Recently, the _________ church body was led in a 40 day study of a book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. When the book was distributed, the congregation was told that there were some “doctrinal errors” contained in the book and that we would have to work through them. This raised concern with several members of our church.
Soon after the program started, members discovered that many churches in different denominations throughout the Sacramento area were simultaneously taking part in a 40 day study of Warren’s book. Therefore, we decided to do some additional research into the nature and source of the book and the 40 day event our church had undertaken. What we found is significant.
Our search immediately led us to a web page called – “40 Days of Purpose – A Purpose Driven Life Campaign” where we discovered that this was a multi-denominational religious event taking place simultaneously in thousands of churches across the United States. On another web site we found it stated that 500,000 people had already signed up for the “40 Days of Purpose” event before the end of September and it was expected that this number would grow phenomenally once the book was actually released in October.
We also discovered that over 250,000 pastors in over 125 countries have personally attended Warren’s church growth seminars based on his previous book, “The Purpose Driven Church “.
Based upon our research, it is estimated that millions of people across hundreds of denominations will have directly participated in Warren’s 40-Day seminar by the end of this spring’s national campaign scheduled to end in April, 2003.
What was even more startling was the realization that the _________ church has been in the process of transforming itself according to Warren’s church growth philosophies as specifically laid out in ” The Purpose Driven Church “.
Warren is quoted in one of his seminars as praying the following as part of a prayer offered during a PDC seminar session:
“Warren starts his prayer: ‘Thank you that there is a movement, a stealth movement, that’s flying beneath the radar, that’s changing literally hundreds, even thousands of churches around the world.”
The author of the article where this quote was found concludes with the following:
“It is necessary for the faithful believer today to be wary of any ‘stealth’ program intended to fly under the radar in order to avoid detection. For many years now, the church growth movement has certainly flown into congregations undetected by thousands of churches worldwide. The onslaught must be detected , the warning must be sounded!”.
Warren refers to any congregation of any denomination and size that incorporate his church growth formulas as “Purpose Driven Churches”. Therefore, by Warren’s own definition, the _________ church has become a “Purpose Driven Church”. Since our church appears to be following the “gospel” according to Rick Warren, we decided to examine Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven” teachings.
What is the Gospel of The Purpose Driven Life ?
In order to understand more clearly the gospel of “The Purpose Driven Life”, we will need to zoom out to examine the author, Rick Warren, and his previous best selling book, “The Purpose Driven Church”. Warren has stated that his latest book, “The Purpose Driven Life” is simply a compilation of the same principles as those laid out in his former book the “Purpose Driven Church” (hereinafter referred to as PDC) but adapted to the church member rather than church leaders.
The PDC is a book written specifically for Protestant church leaders who want to dramatically increase the size of their churches. It is a very pragmatic or business-like approach to church growth that focuses on reaching the “Pagans” (Warren’s term) predominantly by asking them what they would like from a church and making changes in the church in order to cater to them.
Warren even has a web site called “Pastors.com” where pastors can download pre-scripted sermons (and other programs designed for the pagans) complete with Power Point presentations for about $30. When I personally received a flyer in the mail advertising the “40 Days” event at a non-denominational church near my home, to my surprise, I noted that the sermon titles were exactly the same as the sermon titles that had been listed in our church bulletin over the last several weeks.
When questioned on this point, the pastor confirmed that he had in fact received eight pre-scripted sermons from Warren’s organization to go along with the 40 day event and indicated that he had rewritten them before presenting the sermons from the pulpit. Warren’s church growth strategies combined with this for profit website takes the idea of a corporate franchise church to a new level.
However, before we look at the specifics of Warren’s model for church growth, we will quickly look at Warren’s background and affiliations. On a web page called “About Rick” on Warren’s web site, it is noted that Warren got a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. This is significant as Fuller is the birth place of a new age, ecumenical religious movement referred to by journalists and scholars as the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit” or, alternatively, as the “signs and wonders” movement.
The term the “Third Wave” was originated by Peter Wagner (a church growth scholar who was head of Fuller Seminary School of World Missions during the 80’s). Another name more recently attached to this movement is the “signs and wonders” movement.
