Day Seventeen - A Place to Belong

What God is doing among men involves a variety of Human relationships. There is the reality of the individual Human being, who bears the indelible stamp of the image of God upon his nature. There also is the reality of a variety of institutions in which collections of individuals relate together for various purposes. We may think principally of Family, Church, and State. In more highly developed societies we see also Economy, Trades, Schools and so forth. Taken together these constitute a culture, or, we might say, a people. The Word of God authoritatively controls the proper function of all institutions of Human relationships. His Word is the final rule of faith and practice in all various activity and modes of relating. Christ is Lord of His people. Thus, He is Lord of the individual, the Family, the Church, the State, and the Economy, etc. The status of the individual vis-à-vis cultural institutions, and the status of the institutions relative to one another, has been a perplexing question throughout Human history. It has been so mainly because throughout Human history men have not seen fit to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ over all things. But even among Christians great care and wisdom are needed in order to discern and to manage correctly the interrelations of individuals and institutions. Because the institution of the Church deals directly with exegesis and Doctrine, there is the temptation among Christians to elevate the Church to the place of Christ as Lord over all Human beings and relations. We see Mr. Warren fully indulge this temptation in discussion of his second purpose of Human life. He states quite bluntly, “The church is God’s agenda for the world.” (p. 132) Also, he says that God “…created the church to meet your five deepest needs: a purpose to live for, people to live with, principles to live by, a profession to live out, and power to live on.” (p. 136) Such an idea makes far too much of the Church and far too little of the individual and the Family. We see clear indication of such difficulties in Mr. Warren’s presentation.

First, Mr. Warren’s idea of the Church involves a fundamental misunderstanding of the individual. In making the case that Christians need the Church for spiritual protection he says, “Satan loves detached believers, unplugged from the life of the Body, isolated from God’s family, and unaccountable to spiritual leaders, because he knows they are defenseless and powerless against his tactics.” (p. 136) To declare that an individual is “defenseless and powerless” outside the Church is a direct denial of James 4:7, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” and also a denial of I John 4:4, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” Mr. Warren has so built up his idea of the Church that he suggests it supplies to the individual Christian the power and spiritual defense that in reality are supplied only by God Himself. In many places the Psalms declare that God Himself is our strength (Ps. 28:7), our rock (Ps. 18:31), our fortress (Ps. 91:2) and our deliverer (Ps. 144:2). In Ephesians chapter 6 Paul undertakes a lengthy and detailed exposition of the “armor of God” that will protect the believer against the schemes of the devil. Among all the resources for our protection we find no mention of the Church. In reality the Church is an assembly of some very well-equipped soldiers, whose equipment and marching orders are provided by their only Lord.

Second, Mr. Warren’s idea of the Church involves a fundamental misunderstanding of the Family. He builds an idea of the Church as a collection of individuals in which all the basic needs of the individual are satisfied. Apparently, in his mind an individual would have no one to live with unless he joined a Church. In an attempt to make his case seem biblical he states, “Even in the perfect, sinless environment of Eden God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone’” (p. 130) We cannot imagine that Mr. Warren is unaware - and therefore we must suppose he chooses to ignore the fact - that in Genesis 2 God addressed the problem of Man’s loneliness not with a Church but with a Family. It is a distressing abuse of Scripture for Mr. Warren to suggest that Genesis 2:18 proves our need for a brother while ignoring the fact that in Genesis 2:22 God presented to Adam not a brother but a wife!

Under the heading “Your Choice” (p. 136) Mr. Warren attempts to draw an analogy between Church membership and Family membership. This is done in a section that stresses the importance of Church membership for the individual and that urges the individual to make the choice to become a member. How is Church membership analogous to Family membership? After reading Mr. Warren’s explanation the attentive reader is left wondering all the more how this analogy holds. The incredibility of his premise is striking: “Whenever a child is born, he or she automatically becomes a member of the universal family of human beings.” (p. 136) Can Mr. Warren actually be serious about this? How is it even remotely meaningful to speak of the “universal family of human beings”? The term family is not properly predicated of human beings generally, but its whole idea is to distinguish a group of related people from the mass of generalized humanity. Mr. Warren alludes to the birth of a child, but does not allude to any particular mother or father by whom he is born. Acknowledging the need of the child “…to receive nurture and care,” Mr. Warren then suggests that as a subsequent action “…that child needs to become a member of a specific family.” (p. 136) He seems in all seriousness to suggest that a child is born to no one in particular and thus automatically is a member of everyone generally, and then subsequently must “become” a member of a particular family. But, the truth is so plain and obvious that it seems pedantic to labor the point. A newborn child does not “automatically” become part of a meaningless abstraction called “the universal family of human beings”; a child is born to a particular mother and father and thus automatically becomes part of their particular family. It is but further indication of the absurdity of Mr. Warren’s analogy that to dispute it is only to state the perfectly obvious.

