Church Education Trust

4.1.1 Personal Spirituality.

Saddleback is much more than numbers, programmes and location; its origins and development started as an ecclesiology in the heart and mind of Warren. What Saddleback is as a church reflects what Warren has become through his own spiritual experiences, the formation of his doctrinal position, the discovery of his five New Testament principles for ministry and his developmental process of communication.

Like Webber[1] the challenge for Warren in a post modern world, was to find a way to express his ecclesiological beliefs on “existence and being”.  Warren suggests: “We dream of a network of a thousand small groups ……. providing support, encouragement and accountability as they seek to grow in Christ likeness”.[2] .

The church exists to be the very life of God displayed in human beings and Warren displays his understanding of this great experience by reflecting on his theological interpretation of “spiritual revelation”. Berkhof suggests that the “application of the merits of Christ” [3] in the life of believers automatically leads to the existence of the church of Jesus Christ.

The Reformed conception of the church is “communio fidelium or sanctorum” which reflects the concept of a living spiritual body in existence as the “ecclesia” of God in Christ.Warren reflects these Reformed views by responding to the concept of spiritual revelation as the core meaning of church existence.

As a confirmed believer that the Bible is the word of God,[4] his book “The Purpose Driven Church” promotes the concept that the church exists to create spiritual awareness.[5] A consciousness of divine activity in the life of the believer was ultimate in forming the meaning to “church existence and being”.

Warren underlines this when he quotes Colossians 1:28[6] as the basis or objective of the Saddleback ministry to create an environment for spiritual growth and health.[7] . Louis Berkhof suggests that “all construction of doctrine must be guided by scripture”.[8]  Warren was aware of the fact that through his developing of the Saddleback model, he was producing an ecclesiology that needed to be theologically balanced and Christologically centred.[9]

To achieve balance Warren believed like George A. Peters that God through the Holy Spirit would have to initiate it. “The Holy Spirit is the divine agent to initiate, supervise, energize, and accomplish the purpose of God in the church building programme”. [10] . Warren[11] taught that “accordingly the church becomes the primary agent of the Paraclete to execute and accomplish the purpose of God”.[12]

The obvious outcome of Warren’s belief in the Spirit’s moving in such a powerful way, was the belief that the Holy Spirit[13] had the capacity and power in every generation to authenticate the “existence and being” of the church and its mission. Wagner suggests that “none of the many books I have studied on spiritual gifts relates directly and specifically to church growth”. [14]He may well be correct, but the post Pentecost writings of the Acts of the Apostles and the letter to the Corinthians have much to say on the subject.

Bruner’s[15] book “A Theology of the Holy Spirit” discusses the role of the gifts of the Spirit in the life of the church. The MCM reserves the right not to consult “Systematic Theologies” nor in general do they widely read church history; almost all directly relate to their being as they allow the scriptures to impact on their ministries.

This observation is made because in most books written on the subject of church growth, there is an absence of any use of reference to church history or traditional systematic theologies. It would seem that a direct link to the first century miraculous church growth movement is more important to give the MCM the biblical credibility it needs to justify its approach to ministry in a 21st century post modern world. Church Growth books[16] written by Pete Ward, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, C. Peter Wagner, George Barna, and Dan Southerland, reflect a biblical interpretation devoid of any significant reference to Church History, which ultimately includes the development of systematic theologies which reflect the wealth of ecclesiological discovery throughout the history of the church.

Another major issue within the community of church growth writers, is the emphasis placed on the felt needs of the consumer; marketing pragmatism as opposed to the divine activity of God’s Holy Spirit in the building of His church. Books have been written on subjects such as “The Irrelevant Church,[17] Rethinking the Church,[18] 50 Ways to help your Church Grow,[19] Intelligent Church,[20] User Friendly Churches,[21] Church Next,[22] Emerging Churches[23] and many others”; none of the modern writers are dealing with the role of the Holy Spirit in the actual church growth experience.

The emphasis seems to be on what the human part of the divine partnership is actually doing and can do. Until this is rectified, real spiritual growth may well be stunted. Warren emphasises the sovereign role of the Holy Spirit and  unchanging spiritual principles which reveal the will and purposes of God, ultimately creating a healthy and growing church communicating truth received to a lost and needy world.

Stackhouse re-enforces this thinking by suggesting that “churches would better spend their time discipling the few in order to incarnate the gospel, however successful numerically it might or might not be”.[24] Frederick Dale Bruner[25] reflects that the Pentecostal movement is driven by a spiritual awareness which they call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

While Saddleback is not a Pentecostal church and different in practice, it identifies with the Pentecostal movement in the need to allow the Spirit to lead, guide and demonstrate His power through His people, the church. At this point, the development of Warren’s spiritual awareness begins to take shape. His theological thinking and the development of his ecclesiology is based on principles and a process which were ultimately the outcome of a personal relationship to God in Jesus Christ.

He believed that successful ministry was “all about sharing the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God”.. The church for Warren is organic in nature, existing to develop as an intentional process for the opportunity of spiritual growth and health. This is seen in the life development process where Warren through guided programming takes people from “Knowing Christ, to Growing in Christ, then Serving Christ to Sharing Christ”.[27]

[1] Robert Webber, Ancient Future Faith, 1.[2] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 363.[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 553.[4] Warren, TPDC, 11.[5] Warren, TPDC, 13-15. [6] Col.1:28, “So we continue to preach Christ to each person, using all wisdom to warn and to teach       everyone, in order to bring each one into God`s presence as a mature person in Christ.”[7] Warren, TPDC, 362.[8] Berkhof, ST, 423.[9] Richard Abnes, Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him, Oregon, Harvest House, 2005, 7  [10]  George A. Peters, A Theology Of Church Growth, 17.[11] Warren, TPDC, 13-21. Spiritual Waves-The role of the Sovereign Holy Spirit in the world.[12] George A. Peters, ATOCG, 17.[13] Warren, TPDC, 13-22.[14] C.Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts, Ventura, California, Regal Books 1983, 11.[15] Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982, 153-216.[16] Church Growth Books, all titles recorded in the Bibliography.[17] Robin Gamble, The Irrelevant Church, Tunbridge Wells, Monarch, 1992.[18] James Emery White, Rethinking The Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Books 2003.[19] David Beer, 50Ways to do Church, Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 2000.[20] Steve Chalke, Intellegent Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006.[21] George Barna, User Friendly Churches, Ventura, California, Regal Books, 1991.[22] Eddie Gibbs / Ian Coffey, Church Next, Leicester England, IVP, 2001.[23] Eddie Gibbs / Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006.[24] M.Thornton, Pastoral Theology, London, SPCK, 1956, 64.[25] Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology Of The Holy Spirit, Michigan, Eerdsman, 1970, 23.[26] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 13-22.[27] Warren, TPDC, 130.

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©2008 Church Education Trust