Unity and Community
by Berit Kjos, January 2004
“God says relationships are what life is all about.” Rick Warren, [1, page 125]
“Relationships are the glue that holds a church together. Friendships are the key to retaining members. A friend once told me of a survey he took in a church. When he asked, ‘Why did you join this church?’ – 93% of the members said, ‘I joined because of the pastor.’ He then asked, ‘What if the pastor leaves? Will you leave?’ 93% said ‘No.’ When he asked why they wouldn’t leave, the response was ‘Because I have friends here!’ Do you notice the shift in allegiance? This is normal and healthy…. Think relationally!”  Rick Warren, “Relationships hold your church together.”
“I want to stress the importance of continually emphasizing the corporate nature of the Christian life to your members,” wrote Pastor Warren in his church management manual, The Purpose-Driven Church. “Preach it, teach it, and talk about it with individuals. We belong together. We need each together. We are connected, joined together as parts of one body. We are family!”[3, page 328]
Yes, those who truly belong to Christ are one in Him! We are part of a vast wonderful family that reaches around the world and stretches through time into eternity! In fact, the fellowship we have in Christ—with those who share the same Spirit, follow the same Shepherd and delight in the same Scriptures—brings us a tiny foretaste of the joy we will share with our heavenly family for all eternity.
But Pastor Warren adds some questionable organizational reasons for emphasizing fellowship and unity. As he explained in his article, “Relationships hold your church together,” fellowship among members may be the most effective way to “grow” large and strong churches. So, in the Church Growth Movement (CGM), people-pleasing fellowship—designed specifically to bond spiritually diverse people to each other—becomes a major purpose. This process includes the following steps:
1. Continually emphasize the importance of fellowship and unity, commitment (including signed contracts) and community participation. Stress oneness—the “corporate nature” of churches. This is the heart of “systems thinking,” whether in secular business or church: everything is interconnected; all is one. Nothing has meaning unless it fits into the “Greater Whole.”
2. Create organizational structures for bringing visitors and new members quickly into small groups where trained “change leaders” can facilitate the dialogue, encourage bonding and monitor the collective training.
3. Warn people against neglecting “accountability” to the five purposes (or “mission statement”)—which set boundaries for topics to be discussed. Since “divisive” or “distracting” topics such as government education and occult entertainment may be seen as obstacles to the envisioned unity, they are often discouraged, if not banned. As Pastor Warren says, “A purpose statement reduces frustration because it allows us to forget about things that don’t really matter.” [3, page 87] Of course, anti-Christian public education and popular entertainment do matter—even if “change leaders” refuse to recognize their influence on our children.
4. Package truth in ways that make it palatable and pleasing to everyone, members, unbelievers and seekers alike. Avoid offensive Scriptures and divisive warnings. De-emphasize Biblical absolutes or “doctrine.” They hinder unity and “continual change.”
5. Use signed contracts, the dialectic process and continual assessments to hold all members accountable to the kind of fellowship mandated by the purpose-driven management system.
Saddleback Church models these five points and many other practical guidelines for church growth and unity, which we will look at later. But first, let’s consider Pastor Warren’s teachings on the Body of Christ – the fellowship of believers. While his book is full of encouraging assurances and promises, it also hides some strange half-truths and troubling suggestions. The first quote below fits right into the new collective or holistic view that all parts of an organization (the system) must be interconnected—and that individuals only have worth and meaning according to their place in the whole system. (This holism now permeates, guides and unites organizations around the world) With that view in mind, ponder Pastor Warren’s next five statements:
“You discover your role in life through your relationships with others. The Bible tells us, ‘Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around…. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we?'” [1, page 131]
“The Bible knows nothing of solitary saints or spiritual hermits isolated from other believers and deprived of fellowship.” [1, page 130]
“How you treat other people, not your wealth or accomplishments, is the most enduring impact you can leave on earth. As Mother Teresa said, ‘It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.” [1, page 125]
“God wants his family to be known for its love more than anything else. Jesus said our love for each other—not our doctrinal beliefs—is our greatest witness to the world.” [1, page 124]
“Whenever you give your time, you are making a sacrifice and sacrifice is the essence of love. Jesus modeled this: ‘Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave Himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins.'” [1, page 128] (Eph. 5:2 LB)
Do you see the conflicting messages? The imprisoned apostle Paul, a “solitary saint” separated from his fellow believers toward the end of his life, is only one of numerous Biblical examples of faithful men and women who grew strong in faith while standing alone and sharing the sufferings of Jesus. Check the Psalms, the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other persecuted prophets, the Gospels…. Remember that in many Communist prisons, the uncompromising Biblical faith of tortured believers brought multitudes of fellow prisoners—even cold-hearted inquisitors and torturers—to Christ. Yes, our visible God-given love for one another demonstrates a divine gift that the world craves but cannot duplicate. But only the Truth of the gospel (doctrine), made alive by the Spirit, can spark that same divine life and love in another person. “Love” without Truth cannot bring unbelievers into God’s Kingdom.
