I had arrived at a crisis point in my spiritual life and I just didn’t know what to do. Our church had bowed its knee at the altar of Purpose, worshiping the Church Growth Goddess, who had seductively lured it away to her sinful bed. She had successfully inflamed passion for numerical growth, fame and influence to a fever pitch among our leadership. They had yielded to her will in matters of faith and practice. I strongly felt God’s call to come out of her, that her sins would not be imputed unto me or my family. However, I didn’t know where to go. I felt I needed a well thought out plan before exiting stage left.
I still had not found a church home for us to root ourselves in. After 11 years in a pentecostal\charismatic type church and seeing a lot of goofiness done in the name of God, I was looking to make our home in a more conservative, scripture-saturated atmosphere. I didn’t completely rule out a ‘full-gospel’ church since there are a couple in our town with good reputations, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to attend them. I have too many questions and concerns about tongues, prophecies, prophets and spirit baptisms to be comfortable in one right now. Most of the other churches I considered have been influenced, to some degree, by Rick Warren. So many choices, so few options. So while I pondered and prayed over our future, we continued to attend services on Sunday morning and on Wednesday nights.
One summer Sunday morning we listened as pastor delivered a message on establishing a biblical belief system. My first thought was, ‘At least he’s focusing on the bible and not on principles for successful living.’ But something about the message seemed a little off to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. For no good reason at all I decided to take notes on the message. The extraordinary thing about it is, I have never taken the first note on any message I have ever heard in that church for over a decade.
So why now?
I didn’t realize it at the time but I believe the Holy Spirit directed my every move that day. When we got home I retreated to the basement, deeply troubled in my spirit over the message. I surfed aimlessly around the internet for awhile, reading up on more material on Rick Warren and his PD empire. At one point I stumbled over a link to one of Saddleback’s websites called Pastors.com. It is essentially a database containing all of Rick Warren’s sermons over his entire ministry. It also contains messages by other Saddleback associate pastors. Every message and sermon series are available to download in their entirety – for a small fee of $4 apiece. I had perused the site’s contents a few months earlier, and had actually noted several sermon series that sounded familiar to me, but since I never took notes, I couldn’t confirm my suspicions. I just let it go and had completely forgotten about it until now.
I took a harder look this time. It didn’t take long for me to find a connection. On the home page of pastors.com they had a sermon series featured. It was called ‘Framing your Worldview’. It sounded similar to the series my pastor had begun to preach that morning. My suspicion was so strong in fact, I actually subscribed to the website and spent four hard-earned bucks – on a Rick Warren sermon! It pained me to do so, but I downloaded the first message in the series. The sermon started out with pastor Warren telling a story of how one person’s worldview influenced another person who in turned influenced another person so forth and so on until the last person in the chain touched by the philosophy was none other than Osama Bin Laden.
I stared at the screen in horror. I double-checked my notes. Sure enough. It was exactly point for point and word for word what my pastor preached that morning. I devoured the entire sermon and recoiled as every point, every illustration, and every personal experience pastor Warren shared echoed in my ears with the words of my pastor. Several awful truths came to my attention immediately.
1. My pastor plagiarized an entire message without giving credit to the original author.
2. He offered the illustrations and life experiences as if they were his very own.
3.He is deliberately deceiving his flock.
4. Pastor doesn’t care enough for his sheep to feed them. He only tosses them warmed up leftovers.
5. He isn’t spending his time in prayer or in the word, seeking God.
6. Pastor has transformed into a fully functional purpose-driven puppet.
7. I had not only exposed myself and my family to PDL methodologies but also had been listening to the very sermons of Rick Warren himself!
Here I had staunchly opposed him and his ministry for nearly a year and possibly all the time I had been listening to pastor Warren preach to me through his mouthpiece. I felt betrayed by one I had trusted for so long. I spent that evening locked in the basement coming to grips with this new revelation. My stomach knotted up and my chest tightened. I just couldn’t get over it.
