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Purpose Driven Ecumenism
By David Cloud

Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life is a No. 1 bestseller in both Christian and secular markets. It and The Purpose Driven Church have sold millions of copies and at least two million people have participated in “40 Days of Purpose” campaigns. Warren is the senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church, a contemporary Southern Baptist mega-church in southern California. I attended a service in August 2003, and the “praise time” reminded me of a night club, with a longhaired “worship” leader, sensually attired women singers, pounding rock & roll, and swirling lights in the background.

Excerpts from The Purpose Driven Life

Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life contains extensive documentation of his dangerous and unscriptural “judge not” ecumenical philosophy. On page 164, Warren says, “God warns us over and over not to criticize, compare, or judge each other…. Whenever I judge another believer, four things instantly happen: I lose fellowship with God, I expose my own pride, I set myself to be judged by God, and I harm the fellowship of the church.”

In typical New Evangelical fashion Warren makes no distinction between judging hypocritically (which is forbidden in Matthew 7) and judging on the basis of the Bible.

Actually, the child of God has an obligation to judge everything by God’s Word. The believers at Corinth were rebuked because they were careless in this regard and were tolerant of false teachers (II Cor. 11:1-4). The Bereans, on the other hand, were commended because they carefully tested everything by the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). The Bible says “he that is spiritual judgeth all things” (I Cor. 2:15) and Jesus taught that we should “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). We are to judge prophecy (I Cor. 14:29) and sin in the churches (I Cor. 5). We are to try the spirits (I John 4:1). To test preachers and their message carefully by God’s Word is not a matter of pride, but wisdom and obedience.

On page 34 Warren says, “God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views. The only thing that will matter is, did you accept what Jesus did for you and did you learn to love and trust him?” If this is true, why does the Bible say so very much about doctrine and why did the apostles call for doctrinal purity on every hand? Paul instructed Timothy to allow “no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). That is the very strictest stance on doctrinal purity, and it is precisely the stance we find throughout the apostolic writings. Rick Warren has a lot to answer for, because millions of people are basing their lives upon his teaching rather than upon the pure Word of God.

If God is unconcerned about doctrine, why did the apostles spend so much time warning about false doctrines and doctrines of devils? See, for example, II Cor. 11:1-4; Gal. 1:6-12; Phil. 3:18-21; Col. 2:8; I Tim. 4:1-5; 6:20-21; II Tim. 4:1-4; II Pet. 2.

Rick Warren requires his church members to sign a covenant that he or she promises to protect the unity of the church (The Purpose Driven Life, p. 167). This is dangerous and unscriptural covenant. The child of God is not instructed to submit to a church or to its leaders blindly and at any cost. We are commanded to “prove all things” (I Thess. 5:21), and all things means all things. The Bereans are exalted because they “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). No preacher is above being tested by God’s Word. The pastor has God-given authority (Heb. 13:17), but it is not unquestionable authority and it is not his own authority; he is an undershepherd over God’s flock and he will give an account to the Great Shepherd (I Pet. 5:1-4). The pastor’s authority is not in his own word; it is in God’s Word (Heb. 13:7). If he strays from the Word of God he has no authority over God’s people and he should not be followed. Blind loyalty to a church is popery.

Warren even claims that “conflict is usually a sign that the focus has shifted to less important things” (p. 162). If this were true, then the apostles and preachers in the early churches were side-tracked much of the time, because they were frequently involved in doctrinal conflicts. Paul was involved in such conflicts almost continually. Most of his epistles contain lengthy sections in which he takes a stand against false teachers. In his epistles to his fellow preacher Timothy, Paul repeatedly warned about false teachers by name (I Tim. 1:19,20; I Tim. 1:15; 2:17,18; 4:12,14).


In keeping with his unscriptural “judge not” philosophy, Warren uncritically quotes from a wide variety of theological heretics, especially Roman Catholics such as Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, Brother Lawrence (Carmelite monk), John Main (Benedictine monk who believes that Christ “is not limited to Jesus of Nazareth, but remains among us in the monastic leaders, the sick, the guest, the poor”), Madame Guyon (a 17th century Roman Catholic mystic), John of the Cross (a pantheist who believed the mountains and forests are God). Warren does not warn his readers that these are dangerous false teachers who held to a false gospel and worshipped a false christ.

Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen were universalists who believed that men can be saved apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ. When Mother Teresa died, her longtime friend and biographer Naveen Chawla said that he once asked her bluntly, “Do you convert?” She replied, “Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you’ve found God, it’s up to you to decide how to worship him” (“Mother Teresa Touched Other Faiths,” Associated Press, Sept. 7, 1997). Henri Nouwen said, “Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God” (Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey).

As for the “Purpose Driven” philosophy, we don’t need a man’s shallow encapsulations of the New Testament faith; we need the “whole counsel of God” as found in the Scriptures (Acts 20:27). The Lord Jesus Christ instructed the churches to teach “all things” rather than a few things (Matt. 28:19,20).