In the last of the five quotes, Pastor Warren equates the “time” we give to our friends with Christ’s life-changing sacrifice for us. This principle begs questions such as: Must our “sacrifice” be prompted and accomplished by the Spirit or does any kind of “sacrifice” of time count? What if this sacrifice glorifies the human giver, not God? Could it tempt us to idealize “good deeds” such as the unselfish works of Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who embraced a universalist view of God and the cross? She said she saw “Jesus in every person” (most of her patients were sick and dying Hindus)—a compassionate notion but totally contrary to God’s Word.
Without Biblical doctrine and a clear understanding of God’s Word, it’s all too easy to define love (love for God, love for people….) in human terms that contradict God’s own teaching about Himself and His eternal moral law. We might simply apply the world’s definitions for love, compassion, relationships and sympathy to concepts that deal with spiritual realities. Then we applaud each other for meeting our own nice-sounding standards, forgetting that our own human efforts are nothing but “filthy rags” in God’s sight. Isaiah 64:6
The prophet Isaiah understood that well. What counts is not our cultural view of what is right, but knowing and following God’s ways, which differ radically from ours. Remember Isaiah 55:8-9 and Isaiah 64:4-5, where God reminds us to remember Him according to His ways—according to what He has revealed about himself, not according to our own shortsighted perceptions, good intentions, wishful thinking or noble ideals (or visions). If our relationships rest on human aims and organizational strategies rather than on Biblical faith and the Holy Spirit, they are worthless to His kingdom.
When we minimize God’s Holy Word and guidelines, we blind ourselves. When we conveniently blur the line between what God calls right and wrong, we won’t even know that we’ve missed the mark. And when we dismiss Biblical guidelines as old fashioned “doctrine,” we become vulnerable to timeless deceptions that shift the ground of our thinking from His unchanging truths to sound-alike myths and illusions—as God warned in 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
But Pastor Warren’s statements make sense to a postmodern generation that values human relationships more than truth. After all, God’s absolute, unbending Word (doctrine) does bring division. It cuts a dividing line between truth and error. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Such piercing truth is incompatible with the oneness needed for the new “systems thinking” [see Church Growth Glossary] and collective church management. As Pastor Warren says,
“For unity’s sake, we must never let differences divide us. We must stay focused on what matters most—learning to love each other as Christ has loved us, and fulfilling God’s five purposes for each of us and his church. Conflict is usually a sign that the focus has shifted to less important issues, things the Bible calls “disputable matters.” When we focus on personalities, preferences, interpretations, styles or methods, division always happens.” [1, pages 161-162]
That sounds good. We should not focus on personalities, preferences, styles or methods. Yet Pastor Warren seems intensely focused on his structured methods for church transformation, and he communicates those methods to churches around the world as if they came from the Bible, not business schools at Harvard and MIT.
The bigger problem with the above declaration is another word Pastor Warren tucked into his list of “less important issues:” the word, “interpretations.” Today’s trend toward contextual interpretations of God’s Word (adapted to fit the context of the popular culture) twists its meanings into pleasing messages tailor-made both for the unbelieving world and for the worldwide ecumenical movement. And Pastor Warren’s pragmatic “interpretations” seem designed to block any Biblical argument against either the mind-changing process that drives the fellowship or the management methods that drive his church.
Let me repeat his misleading statement concerning boundaries on what kinds of topics and issues can be discussed:
“A purpose statement reduces frustration because it allow us to forget about things that don’t really matter. Isaiah 26:3 (TEV) says that God “give[s] perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in [him]. [Italics in the original] A clear purpose not only defines what we do, it defines what we do not do. … The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts and not worry about all the rest.”
Keep in mind, the standard translations of the Bible don’t use the word “purpose” in this verse. Wouldn’t you rather keep your heart and mind focused on Jesus and His Word instead of on the purposes defined by Rick Warren?
KJV: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” Is 26:3
NKJV: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Is 26:3
According to Pastor Warren, the focus must be on relationships and unity—the kinds of relationships that help you “feel good” about yourself and your group. Divisive issues (which might include anything controversial from the anti-Christian teaching in public school to books and popular entertainment) are frowned on, no matter how important to your family’s faith and values. They don’t fit Saddleback’s five purposes! They might even conflict with the affirmative church atmosphere and cause people to feel uncomfortable. In contrast, Pastor Warren proclaims a more positive message—one that fits today’s educational emphasis on self-esteem:
“You are a part of God’s family, and because Jesus makes you holy, God is proud of you! The words of Jesus are unmistakable: ‘[Jesus] pointed to his disciples and said, ‘these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!'” Matthew 12:49-50 [1, pages 121] Emphasis added
Those statements raise some questions. First, is God really “proud” of us? Any or all of us? Isn’t it His righteousness, not our own, that makes His people holy? Jesus gave us an answer long ago. Not wanting His disciples to “think too highly” of themselves and their own “good deeds,” He told a parable about the role of a servant, which ended with this question: “Does he [the master] thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” [Luke 17:9-10] Paul knew that truth well. Confident that anything good in him came from God, not himself, Paul could fully delight in God’s victory on His behalf: “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14 
Second, does Matthew 12:49-50, the Scripture Pastor Warren used to prove his point, even relate to that particular point? Do all Pastor Warren’s readers know the revealed “will of my Father” or might they be misled by the many Scriptures that have been taken out of context? And when Pastor Warren misuses God’s Word, might he not build a false foundation for Christian unity?
