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Excerpts from

Redefining the Church - Part 2

By Pastor Bob DeWaay

Please read the entire article at

(Emphasis added throughout)

“He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.” Colossians 1:18

Growing the Visible Church

Prior to the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church did not distinguish between the visible and invisible church.  Salvation was considered to be found within the church; Rome with its papacy was considered “the church.”  Failure to make a proper distinction between the visible and invisible church led to horrible practices, before the Reformation and after -- on both sides of the division.  Let us look at one example of what happens when expanding the visible church by any means available is viewed as “building Christ’s church.”

In 770 AD Christendom had suffered greatly.  The former Christian strongholds of northern Egypt and the Near East had been over run by Islam.  The pagan Saxons of Germany despised Christianity.  They murdered the missionaries sent to them and were enemies of the Franks.  At this point in history Charlemagne arose as the great king of the Franks.  Through a bloody, thirty year series of wars he subjugated the Saxons and forced them to convert to Christianity.7  Historian Justo Gonzalez writes, “Charlemagne resolved to drown the rebellion in blood and in the waters of baptism.  Those who proved intractable were slaughtered.  The rest were forced to accept baptism.”8  In 800 Pope Leo II crowned Charlemagne the “emperor” in a move to revive the Roman Empire.9

Charlemagne’s policy of forced conversions (he also forced tithing to the church through civil law10) became a new way to enlarge the visible church.  The practice continued for many centuries; but as grim as this sounds, the result was positive.  The Saxons actually became civilized and eventually became accustomed to Christian culture.  Thus Christianity became established in a previously pagan land.

Although no one today is likely to endorse such a policy, it would be possible to rationalize it historically.  For example, prior to their “conversion,” the Saxons were savage marauders committed to pagan gods.  They killed the missionaries sent to them.  After Charlemagne’s conquest, the Saxons were forced to follow the teachings of Christianity.  The Capitulary for Saxony, required, under the penalty of death, respect for the church and its buildings, tithing, the keeping of Lent, the keeping of the Lord’s Day, baptism, and other Christian duties.11  Eventually this led to a better situation than they had under pagan war lords, because they were in the visible church.  In their new situation there was, however dim, the light of the gospel and some were likely truly converted.  Thus, for centuries to come, Saxons had a more civilized existence with better rule of law and as much Christian light as the medieval Roman church had to offer.  It could be argued that souls were added to the Kingdom because of Charlemagne’s campaign.  Yet what Charlemagne did was repulsive and wicked.

Why do I share this bit of history? I do so to underscore the problem of a certain type of thinking.  The idea is that “we” are the Christians and this is the church.  Those outside of “us” are pagans and in pagan darkness (nowadays we call them “unchurched”).  Since what we have is a good thing, the more of “them” that we can get into the visible church with “us” the better; Christianity is being spread.  Once people join the visible church (however dim the light of the gospel might be in a given visible church), some will likely be converted.  The rest will live better “Christian” lives, influenced by Christian ethics and teachings.  Their children will be raised in the church rather than in the pagan world.  As “Christendom” grows everyone is better off.

The Church Growth Movement

This is precisely the thinking of the church growth movement and its modern founder Robert Schuller.  Schuller is famous for saying that his Crystal Cathedral is a last stop for people who had given up on religion and otherwise would have no religion.  He established his Institute for Successful Church Leadership in 1970.  His website says this about his Institute: “Alumni include Bill Hybels, John Maxwell, Bishop Charles Blake, Rick Warren, Walt Kallestad, Kirbyjon Caldwell, and many, many others who found the fundamental principles of success at our sessions .... and the rest is church history!”12 He continues, “The students outran the master and I'm proud of them - and you can do it, too!”

The success that Schuller and his followers have found is the ability to get people to join the visible church without being confronted with “negative” things like the wrath of God against sin and the need for the blood atonement.

