The tragedy of market testing the 10 Commandments 14

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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?
  3. 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)

  4. 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.

  5. 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.
  6. 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.

  7. 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.
  8. 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.

14 thoughts on “The tragedy of market testing the 10 Commandments

  1. Albert May 14, 2009 9:23 am

    How would you address the topic of when the Sabbath is biblically recognized? I’ve heard and read that the end of the six-day week was assigned to our current Saturday and was eventually moved to our calendar Sunday.

    I’m sure Warren would probably use this to support his decision for the shift.

    • James Duncan May 14, 2009 2:59 pm

      Good question. I know that my answer won’t be sufficient for many readers of this blog, but I expect it will probably work for you, as it does for me.

      Here’s what the Westminister Confession says about that:

      As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

      It was never Wednesday.

  2. Albert May 14, 2009 3:24 pm

    I wonder if Noble will follow RW’s lead and pole his congregation too. I think we’ve seen some examples of the latter part of your prediction in #8 already.

  3. James Duncan May 14, 2009 3:26 pm

    It would be very alarming indeed if he wanted to pole the congregation. Perhaps he’ll poll them about what they think about that before doing it though.

  4. Tommy F. May 14, 2009 9:00 pm

    PP readers ought to read Proverbs 27:17, before they read on.


    I like a lot of what you post and agree with even more of it (especially #5 for today), but I’ve got a slightly different view of the Sabbath, since I can’t get a handle on its proper placement (which day?) or content (what should I (not) do on it?). I have trouble with what the proper content of the Sabbath should be, and I certainly don’t ever observe it on the 7th day of the week. Nowhere in the NT does it cancel the sabbath as day 7 and transfer the commandment to the first day of the week (most churches observe it on Sunday – and then mistakenly call it the Sabbath). And furthermore, most Christians ignore the purpose of the Sabbath (ministers included), right after church … and instead they go out to eat, go to the movies, go shopping, and some even … work. By this they reduce the Sabbath to a few hours, rather than sun down to sun down. So, while they’ve kept the requirement for when worship is they’ve completely collapsed its function into some songs and a sermon.

    As far as I can tell, RWarren back in the early 80s probably applied some similar theology and decided that the day and time were flexible (this is where your #7 is a stretch, I’d say), and decided that he should mix things up a bit for the Californians. And there are local churches where I live that have a typical worship services throughout the week – they call it Mass. What if someone works on Sunday and finds it impossible to regularly attend worship on Sunday, and so they attend on a different day. Are they being improper with their day and time for worship?

    Also, I am curious if you are posting this as more of a warning for future degradations of the Sabbath (for example: online church) than as a lament of RWarren’s move from Sunday to Wednesday. As I read your post I couldn’t help but wonder: does JDuncan think churches should only have fellowship and worship on Sunday? And, why has he transferred a very clear commandment for the Sabbath, to a different day of the week?

  5. Albert May 14, 2009 10:57 pm

    Good take on the hypocrisy and duality of christians…

    Seems like the God of Sunday morning is gone by Sunday noon-time.

  6. James Duncan May 14, 2009 11:20 pm


    For anyone who thought we were the same person, this probably puts that mistaken assumption to rest. I was waiting for God to delete your post, but it seems like he’s not, so I’ll have to respond (given that I can’t fire you, either).

    Although there is no explicit command to observe the Sabbath on Sunday, the requirement to keep the Lord’s day holy continues through the NT. We do see evidence that the first Christians had switched their observance to the first day (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Acts 20:7), in response to Christ’s resurrection on the same day.

    As for observance on another day, I think Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath tells us that there are times when people (doctors, law enforcement, etc) won’t be able to worship on Sunday and will need to find another day. Piper has a thoughtful defense of his own church’s Saturday evening service. It’s such a sharp contrast to Warren in his serious treatment of Scripture. His basic conclusion is that Saturday evening is an early start on the Sabbath, not a replacement of it. He still expects his Saturday worshippers to treat the Lord’s day as a day of rest. Its unlikely that Warren’s Wednesday church is able to match their day of rest with their observance of worship.

