Church Education Trust

4.1.2 Spiritual Principles and a Process.                     
In Warren’s estimation, it is one thing to believe what God is capable of, it is another thing to recognise his hand at work and be relationally in the position to be used by him in a partnership ministry, i.e. becoming a disciple “to make disciples”.[1]  Gott, who has had vast experience in church planting suggests that success cannot simply be measured by the size of our church, the number of our meetings we can persuade people to attend, the church programmes we run…….success in God’s eyes can be reflected only by our obedience to the command Jesus has given us first, to be a disciple and then go and make disciples.[2] 
Gott reflects that the church “exists to be” an environment for the development and maturing of disciples who will go out from the fellowship to make disciples. If that is correct and for that to become a reality in the lives of believers, a spiritual process needs to happen. Warren suggests that he can identify some of the principles and processes God is using to reach this generation for Christ,[3] and that the key issue for churches in the 21st century will be church health, not church growth.[4] 
If church health is the equivalent of making disciples then Warren is moving in a direction reflecting Gott’s interpretation of biblical discipleship, fulfilling the concept of a spiritual process and giving important meaning for church existence. That existence is captured in the first level of the forming of his ecclesiology and that is reflected through his understanding of conversion, commitment and guidance.These are common church words used often without real reflection on their meaning; for Warren they were strategic spiritual experiences in the development of his ecclesiology.
a. Conversion.
Conversion is the first developmental stage in Warren’s ecclesiology; his understanding of conversion is related to his interpretation of three New Testament Greek words. The first is “metanoia” a common New Testament word derived from two words “meta and nous” which are directly connected to another Greek verb “ginosko”, all of which refer to the part of human kind that is called the conscience.
The word “metanoia” is translated “repentance” in the English Bible, but in reality this meaning is not strong enough.Warren’s theological understanding of conversion is evangelical. On his web-site for pastors there is a selection of sermons on his understanding of “saving grace”[5] and the text of his sermon deals with the issues of grace, faith, salvation and sin. The only problem is the mode of delivery which is very contemporary, and one can understand how critics of his message could conclude that he de-emphasises doctrine; that issue will be dealt with in chapter 5.
Berkhof [6] points out that in the classics, the word “metanoia” has an assortment of deeper meanings: “(a) to know after, after knowledge, (b) to change the mind as a result of this after knowledge, (c) in consequence of this change of mind, to regret the course pursued and (4) a change of conduct for the future”, in other words the idea of taking a wiser view of the past, being aware of wrong doing and regretting action taken which leads to a change of life for the better. “Metanoia” conveys the idea of a change in mind which when full grown is seen in a distinct intellectual and moral change.
Berkhof[7] also suggests that true conversion is “born of Godly sorrow and issues in a life of devotion to God”. While Erickson[8] reminds his readers that “conversion is the first step in the Christian experience”, B.B.Warfield writes that “conversion is that voluntary change in the mind of a sinner, in which he turns, on the one hand, from sin and on the other hand to Christ”. Conversion is a fundamental spiritual change which viewed from the divine side is called regeneration.
Warren clearly emphasised the lost state of human kind; he says: “people are lost, they’re lost without Christ and they don’t know that Jesus can save them”.[9] A second Greek word used to describe conversion is “epistrophe” meaning “turning back.” While “metanoia” contains the idea of repentance only, “epistrophe” contains the element of “faith” in its meaning.  “Epistrope” has not only the idea of turning back to God but has the concept of “returning”[10] to God and indicates the experience of a final act of conversion, stressing the fact that a new relationship with God has come into being. Warren underlines this by suggesting that “there is no other way to be saved outside of a personal faith in the historic, orthodox Jesus of the Bible”.[11]
A third word used in the New Testament is, “metameleia” which when translated means “to become a care to one afterwards”. This word is a rendering of the Hebrew word “nicham” found in the Septuagint and is used five times in the New Testament.[12] In these five passages the use of the word stresses an element of repentance but not true repentance. Berkhof[13]suggests that the negative, retrospective and emotional element is uppermost in its use and meaning, while “metanoia” includes in its meaning, a “volitional element”[14] denoting an energetic turn around of the will.
Conversion for Warren is one of the three key personal spiritual experiences at the core of his ecclesiology. While these understandings of “conversion” are classically evangelical, they are Warren’s personal position as reflected in his sermons on Grace; unfortunately in his two best selling books[15] it is difficult to trace with clarity this classical evangelical position but in a book of “questions and answers”[16] written by Abanes, Warren is clearly orthodox and evangelical in his responses.
In Warren’s estimation the existence of the church demanded “conversion” as the primary goal. When helping the seeker on his journey to conversion, he asks them to pray: “Jesus Christ, I open my life up to you and I want to accept your free gift of salvation.”[17] Warren accepted the CGM’s theological stance on conversion;[18] Peter Wagner clearly suggests that the CGM “is biblically rooted, evangelical, holding conversionist theology.” [19] 
Warren’s philosophy in its American contextual form suggests; It is an incredibly difficult task to lead people from a self-centred consumerism to being servant-hearted Christians. It is not a task for the fainthearted ministers or those who do not like to get their robes wrinkled. But it is what the great commission is all about and it has been the driving force behind all that has happened so far at Saddleback. 
The fabric of any evangelical theology is spiritual enlightenment beginning at conversion; this is clearly demonstrated in Warren’s ministry. Therefore conversion is the act of turning back or turning away from sin and moving toward God in Jesus Christ. It is moving away from “self-centred consumerism (sin-selfish living) to servant-hearted Christianity.” Warren believed that the Sovereign God applies grace[21] to the sinner’s repentant heart, justification by faith takes place and regeneration by the spirit and the receiving of the benefits of eternal life, the very life of God within, is experienced.[22] Could it be an inadequate understanding to believe that conversion is apparently the primary role of Warren’s ecclesiology?
David Bosch[23] reflects that any motive of conversion which emphasizes the value of personal decision and commitment tends to narrow “the reign of God spiritualistically and individualistically to the sum total of saved souls”. Most assuredly statistics are incredibly important to Warren and he may well fit into this narrow position of seeing success only in the number of souls saved, but to describe Saddleback in this narrow way would be to do it a grave injustice.
Numbers only give a wider opportunity to evangelise and disciple. Warren suggests that “a church’s health is measured by its sending capacity not its seating capacity”.[24] The important issue for Warren is “spiritual conversion”; the invisible church becomes visible, and it is for that visibility that the church exists.
Saddleback’s purpose statement is very enlightening; it reminds its readers why it exists: “to bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christ like maturity and equip them for their ministry in the church and life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name.”[25] After conversion Warren's greatest challenge was the movement of the believer from conversion to discipleship. 

