Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California has given us the terms purpose-driven church and the purpose-driven life. His books have made a significant impact not only on how Christian leaders look at church growth, but on how we see church — how we worship and what we believe. But what is the purpose of the church, according to Warren’s popular philosophy? In the synopsis of The Dark Side of the Purpose Driven Church by Noah Hutchings, I read, “As documented in this book, Dr. Warren has said that the five basic fundamentals of the Christian faith are too narrow, that fundamentalists are the biggest enemies we have, and we need to bring the Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and all religions together to stop wars, heal the sick, and feed the hungry.”
Lets all try to be on the same page. So, what are “the five basic fundamentals” of the Christian faith? Where did they come from? Paul certainly didn’t lay them out when he said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). As to what specifically are the five basic fundamentals, they vary from source to source. I list two versions below. As a Bible-believing Christian, I am sure I believe in the basic fundamentals. I’m just not sure which ones, if any, are “the five”.
1. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
2. The Deity of Jesus Christ
3. The virgin birth of Jesus
4. The substitutionary, atoning work of Christ on the cross
5. The physical resurrection and the personal, bodily return of Christ to the earth
1. The Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit of God
2. The dual nature of Jesus Christ — both human and divine
3. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ
4. Salvation is found in Christ alone
5. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
At best, these are simplistic attempts to boil down and nail down the essence of Biblical faith. However, when an educated pastor refers to Fundamentalism and Fundamentalists, he is referring to a compilation of 90 essays by 64 authors who represented most major Protestant denominations. Originally published between 1910 and 1915, these essays were compiled into a 12 volume set of books called The Fundamentals. This work became the basis for identifying believers in the common faith. If you agreed with The Fundamentals, you were a “fundamentalist”. If not, you were a “liberal”. Rick Warren characterizes the essence of this compilation to be “too narrow” and considers believers in these fundamentals as the church’s greatest enemies.
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Can the narrow gate of Matthew 7:13-14 be “too narrow”? What is Rick Warren’s justification for saying so? And what are his reasons for saying “narrow” fundamentalists are the church’s worst enemies? I recall Jesus had strong words for the hyper-religious Pharisees. He called them white-washed tombs in Matthew 23:27 because they were clean and beautiful on the outside but dead and unclean on the inside. Read the rest of the passage. These men were not fundamentalists. They were cruel, uncaring hypocrites.
The real enemy of the church can be seen in Matthew 16:18. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The gates of hell are opposed to the church. They stand gaping wide, inviting “even the elect” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22) to join with all who are opposed to God, led by the father of lies, himself. Those who enter the gates of hell are the losers, not those who abide in Christ.
The gates of hell have been marginalized, trivialized and treated as non-existent by much of the modern church. Christians like Rob Bell question whether hell even exists. If hell doesn’t exist, then why did Jesus refer to it? We now have a whole lot of professing Christians doubting the Bible, not considering Scripture to be authoritative for their faith. When this happens, progressive theologians feel free to discount Scriptural apologetics as a feckless enterprise of the church’s biggest enemy, those wretched fundamentalists, thus ignoring the whole basis for Christian faith in the first place.
Authority is at the crux of this issue. Rick Warren says that “purpose” should drive the church, that the basic fundamentals are too narrow and fundamentalists are enemies of the church. I believe fundamentalists would agree with me that Jesus Christ should drive the church — after all, the church is his body (1 Corinthians 12:27) and Christ is the Head (Colossians 2:19). Jesus Christ should be driving the church according to his own purposes. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). We should let him sit in the driver’s seat.
How do we know his will and his purpose, in order to follow him? How do we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24)? In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” A fellow once asked me, “How do we know his voice?” What he was really asking is how do we know we aren’t just imagining God speaking to us? We learn to hear his voice by developing a personal relationship with him. We get to know him in two, complimentary ways: learning about him by becoming familiar with the Bible, and getting to know him more intimately by spending time in prayer. I should add that we also get to know him better by forming relationships with fellow believers. We get to see Jesus in them, and they get to see Jesus in us.
I can say without reservation that the authority of Jesus Christ is revealed to us through the Bible. That authority is absolute. Take that authority away and all you have is human wisdom, human insight, human planning, human organization and human efforts. But in the purest sense, the church is not human. It is spiritual. Christianity is a spiritual thing, operating in the physical realm by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirt. The church is to be Spirit-led. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Later in that chapter, verse 28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The “purpose” of the church is God’s purpose, not ours. How do we know his purpose? By listening to him. He is calling. We need to learn to listen to him. He’s in charge, not us.
