The following article is but one of many that examine the teaching of Rick Warren.
A VISIT TO SADDLEBACK CHURCH
by David Cloud
Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, pastored by Rick Warren, is one of the most influential churches in the world. Warren says, This is a world class church making a world class impact. He is right about the impact, but sadly that impact is not encouraging strict faithfulness to Gods Word.
Saddleback is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but Warrens Purpose Driven philosophy has spread to most denominations. Called by Christianity Today Americas most influential pastor, Warrens influence is vast. He has taught 300,000 pastors through his church growth seminars and far more through his books and videos. His influence reaches into every sphere of Christianity today, from Catholicism, to liberal Protestantism, to evangelicalism, to fundamentalist Bible and Baptist churches. His latest book, The Purpose-Driven Life, has sold 4.5 million copies.
Many independent Baptist churches are being influenced by Warrens teaching. Rick Warren and Jerry Falwell (who affiliates both with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Bible Baptist Fellowship) are partnering for a Purpose-Driven SuperConference in October. It will be held on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Simultaneously, a Rick Warren 40 Days of Purpose campaign will be shown by telecast in more than 4,000 churches, including Falwells church.
I visited two of the three morning services at Saddleback on August 24, the one at 8 a.m. and the one at 9:45 a.m. The church complex is huge. The main auditorium seats many thousands, and there are dozens of other buildings for various ministries. The overall mood of the services is casual in the extreme. The people dress much as they would for a secular sporting event. Women are dressed in shorts, short skirts, tight pants, and other types of immodest attire. The church bulletin for that Sunday was patterned after the cover to the TV Guide. The words TV Guide were replaced with SC Guide for Saddleback Church. Television was mentioned several times in the message but there was not a hint of warning about its dangers.
The music was pure rock and roll. There were five singers, two electric guitars, a drum kit, an electric keyboard, 2 saxophones, a piano, trumpet, trombone, and flute. Three special numbers were performed with a pure nightclub effect, complete with swirling lights in the background and attractive female singers swaying and dancing to the music. It appeared to me that not many of the people were actually participating in the worship service. Most were merely watching the show up front.
The message, which was titled The Potential of a Single Life, was a witty, motivational challenge to single people to dedicate themselves to God. Rick Warren said, You are as happy as you choose to be.
You can waste your life on vanities, spend your life on yourself, and invest your life for God. Mother Teresa was used as an example with no warning about her false gospel. There was no specific mention of the hard things of Gods Word such as sin, separation, judgment, hell, or repentance. These were replaced with general and vague references to biblical truth. No clear gospel message was given. Some of the things that were stated were good, but the error lay chiefly in what was not stated. This is the hallmark of New Evangelicalism, which is characterized not so much by the heresy that is preached but by the truth that is neglected in an effort to present the Bible in a more positive light.
Everything about Saddleback is shallow. Truth has been boiled down to such a low common denominator that not much is left. For example, the Saddleback Statement of Faith has six simple points. Note the following statement on salvation, which we are quoting in full:
Salvation is a gift from God to mankind. We can never make up for our sin by self-improvement or good works. Only by trusting in Jesus Christ as Gods offer of forgiveness can we be saved from sins penalty. Eternal life begins the moment we receive Jesus Christ into our life by faith.
Note that the gospel is not actually given in this statement. There is nothing about Christs death, burial, and resurrection, nothing about His shed blood and atonement. Sinners are exhorted to trust Christ but that is not explained in any sense whatsoever.
I talked with one man who told me he has been a member of Saddleback for two years. I asked him when he was born again. He replied, I have always been a Christian. I grew up in the Christian Church. By that he was referring to the Disciples of Christ, which preaches baptismal regeneration. He said that his mother took him to church, though his father was a Buddhist. I asked him what he was required to do to join Saddleback, and he replied that he rededicated his life at that time. I asked him if that was when he was born again, and he insisted again that he has always been a Christian.
An outline of the sermon was handed out with the bulletin, and six or seven versions were quoted, most of them paraphrases such as the Living Bible, the New Living Translation, The Message, the Todays English Version, and the Contemporary English Version. I observed on the way into the auditorium that only a few of the people carried Bibles, and the reason became clear when I saw the multiplicity of versions that were used in the preaching. It would have been impossible to have followed along in ones Bible. The result is that the people do not bring their own Bibles and do not therefore carefully test the preaching.
(See What kind of message is The Message?)
AVOIDING DOCTRINAL CONTROVERSY
In an interview with USA Today that ran in the July 21, 2003 issue, Rick Warren cites Billy Graham, the king of ecumenical positive onlyism, as his model. Warren says: Im not going to get into a debate over the non-essentials. I wont try to change other denominations. Why be divisive? [Also See True and False Unity]
Since Mr. Warren has asked his question, I will answer it.
The reason we need to be divisive is because God has commanded us to preach all of His Word and to reprove, rebuke, exhort (2 Tim. 4:2). The emphasis in 2 Timothy 4 is as much negative as positive. That is the preachers divine standard.
God has commanded us not only to believe sound doctrine but also to earnestly contend for it (Jude 3). That means we are to fight aggressively against that which is false. This is exactly what we see in the uncompromising ministry of the Lords apostles. Their epistles contain strong and clear warnings about false teaching. Paul often named the names of the false teachers. Such a ministry naturally causes divisions between those who are committed to the truth and those who are following error. Paul made no effort whatsoever to avoid doctrinal controversy.
See Thou Shalt Not Judge and The Christian and Knowledge on THIS Page
The apostasy of our time is much advanced in comparison with that of the days of the apostles (2 Tim. 3:1-13; 4:3-4). The Holy Spirit warned that evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13). That is the story of church history. The apostasy that was just beginning in the days of the first churches grew quickly as the centuries passed, eventually producing the Roman Catholic Church, and it has continued to grow and spread throughout the age. The Bible warns that just prior to the return of Christ, the apostasy will be almost complete.
Thus preachers today are obligated to be even more aggressive and more divisive, if you will, than the apostles! See Power From The Pulpit
That, Rick Warren, is why we should be divisive, and you will give an account at the judgment seat of Christ for promoting your unscriptural positive-only, avoid divisiveness emphasis. And in that day the Word of God will wash away the strong wall of church growth philosophy that you have built up to defend your methodology and by which you have duped so many.
I believe this with all of my heart. And I weep over the damage that is being caused to the churches of Jesus Christ by a methodology that is breaking down the wall of separation between Gods people and the world but that is doing it under the guise of holiness and love for the truth. This philosophy of rejecting strict scriptural separation destroyed Israel of old and it will destroy every church that goes down the same road.
Our day is described plainly in Bible prophecy:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
This generation has itching ears, and it will not hear the preaching of Gods Word that plainly rebukes its sin and forthrightly condemns its heresies; but it eagerly hears -- yea, flocks in droves to hear -- those soft-speaking teachers that are willing to be non-divisive and tickle ears with a positive-only, non-offensive message. The same generation that hates the uncompromising, plain-spoken, old time fundamentalist-style preaching, dearly loves the preaching of the Billy Grahams and the Rick Warrens and the Robert Schullers.
Rick Warren claims that he has not compromised the Word of God with his principles and methods, that he has only modernized them; but when I look into the book of Acts and the Epistles I see a different kind of Christianity, a different kind of church there, than the one that Rick Warren has devised. Thus I must reject Warrens Purpose Driven methods and I must warn those who have an ear to hear, regardless of how small that crowd may be, that they not heed the siren call of the contemporary church growth gurus.
It is fearful that this church is influencing thousands around the world.