Trying the Spirits of the Church Growth Religion
"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14).
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God. . . . Hereby know ye the Spirit of God; Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God . . ." (1 John 4:1-3).
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
Every Christian, and especially every pastor, has a responsibility to test the spirits of every religious fad or change that attempts to invade the church. This is not an option; it is a commandment. While I do not pastor a church because of responsibilities at Southwest Radio Ministries where I have served for 54 years, I do belong to a local church and contribute in any way I can.
A year ago I left my church, a church that had grown from a mission in the 1970s to the number two Baptist church in Oklahoma. The reason I left was because I could no longer stew in my pew over the Purpose Driven Church change that was taking place. Rather than be a negative influence, I left and moved my letter to another church where I felt I could worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth with a good conscience.
The growth of my former church was certainly not due to the Purpose Driven Church program; it was due to good pastors who believed and taught God's Word and preached the Gospel. This past month it was announced in my former church that 250 of the best tithers had left with their families, probably over 1,000 members. Others have left also.
While Dr. Warren has been appearing on national television and Rupert Murdoch has been selling more millions of his books, millions have been leaving their churches because of his teachings. Yet, we hear nothing about this in the national media. We do hear about it here at our ministry by letters, faxes, emails, and phone calls.
What Dr. Warren Believes
To test the spirits of the PDC church growth phenomenon, I obtained a copy of the Saddleback Church's statement of faith, except it is called "What We Believe." By "we," I suppose this is what Dr. Warren believes, as he is aided by staff members whom he hired and can fire at will. The PDC "Believe" statement reads:
1. God is bigger and greater and closer than we can imagine.
I never thought of God getting bigger and better, like a Burger King Whopper. I always think of God as Alpha and Omega, and everything in between.
2. Jesus is God showing Himself to us.
This is an interesting and simple explanation of just who Jesus is; however, to me, Dr. Warren has an annoying habit of leaving "Christ" off after the name of Jesus. Jesus, as we read in Young's Concordance, was His common name; and there have been many men with this name. But Jesus Christ is the only God "anointed Saviour" who was sacrificed in our place for our sins.
3. Through the Holy Spirit, God lives in and through us now.
While the expanded explanation in another section explains the Trinity, the statement that the Holy Spirit lives within a person "the moment they decide to follow Him" is not only ambiguous, it is not biblical. The unbeliever, or the unsaved, is born again of the Holy Spirit when he or she puts their faith in Jesus Christ who died for their sins on the cross. It seems to me that Dr. Warren here places doubt on the new birth.
4. The Bible is God's perfect workbook for living.
This weak affirmation of the Bible as God's inspired and infallible Word is amended and strengthened in the expanded explanation. However, in his book Purpose Driven Life, Dr. Warren quotes from 14 different and mostly newer versions of the Bible, based on the Westcott and Hort New Testament of 1881, a total of 628 scriptures. Included in this list are paraphrase versions like The Message where the author himself, Dr. Peterson, said it should not be considered God's Word. It has been noted by others that Dr. Warren uses the many translations in order to find a scripture that says what he wants it to say. In other words, God is agreeing with him rather than he is agreeing with God.
I seem to remember another instance in the Bible where this occurred. If Dr. Warren thinks the Bible is the perfect guide, then he must think his books are even more perfect, because he states that church members study their Bibles too much and that they should study his book. Listeners living near Saddleback have reported to us they never see members taking a Bible to church, and one pastor visiting the church reported he saw only three Bibles in the entire congregation.
5. Nothing in creation "just happened." God made it all.
In six days? In six thousand years? In six million years? In six billion years? The expanded explanation does not say, either.
6. Grace is the only way to have a relationship with God.
Grace is unmerited or unearned favor. All are sinners and undeserving of God's forgiveness. We are all cut off from God, but a sinner can receive forgiveness by accepting Jesus Christ by faith who paid the penalty for sin by His own blood on the cross. Without Jesus Christ, a sinner has no relationship with God. This ambiguous explanation about the way of salvation is one of the most serious errors of the Church Growth movement.
7. Faith is the only way to grow in our relationship with God.
As explained in Ephesians 2:8-9, and many other New Testament scriptures, a sinner is saved by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ and created a new person unto good works. In this affirmation of belief, the harvest offering is before the blood offering, or in the vernacular, the cart before the horse.
8. God has allowed evil to provide us with a choice. God can bring good even out of evil events and God promises victory over evil to those who choose Him.
This confusing explanation of evil by Dr. Warren gives us a choice to be evil or good, but we do not have a choice. Paul explains in Romans 3 that all men and women are born sinners and there is none good, not even one. Our only choice is to either accept Jesus Christ who died for our sins and put on His righteousness, or continue in sin and be forever separated from God in Hell. To choose Jesus Christ, not because we had to but because we freely decided to do so, is the only glory that God does not already have.