There is a valid analogy of Church membership and Family membership that we may glean from Scripture. It is based on the truth of how children are born into families, not on Mr. Warren’s incredible version. Looking at how children really are born into families we get a much different analogy of Church membership than Mr. Warren had hoped to construct. Children do not choose their parents, nor the time or place of their birth. They are born not of their will, but of the will of others and ultimately of the will of God. So it is with those who are born into God’s household. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn. 1:12-13) “In the exercise of His will he brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.” (Jas. 1:18) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Pet. 1:3) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (Eph. 1:3-4) “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14) When a child is born he automatically becomes a child of the mother and father who bore him and a member of their family. In the same way, we who are born of God by His will have become His children and members of His household, the Church.

Of course, the emphasis of the biblical analogy of being born into the family of God is on the Church Universal as the People of God rather than on the Church Visible as a localized, particular assembly of Christians. But even when turning attention to the localized, visible Church we find issue with Mr. Warren’s outlook. He is concerned that “membership” in a local Church be viewed as that which arises from the sovereign choice or decision of the individual. For the sake of his analogy he stops just short of declaring that an infant chooses his family. But he calls upon his analogy to mean that a new Christian must choose a local Church family. This is in keeping with the overall theme of the sovereignty of Human initiative and choice that runs throughout this book. He concludes the current chapter by declaring, “You become a Christian by committing yourself to Christ, but you become a church member by committing yourself to a specific group of believers. The first decision brings salvation; the second brings fellowship.” (p.137) Parallel to his idea of decisional regeneration he constructs his idea of decisional Church membership. However, such a concept is totally absent from Scripture and from much of Church history. In the early centuries of the New Testament believers were “members” of one another simply by virtue of the fact that they dwelt in locality with others who also were born into the household of God. Originally, the basis of identity as a local Church was devotion together “…to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) Historically, Church “members” were called communicants and dismissal from the Church was called excommunication. Communicants were those who shared Communion together. The excommunicated were those who were barred from sharing in Communion. Regarding the immoral ones to be put out of the Church, Paul specifies, “not even to eat with such a one.” (I Cor. 5:11) In the ancient world if you held forth an orthodox confession of faith in Christ you shared in communion with those in your locale who likewise confessed Christ. You were “members” with the people you ate with. At one point in this chapter Mr. Warren acknowledges that the New Testament idea of “membership” was much more than “…simply adding your name to a roll,” (p. 131) but by the end of the chapter his decisional “membership” is very much involved in whether or not your name is on the roll. The New Testament and Ancient history know nothing of Mr. Warren’s “mega-church” and his decisional “membership.”

Whereas Mr. Warren makes far too much of the Church and far too little of the individual and the Family, when it comes to the State the picture is much different. He would have the individual and the Family bow to the Church, but evidently he would have the Church bow to the State. Here we cite no page number, for Mr. Warren does not discuss this matter in the book. But we glean from public information his idea of the relation of Church and State. The reader may follow this link on the Internet: , which will bring up a page on the Web site of the Secretary of the State of California documenting the fact that Mr. Warren’s Saddleback Valley Community Church in reality is a State of California Corporation. As such it is a creation of the State. Mr. Warren has much to say about the wonderful and powerful Church as “God’s instrument on earth” (p. 135), but in the end we find that this mighty arm of God must go to the State and seek permission to exist. After all of the inspiring talk about what it really means to be members of one another, we find that those who join Saddleback Church in reality become members of State of California Corporation No. C1086705. Let there be no mistake: Saddleback Church is singled out here only because Rick Warren’s book is under discussion. However, it is by no means unique as regards State incorporation. It is exceedingly rare to find a Church that is not incorporated. The challenge here is not for Mr. Warren only, but for the whole swath of Evangelicalism. A Corporation is an artificial person that is created and regulated by the State. “All corporations, of whatever kind, are moulded [sic] and controlled, both as to what they may do and the manner in which they may do it, by their charters or acts of incorporation, which to them are the laws of their being, which they can neither dispense with nor alter.” [Bouvier, Law Dictionary (1867; Sacramento: Lexicon Publishing, 1984), Vol. I, p.367] The term corporation is based upon the Latin root corpus, which means body. A corporation is a body created by and subject to the State; the Church is the body of Christ, created by Him and subject to Him alone. “No one can sever two masters.” (Mat. 6:24) All of the noble talk of membership, power, and mission rings hollow when emanating from a State-incorporated Church.