While Wagner was at Fuller, he coordinated with a man named John Wimber (who worked with Wagner as a church growth consultant with the Fuller Evangelistic Association and later went on to found the “Vineyard Fellowship”) to teach a class called “Signs and Wonders”. It was the most popular class on the Fuller campus but eventually had to be canceled as it became too controversial.
Both of these men have played leading roles in launching what has now become known as the “signs and wonders” movement. This movement has many different branches, one of which is the church growth movement, of which Warren is a leading figure.
So, by adopting Warren’s philosophies and teachings, our church has become part of much more than just the “40 Days of Purpose” national campaign, we have become part of one of the largest religious movements since the Protestant reformation of the sixteenth century.
Dave Hunt is an author that is acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on the infiltration of paganism (and the occult and mind sciences) into the Christian church, both past and present. Dave has written many books but probably his most well know work is The Seduction of Christianity which was published in 1985.
One of his most recent works is titled Occult Invasion – The Subtle Seduction of the World and Church and was published in 1998. In the first chapter of his book, Hunt communicates his concern with regard to the spiritualistic teachings that have been entering the church through the “signs and wonders” movement and notes that the “church growth movement” (of which Warren is a leading figure) is indeed a branch of this extensive movement.
“Today a growing “signs and wonders ” movement in the Christian church is literally exploding and is involving not only charismatics and Pentecostals but even evangelicals who only a few years ago were opposed to what they would have characterized at that time as a fraud. Today, in spite of the warnings by both Jesus and Paul, there is scarcely any thought that today’s signs and wonders might be part of the very spiritual deception which the Bible foretells.
We are also seeing as part of the “signs and wonders” movement a burgeoning church growth movement , a prayer and fasting for revival movement and a spiritual warfare movement , all working toward the same goal . Few are those who dare to see any connection between these movements within the church and the false “sign’s and wonders” which the Bible prophesies for the last-days apostate church….
It is this author’s conviction, based on more than 50 years of observation and research, that we are in the midst of an accelerating occult seduction of both the secular world and the church.”
Now let’s look at another of Warren’s mentors. The following quote from the magazine Christianity Today, November 18, 2002, indicates that Robert Schuller has had considerable influence on Warren’s church growth philosophies:
“During his last year in seminary, he (Warren) and Kay (Warren’s wife) drove west to visit Robert Schuller’s institute for Church Growth. ‘We had a very stony ride out to the conference’ she says, because such nontraditional ministry scared her to death. Schuller, though, won them over. ‘He had a profound influence on Rick’ Kay says . ‘ We were captivated by his positive appeal to non-believers. I never looked back.'”
So, Who is Robert Schuller? And what does this reference to Schuller’s “positive appeal to non-believers” mean? Let’s take a closer look.
Robert Schuller is a very famous TV evangelist that broadcasts his “Hour of Power” weekly Sunday program from the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim Ca. Amongst other things, Schuller has, on four separate occasions, had personal meetings with Pope John Paul II. In one of these meetings, Schuller requested and obtained the Pope’s blessing on the blueprint’s for his own church, the Crystal Cathedral, before it was constructed.
Schuller has acknowledged on his weekly television program that Norman Vincent Peale was his mentor. Peale was a spiritualist who claimed he talked to the dead and was a 33-degree Mason.
Schuller credits Peale’s “Power of Positive thinking” theology as the basis for his “Gospel of Success” called “Possibility Thinking”. What is “Possibility Thinking?” Schuller preaches that “what ever the mind can believe, it can conceive.” These principles are found in many forms of spiritualism and black magic.
What does Schuller have to say about sin? The following is an excerpt from the book “The Seduction of Christianity” by Dave Hunt:
“Schuller’s influence is enormous, and his “Gospel of Success” is being accepted and preached by increasing numbers of Christian leaders. What does Schuller find wrong with the old gospel? Although Paul wrote that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (I Tim 1:15), and Christ Himself said that He came to call ‘sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:32), Robert Schuller writes:
‘I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.'”
So it would appear that Schuller’s “positive appeal to non-believers” (as referenced in the Christianity Today quotation above) refers to the fact that he omits sin, judgment and righteousness from his message. He loathes the idea of reminding non-believers of their sinful or lost condition. Since Robert Schuller’s “Positive Appeal” to non-believers had a profound influence on Warren, we will look to see if we can find the same “Positive Appeal” in Warren’s “Purpose Driven” teachings. However, before we go on, let’s stop to look at what the Spirit of Prophecy has to say about this type of spiritualistic teaching.