And how can we be sure we are listening to the call of God? By trusting the authority of Scripture. Paul wrote Timothy, “…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The gospel message (the fundamentals) has been preserved for us by faithful teachers. We can trust them because they were faithful workers subject to the same authority we are.
Finally, Rick Warren’s purpose-driven vision includes “we need to bring the Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and all religions together to stop wars, heal the sick, and feed the hungry.” Essentially, this is an ecumenical statement. He prioritizes three global goals (stopping wars, healing the sick and feeding the hungry) ahead of the Great Commission, making the Great Commission secondary to and subject to those goals.
Prior to his ascension, Jesus reiterated his main purpose for his church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
He did not say to get together with peoples of different faiths in different gods for the purpose of ending wars, healing the sick or feeding the hungry. In fact 2 Corinthians 6:14 specifically says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” The principle of this verse goes well beyond marital relationships, to which it is being applied. That principle clearly may be applied to all relationships because of what follows: “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” It is contrary to the authority of Scripture to join together with other religions in order to do good works.
As far as Protestants and Catholics being united in Christ, I agree that is possible. But they can only have unity under the exclusive authority of Christ. Protestants cannot accept the authority given to the traditions of the Catholic church, as taught in the Catholic catechism. But as far as “getting together” with Muslims goes, it cannot be done. The most basic claim of Islam is the Shahada: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” This is anathema to any Biblical Christian because compared to the nature and character of the God of the Bible, Allah, as described in the Koran is not the same. Nor are the qualities and characteristics of Muhammad anything like the prophets of the Bible. God and Allah are not the same, and their respective religions have different purposes.
Take the ending of wars, for example. The Koran teaches, “And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion should be only for Allah” (Sura 8:39). [There are many verses in the Koran and Hadith that urge Muslims to go to war. They call their holy war Jihad. See http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/023-violence.htm]
But for the purpose of the Christian faith, we don’t even need to go there. The BIG issue with the Rick Warren philosophy is the priority of changing the world. He is willing to subjugate the Biblical call to make disciples of all nations under the banner of changing the world, vis-a-vis ending wars, ending disease, ending hunger. This philosophy looks to the outside world and seeks to correct it, rather than looking at the need to deal with the consequences of sin, which separate us from fellowship with our Creator and brings us under his judgement. Rather than teaching the Biblical principle of being born again into God’s kingdom, where each heart learns to be holy because he is holy, Rick Warren’s philosophy teaches us to focus on making the world a better place, thereby, in a sense, sanctifying it.
This ignores the fact that humans cannot change the world. Nothing we can do will change the world. That is God’s job. He will change the world when the end comes (Revelation 21:5). But until then, nothing we do will change the world. We are called to love our neighbors. We are called to serve, have mercy, deal justly and do good works. Will that change the world? No. So why should we do those things if they aren’t going to change the world? Because God commands us to be rich in good deeds (1 Timothy 6:18). Christian charity has been helping the poor, the sick, the hungry, the disenfranchised as long as the church has existed. But even with our best efforts, Jesus told us we would always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). What he was saying is if we will always have the poor with us, then we will always have the opportunity to help them. That means it’s a fool’s errand to think we can end poverty. Or hunger. Or disease. Or war. Of war, Jesus said, “Such things must happen” (Matthew 24:6).
Christians, do you want to be like Peter in Matthew 16:17 when Jesus told him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”? Or do you want to be like Peter in Matthew 16:23 when Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”? In the first instance, Peter had heard God and listened to what he was revealing to him. In the second instance, Peter thought in his own wisdom (looking at the “things of man”) that Jesus should not have to suffer at the hands of the elders, priests and teachers of the law, that he should not be mistreated and crucified. Here Jesus had been trying to explain to his disciples what was about to happen, yet Peter thought he knew better. He was not following Jesus, but trying to lead — trying to change his world.
This Christmas season is a good time to re-evaluate how you look at church, the purpose of church and the role we play as believers. Jesus was born — a gift to us, in that he was the substance of God in human form — God the Son. But this God-Man was born to suffer — suffering for our sins that we may enter into his kingdom as children of God the Father. When we are born again, we are no longer of this world. We are citizens of heaven. My fellow believers, this is a spiritual thing, not to be understood as we understand “the things of man”. For we too must suffer, and rejoice in our sufferings, as we read in James 1:2: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”. Why? Read the following verses (3-4): “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Testing of our faith. Steadfastness. That we may be made perfect. The purpose of the church is to let God change us, not to change the world.