There can be no true or lasting unity unless that unity is based on God’s uncompromised Word. When churches embrace the same psycho-social strategies as those used by public schools for multicultural training—and also by governments and corporations in “community-building” for social solidarity—they must twist or hide contrary Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 6:12-18. You cannot please God when you rely on the world’s methods for success. When churches re-interpret and adapt parts of the Bible to postmodern perceptions and “felt needs,” they shift their foundation from God’s wisdom to man-made rules and strategies. One of those strategies is simply to rule out contrary Biblical warnings and to “discipline” or expel concerned and faithful members as “divisive.”
Church discipline is Biblical, and I’m glad Pastor Warren upholds it. But when a Biblical principle is used in unbiblical ways to remove obstacles to a worldly process, it cannot bring Biblical success. It is hard to separate all the good things Pastor Warren says from some of the amazing distortions, but God tells us to “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” [1 Thessalonians 5:21-22] So please consider these statements:
“All prospective members must complete a membership class and are required to sign a membership covenant. By signing the covenant, members agree to give financially, serve in a ministry, share their faith, follow the leadership…. If you do not fulfill the membership covenant, you are dropped from our membership. We remove hundreds of names from our roll every year.”[3, page 54]
“Rick’s Rules of Growth.” First, there is more than one way to grow a church…. Second, it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. Thank God we’re not all alike! God loves variety…. Third, never criticize what God is blessing, even though it may be a style of ministry that makes you feel uncomfortable.”[3, page 62]
“When a human body is out of balance we call that disease… Likewise, when the body of Christ becomes unbalanced, disease occurs…. Health will occur only when everything is brought back into balance. The task of church leadership is to discover and remove growth-restricting diseases and barriers so that natural, normal growth can occur.”[3, page 16]
“God blesses churches that are unified. At Saddleback Church, every member signs a covenant that includes a promise to protect the unity of our fellowship. As a result, the church has never had a conflict that split the fellowship. Just as important, because it is a loving, unified fellowship, a lot of people want to be part of it! … When God has a bunch of baby believers he wants to deliver, he looks for the warmest incubator church he can find.” [1, pages 166-167]
Does He? I could cite many examples of the opposite—including my own experience. Actually, both His Word and factual history suggest that our Lord has countless ways of training new believers. Many of His most fruitful children are born [of the Spirit] and nurtured in the crucible of unthinkable challenges. Unlike church growth leaders and contemporary “change agents,” God doesn’t standardize His methods or measure His triumphs by the world’s definitions of success, unity or solidarity.
Keep in mind, today’s Church Growth Communities are anything but friendly to members who question the secular church marketing systems, the continual personal assessments and the digital data systems that measure “relational energy.” Many are quick to “discipline” and drive out those who refuse to join the small group dialogues or sign their contracts. We will look more closely at this part of the CGM management system in Part 3.
The heartbreaking testimony of those who have been forced to leave these fast-changing churches remind us that a community that squeezes people into its worldwide marketing mold can be more dangerous to Biblical faith and understanding than no “church” community.
This program is not about Biblical unity and community. Nor do Saddleback and other CGM churches have a monopoly on oneness. In fact, unity (or solidarity) is the ultimate aim of some the most powerful secular management systems around the world, and their eminent communitarian guide, Peter Drucker, pursues the same organizational goals as Rick Warren. Referring to the church’s responsibility to serve and meet welfare needs within its community, Drucker says,
“The pastor, as manager, has to identify their strengths and specialization [what Pastor Warren calls spiritual gifts and abilities], place them and equip them for service, and enable them to work in the harmonious and productive whole known as the body of Christ.”
In other words, the church and the world become partners in today’s grand experiment of educating human resources for a unified global society. Yes, we must love one another and care for the poor. But we cannot conform to the world system. Nor can we use the world’s psycho-social strategies (cloaked in Biblical terms and phrases) without twisting God’s Word and turning our backs to Jesus Christ, our only true source of unity. Remember God’s warnings:
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ Therefore let no one boast in men.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-21
“…narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
1. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002). See “Driven or Led?“
4. God’s moral law can neither save us nor give us the strength to obey its guidelines. But it gives us a standard for right and wrong—and it helps us to understand God’s holiness, righteousness, mercy and grace.
5. We are not to be “driven” by anything. Instead, we need to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross….” Hebrews 12:1-2
6. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.” 2 Corinthians 6:12-18
7. “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:9-11
8. Seee “The Global Quest for Solidarity” at http://www.crossroad.to/text/articles/solidarity.html