Rick Warren is well known as one of the founding fathers of the modern seeker-sensitive church movement. His philosophy is responsible for changing many preaching and worship styles. Many of his changes are controversial, but most of the problems stem from one of his very first decisions–to ask his future congregants when they wanted to have church.
In his book, Purpose Driven Church, Warren explains why he put his Christian service on Wednesday and his seeker service on Sunday.
When I started Saddleback, I asked unchurched people when they would be most likely to visit a church. Every single one said, “If I ever did, it would be a Sunday morning.” I also asked our members when they were most likely to bring unchurched friends. Again, they said Sunday morning. Even in today’s culture, people still think of Sunday morning as “the time you go to church.” So that’s why we decided to use Sunday morning for evangelism and Wednesday night for edification. [emphasis added] (pp. 245-246)
It is not Rick Warren’s place to decide when church should be held. Here are some problems with thinking you can poll test the fourth commandment.
- It cancels the Commandments. The first commandment tells us whom we must worship, the second and third tell us how, and the fourth tells us when.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)
The Sabbath is a big deal to God.
- It contradicts consecration. God tells us to keep it holy, meaning set apart and sacred. It really doesn’t matter what Warren’s neighbors think about the day; God has marked it for himself. We just had Mothers Day. How many of you tried telling your mother that you thought it was a bit overdone, but that you’d love to see her a couple of days later to celebrate it then? No, the day was your mother’s holiday. Sunday is God’s holy day. He made it for himself, so who are we to think we can take it away from him?
- It conceals convention. The Apostles understood the point of the Sabbath and made it their habit to worship God with other believers every Sabbath day. See Acts 13:14-15, for example. They also knew it was the pinnacle of our worship, and expected that hungry followers would wait until the next Sabbath to hear the Word of God preached in its proper context.
As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath….
The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. (Acts 13:42, 44)
- It confuses the center of worship. The point of the Sabbath is to worship God, which means it is for believers, who alone are able to worship God. The purpose of the Sabbath and of the church is to bring God pleasure through worship.
You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 26:2)
The Sabbath and the church go together. Why? Because “I am the LORD.” God is the center of the Sabbath and the center of the sanctuary. When Warrenesque churches make the unsaved their primary focus, they miss the whole point.
- It cleaves congregations. Warren has split his church into the spiritual haves and the spiritual have-nots. What is particularly interesting is that both sides don’t get equal attention. I couldn’t find more than a couple of paragraphs in Warren’s book that talked about the Wednesday church. When people talk about Warren, they don’t usually think of his Wednesday evening ministry. It would seem that when Warren thinks of Warren, he doesn’t think of the Wednesday night folks much either. In his long-term goals, he dreams of having 15,000 members, though only 5,000 attending midweek (p. 363). This isn’t reality; it’s his dream. The Christian service is really just an optional extra.
- It cheats Christians. Sabbath worship is a unique opportunity and blessing that God extends only to his children.
I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. (Ezekiel 20:12-13)
Chasing believers away from Sundays is akin to a shepherd kicking his sheep out of the best pasture to invite the goats to take over. There’s a place and time for goats, but the shepherd’s primary responsibility is to feed the sheep. Sabbath worship is God’s gift for our spiritual sustenance, and it shouldn’t be denied to believers by their know-better pastors.
- It chases culture. What might have happened if Warren’s respondents had said they only wanted to meet once a month? At the beach? At Hooters? On what basis might he have turned them down? Culture should bend to God’s Word, not vice versa. When we ask permission of our neighbors to worship God, we don’t have a faith worth inviting anyone to join.
- It condemns the church. If the time of worship isn’t important, neither, perhaps, is the place of worship or the method of worship. If the fourth commandment is negotiable, surely all the others are as well, including the first. In the next few weeks I plan to explain where I see Warren-type churches ending up. I am not hopeful, but for all the problems I see, I think they all have their genesis in the church’s negotiating away the Sabbath and losing its spiritual perspective and authority.