Rick Warren knows a lot about megachurches but almost nothing about fundamentalism. In his appearance before the Pew Forum in May 2005 he made the following comments: “Today there really aren’t that many Fundamentalists left; I don’t know if you know that or not, but they are such a minority; there aren’t that many Fundamentalists left in America….Now the word ‘fundamentalist’ actually comes from a document in the 1920s called the Five Fundamentals of the Faith. And it is a very legalistic, narrow view of Christianity, and when I say there are very few fundamentalists, I mean in the sense that they are all actually called fundamentalist churches, and those would be quite small. There are no large ones…that group is shrinking more and more and more” (“Myths of the Modern Mega-Church,” May 23, 2005, transcript of the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle conference on religion, politics and public life). As for fundamentalism being a “narrow view of Christianity” Warren is correct. It seeks to be as narrow as the Bible, and if that is a sin, the apostles and early churches didn’t know about it. As for Warren’s idea that fundamentalism is a form of “legalism,” this only exposes his anti-biblicist perspective. What kind of “legalism” is it for a blood-washed saint to aim to preach all of the truths of God’s Word and to be faithful to God’s Word in all matters? If that is legalism, Paul was a great legalist, for he testified, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Rick Warren is a very dangerous man, the blind leading the blind. His books are accepted by the world (e.g., his “40 Days of Purpose” has been used by Coco-Cola, Ford, Wal-Mart, the NBA, LPGA, NASCAR, professional baseball teams, etc.), because he is of the world.


In his appearance before the Pew Forum in May 2005, Rick Warren predicted a “New Reformation” or a “Third Great Awakening” for America [a la Schuller]. At the above mentioned conference he said: “You know, 500 years ago, the first Reformation with Luther and then Calvin, was about beliefs. I think a new reformation is going to be about behavior. The first Reformation was about creeds; I think this one will be about deeds….The first Reformation actually split Christianity into dozens and then hundreds of different segments. I think this one is actually going to bring them together. Now, you’re never going to get Christians, of all their stripes and varieties, to agree on all of the different doctrinal disputes and things like that, but what I am seeing them agree on are the purposes of the church….Last week I spoke to 4,000 pastors at my church who came from over 100 denominations in over 50 countries. Now, that’s wide spread. We had Catholic priests, we had Pentecostal ministers, we had Lutheran bishops, we had Anglican bishops, we had Baptist preachers. They’re all there together and you know what? I’d never get them to agree on communion or baptism or a bunch of stuff like that, but I could get them to agree on what the church should be doing in the world.” Warren’s New Reformation is not about beliefs or creeds or doctrinal purity; it is rather about “the purpose of the church.” Let me see if I understand this. It is not important than a church be biblical or that it hold biblical doctrine or even that it preach a biblical gospel (e.g., Catholic priests). It is only important that “churches” agree on their purpose? How can a church have a biblical purpose when it does not have biblical doctrine? How can it have a biblical purpose when it preaches a false sacramental gospel? If sound doctrine is not a foundational issue, I wonder why Paul instructed Timothy to “charge some that they teach NO OTHER DOCTRINE” (I Tim. 1:3)? I wonder why he didn’t rather instruct Timothy to go easy on the doctrine thing? Could it be that the apostle Paul’s teaching is contrary to Rick Warren’s? I, for one, am certain of it!

During a press conference at the Baptist World Alliance’s (BWA) Centenary Congress in Birmingham, England, in July, Rick Warren called the Southern Baptist Convention’s withdrawal “silly” and “a mistake” (“Warren: Global Baptists Are in This Together,” Kentucky Western Recorder, July 27, 2005). A mistake to pull out of an organization that is shot through with theological liberalism, that is a home to preachers who deny that the Bible is the infallible Word of God? Rick Warren obviously has a greater love for wolves in sheep’s clothing than Jesus Christ does (see Matt. 7:15-17). Warren, a keynote speaker at the BWA Congress, said Baptists should have “unity without uniformity.” [Sound familiar, Pentecostals? -ed.] This is not the kind of “unity” we find in the Bible. Paul instructed the churches, “that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10). Warren said, “I see absolutely zero reason in separating my fellowship from anybody.” Perhaps he needs to read Romans 16:17, II Cor. 6:14-18, and II Tim. 3:5….Warren warned that Baptists often are “known for what we’re against rather than what we’re for.” In his book, that is wrong, but it isn’t wrong when measured biblically. Paul spent much of his time preaching against sin and error, both in the book of Acts and in the epistles. The Lord Jesus Christ frequently preached red hot messages on hell, and He was known for His opposition to the Sadducees and Pharisees, the liberals and Catholic priests of His day. Rick Warren has adopted the contemporary “positive” philosophy and he measures ministries by that rather than by the pure Word of God.

Where are those conservative Southern Baptists who are lifting their voices to sound a plain warning about Rick Warren’s errors? The silence is deafening.

In the strongest terms we urge our readers to beware of Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven philosophy. This deluded but popular man is a dangerous spiritual guide.

- Excerpted from; Used by permission.

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