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“Church Health Award” from Rick Warren or Jesus Christ?

By Pastor Bob DeWaay

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Emphasis added

We are awash in information about how to have healthy and successful churches. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven church movement claims to have trained many thousands of pastors around the world. The website for this movement states the vision: “Our vision is to see healthy, balanced congregations producing Purpose Driven lives of all ages everywhere.”1 This movement is being called a new reformation: “Saddleback Church is now but one among thousands of Purpose Driven churches – the vanguard of a new reformation.”2 The churches who most successfully copy Rick Warren’s pattern are honored with a “Church Health Award.”3

As contemporary evangelicals attempt to get on board with the new reformation and become “healthy,” one important fact is being overlooked: Jesus has already spoken about what He approves and disapproves in churches. Shall modern technocrats like Rick Warren set the standards for what is pleasing to God in a local church or should Jesus Christ Himself set these standards? We need to listen to Jesus. ...

The material in Revelation 2 and 3 provides a precious opportunity to find out what Jesus, the true owner of His churches, uses as criteria for evaluation. What modern marketing experts deem “healthy” is of no significance in the eyes of Christ. The seven churches reveal the virtues and vices of all churches throughout the church age. We can learn from these churches and thereby “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”6 ...

The Church in Ephesus

Jesus begins His address to the church in Ephesus with a commendation:

“‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:2, 3).

Contrary to what some people think, this is a commendation. They had obeyed Paul’s former words precisely: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28, 29). Jesus commended them for obeying the words of Paul and guarding the flock against false “sent ones” (apostles).

Given this backdrop, Jesus’ rebuke is stunning: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place— unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4, 5).

Some have used this passage to warn about those who correct error. They suggest that somehow the process of withstanding evil and error makes a person unloving. There is nothing in the text that says this. The word “but” in the Greek is a strong adversative. That means that the rebuke is in stark contrast to the commendation.... The idea is that the church should reject false teachers practicers of evil and have a strong, heartfelt love for God and neighbor ....

Jesus has a further commendation for the church at Ephesus: “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans [a heretical sect], which I also hate” (Revelation 2:6). ...

The Church in Sardis

Jesus called the church in Sardis “dead”: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b). This alarming diagnosis from the Lord shows that what others think of a church has no bearing on what God thinks of it. This was a church that had a reputation (“name”) of being an “alive” church. However they were spiritually asleep: “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God” (Revelation 3:2). ...

...the outwardly popular but inwardly dead church at Sardis was unlikely to have been bold enough to preach the gospel to the Jews and pagans and thus bring persecution. They were content to have the name of being alive and relative peace with the society around. ...

Revelation 3:4,5 shows that there was still a faithful remnant in Sardis. ... Such individuals often know that something is wrong but are not sure what to do. Jesus comforted them with the promise of white garments and their names in the book of life....

The Church in Philadelphia

The Lord had no words of rebuke for the church in Philadelphia. This church was under Jewish persecution.... The Lord gives them this commendation: “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). ... Apparently this church was small, poor, and uninfluential.”23 ... Jesus did not see poverty or lack of size as a sign of malaise....

The commendation is that they have “kept My word” and “not denied My name.” They not only had the keys, they were using them. They actively confessed [declared, identified with, or confessed allegiance to] Christ and His gospel even in the face of persecution.

The pattern emerging... is that nothing is more important than confessing. ... A church like Sardis could avoid conflict with the pagan society by keeping quiet and not actively confessing the gospel before the pagans. Confessors were often martyred as we saw in Smyrna and Pergamum. Confession offended the Jews and the Pagans because it meant telling them that unless they repented and believed on Christ, they would perish under God’s judgment. ...

The Church in Laodicea

...this church possessed... a positive self image: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). The Laodicean church boasted of being healthy and prosperous....

The Laodicean church was self-deluded. Perhaps the most dangerous time for the church (as is born out by church history) is when the church is wealthy and successful. ... thinking that because we are successful, therefore we must be pleasing to God. ... This shows how badly we need objective criteria from God Himself to determine if what we are doing is pleasing to Him.

Here is what Jesus said to this seemingly “successful” but self-deluded church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15, 16). The common interpretation of this is that cold signifies the lost or spiritually dead, the hot signifies fervent Christians, and the lukewarm are complacent Christians.27 However, the passage is more likely a reference to local water supplies.... Jesus was saying that the deeds of the Laodicean church were as nauseating to Him as their own local water was to them....

We live in a time were “tolerance” is considered the ultimate virtue. Jesus denounced such “tolerance” as spiritual wickedness. In too many churches today, everything is tolerated except sound doctrine! We need to listen to what Jesus has already said about this matter before it is too late. ...

Rick Warren claims that doctrine is so unimportant that God will not even ask about it: “God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views.”39 Jesus made doctrine very important and rebuked those who tolerated false doctrine: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” (2John 1:9 NKJV)

Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life never explains the blood atonement in the context of the gospel or salvation. Jesus commended overcomers – people are overcomers because of the blood of the Lamb. Since Warren’s readers and followers do not hear anything from him about the blood atonement or the wrath of God against sin, they have no way to become overcomers.

The church leaders who follow Rick Warren are told that if they follow his campaign and are typical of other churches that do, they will grow 20 percent in attendance and 20 percent in money. Jesus doesn’t care about attendance or money....

We are getting a lot of bad advice from the contemporary, evangelical culture. This bad advice virtually ignores everything Jesus said was important to Him in His churches. What He cares about is deemed irrelevant for popular, “healthy” churches today.

In closing, let us consider the words of our Lord as spoken to the Laodicean church: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).  

Copyright © 1992-2005 Twin City Fellowship

Please read the rest the of this much-needed message at

Other articles by Bob DeWaay: The Gospel: A Method or a Message?

True and False Unity | Redefining the Church

Faulty Premises of the Church Growth Movement

 “Church Health Award” from Rick Warren or Jesus Christ?

Bob DeWaay is the Pastor of Twin City Fellowship, a non-denominational evangelical Church in Minneapolis, MN, which tells us:

    "We are a body of believers who attempt to live our Christian faith according to Acts 2:42 by devoting ourselves to prayer, fellowship, searching the Scriptures, and the Lord’s Supper.
    "Our mission is to equip the saints for the work of ministry and to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this through expository preaching, study of the Scriptures, publications, our website and neighborhood outreaches."

2. ibid.
3. ibid.
6. This phrase is found at the conclusion of the message to each of the seven churches. It is a call to listen to God who is speaking authoritatively to His people.
23. George Eldon Ladd, Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 56.

27. See Ryan Habbena’s article published in CIC issue 59:; Ryan corrects this misinterpretation.
39. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2002) 34.

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