[1] Warren, TPDC, 104.

[2] K. Gott, Dismiss the Crowds, Eastbourne, Kingsway, 2001, 33.

[3] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 15 & 397.

[4] Warren, TPDC, 17.

[5] , Sermon section/ sermons 1-10 on Grace/S1.

[6] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 480.

[7] Berkhof, ST, 483.

[8] Millard J. Erickson, Systematic Theology, 933.

[9] Richard Abanes, Rick Warren And The Purpose That Drives Him, 22-23.

[10] Berkhof, ST, 482.

[11] Abanes, RWATPTDH, 30.

[12] Matt.21:29, 32, 27:3, 2Cor.7:10 & Heb.7:21.

[13] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 482.

[14] Berkhof, ST, 482.

[15] The Purpose Driven Church & The Purpose Driven Life.

[16] Richard Abanes, Rick Warren And The Purpose That Drives Him, 7-127.

[17]  / Sermons on Grace, sermon 1-10. / This is a Rick Warren web-site.

[18] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 320f.

[19] C. Peter Wagner, Understanding Church Growth, Michigan USA, Eerdsman, 1970, 8.

[20] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 46.

[21] Warren, TPDC, 354. (Grace applied).

[22], Sermons on Grace 1-10.

[23] David Bosch, Transforming Mission, New York, Orbis, 1992, 5.

[24] Warren, TPDC, 32.

[25] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 46.

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