The key idea in the church growth movement founded by Robert Schuller is to maximize the visible church by using proven business marketing strategies.  Forcing people into the church at sword point has been abandoned long ago.  Charlemagne’s strategy is no longer viable.  Now leaders entice people into the visible church using the business model that works so well for secular corporations.  These strategies include organizational models that provide focus, efficiency, outcome based feedback, and “synergy of energy.”  Most important, however, is maximizing the organization’s ability to find and keep satisfied customers (people willing to join the visible church).

Before I explain how this works, I want to reiterate the rationale behind it.  As with the Saxons in Charlemagne’s day, there are “unchurched” people who lack exposure to Christianity (other than what the popular culture or media might provide).  These people would be better off in church, (especially an evangelical church) than outside of the church; that is axiomatic.  But, these people are willing to join the church unless they see a need to join.  It is the job of the religious corporation (church) to convince such religious consumers that they have a need and that the corporation in question can best fulfill it.  This is what marketing is about; its goal is satisfied customers.  The Crystal Cathedral is filled with satisfied customers and has been for decades.

Let us take that particular church as an example and think about our categories of the visible and invisible church.  Luther said that there was some invisible church even in Roman Catholicism.  Very likely some became part of the invisible church after Charlemagne forced them into the visible one.  God is merciful and if some light of the truth of Christ and His work is there, some will believe in spite of the fact that the light is diffused through a translucent window.  I would argue that some people have likely met Christ at the Crystal Cathedral since Schuller occasionally invites an evangelical as a guest speaker or allows a testimony from someone who does know the Lord.  Also, the hymns they sing may have enough of the gospel for someone to believe.

Taking this analysis further, let us consider Schuller’s followers like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.  Both of them are more evangelical than Schuller.  Their terminology often includes parts of the gospel.  This being the case, by God’s grace and mercy, there are likely some conversions through their approach.  So, in their churches, there likely exists an invisible church.  Perhaps there are many true Christians within.

This, however, does not justify the theory that one ought to use whatever means work best to grow the visible church simply because people are better off “churched” and some may actually be saved.  That rationale assumes that Christ has not told us what the church is to be and do.  It assumes that we have the liberty to adopt any plan that gets people to come to the visible church and stay there.  I deny that we have that liberty.  It opens the door to unacceptable options.

The Efficient, Market Driven Church

Those churches that have adopted Schuller’s strategy (and others like it) are committed to using the latest proven systems to gather the largest possible group.  The system that works the best is one that is focused, efficient, and seeks measurable results (out-come based).  Rick Warren uses these principles in his book, The Purpose Driven Church.13  In this approach a mission statement is absolutely essential.  Everything the church does has to be justified vis-à-vis the mission statement.  This is how corporations have learned to keep every aspect of their operation focused and working with “synergy of energy.”14  This model of operation has proven itself to be far superior to previous ones.  The defining mission statement, according to Rick Warren must be stated in terms of results.15  The mission statement (Warren uses the term “purpose”) is necessary to produce focus and eliminate programs or processes that are not contributing to the stated mission.  Warren says, “A narrow mission is a clear mission.”16  Warren also says, “Make it measurable.”17  This is the idea of being “outcome based.”  If the outcome is not being achieved, then the hindrances must be identified and removed.

The outcome that such churches seek is a growing visible church with dedicated, committed members who work in unity to achieve the mission of the church.  The church must be portrayed to the unchurched as desirable and likely to meet their needs in order to gain a maximum number of new members.  Rick Warren suggests that since unbelievers are not looking for truth, something else needs to be offered.18  Warren says, “While most unbelievers aren’t looking for truth, they are looking for relief.”19  Therefore he teaches pastors to teach only what people see as benefiting their needs.  He claims that Jesus used the approach of meeting their “felt needs,”20 and “Jesus was a life-application preacher.”21

Here we must ask a question.  Is that why, when Jesus meet the “felt needs” of the crowd in John 6, that He later confronted them with the need for a blood atonement which resulted in the crowd leaving and refusing to follow Jesus?22 Jesus told Pilate that He came to bear witness to the truth, an answer that seemed irrelevant to Pilate.23  What sinner ever saw a “need” for a crucified Jewish Messiah without first having been confronted with their sin and the need for atonement? Churches that exist to maximize the size and efficiency of the visible church are forced to change the gospel because the gospel is a narrow gate with few entering.

