God, it will return to us like an echo with added blessing. “Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because the standard you use will be the standard used for you” (Lk 6:38). When we give for the glory of God, we will receive abundantly thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.
A Church of Blessings in Health
Similar to poverty, Cho believes that sickness is not a blessing unless God has a special plan for us. The seed of life comes from God. The seed of sickness comes from the devil. Sickness is a result of sin and a punishment (1986: 9). Cho teaches us that we are already freed from the bondage of sickness by regeneration. Jesus Christ died on the cross to take once and for all our infirmities and carry away our sicknesses.
In order to experience healing, Cho is convinced that we should first confess our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord. The cure of sickness of our body is based on the cure of our spirit.12 Once we are forgiven from our sins and God dwells in us, the devil will run away (cf. Jn 4:7). Once the devil flees away, its seed of sickness can no longer live. We are already redeemed from sickness by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, but it is also our responsibility to fight against the devil and sin, to proclaim our healing day by day. Then what we need is only to claim our healing: I am healed! Claim it as something already in the past! See ourselves as people already completely healed through the cross of Jesus Christ. Just believe that it is not impossible for God with the power of His Holy Spirit to heal us now as He already did in the past.
Cho notices that, “Many churches today do not really understand the Lord’s promise concerning divine healing and signs. As a result of ignorance and disbelief, this gift that Jesus gave to the church has been ignored and neglected (1986: 72). He is sure that the church today must preach and exercise divine healing for the benefit of the Christians and for the growth of Christian faith. He even mentions that one healing miracle in the church will be more powerful than 100 sermons to bring more people to Jesus Christ.13
There is a story which shows a positive change of heart regarding divine healing. Mr. Choe was a poor teacher from Korea’s Cheju Island. His wife had gynaecological problems which led to uterine cancer without the hope of recovery. One day she was very sick and dying. Her stomach was swollen. Too poor to have a private telephone to call an ambulance, Mr. Choe decided to walk to the hospital to get an ambulance. He thought that his wife would die soon. Before he left, Mr. Choe played one of the tapes of Cho’s sermons and asked his wife to listen to the tape. Hurston shares and continues the story:
She grimaced with pain but listened to the sermon as best as she could. On the tape Dr. Cho explained how the believer’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit but our minds and wrong thinking can block Him from freely working in our lives. Near the end of his sermon, Dr. Cho seemed to be speaking directly to her: “You might be a good Christian, but up to this point you have been resisting the truth of divine healing. The God who healed yesterday also heals today. By His Holy Spirit, He dwells in you. God wants to heal you, but your unbelief and wrong thinking have been resisting Him. Why do you resist the truth of divine healing? Renew your mind with the truth of God’s Word and receive your healing. Jesus Christ is the Great Physician.”
Dr. Cho’s words pierced Mrs. Choe’s heart. “Oh, God,” she prayed in broken sobs, “all these years I have been resisting You as my Healer. I thought that it was ridiculous to believe in a God who heals today. I am dying. I now confess that God the Healer lives within me. I surrender to You. I believe in Your healing power. Oh, God, I am desperate! Come now, touch and heal me! I believe! I surrender myself to You and to Your Holy Spirit.”
Suddenly she felt a warm sensation within her, like a surge of electricity. Hurriedly, she asked her perplexed children to help her to the bathroom.
When she came out of the bathroom, her stomach was flat, and her pain was gone. She sat down and began singing, then shouting, then crying. Her children gathered around her. When they realized that their mother had been healed, they also began to shout and cry (Hurston 1994: 136-7).
When Mr. Choe arrived with the ambulance driver, he heard people crying. He thought his wife already died. He kicked the door and was very surprised to see his wife and children were singing and smiling. “Mother was healed by the power of the Holy Spirit,” one child blurted out. The driver of the ambulance who was always skeptical realized that he saw a miracle. There in that humble home, the ambulance driver knelt down and gave his life to Jesus Christ. Later Mr. Choe went to a bible college in Seoul with his family and then returned back to Cheju Island to start a church.
Cho teaches that the power of healing is entrusted to the church as a community. He follows the bible: “Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:14-15).14 Cho believes that the church must continue to exercise its God-given gift of divine healing as long as the church exists on the earth. These days “the elders of the church” are the pastors and preachers. “To anoint with oil” means separation from the world and symbolizes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As long as we have sick people among us, Christ’s commandment to heal the sick must be carried out. Cho shares his own practice:
According to this scriptural commandment, I have been praying for the sick, in season and out of season. I pray for the sick in every service at the Yoido Full Gospel Church, because it is the command of Jesus and because He said healing would normally follow believers’ prayers for the sick. I expect healing to take place when I pray, and I am now seeing tremendous manifestations of healing at almost every service, all because I seek to follow God’s every command(1986: 87).
A Lay-People-and-Cell-System-Centered Church
The Yoido Full Gospel Church can accommodate up to 75,000 people in each of the seven services on Sundays. Their worship services are prayerful, joyful, well-prepared, relevant, and life-transforming. Its pastor, Yonggi Cho, is very talented and charismatic. Yet according to Cho himself the church’s strength lies with its lay people and its cell system. “YFGC is not church building oriented. YFGC is not clergy-oriented. YFGC is lay people-centered around their daily lives, their grass roots, not in the church building where we meet for worship services” (1996a: 48-49). After a nervous collapse in 1964, Cho started the well-known cell system at the YFGC. Since then the YFGC had grown very rapidly in terms of numbers, maturity, and influences.
Cho sees lay people in his church as potential associates, able witnesses, and active ministers. Lay people are the most effective resource for evangelism. In their every day lives, lay people are the ones who proclaim and bring the message of salvation to the world: to their families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.15 The lay people, especially the leaders. are seen as the foundation, the pillars, the owners, and the true workers of the church. Cho, the other pastors, and the pastoral staff are there to support, to help, and to facilitate the lay people to become better leaders. The lay leaders are “the front lines soldiers.” The pastors’ duty is “to provide some food that they might fight better.”
