Rick Warren adopted a typical human approach to church growth and spiritual development, since the standards that he set in the determination of success have a very poor doctrinal basis. His non-offensive gospel has been defined so vaguely that, from a human point of view, it is acceptable to virtually everybody. People are not offended by it because sin and its dreadful consequences, which is God’s wrath upon sinners, are not mentioned. The full implications of Jesus’ death on the cross, where He shed His blood and laid down His life to serve God’s death penalty upon sinners (Rom. 6:23), is not explicitly proclaimed.
What he does proclaim is a general identification with Jesus Christ, and the many blessings that He has in store for us. Christianity is so positively and beneficially presented, and rendered so acceptable to sinners by associating it with modern music and worldly methods of spiritual motivation, that great crowds are drawn into the church. The large flow of people into mega churches, as well as the sharply rising income of congregations, are interpreted as a spiritual revival and a new reformation movement.
Are sharp increases in numbers and income really indications of spiritual growth? Is an assessment in terms of these criteria an acceptable norm to determine true spirituality? Isn’t there a big different between human and godly evaluations of a matter? How do we know if a particular church leader, as human being, is truly led by the Spirit of God and abides by Scriptural principles when he takes decisions and makes pronouncements? Please consider the following serious errors which can be made by humans when they judge matters in terms of their own values and interests:
- The promotion of humanly-determined doctrines which do not reflect the true meaning of Scripture is a futile exercise as it is not acceptable to the Lord: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). We are deeply dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13) as only the truth of God’s Word can set us free from sin and deception (John 8:32). When using the books of certain authors, we must first make sure whether they present sound biblical expositions (1 Pet. 2:2).
- False doctrines often enjoy extensive social and ecclesiastical acceptance. They may become so popular and firmly established that many pastors proclaim them to ensure popularity, large congregations and a big income. This results in many people being deceived by the low standards of a distorted gospel: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Proff. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say the following about this Scripture: “Paul was concerned about the dangers of heresies diverting people from God’s truth.” Do we make a thorough investigation of doctrines before we accept them in good faith and expose our congregations to them? It does not seem so.
- The truth about the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as the people proclaiming it, are, most often, not accepted by the world (John 15:18-20). The world’s acclaim usually goes to those people who distort and dilute the Word to render it socially more acceptable. Preachers who succumb to the pressure of social acceptance put themselves under the judgements of God: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
- Material riches, status and fame from a human point of view are not regarded as spiritual virtues by God. To Him, it is an abomination if people justify and pursue these things by describing them as blessings from the Lord: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). The Living Bible says: “Your pretence brings you honour form the people, but it is an abomination in the sight of God.”
- Secular criteria for success can be spiritually very deceptive. The end-time, socially acceptable and financially prosperous church is judged as follows by the Lord Jesus: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:16-17; also see 1 Tim. 6:7-12).
Church Health Award
Rick Warren is undeterred in his own assessment of church growth, and also presents his own congregation, Saddleback, as a role model to others. He says: “Saddleback Church is now but one among thousands of Purpose Driven churches – the vanguard of a new reformation.” The churches who most successfully copy Rick Warren’s pattern are honoured with a Church Health Award.
The church leaders who follow Rick Warren are told that if they follow his campaign and are typical of other churches that do so, they will grow 20% in attendance and money per year. They will then be regarded as “healthy” congregations that qualify for an award. The church in Laodicea would certainly have qualified for this award, as they were very rich and wealthy. But spiritually they dismally failed the test because the kingdom of Christ operates on other principles (Rev. 3:15-18).
The Lord Jesus does not care about attendance or money, but is interested in changed hearts and holy lives. As far as numbers are concerned, He said that those who are truly saved are few (Luke 13:23-24).
The main objective of Rick Warren is not doctrinal purity but the outward growth of the church. He claims that doctrine is so unimportant that God will not even ask about it: “God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views” (The Purpose Driven Life, p. 34). He refuses to be drawn into discussions on this topic, and has no problems with the doctrines of other churches or sects, as long as they implement his methods of church growth.
In the Bible, however, doctrinal purity is of the greatest importance: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9). Proff. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, bl. 907-908) say the following about this Scripture:
“’ Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.’ These words suggest strongly that the apostle was thinking here of defection from the truth by those who had once held to it... A person who does not continue in a thing has evidently once been in it. The New Testament writers were realists about the possibility of true Christians falling prey to heresy and warned against it... John had just cautioned his readers about possible loss of reward (2 John 1:8). They were thus now cautioned not to overstep the boundaries of sound doctrine, but to remain where they were in the teaching about Christ. To deviate from the truth is to leave God behind. God is not with a person who does so. What such a person does, he does without God... In contrast with the defection from the truth, ‘He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.’ This says that God is with those who persist in the true doctrine about Christ” (NKJV rendering).
Where does Rick Warren stand with regard to the doctrine of Christ? Bob DeWaay of Twin City Fellowship in Minneapolis, says in his Critical Issues Commentary of Jan./Feb. 2005: “Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life never explains the blood atonement in the context of the gospel or salvation. Jesus commended overcomers – people are overcomers because of the blood of the Lamb. Since Warren’s readers and followers do not hear anything from him about the blood atonement or the wrath of God against sin, they have no way to become overcomers.”
What is the advantage of doctrine if it does not lead to justification and sanctification? It can only give people a form of godliness, as well as a positive self-image like that in Laodicea, which was utterly rejected by the Lord Jesus.