In the efficient, market driven church people come in because the church is appealing to them; and they get motivated and committed because of the excitement and unity that exists around the church’s mission statement.  People are asked to make commitments to the church and promise to support the church’s programs.24  People enjoy being a part of a committed community, unified, working together, and achieving measurable results.  The ability to make that happen is the key to the success of the religious corporation.

The unity of the church, in this contemporary model, is determined by the mission statement.  Every member must agree to put his or her effort fully into achieving the stated purpose of the church.  Evangelical versions of this approach use Biblical concepts in their statement.  To gain this unity of purpose the pastor has to become a “vision caster.”  This means selling his plan and getting everyone excited about it.  Rick Warren says that the purpose statement must be continually repeated.  He says, “Once you have defined the purposes of your church, you must continually clarify and communicate to everyone in your congregation.”25  This helps create the “synergy of energy” that makes the combined talents and enthusiasm of a group of people multiply in effectiveness.  The resultant excitement is contagious as the group grows and sees the measurable outcome of their mission happen before their eyes.  This process certainly works and is not physically coercive like Charlemagne’s.26

Rick Warren demands unity of every member and requires that they sign a covenant in which they promise unity.27  They are led through a series of classes that require entering covenants.28  These are designed to create deeper commitment.  People who do not support the unity of the church are warned and disciplined.  This is Warren’s interpretation of how he sees the Bible’s teaching on dealing with “divisive” people: “They are to . . . warn those who are argumentative, plead for harmony and unity, rebuke those who are disrespectful of leadership, and remove divisive people from church if they ignore two warnings.”29  This will help us understand how solid Christian people who are not accused of sin or heresy are being removed from churches.  We will now compare how a Biblically defined church differs from a corporate mission defined church in how various aspects of the life of the church are handled.

Contrasts Between a Biblical Church and Seeker Church

Let us consider the topic that was just raised – church discipline.  The Lord spoke about this in Matthew 18:

And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Elsewhere the Bible teaches to remove unrepentant sinners from fellowship (for example 1Corinthians 5).  In a Biblically defined church, unrepentant sin breaks fellowship.  In Matthew 18 Jesus taught about how important every believer is to Him, particularly those who were “little ones” who might be overlooked.  They are so important that the ninety sheep would be left behind to find the straying one (Matthew 18:12).  The key concern is the salvation of every one whom the Lord has brought to Himself: “Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:14; note that “little ones” in context are believers – Matthew 18:6).

In churches that adopt the new model of corporate efficiency through a mission statement and a system that produces “synergy of energy” to reach the desired outcome, this process is much different.  The difference explains why solid Christians who are not being accused of unrepentant sin are being disfellowshipped.  The “synergy of energy” is only possible when every member is pulling together to achieve the stated mission of the corporation.  People are confronted and removed who insist on doing things in ways not consistent with the corporate mission statement.  Inasmuch as the mission statement is not the gospel or the whole counsel of God, it is a truncated version of Christianity.  Those who feel strongly that certain Biblical commands (like correcting false teachers or preaching about the wrath of God against sin) should be followed are monkey wrenches in the gears of the smoothly oiled corporate machine.  They have to go.

Failing to blindly follow misguided church leadership is not what Matthew 18 is all about.  In the context, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, and Jesus took a little child to make an object lesson.  The “little ones” were believers who had no great status in the minds of others.  They are to be treated with the utmost love and concern, even though as one straggling “lamb” they seem insignificant.  What we have instead, in the new paradigm churches, are faithful “little ones” being booted for not supporting the corporate dreams of those who deem themselves important.  This is a total reversal of what Jesus taught.