Once again, as we have seen many times before, the truth is exactly opposite to what Mr. Warren suggests. Nevertheless Evangelicalism immerses itself in this book. Has the gift of discernment disappeared from this age? There is, of course, the good and proper importance of the Church. In an effort to correct the errors popularized by Mr. Warren and others, care must be taken not to create merely compensating errors. The Church is not the source of spiritual power; God Himself and God alone is our strength (Ps. 18:1-3). The Church does not dictate principles to live by; our Law of life is the Word of God only (Ps. 119). The Church does not provide us people to live with; families provide the human intimacy we need (Ex. 20:12; I Tim. 5:8). And the Church is not the creation and servant of the State, but is the body, the bride, the household of Christ (I Cor. 12:27, II Cor. 11:2, I Tim. 3:16) The Church provides for the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments in the community of individuals and families, and for the edification of all through the cooperation of various gifts, “…we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:15-16) It is important to study the proper nature and function of the Church, and it is equally important to understand the Church’s interrelations with all the institutions of Human society. On these matters it is far beyond the scope of this writing to provide here anything beyond the bare sketches already given above. Many forefathers in the faith in ages past labored diligently and bequeathed to us much wisdom on these matters. The matter is pursued here only to the extent necessary to show that Mr. Warren’s book represents a retreat from such wisdom. The unwary reader must become a wary reader. What he reads in this book is pseudo-pious pabulum that does not resolve the complex issues involving the nature and interrelations of individual, Family, Church and State. Let us not follow Mr. Warren into retreat, but let us “wake up, and strengthen the things that remain” (Rev. 3:2) and rekindle true Christian orthodoxy in all aspects of life.


Anonymous Anton said...

It seems that you may read a bit too much into the fact that a church is registrated in a govermental system. A church dosen't give up anything by beeing in some public file system. Attack what ever teaching that is not according to the Bible, but do not create artificial problems; leave that to the medias. :) Jesus told us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's. As long as a church gives to God what is God's, there's no conflict. The problems first occure when a state makes it illegal for a church to follow the will of God, and by that time a church and a christian must now what to do: Follow God, and no man or state. I live in Norway, and the people of Norway pay tax like everyone else. The churches (we have a different church structure from the american system) get money from the state. We have a major church here, called Den norske Kirke, and that is actually a state church (and that is of course very problematically, and I think that the belivers are captives of the state). But the rest of the churches are free churches. But they are still registrated by the state. (At least most of them.) By beeing registrated we get money back from the state - money that we've paid. We don't give up any of our freedom, and if it can be said that the churches here have a lack of spiritual strength, the churches (and the believers) are to blame for this themselves. The state dosen't interfer in our activities, and if it choose to do so, the belivers will have to decide for themselves where to place their lojalty and their trust. And that should be in God! But as long as the state dosen't put any obsticals in our way, it is actually an garantist for the freedom to preach the gospel freely. And I can't see any reason why we shouldn't get our tax money in return for use in local churches and to support our missionaries. Or?

6:55 AM  
Blogger S. C. Mooney said...

Anton, thanks for writing with your concerns. Actually, what I am speaking of here is something quite a bit more than churches being registered. If the civil government wished to draw up a list of churches in the land, one hardly could prevent this. If the government wished to go a step further and decree that no church is permitted to exist unless it were registered on the list, then this would be a grave tyranny that even you would oppose. However, church incorporation is something that is beyond even this. A corporation is a creation of the state. An incorporated church is a legal entity that exists because of the will of her creator, the civil government. Her very existence is a privilege that is granted by the government. She is de-facto taxable and is awarded tax exemption as a privilege. These privileges effectively limit the range of her activities and the content of her published remarks - otherwise the privileges are subject to revocation. Here is a link where you can read more about the American system of church incorporation:

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I agree completely that the 5o1c3 IS problematic for christians. I have a question.
I had a video tape that exposed this problem for me. It was a Pastor from Michigan by the name of Robyn (Robin) Wright, where-in he was addressing a rather large group of other pastors and ministers at a conference in Missouri about 10 years ago. It was a GREAT video. Somehow in moving 3 times that video got lost. I would LOVE to have it in my library again. Can anyone help me out with this?
My e-mail is:
your help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much and God bless. Dave

4:40 AM  
Blogger Cor said...

It is not difficult to find blame and fault when one really wants to dis-credit a person. Even Jesus was called a blasphemer and was cruisified for it...
Rick Warren has stirred up a lot of good and positive initiative in the church. He is successfully transforming the back-row-bench-warmers into active evangelists. Few have been able to do this ;-)

9:04 AM  
Blogger S. C. Mooney said...

Cor, there is no doubt that Mr. Warren has stirred up a lot of activity in the church. But, are you suggesting that because there is a great volume of activity, therefore it must be good? I maintain that the most important thing is the glory of God. Therefore I do not buy into the approach of "let's not criticize Warren since he is generating a lot of activity." My concern is: "Does the Purpose-Driven Life help us to glorify God better?" These commentaries comprise the bigger picture of my negative answer. I would be eager to discuss with you any specific points of disagreement you have with my analysis. But I am not going to back down from my analysis simply because Rick Warren has stirred up a lot of activity in the church.

9:16 AM  

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