In The Great Controversy (PG 603-604) we are told that as the teachings of spiritualism enter the churches, the fall of Babylon will be complete and the influence of evil angels will be felt in the church. Therefore, as followers of Christ, we need to be on the look out for spiritualistic teachings. But what exactly is spiritualism?
In The Great Controversy , Chapter 34 (Can The Dead Speak To Us?), a much broader definition of spiritualism is given than that which one normally imagines. The author explains that as we near the end of time, spiritualism will actually assume the “form” of Christianity and the “doctrines of devils” that come into the church will seduce many, even the elect if it were possible. In GC page 557-558 we read:
“It is true that spiritualism is now changing form and veiling some of its more objectionable features, (it) is assuming a Christian guise . Even in it’s present form, so far from being more worthy of toleration than formerly, it is really a more dangerous deception. While it formerly denounced Christ and the Bible, it now professes to accept both. But the bible is interpreted in a manner that is pleasing to the un-renewed heart, while its solemn and vital truths are made of no effect. Love is dwelt upon as the chief attribute of God, but it is degraded to a weak sentimentalism, making little distinction between good and evil. God’s justice, His denunciations of sin, the requirements of His holy law, are all kept out of sight . … Pleasing , bewitching fables captivate the senses and lead men to reject the Bible as the foundation of their faith . Christ is as verily denied as before but Satan has so blinded the eyes of the people that the deception is not discerned.”
In other words, when spiritualism enters the church and takes the form of Christianity just before the second coming, it will claim Christ as its savior and preach straight from the Bible. However, this “form of godliness” will emphasize only the goodness of God while keeping sin and judgment out of the message. This is the “Positive Appeal” of Robert Schuller’s gospel, which is not surprising since he credits Norman Vincent Peale (a known spiritualist) as his mentor. It is a different gospel with a different christ. Now let’s see if we can find any indication of this theology in Warren’s philosophies.
The following is an excerpt from an article written by a conservative evangelical who personally attended one of Warren’s PDC seminars. What follows are the fundamental dictates of Warren’s church growth model.
“So what are some of the changes that must take place for a local assembly to adopt the growth strategy of the Saddleback model (Warren’s Church is Saddleback)? From our understanding of the plan, which was clearly spelled out at the seminar, the following must occur in order to transform a traditionally-styled church of any size into one that can boast dramatic growth:
• A contemporary-styled “Seeker Service” aimed at drawing in the unsaved and the unchurched from the community must replace the traditional Sunday worship service. To do this successfully, the church service must be non-threatening, familiar and comfortable to the “seeker” (the unsaved visitor).
• The dress must be casual. The typical “Saddleback Sam” (a researched composite of the unchurched yuppie commonly found in Saddleback Church’s surrounding community) dresses up for work all week, and he wants to “dress down” on the weekends. (As we shall see throughout this article, Saddleback Sam’s likes and dislikes are what determine the style of the church service.) Attendees and church staff alike shun any ties, suits and dresses. Warren, dressed in a casual shirt, khakis and loafers told his seminar audience, “Get comfortable. This is as dressed up as I get in this church. My idea of winter is I put on socks, and obviously I don’t think it’s winter yet.”
• The music must be contemporary . Not only must the lyrics of the music be more recent, but the style of music should be that which the unsaved hears on a daily basis. The entertainment composite of the Saddleback sound system, band, singers and presentation would rival that of any secular rock concert. Warren stated that one of the first things a church should do is “replace the organ with a band.” But he went on to say that if a band was not feasible, then at least a church could purchase a keyboard that will incorporate midi disks in order to give the sound of a band. Furthermore, the purpose of the church choir should be “backing up the soloist. That’s the 90’s way to use a choir rather than just having them sing.”
• The message must be only positive . We consider this to be the most flagrant flaw. Yes, the saved and unsaved alike can feel better about themselves after a message that often mixes psychology and an uplifting Scripture text. Such topics as dealing with guilt, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, mood enhancement or motivation for success will encourage the worldly, weary individual. But what is God’s command to the faithful undershepherd of the flock? Far, far different.