9. Heaven and hell are real places. Death is a beginning, not an end.
We find no fault with this statement, except to point out that if both Heaven and Hell are real places, then the first letter in both letters should be capitalized. We would also point out that the majority of new Bible versions that Dr. Warren references in the Purpose Driven Life omit Hell all 31 times it is found in the Authorized Version in the Old Testament, and 50 percent of the times in the New Testament.
10. Jesus is coming again.
In the Purpose Driven Church explanation, nothing is presented about the signs of the times in which Jesus will return; nothing about the Rapture or translation of the church; nothing is said about the Millennial reign or the Kingdom Age. Dr. Warren evidently accepts the replacement theology, preterist, A-millennial position. The only reason for Jesus coming again according to PDC eschatology is to bring an end to the world, which is a doctrinal position that most evangelical, fundamental churches would reject if they would really inform themselves about PDC theology.
In the roster of "beliefs" of Dr. Warren, there is nothing about the cross; nothing about the blood; and nothing about the new birth. This would indicate that the Purpose Driven Church religion is a works-based religion rather than a faith-based way of salvation.
The Love of Money
Zondervan Publishing Co. publishes Dr. Warren's books The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life. The sales reported a year ago were over 20 million copies. This number now probably exceeds 30 million.
Zondervan is one of many companies owned by Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch loves money and he has a lot of it. He also owns Harper/Collins, which publishes numerous magazines, one which advertised on its website, March 9, 2005, "Sensational Single Women: Get the love and sex you deserve! Send your friends the link. . . ." Mr. Murdoch also owns The Sun in England. You who have the Internet can click on The Sun, pull up page three, and see what kind of sleazy, sex-oriented newspaper it is. Some of Mr. Murdoch's publications and media outreaches have been rated between XX and XXX pornographic. It would seem evident that Mr. Murdoch does not publish Dr. Warren's books out of evangelistic concerns. With his many worldwide media advantages, it would seem evident the bigger he makes Dr. Warren, the more books he sells, and the richer he becomes.
Mr. Murdoch also owns Fox, a balanced, conservative TV news outlet to CNN. However, this does not make Mr. Murdoch a conservative, just as publishing The Purpose Driven Life does not make him a Christian. The February 21, 2005, edition of the London Daily Telegraph was headlined, "Murdoch Poised for Chinese Television Joint Venture." The Telegraph Group Limited, on December 21, 2004, reported that Mr. Murdoch became a member of the China Netcom Board, and that he is building for his third wife, Chinese citizen Wendi Deng, who presently runs his Hong Kong "Star" pay-TV operation (which is morally questionable), a 22,000-foot underground home at the Forbidden City in Beijing. I was arrested in the Forbidden City and taken to jail for telling the Chinese that God loved them, and now Mr. Murdoch builds an underground palace there for his wife, a mover in Chinese economics and politics. I would have a problem of conscience with Mr. Murdoch publishing my books. Maybe Dr. Warren doesn't.
Dividing the Wheat from the Wheat
In Matthew 13, Jesus related a parable about separating the weeds (tares) from the wheat. The Purpose Driven Church program separates the wheat from the wheat. Church Transitions is an organization that helps the Purpose Driven Church format and initiates its system within churches. The transition entails eight steps in which the church is changed from a traditional model to a contemporary PDC model. The transition will usually take from one to three years depending upon the congregation. In many changes, dress, music, Bible versions, decor, and even food and entertainment are items of consideration. Church Transitions' change chronology advises not to tell the membership until the fourth step. I quoted Dr. Warren in my article, "Piggyback Saddleback," March 2004, as saying:
"But when you define the vision, you're choosing who leaves. You say, "But Rick, they're pillars of the church." Now you know what pillars are. Pillars are people who hold things up."
Church pillars also pay the pastor's salary, the utilities, insurance, church mortgage, the staff's salaries, and general overhead.
Complaints from among the hundreds of unhappy and confused Christians who are leaving Purpose Driven infused churches range from: (1) 45 minutes of loud and raucous music at each service, (2) being taken off the church rolls for not taking the "40 Days of Purpose" oath, or not wanting to sign the Purpose Driven covenant, (3) changing Sunday school classes to celebration events, taking pews out for games and skating parties, church services changed, and (4) emphasis on social activities rather than worship. Most Christians go to church as a refuge from the world. If the church becomes like the world, why go? Many churches are no longer churches, but campuses. Jesus did not say in reference to Peter's declaration that He was the Christ, "Upon this rock will I build my campus." The church by definition is a separated body of born-again believers from the world.
The many who have given and served in their church for years are purposely being driven out of their churches. In the February 7, 2005, edition of Time, Dr. Rick Warren was lauded as America's pastor, a warm, loving preacher who only wants to help people to a better relationship with God. If this media reputation contains even a hint of credibility, then why does not Dr. Warren at least apologize to the thousands who are leaving their home churches, and especially to the seniors (old pillars) because of his transition programs. I personally blame Dr. Warren for the situation that is causing so much dissension and bitterness between brethren.