Rick Warren openly associates with meditation, which is referred to as “contemplative prayer” or “breath prayer,” by making provision for it in some of his pastors’ training seminars, while yoga relaxation exercises are also offered. These are strange, mystical practices of Eastern origin. In Critical Issues Commentary (ibid) it is said: “Rick Warren compromises with the pagans like the churches Jesus rebuked in Revelation 2 and 3. He uses pagan principles in his SHAPE program which was inspired by Carl Jung’s questionable theories. He teaches pagan ‘prayer’ practices such as ‘breath prayers’ which are designed to induce altered states of consciousness. He consults compromisers such as Robert Schuller and encourage others to do the same.”
These meditation sessions at his seminars are only the tip of the iceberg. In his book, A time of departing: how a universal spirituality is changing the face of Christianity, Ray Yungen indicates that contemplative or centring prayers are invading large sectors of Christianity, where prayer is replaced by this mystical practice. It offers to people strange experiences of “another Jesus” within themselves (the God within) and also leads to alternative states of consciousness which form the basis of deceptive spirituality. Sandy Simpson (www.deceptioninthechurch.com) says that the widespread introduction of contemplative prayer is sure to be a final nail to the coffin of the modern, deceived church.
In his book, Deceived on Purpose: The New Age implications of the Purpose-driven church, Warren Smith confirms beyond any doubt the New Age influences in Rick Warren’s ministry and books. Within the context of “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9), Smith refers to various distortions in Warren’ book, in which he often makes conclusions which are contrary to the true meaning of Scripture. The gospel is presented in such a way that people make a positive discovery of themselves without being convicted of their sins. That ties up with Robert Schuller’s ideas about self-esteem, as well as Bruce Wilkinson’s Jabez prayer in which the enlarging and expansion of your interests is a key concept. Rick Warren also quotes New Age authors to illustrate some of his statements.
The end result is a nice-sounding gospel which is based on Robert Schuller’s and Norman Vincent Peale’s concept of positive thinking. It has no contrasting pole of a devil with all his deceptive powers, and therefore no disposition to resist evil and deception. Robert Schuller said: “Concentrate on the positive. If you accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour... you’ll never have to worry about the devil.” Warren echoes this statement in his book when he says: “It helps to know that Satan is entirely predictable” (bl. 203).
At the end of his book, Warren Smith makes the following remarks about Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven ministry:
“Working with the purposeful efficiency of a tightly-run Peter Drucker business corporation, Rick Warren and his global alliance of Christian leaders and organisations are methodically marching the Church out of the land of biblical Christianity toward the borderland of the New Spirituality... It is not too late for Rick Warren to recognise that he has been greatly deceived by the worldly teachings of Robert Schuller. He could open many people’s eyes if he started to expose the differences between biblical Christianity and the deceptive teachings of the New Age and its new spirituality... He could make it clear to Walsch and other New Age leaders that the spiritual ‘territory’ of what we believe is not going to be enlarged, expanded, changed, or transcended in the name of New Spirituality or Jabez or anyone else. Rick Warren could make it clear that we don’t need any new revelation, because we have been given everything we need to know in properly translated Scripture and in our relationship with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He could make it unmistakably clear that God is not in everyone and everything, and that we will never accept the teachings of a new spirituality...
“If Rick Warren did these things he could greatly edify and encourage the body of Christ. He would be truly contending for the faith as we are admonished to do. By exposing the schemes and devices of our increasingly aggressive adversary, he could help many people from being deceived. And he could make it clear that, while we want to do whatever we can to help the world, we are not about to allow our faith or the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be compromised in the process.
“But it does not seem, at this time, that Rick Warren is about to change his course, issue the much needed detailed warnings, and earnestly contend for the faith. Sadly, if Rick Warren and other Christian leaders fall for New Age schemes and devices rather than exposing them, they will take countless numbers of sincere people down with them. It will be the blind leading the blind, as they fall further and further into the deceptive ditch of the New Age and its spirituality. Undiscerning Christians who think they are on the narrow way preparing the way for Jesus Christ, may discover too late that they had actually been on the broad way preparing the way for Antichrist. It is not too late to warn everyone, but it must be done soon before the deception advances any further. As we have already seen, there is another Jesus, another christ another spirit and another gospel at work in the world. The Church must not continue to fall prey to the deception” (Warren Smith: Deceived on Purpose: The New Age implications of the Purpose-driven church, Conscience Press, 2004, p. 168-170).
A soulless gospel
A soulless gospel in which many good things are said about the Lord Jesus, while offering His blessings to all Christians, but without mentioning the destructive consequences of sin and the dark prospects of sinners within the context of God’s wrath upon them, cannot be of any real advantage. Furthermore, it does not lead to a sound appreciation of the nature of Christ’s death on the cross to atone for our sins. It also lacks practical value as a directive in life, as all negative subjects such as spiritual deception, the rise of antichristian forces and the role of false prophets are deliberately avoided and ignored.
This positivist approach may lead to large congregations where the most important attractions are ‘exhilarating’ contemporary music (including ‘Christian rock’), as well as non-offensive preaching in the form of motivational talks which are pleasing to people of all doctrinal persuasions. But sermons which do not reflect the basic principles of the gospel of Christ are described as fables or myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). They are vehicles for the introduction of the spirit of delusion in Christian congregations (2 Thess. 2:10-12). In this way, the true gospel message is played down and eventually silenced. Through preaching of this nature people are deprived of their spiritual armour which they need to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 10-12).