    The most striking difference is in the section of Warren’s explanation that I bolded. “So that’s why we decided…” Piper exposits Scripture before coming to what seems to be a tentative conclusion that Saturday worship is acceptable (though he says that Sunday is preferred). Warren polls his community and that’s enough for him to completely divorce worship from the Sabbath. He also removes even the possibility of rich Christian Sabbath worship from his church.

    I have no quarrel with your observation that many Christians don’t treat Sunday as they should, but that is kind of my point. The Lord’s Day remains the Lord’s Day, no matter how we treat it.

    Yes, TF, the post was intended as the foundation of a series of posts (the next will be coming on Monday) on how the presumption that we can change church to suit our neighbors is the snowflake (well, a bit more significant, but I need it for the metaphor) that starts the avalanche. The ultimate outcome is really the abolition of the physical church, and it’s something that some of these folks are already talking about.

  7. Tommy F. May 15, 2009 12:01 am


    The same person? What? I’m not sure who should be more insulted. My current nominee … probably your wife.

    Moving on: I concur with your overall complaint that RWarren needs to read his Bible more closely and preach it more fully, but I’m still not convinced that Wed church is “bad” (my label for your position – you can offer another). Does it really matter if Christians gather on Wednesday or Thursday or Sunday to praise, honor, glorify, and exalt their creator? After all, churches often assemble on Wed for additional training, teaching, singing, worship, etc. Do you think they should pack it up and just attend on Sunday (and in some cases – a la Piper – Sat night)? Why confuse things with worship outside of the Sabbath?

    Also, I know people who attempt to keep the spirit of the Sabbath by working 6 days, and resting on 1 – but are unable to maintain the same day – it rotates based on their work schedule. I know people who go to church, but not on Sunday who are pleased with the flexibility. Would you advise them to quit their jobs so they can worship on the “right” day?

    I look forward to your future posts. My guess is that I’ll agree with the spirit of them, even though we’re starting off from different sides. Should be interesting.

  8. James Duncan May 15, 2009 12:19 am

    Let me get this straight, you’re trying to figure out who Tommy is? Too many starbursts today, my friend.

    No, it doesn’t matter if Christians gather during the week. I think, though, that there is a qualitative difference between a church’s weekly business and its Lord’s Day worship. What meeting are we making our priority? What is the pinnacle of our corporate worship? That should be the Sabbath, and it should be designed for believers (to rehash my original argument).

    I think Acts 13:42-44 provides a model. The Apostles met on the Sabbath for worship and preaching, apparently talked with the believers throughout the week urging them to continue in the grace of God, then met again the following week. Verse 44 suggests that it was clearly the priority and highlight of all they did in those seven days.

    I thought I addressed the jobs issue in the last post, but (again) no, I don’t think most of your folks should quit their jobs. Jesus allowed exceptions to Sabbath requirements in cases of practical need. Exceptions to a rule shouldn’t disqualify the rule, though. All other things being equal, churches and believers should seek to have their most serious worship correspond with God’s ordained day. May I refer you to my argument #6 again. God gave us the day as a sign and for our benefit, so why would we try to miss it if we have the choice?

  9. Tommy F. May 15, 2009 12:29 am

    I’m not confused regarding my identity. I am a lot of things, but gender confusion is not one of them. I was nominating your wife not as Tommy F., but as the one who should be offended if we were the same person. Never mind. Too far gone.

    Overall, I agree with your post in its seriousness of worship, but I still think the commandment either needs to stay with Saturday or is open for moving. Is this an accomodation? Sure, but so are English translations of the Greek NT. I think most Christians ought to take worship more seriously, but I don’t care at all what day they gather on.

    Sufficiently sharpened (Prov 27:17). Well at least you are.

    Thanks for the back-and-forth. Where’d Seth, Nolan, and Sara go? Others?

  10. Twit May 15, 2009 12:35 am

    Well, I don’t know where the others are TommyF, but I’m lining up behind you.

  11. James Duncan May 15, 2009 12:36 am

    Sheesh. You write a little post about Sunday and lose both your friends.

    Where are you, Minnesota guy?

  12. Twit May 15, 2009 12:46 am

    It just goes to show that PP is fair and balanced – not just egging one another on.

  13. Tommy F. May 15, 2009 8:55 am

    Twit: I thought fair and balance meant egging on one another.

Comments are closed.