Church Education Trust

Chapter 4 : Saddleback, The Purpose Driven Church, a new ecclesiology.

                      The first three chapters reflect some of the challenging influences on the life and ministry of Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback, the Purpose Driven Church.  Warren’s strong Baptist background, his wide theological training, the challenges of the CGM and the exciting growth of the MCM, have contributed to the development of his ecclesiological reflection.                     

Saddleback is an exciting and progressive ecclesiological model, reflecting an intensity of interaction with a post modern American culture.  This writer is not attempting to prove how right or wrong Warren’s ecclesiology is, but to discover how valuable it may be as a contemporary model engaging successfully, at least in numerical terms, with its post modern community.

Ecclesiology is defined as the doctrine of the church; it is one the most fundamental realities of the Christian faith.  In Scripture the church is seen as the body of Christ, the people of God, the community of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  The apostle Peter applies the Old Testament concept of the people of God to the New Testament church.[1]  The Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” while “qahal” is the Hebrew Old Testament word for assembly.

The corporate meanings of these two words reflect the idea of covenant. God's people, living in a covenant relationship with Him are the “ekklesia,”[2] the new temple of God.  The apostle Paul teaches that the church is the body of Christ[3] because it is in Christ that we are reunited with God.  The Christocentric nature of the church is indicated in Scripture, therefore any new ecclesiology will be judged by how it understands itself in Christ. 

In Ephesians 1:22 & 23 Christ[4] is seen united to his body the church, as a husband is united to his wife in marriage.  This intimate, legal and loving relationship is the New Testament picture of God's relationship in Christ to the church.Warren’s ecclesiology reflects a high Christological belief. In the early stages of the development of his ministry there were four ecclesiological questions which he grappled with. 

His response to those questions became the basis for his “purpose driven”, 21st-century, post modern church model.  In reality Saddleback became the answer to the questions, “Why does the church exist? What is the church meant to be? What is the church meant to do? How are we to do it?”[5] A literary review reflecting a width of ecclesiological thinking will help to evaluate the Saddleback model in the light of 21st century contemporary needs. Warren’s response to the above questions will be assessed under the five headings..
  • Christian Experience.
  • Doctrinal Conviction.
  • Church Development.
  • Church Health.
  • Strategic Structuring.

                         In the construction of Saddleback’s ecclesiology, Warren faces the challenges of the first two questions “why does the church exist?” and “what was it meant to be?” Much is made by Warren concerning the need to understand the context out of which Saddleback developed.  

This writer will focus on Warren’s spiritual experiences, his non negotiable doctrines, the discovered principles and the genius behind the development of a meaningful process to carry all that he believed to his community. It will be argued that Saddleback is purpose driven and driven by Warren’s personal understanding of his relationship to the Sovereign God in Christ. This is the context in which Saddleback was birthed.  

On the 30th March 1980 Warren opened his heart to his small congregation and revealed all that he longed to achieve in the future.  His sermon has been called “The Saddleback Vision”.[6] Warren in his first address suggested that “It is a dream” to have a place to welcome 20000 members into fellowship, it is a dream to share the good news of Jesus Christ with hundreds of thousands of residents in South Orange County.[7]  To understand Warren is to understand his ecclesiology, because his ecclesiology is a direct reflection of his personal spiritual experiences and beliefs.

[1] 1 Peter 2:9.

[2] 1 Corinthians 3:16.

[3] Ephesians 1:22-23.

[4] Col.2:10.

[5] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 98.
[6] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 43.

[7] Warren, TPDC, 43.

[8] Warren, TPDL, 19.

[9] Millard J.Erickson, Systematic Theology, Hants, England, Marshall Pickering 1985, 1026.

[10] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Edinburgh, T.& T.Clark, 1936, Vol.1, Part1, Page 1.

[11] Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith, Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1999, 1f.

[12] J.C.Hoekendijk, The Church in Missionary Thinking, International Review of Mission 41,      1952, 325.

[13] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 169.

[14] George A.Peters, A Theology of Church Growth, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1981,45.

[15] J.C.Hoekendijk, TCMT, 44, 45 & 97.

[16] 1 Peter ch.2:9-10.

[17] Matthew 11:3-6., Mark 10:45, Luke 4:16-19, Phil.2:5-11.
[18] George Peters, A Theology Of Church Growth, 45.

[19] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 107.

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