Unity of What?

Unity is a Biblical concept.  But again, there is a huge difference in the concept of unity in a Biblically defined church and the new Purpose Driven Church.  In the Bible, the goal is the unity of the faith: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  The faith is the content of the gospel, including the entirety of the teaching as given by Christ and His Apostles: “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  One cannot decide anything about what unity is to be preserved without first deciding what “the faith” is.

For example, at the time of the Reformation, Luther was considered a heretic, a schismatic whose efforts were directed against the unity of the church.  From the perspective of Rome, he was.  However, that assumes that the Roman church and her practices were truly in accord with the gospel and the teachings of Christ and His Apostles.  Luther believed that they were not and that to find the unity of the faith, churches needed to be established based on the true means of grace.  Both Luther and Calvin taught that true churches were those where the Word was purely taught and the sacraments were kept according to the Lord’s commandment.  It is impossible to decide what constitutes a schismatic (one who causes divisions) without first deciding what constitutes a valid church!

Let us again consider Jude, where we were told to contend for the faith:

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”  These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:17-19)

According to this, the divisions are caused by world-minded people whose lusts indicate that they are not truly regenerate.  They are departing from the faith that was delivered by Christ and His Apostles.

Elsewhere we see the same thing: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17).  Notice that division is that which is contrary to the apostolic teaching.  Here is another example:

If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain (1Timothy 6:3-5).

Unity cannot be preserved when a clear Biblical understanding of sound doctrine is absent.  The unity of the faith is not the same as the unity of a religious corporation.  Luther brought us closer to the unity of the faith (because he brought the church closer to sound doctrine), even though he appeared at the time to be a schismatic.  Religious corporations that exist to meet the needs of the maximum numbers of religious consumers move us away from the unity of the faith because preserving sound doctrine is not in their stated mission.

Let us consider “unity” as defined by the efficient, seeker oriented religious corporation.  As already discussed, this model of church demands unity based on its mission statement and leadership.  People who do not fit the plan must go.  It is not necessary to prove someone a heretic or gross sinner to remove them from “fellowship.”  In this system, they are removed for failing to promote the needs and goals of the religious corporation.  In a secular corporation, that would be reasonable, but not in the church.

A secular corporation can determine its marketing goals, mission, and protocol, and legitimately remove those who refuse to cooperate with the corporate mission statement.  But is this valid with the Church? The Bible defines the church and the doctrines of Christ and His apostles determine its unity.  Church leaders who decide to truncate the Biblical definition for the sake of expediency and corporate success have no right to remove godly Christians for the “sin” of not being in unity with their man-made mission statement.  They have no Biblical authority to do this.

Likewise Christians are pressured into entering man-made “covenants” that Rick Warren and others like him devise to insure that no dissenter can exist in their midst.  This “covenant” becomes the test of unity and fellowship rather than “the faith once for delivered to the saints.”  They achieve the unity of the religious corporation at the expense of the unity of the faith.  This is wrong!

The Message of the Church

Jesus told his apostles what was to be the message of the church: “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20a).  He did not say, “teach them those parts of my message that they think are relevant to their felt needs”! In the Luke account of the Great Commission Jesus said this: “and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).  A Biblically defined church preaches the gospel, including the need for repentance and proclaims the whole counsel of God as Paul did.  Everything Jesus taught, including that which was written by His authoritative apostles in the New Testament, is to be taught.  People who attend Biblically defined churches should soon become fully Biblically literate and able to defend the faith cogently.  They should be so well trained in the truth of Scriptures that they have discernment (Hebrews 5:14).