• The ministries of the church must be geared to meeting the needs and special interests of the thousands who attend. Support groups for depression, eating disorders, infertility, family and friends of homosexuals, post abortion, and separated men and women were abundant. Many ministries were intended to bring together ones with similar business or professional interests, common recreational interests and so on. We could not find one single ministry listed in Saddleback Community Church’s bulletin that involved taking the Gospel message out to the lost in the community. In fact, Warren scoffed at the idea of passing out tracts or going door-to-door since “Saddleback Sam” is offended by such old-fashion, out-moded forms of evangelism.
• Doctrinal instruction is not given to the church as a whole on the Lord’s Day . Despite the fact that the early church clearly sets forth the example that doctrine is to be taught on Sunday to all the church body, at Saddleback, doctrine is only taught to sub-groups of the congregation apart from the regular church services. Warren emphasized Saddleback’s strategy of moving new members “around the bases” by having interested Christians take special classes to prepare them for service. Although Bible study groups also meet together, our question is this: Why is not the pulpit used to proclaim the “whole counsel of God” to the whole congregation assembled before it on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:20-31)? Why make serious, systematic Bible instruction an option, heard only by the relatively few in the crowd who desire to “round the next base”? The whole counsel of God is to be proclaimed, to all seated before the pulpit, all the time!
• A spirit of compromise must prevail in the church that is to experience dynamic growth. The embrace of contemporary culture and style will most assuredly set the desired mood that totally opposes the Biblical mandate to earnestly contend for the faith and separate from error. What works, what is least offensive and what is positive and uplifting is what should define the ministry, according to Warren. The church leaders who are interested in dynamic growth must embrace the attitude that says, “Don’t try to tell me the Bible requires holiness and a style for worship and ministry that is different from that of the world.” This “grace-in-your-face” attitude is so prevalent today because of church elders who are not willing, or not aware of how, to instruct ones to behave in the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15).
Of the points above, the most objectionable is the “positive only message”. What is even more deceptive about Warren’s gospel over Schuller’s is that Warren is not so obvious about omitting sin and judgment from his teachings. In fact, he does mention sin and judgment from time to time. But the overwhelming emphasis is always away from these topics. These Bible truths are set just in the shadows where Satan wants them.
If sinners are not made to recognize their lost and sinful condition, they will never see their true need for a savior in order to overcome sin. Therefore, they will ultimately be lost. The grace of God is not properly understood and the liberty of God’s grace becomes license.
A positive only gospel does attract non-believers to its teachings; like a moth to the flame. And this appears to be one of the reasons that The Purpose Driven Life is such a popular book, and one of the secret weapons of Warren’s church growth formula obtained from Schuller.
The second, and almost equally objectionable principle of Warren’s formula, is the withholding of Biblical doctrine from the pulpit. Eliminating doctrine not only waters down the gospel but eliminates denominational differences and prepares for the world wide ecumenism that is predicted in the prophecies of Revelation’s Chapter 13.
As you can see from the outline of the PDC model above, there are some serious theological issues with regard to Warren’s theories. However, there are still other practical pitfalls in Warren’s church growth model.
What are the practical implications of Warren’s PDC model?
Warren openly states that his church growth strategies will cause the pillars of the church to leave as the suggested changes of the model are incorporated. The following is a quote given by Warren during one of his “Purpose Driven Church” seminars:
“Be willing to let people leave the church. And I told you earlier the fact that people are going to leave the church no matter what you do (meaning if you incorporate Warren’s church growth strategies). But when you define the vision, you define who leaves. You say, ‘But Rick, they’re the pillars of the church.’ Now, you know what pillars are. Pillars are people who hold things up… and in your church, you may have to have some blessed subtractions before you have any real additions.”
Warren’s method of church growth is simply to go out and ask the pagans (Warren’s term) what they want, and then to make changes in your church to accommodate them. It is a very consumer oriented or market based approach to church growth. Warren states:
“The unchurched culture determines our style. We’re laid back Southern California. We’re just a few miles from the beach, so we have a laid back Southern California style….Regardless of the style you choose, you’re going to be criticized. Okay? So, the key question is, “Who are you trying to impress?” The unchurched populations determine our goals.”