The heart of the matter is this: I caught my pastor in an act of unfaithfulness to God and to his congregation. One burning question branded itself into my brain. How long has he been preaching Rick Warren’s sermons? This is a question I still do not have an answer to. I don’t know that I want to know.
Armed with a printed copy of the message, I attended church the following Sunday. I seriously considered making copies of the Pastors.com sermon and handing every person going inside the auditorium a copy, simply saying, ‘here is the transcript for today’s message’.
Ohh, I came so close… but the Holy Spirit got a hold of my conscience. I would have been right on target had I done it, though. I just shook my head as I followed along with his sermon word for word. Pastor did alter a word here and there and even added a little original text but over 95% of the message came directly from the printed pages in my hand. I was mortified. I didn’t care anymore that I didn’t have a plan of action on where we would attend church The sirens were wailing and it was high time to evacuate the premises.
Believe it or not, the pastor committed an offense far more damning than his blatant plagiarizing of Rick Warren that morning. He made a statement at the end of service that made my jaw go slack. It is perhaps the most mind-blowing remark I have ever heard a preacher of the gospel make. These are his very words as I remember him saying.
“I don’t know why God requires us to come to salvation. Oh, I could write a paper on the doctrine of salvation, but in reality I just don’t know why he requires us to get saved. You just do.”
He spoke this within the context of the altar call/sinner’s prayer routine he gives each Sunday morning. I looked around for expressions of perplexity equaling mine, but the congregation as a whole simply continued to blissfully whisper the lyrics to the song playing softly in the background. I began to wonder if I heard him correctly. I pondered his words on the way home and well into the evening. Every time, I came away more and more bewildered. What pastor in his right mind would ever claim to not understand man’s need to come to Christ for salvation? It’s as if he was denying man’s depravity – a cardinal Christian doctrine – a non-negotiable of the faith.
Did he sincerely mean that he truly didn’t understand why we need Christ?
It’s simple pastor, the answer is original sin! We have all sinned in Adam. It is our nature to rebel against God. Thus every person is in need of forgiveness.
How could he not understand this!?
If he truly doesn’t comprehend man’s desperate need for forgiveness he should immediately resign his position as pastor. I talked with several other church members about his statement, but not one person recalled him saying it! Maybe everyone tunes him out after the main message has concluded, I dunno. But I know what I heard. I have no doubt he uttered those blasphemous words.
I slowly began to realize he was simply catering to his audience full of seekers, which he covets so highly. he pitched a soft-sell on God’s gospel, almost apologetically, hoping not to frighten off those sensitive seekers. The gospel to him has become like the Sodoku puzzle analogy he gave. Salvation is akin to putting the right number in the right square so the rest of the puzzle makes sense. In other words, salvation by grace through faith alone is simply a first square into living well; an initiation into Club Christian, where God meets all your needs, wants, dreams and visions. Our religion had morphed from a Christocentric faith into a narcissistic belief system.
Worst of all, it clearly demonstrates the pastor’s shame at Christ and his words.
The apostle Paul proclaimed ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe.’ Many church growth/PDL gurus and their legion of devoted followers cannot claim the same. The full counsel of God is veiled and only the pleasant portions are presented. Gospel without law is an incomplete message. Salvation without repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is just not possible. Any other gospel than this is a false hope. I could no longer take heed to a man who thought so little of Christ’s shed blood, as to question why man even needs to have it applied to himself.
Amazingly enough I still did not leave the church. Well, not immediately. I don’t really know why, but I decided to attend one more service the next Sunday. I guess perhaps to see if he would apologize and repent for his careless words. He did not. I walked out of that church for the final time nearly one year ago and have yet to step foot back inside. I don’t plan on it, either. I still have friends there and I continue to pray that they come out from among them . I also pray for the leadership, that they would repent of their ways and return to preaching the biblical gospel, as it was handed down to us by Jesus and the apostles so long ago. This is my sincere hope for my old church. May the Lord have mercy upon them, and lift the blinders from their eyes
I will wrap up this series in a final post, coming soon, God willing.