In the new seeker paradigm churches the message is tailored to appeal to the largest possible audience.  The goal is to build the visible church to be as large as it can get.  Therefore, pastors lay aside those parts of the New Testament that are not deemed desirable or relevant by potential religious consumers.  Evangelicals who adopt the Robert Schuler inspired version of creating a religious corporation do not deny any important doctrines.  They just do not confess them publicly.  They believe in a literal hell, they just do not preach it from the pulpit.  They believe in the wrath of God against sin and the need for the blood atonement, but that is left out of the pulpit as well.  Doctrine is privatized.  It is relegated to a “statement of faith” on a website or made available elsewhere in case someone actually cares about such things.

In the new paradigm churches the orthodox “statement of faith” contains truths that the pastors do not care enough about to preach to their own congregations or to sinners.  However, should someone in a discernment ministry challenge them about their teaching, they trot out their boiler plate orthodoxy to deflect criticism.  What they fail to realize is that the many mainline protestant denominations that left orthodoxy during the modernist takeover of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries kept their orthodox statements of faith intact.  They had no time for such foolish doctrines such as the virgin birth; but why needlessly start a fight by trying to change denominational confessions that were hundreds of years old? What is preached from the pulpit is a much better test of what is truly believed than a statement of faith.


Peter said this: “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1Peter 1:9).  The “outcome based” corporate management churches judge their success vis-à-vis their mission statement based on measurable outcome.  The only outcome they can measure very accurately is the number of people joining the visible church.  The invisible church cannot be measured because it cannot be seen.  The Biblically defined church seeks to nurture and grow the invisible church through the means of grace.  Though we cannot know for sure who the elect are, we know for sure what means God uses to call people to Himself and sanctify them.  If we faithfully provide those means, God will use them to nurture His flock which was purchased by the blood of Christ.  The size of the visible church is not an important issue, but the existence and well being of the invisible one surely is.

The redefined church of the church growth movement has mostly ignored the matter of the invisible church.  Like Rome and her benefactor Charlemagne, they use the best means available at the time to make the visible church as big as possible, even if the light of the truth is so dim that it is with difficulty anyone would be saved or sanctified.  If happy religious consumers living better lives than they had outside of the church is the test of validity, then these huge and rapidly growing churches must be right.  However, I do not believe there is anything in the New Testament that validates seeking to maximize the visible church by means that tend to strangle the invisible one.

Consider the inspired words of Paul: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1Timothy 4:16).  That is how you insure that there is a growing invisible church enrolled in heaven.  Consider what Jesus told Peter: “Feed My sheep” (see John 21:15-17).  Shall we obey God or shall we drink of the elixir of corporate success?

End Notes
  1. Martin Luther as cited by C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry, (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1987 edition) 94.
  2. “Germany.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 3 Dec. 2004
  3. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Vol. 1, (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984) 267.
  4. Ibid. 266.
  8. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).
  9. Rick Warren’s website,, explains how “synergy of energy” is important in his type of church: Peter Drucker, the business guru is mentioned favorably.
  10. Warren, Purpose Driven Church, 107.
  11. Ibid. 100.
  12. Ibid. 101.
  13. Ibid. 226.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid. 227.
  16. Ibid. 230.
  17. See the entirety of John chapter 6. The gospels disprove Warren’s theory. It is not surprising he sees things this way since he was trained by Robert Schuller who interprets Jesus’ teaching the same way “The Be Happy Attitudes.”
  18. John 18:37.
  19. Warren, Purpose Driven Church, 130, 131.
  20. Ibid. 112.
  21. For example, Charlemagne’s Capitulary for Saxony enforced tithing through civil law; op. cit.;; Rick Warren requires people to sign a “growth covenant” which requires tithing for those who are committing to his church; Warren, Purpose Driven Church, 54. The former coerced tithing, the later entices people to commit to it so as to participate in the “covenant” of the visible church.
  22. Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) 167.
  23. Warren, Purpose Driven Church, 130.
  24. Warren, Purpose Driven Life, 166.

Copyright © 1992-2005 Twin City Fellowship

Please read the rest the of this much-needed message -- along with the endnotes -- at

Other articles by Bob DeWaay: 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:  "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."

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