Having not been in Los Angeles for long, I am non-committal to the churches that I have visited. However, I have attended a few small group meetings, which are quite nice because they offer an outlet to meet and get to know new people who happen to kindred spirits; Christian by faith. Among those small groups that I have attended, one is a subset of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. This morning was the first day that I had the opportunity to go to Saddleback Church. Although, it was in Los Angeles, which is not the headquarters or main location. It is one part of Saddleback. My visit to Saddleback Church was quite interesting, and you might be intrigued by my review, both the positive and negative aspects of it.
Before I begin my review of my visit to Saddleback Church, I should qualify it by saying that I am not laboring to write a scathing review of this church nor of Rick Warren. I have no intention to smear him or his church. I do not know much about him, and I know that he has the endorsement of John Piper, which is a very good sign, as far as I am concerned. Absent knowledge, I should appeal to those who have knowledge and discernment. Piper is wise enough to offer endorsement only where it is due. With that qualification in mind, I do have a few observation about my visit to Saddleback Church, some praises and some criticisms.
They had very talented musicians and worship leaders. Though there was only about three or four songs, their performance was sublime. The singers were so talented that I was almost inclined to approach them afterwards and tell them that their singing was sublime. But I usually ignore those inclinations because they probably hear that sort of thing all of the time.
The performance of the singers is an important aspect of a church visit. If one visited a church that featured untalented musicians (which I have encountered), people will be less inclined to come back another time and less inclined to hear the gospel. Since they have such talented musicians, it is definitely a mark in their favor. That was my first impression of my visit to Saddleback Church, and first impressions are important.
There was an invitation without the gospel. Rick Warren’s daughter and wife tag-teamed a sermon. They were not there in person. Instead Saddleback Church in Los Angeles plays a recording of the worship service hosted by the main Saddleback church. There was a video of these two women rotating their way through this sermon. They were both excellent public speakers and have clearly mastered the craft.
They should be commended as they were both quite interested in telling the audience that they needed to accept Christ. They both wanted people to know that it is our duty as people to accept the free gift of salvation that God has given to us. Amy (Rick’s daughter) even spoke a little about election, and I had an inkling that there was a bit of theological latitude behind her words. She knew what she was talking about and she understood the gospel.
The question that I would present to Amy, and her mother, Kay and Rick, is why the gospel was not preached. They invited people to accept Christ and to pray a prayer. But they did not preach the gospel. I did not hear that man was sinful and needed a savior. I did not hear that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead. I did not hear that he died in our place. I did not hear that our sins were nailed to the cross, or that the kingdom of Satan was shut down at the cross. I did not hear that God came in the flesh. I did not hear Paul’s gospel. I heard an invitation to accept Jesus.
Now I am not charging Rick and his wife and daughter with unbelief. They believe the gospel. But Paul said that the gospel is the power of God to those who believe (Romans 1:16). It is the message of the cross that we are to preach. That is the wisdom and the power of God (Colossians 1:18). What I heard was a narrative. Amy told us that God healed her, and that is great. Christianity works for her. But if the gospel is not preached, then all we are doing is sharing a psychological system that helps you to overcome your problems. That is not Christianity. That is Scientology. That is the essence of my visit to Saddleback Church. I heard people who I have no doubt love the Lord, and I do not doubt their salvation. But they did not preach the gospel.
The preaching was very shallow. Amy (daughter of Rick) and Kay (wife of Rick) used selected Scripture to make the point that people needed to accept Jesus. They wanted to relay the point that God knows them and wants them to come into a relationship with him. When they do that, they will be able to put their trust in him, despite all of life’s trials. That is a good and commendable message. That is a message that one would want unbelievers to hear. But they are preaching in one of the largest church on the west coast. They are in a church. It is full of believers and they are giving this invitation to accept Jesus.
The question is why it is that a church full of believers would need spiritual milk. In a stroke of irony, Kay quoted Hebrews 5:12-13, which reads, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.” They were teaching the elementary oracles of God. Why are they not diving deep into Christian truths? Why are they not talking even about the precise details of living a Christian life? Why are they giving a message for unbelievers to a group of believers? My visit to Saddleback Church has molded the expectation that the leadership thinks that their parish are spiritually immature. They need to be told to accept Christ.
My visit to Saddleback Church. Again, I was very impressed with certain aspects of their worship service. I was impressed with the ability of their musicians. I was impressed with the passion that Amy and Kay displayed and with their capacity to relate to the audience and speak in public. But I was not impressed with their content. I was not impressed with their presentation of the gospel, nor was I impressed with the fact that they felt that they had to feed their parish with spiritual milk.
However, these observations should be taken tentatively, because they are just observations. I am not making definitive statements. I am not saying, “Saddleback Church does not preach the gospel,” nor am I saying, “Saddleback Church is composed of the spiritually immature.” I am saying neither. I am saying that these are things that I observed.
If you would like to get in on the discussion about this, join my Theology Discussion Group!