Warren’s formula for church growth can be stated in simple terms as follows: As you make changes to conform your church to the world, the pillars of your church will leave. Those who leave will be replaced by pagans, some of whom will become new believers. As the church becomes more and more conformed to modern culture, more and more long time members will leave. Eventually, the church is completely changed from its original state, with few or none of them remaining who hold a higher standard. And it’s all justified in the name of church growth.
As demonstrated by the over 250,000 pastors (and climbing) that have attended ” Purpose Driven Church ” seminars, Warren’s philosophies do work rather well in increasing church membership and attendance. As a result, his teachings are being adopted by churches of all denominations across the world.
The church growth movement is penetrating virtually all denominational barriers, and continues to pick up speed. However, this question must be asked. Do we at _________ want to follow the ways of the world? Are we at the _________ church willing to make changes that will cause our conscientious brothers and sisters (pillars) to leave in the name of transforming ourselves to reach the pagans?
History shows us the results of treading the path of conforming the church to the world around us. As the early church conformed itself to the world in the name of reaching pagans, the doctrines and practices of paganism entered the church; and the church soon became the “little horn” of Daniel 7 “which thought to change times and laws.” Are we now watching the same progression? As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
As always, the question to be answered is do the results justify the means? Are the principles of Warren’s church growth formula in harmony with Christian principles? Are these the kind of results we are after? Do we have to compromise the everlasting gospel or the last day message of the SDA church in order to implement Warren’s philosophies? In order to examine these questions, it is important to briefly revisit the God given “Purpose” of the Seventh day Adventist Church.
Since it is inherent in even the title of Warren’s best selling books The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church that Warren is attempting to re-define in his own terms what the purpose of a Christian Church should be, we thought it necessary to compare Warren’s philosophies to that of traditional Seventh Day Adventism. Therefore, we will start with a brief overview of the traditional “Purpose” of the Adventist church and then compare and contrast this to Warren’s teachings.
What is the traditional purpose of the SDA church?
The foundational purpose of the SDA Church is to proclaim the everlasting gospel found in the warning contained in the 3 Angels Message of Rev 14:6-10. This fact is clearly established in the history and doctrine of the church, as well as the Spirit of Prophecy.
“And I saw another angel, flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, saying with a loud voice,
• Fear god , and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come ; and worship him that made heaven and earth and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
• And there followed another angel saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen , that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine (of the wrath) of her fornication.
• And the third angel followed them saying with a loud voice , If any man worship the beast and his image , and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink (of the wine) of the wrath of God , which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the lamb.
The Advent message is one of repentance and the judgment. Warren’s “positive only” message intentionally places these very topics in the shadows and thus directly contradicts the three angels messages of revelation 14 & 18.
By continuing to study these spiritualistic teachings, we will ourselves become intoxicated with the wine of Babylon and the victim of seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. We are clearly warned in the scriptures to watch for false prophets in these last days. When the disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of His coming and of the end of the world, he told them:
” Take heed that no man deceive you . For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ and shall deceive many… And many false prophets shall rise , and shall deceive many ..But he that shall endure until the end, the same shall be saved”. (Matt 24:5, 11,13)
And Paul says::
“I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel , which ye have not accepted, ye might well endure it! – (For) s uch are false apostles , deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light . Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness “. (IICor 11:3,4,13,14,15)
We have been warned adamantly to guard against false prophets sneaking into our ranks in these last days. We are told that these false teachers will transform themselves into ministers of righteousness but that they will preach a gospel of spiritualism. Rick Warren is a false prophet whose spiritualistic gospel is dangerously close to the true. We have been warned that the end time deceptions will be so extremely subtle, and so extremely seductive that even the elect would be deceived if it were possible. We stand warned.
By drinking of Warren’s Babylonian wine (false teachings) and becoming part of the worldwide religious revival know formally as the Church Growth Movement, we have apostatized and stand in direct contradiction to God and the message of the remnant church. Will we obey God’s warning to “Come out of Babylon” or will we accept Rick Warren’s invitation to “Come in?” So, Board members, what will the answer be?
This article was presented at a local church board meeting by the author on March 11, 2003.
If you would like to contact the author, you may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.