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Attire aside, Falwell & Warren embrace biblical convictions

LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–About 10 years ago, Jerry Falwell, dressed in a conservative business suit, was having lunch with Rick Warren. Looking across the table at the California pastor, who was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, Falwell said, “Culturally, we are worlds apart!”

But he knew that Warren’s doctrine was biblically solid, even if his “purpose-driven” methodology breached the river banks of most traditional churches.

“We discussed the fact that we were both of one Spirit, serving the same Lord,” Warren recalled, which is why the brief combination of their ministries at “SuperConference 2003” is not as unusual a match as a superficial glance at their resumes may suggest.

In the business suit — except for a few moments of Hawaiian attire during the Oct. 5-8 conference at Liberty University — is Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and chancellor of the Lynchburg, Va., university, a strongly conservative Christian campus. It was Falwell and his Moral Majority who helped elect Ronald Reagan and, as Falwell characterizes it, “take back the country” from liberal secularists.

In the Hawaiian shirt is Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and chancellor, of sorts, of the “Purpose-Driven Church” model, now among the fastest-expanding church growth paradigms being employed around the world. Warren’s latest book, “The Purpose-Driven Life” is headed toward 10 million in sales, but the author says of more importance is the way God is using the book to “transform so many lives, churches and communities around the country.”

Despite their different styles, both pastors are crusaders for God’s Kingdom, essentially local leaders in long-term pastorates with a keen vision to reach Jerusalem (their local community), Judea (America), Samaria (across cultures) and the uttermost parts of the world.

Warren credits Falwell for teaching him to throw as many evangelistic hooks into the water as possible. “It means using every available means to reach every available person at every available time,” Warren wrote in his foundational 1995 book, “The Purpose-Driven Church.”

“Jerry Falwell calls it ‘saturation evangelism,'” Warren added in his book, which is now a required text in many evangelical seminaries.

But Falwell’s mentoring of Warren started long before the two ever met in person, when Warren was struggling with his call to ministry as a 17-year-old youth evangelist.

“I was extraordinarily discouraged,” Warren said. “And I was looking through some books in a pastor’s library when I came across a record album by Jerry Falwell with the title, ‘How to Double Your Sunday School Attendance.’

“I thought that would be an interesting record to listen to, so when the pastor came in, I asked him to play it for me,” Warren recounted. “He accidentally put it on the wrong side, which was the recording of a Jerry Falwell sermon on discouragement. One of the first things he said was, ‘The Bible says, ‘Don’t be weary in well-doing.'”

“It was like an arrow to my heart,” Warren said. “I sat there weeping, knowing it was a message directly from God to me. One of the things Jerry Falwell said was that you could measure a man’s character by how difficult it was to discourage him. It changed my outlook on ministry.”

Falwell, meanwhile, acknowledges that he’s “looser” than some of his conservative brethren when it comes to methodology, and that’s why he invited Warren to teach purpose-driven methodology on the Liberty campus. It was a required seminar for the students at Liberty, but it also drew pastors from around the world. More than 13,000 attended the first-ever East Coast purpose-driven church seminar, and Falwell predicted the huge response will catch the attention of other conservative, traditional pastors in desperate need of new methodology.

“God raises up special men for special times,” Falwell said in an interview. “In Esther’s day, He put the right queen in the palace, and when it was time for her to stand up for the Jewish people, her uncle, Mordecai, said, ‘… Thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this.’

“Likewise, Rick Warren has been raised up for the 21st century,” Falwell said. “What he did in the 20th century is important, but he hasn’t even reached 50 [years of age] yet, and his greatest work is ahead of him.

“The concepts of ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’ and ‘Church’ [books] were clearly God-given to Rick Warren, and the 7 million or more ‘Life’ books already in circulation along with the million or so ‘Purpose-Driven Church’ books sold have been just the catalyst to catch the attention of scores of thousands of pastors who might have been languishing in their work heretofore,” Falwell said.

“I would believe that in the next 20 to 30 years, Rick Warren and his vast ministry will be used to sweep millions into the Kingdom,” Falwell added. “I’m thankful that God allowed us to have his ministry at Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DRESS REVERSAL.

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  • Jon Walker