PDC P.E.A.C.E. Plan
Dr. Warren's "P.E.A.C.E. plan" entails sending out tens of thousands of mission groups involving millions of church members throughout the world to solve humanity's five main problems: Spiritual Lostness; Lack of Godly Leaders; Poverty; Disease; Lack of Education. Not only have great men fallen, but entire empires have fallen, when ambitions exceeded reality. If 2,000 years of church history has proven anything, it is that the physical circumstances of human beings cannot be changed without first changing their spiritual condition.
God already has a peace plan for this world, and I do not read anywhere in the Bible that it involves Dr. Warren. Man has been trying to bring peace on earth since Cain killed Abel. Only when Jesus Christ comes to destroy those who are destroying the world (Revelation 11), disarm the nations, and rule them with a rod of iron, will there be peace. If Dr. Warren's peace plan can bring peace, then we can shorten the Bible by several hundred pages.
An article that appeared in the February 2, 2005, edition of the Baptist Messenger by Pastor Alan Day of Edmond, Oklahoma, questioned mine, or anyone's, right to criticize Dr. Warren or the Purpose Driven Church movement when men like Dr. W. A Criswell, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and others (I might add Dr. Billy Graham), are commending and endorsing him.
Dr. Criswell did indeed write a glowing commendation of Dr. Warren in the introduction to Dr. Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Church. In The Purpose Driven Church, Dr. Warren warns, however, that his program could meet with disaster when tried in other areas. This qualification was changed subsequently on his Web and promotional materials to warn churches that if they did not change to a PDC in five years, they probably would not be around. We would also wonder what Dr. Criswell would say today if he were alive, as the Criswell church building is being torn down to build a $55 million PDC social center.
Dr. Falwell has had Dr. Warren speak at his last two super-conferences in Lynchburg, because this helped add another few thousand registrants at $400 each. However, Dr. Falwell has not changed his church to a Purpose Driven Church format, because he knows if he did that half his congregation would walk. Dr. Billy Graham in his old age has become so ecumenized that he thinks the Mormon Church is a great Christian organization, and the late pope was the foremost ecclesiastical leader in the world.
The Church Growth phenomenon seems to have congealed in the cultic adoration of one leader, Dr. Rick Warren. As in the internationally televised adoration of the late pope John Paul II, worldwide communications make possible mass propaganda of intensified devotional attention to a single individual. The world today is being made ready for its own messiah in much the same way churches are being changed to places that the world accepts rather than the institution that God has sanctified.
"For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (1 Corinthians 11:19).
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Prologue—Who Gets the Glory?
For the past 25 years I have annually written and produced a prophecy calendar on a mission basis for untold millions of prison cells around the world. In each calendar is the plan of salvation specially worded for inmates. We also send thousands of copies of our book Christian Guide to Prison Survival and other books and videos to chaplains for prison dissemination.
On April 4, 2005, I received a letter from Yusuf in Kanater Men's Prison in Cairo, who wrote that he stayed up all night just to listen to our program. In the late '70s I communicated with David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam killer) while he was on trial. The district attorney of Queens subpoenaed the letters, but David was saved and is now serving out his life term as a chaplain's assistant at the prison in Fallsburg, New York. David's last letter to me, dated June 16, 2004, closed: "It will not be until you get to heaven that you will know all those who were helped by your ministry. Keep the faith."
There are hundreds of prison mission efforts, many sponsored by local churches, doing a tremendous work for the Lord. Although the general public will never hear of these mission groups, God still gets the glory.
This past month a distraught prison inmate on trial suddenly ran amuck and killed a judge and several others in the courtroom. Afterward, the prisoner escaped and subsequently broke into an apartment occupied by a single woman in her mid-20s. During the next 24 hours, the apartment occupant, Ms. Ashley Smith, at some point read to the escaped prisoner from Dr. Warren's The Purpose Driven Life book, and also from the Bible, according to her pastor as reported to Fox and CNN. However, according to thousands of TV reports, newspaper, and magazine articles, Dr. Warren and his book were given 100 percent credit for the criminal suddenly surrendering to authorities. This resulted in additional millions of books being sold.
Now whether Brian Nichols, the man accused of this horrible crime, suddenly came to his senses, and to save himself realized that he must surrender to law enforcement officials, or whether he really was led to saving faith in Jesus Christ and gave himself up as a matter of conscience, only God knows. But, in this international news story that was disseminated to billions, did God get the glory, or did Dr. Warren? Without question, both Dr. Warren and Mr. Murdoch, moneywise, profited greatly.
(Excerpted from the May 2005 Prophetic Observer)