At the YFGC, the whole church is organized around the cell system. The cell system is the foundation and the main program of the church. All departments and activities are to help the cell system to work better. The physical church building is a kind of a training center, but the ministry of the church takes place mainly outside the church building. The church is out there in houses, apartment buildings, offices, and factories. The worship service is a time of celebration together, but most actual ministries happen in the cell groups. The church building can be destroyed, the pastor can be replaced, but the cell groups will remain the strength of the church.
For the YFGC the message of salvation from Jesus Christ is experienced in a concrete way in the cell groups. A cell group is a church in the spirit of the New Testament church (cf. Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). It is a church of five to ten families which meets weekly from house to house. It provides a Christian community where people can experience a concrete Christian culture.16 They know one another and provide emotional and spiritual bound as well. In their cell, Christians learn to love and to support, to care and to nurture one another. When somebody is in need, many will help immediately.17 When another is sick, they will pray earnestly. Many healings occur. The cell system provides a concrete experience of salvation and blessings in every day life.
The cell system provides a community where Christians help one another to become more mature Christians. Many people receive Jesus Christ personally for the first time in their cell. The cell helps its members to know Jesus Christ deeper, to have a more personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, and to live as a church.
Spiritual growth is supported through bible studies, prayer meetings, and fellowships. On Sundays, they usually go together to attend a worship service in one of the regional chapels or to their church at Yoido Island. In doing so, they maintain their unity as a church.
The cell system is also a means for evangelization. The members are eager to share their faith and invite others to receive Jesus Christ. Many new believers come to know Jesus Christ through the witnesses of the members of the cell. The cell system is a kind of “a big fishing net” to catch new believers. It is easy to evangelize people who know one another. It is also easy to nurture new believers afterwards. The YFGC, of course, sometimes holds evangelistic crusades. But Cho is still convinced that:
Our church, however, carries out evangelism primarily through the home cell group system. Each cell group becomes a nucleus of revival in its neighborhood, because the cell group is where real life is to be found in that neighborhood. When a home cell meeting is full of life, and when people are happy and sharing their faith and witnessing to what the Lord has done in their lives, other people are drawn to them. Unbelievers become curious. They want to know why this little group of Christians is so joyful when all around them there are so many troubles. . . . such groups become magnets in their neighborhoods (1981: 58-59).
After exploring Cho’s opinion about the kind of church which should exist in the end we can say that church growth is only a “by-product.” When the church really becomes the church of the Holy Spirit which develops an intimate communion with the Holy Spirit; when the church is a praying church and a fourth-dimensional church; when the church takes care of the needs of the people; when the church becomes the church of spiritual blessings, material blessings, and blessings in health; and when the church is a lay-people-and cell-system-centered church, the church will certainly grow.
At the same time, Cho still reminds us that a growing church is not ours. Church growth does not depend on our human capabilities and strategy. Church growth is more than a series of ideas, principles, and techniques (1984: 11). Since the church belongs to the Holy Spirit, a church can only grow if the vision comes from the Holy Spirit. Through his own experience, Cho notices, “It is not you that makes the vision, but it is the vision that makes you. When you have the Holy Spirit-inspired vision in your heart, then the vision is going to make you. The vision will change you. The vision will help you” (1995b: 23).
Wagner, C. Peter
1984 Your Church Can Grow: Seven Vital Signs of A Healthy Church. rev.ed. Ventura: California: Regal Books.
Cho, David Yonggi
1980 Solving Life’s Problems. Seoul: Church Growth International.
1981 Successful Home Cell Groups. Written with Harold Hostetler. Seoul: Church Growth International.
1983 The Fourth Dimension Volume Two: More Secrets for a Successful Faith Life. Written with R. Whitney Manzano. South Plainfield, New Jersey: Bridge Publishing.
1984 More than Numbers. Waco, Texas: Word Books.
1986 Suffering...Why Me? South Plainfield, New Jersey: Bridge Publishing.
1987a Praying with Jesus. Altamonte, Florida: Creation House.
1987b Salvation, Health & Prosperity: Our Threefold Blessings in Christ. Foreword by Oral Roberts. Altamonte Springs, Florida: Creation House.
1989 The Holy Spirit, My Senior Partner: Understanding the Holy Spirit and His Gifts. Altamonte Springs, Florida: Creation House.
1990 “The Strategy for World Evangelism.” Church Growth Manual, no. 3.
1991a Doa: Kunci ke Arah Kebangunan Rohani. Jakarta: Yayasan Pekabaran Injil Immanuel.”
1991b Dr. Cho, Kami Ingin Sebuah Mobil Volkswagen (English: Dr. Cho, We Want a Volkswagen). Jakarta: Yayasan Pekabaran Injil “Immanuel.”
1992 “Home Cell System: A Key to Church Growth.” Church Growth Manual, no. 4:65-80.
1993 Born to be Blessed. Seoul: Yoido Full Gospel Church.
1995a Great Businessmen. Seoul, Korea: Yoido Full Gospel Church.
1995b “Implementing the Home Cell System.” Church Growth Manual, no. 7: 11-43.
1996a “Basic Principles of Church Growth.” Church Growth Manual, no. 8.
1996b Dr. Cho’s Pattern of Prayer. Seoul: Seoul Logos.
1996c The Fourth Dimension: The Key to Putting Your Faith to Work for a Successful Life. Foreword by Robert Schuller. 3rd edition. Seoul: Seoul Logos.
1994 Growing the World’s Largest Church. Foreword by Yonggi Cho. Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House.