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Rick Warren dispels rumors, says church committed to SBC

EDITORS’ NOTE: In response to recent stories by some media that Rick Warren has distanced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention, Warren contacted Baptist Press, prompting the following report.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Author and pastor Rick Warren said in a series of communications with Baptist Press, Aug. 22-23, that he and his church remain committed to the Southern Baptist Convention, despite rumors to the contrary that began when he participated in a question and answer session with reporters in May.

The author of the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life,” Warren called the rumors “nonsense” and “completely untrue.”

“I’m Southern Baptist, our church is Southern Baptist, and we cooperate in SBC missions support at every level both in the United States and with our IMB [International Mission Board] missionaries around the world,” Warren told Baptist Press.

In May Warren appeared at an event in Key West, Fla., sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. A transcript was posted online. According to the transcript, Warren was asked: “Your church is not a Baptist church?”

The transcript had him responding: “No -– it was. In the early years, when we first got started, it was a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. One out of ten churches in America is an SBC church, and the reason the denomination’s so big is that every church is totally independent. The denomination has no control over it. So basically we cooperated with them in their missions program, but now we’re doing our own missions program.”

Warren, though, told BP he misunderstood the question, believing instead he was being asked if his church, Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., was “identified” as a Baptist church. Saddleback does not have the word “Baptist” in its name.

“I told her ‘no’ because we’ve never put Baptist in our name,” Warren told BP. “Later, reading the transcript, I realized the question was, ‘Is Saddleback not a Baptist church?’ Any public person who is frequently interviewed will eventually say something he didn’t mean, or intend, or even believe, out of confusion. But for 25 years our church has been involved in the SBC at the association, state, and national level.”

Despite his answer at the Pew event, Warren said, Saddleback has indeed partnered with various Southern Baptist entities over the years, and continues to do so. Saddleback partnered with LifeWay Christian Resources in managing the “shipping logistics” for churches participating in the “40 Days of Purpose” focus, Warren said. The church partnered with the North American Mission Board in the “early development” of the Nehemiah Project, he said, and has teamed up with the International Mission Board in various ways.

“[W]e’ve partnered with the IMB and field missionaries literally all around the world — doing purpose driven training, staffing mission meetings, hosting the [IMB] regional leaders and their wives for a week at Saddleback, and now as we are testing the prototype of our global P.E.A.C.E. plan., the IMB has been so supportive, so helpful with expertise, and so wonderfully helpful,” he said.

The P.E.A.C.E. plan calls for churches worldwide to mobilize a billion Christians to eradicate five “giant problems” that plague people throughout the world — spiritual and physical poverty, “selfish leadership,” disease and “ignorance.”

At the state level, Warren said, Saddleback has assisted “dozens of state executive directors” and “state evangelism directors” in training pastors and church planters.

Being a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, Warren said, has allowed his church to do things it could not do by itself.

“I love the fellowship and cooperation that allows us to do larger projects together that no single church could do on its own,” he said. “You must be a part of a larger network if you’re serious about the Great Commission.”

Warren added he “love[s] the fact that historically the SBC has emphasized God’s five purposes” for the church, “as listed in the Great Commandment and Great Commission.” The five purposes, Warren said, are worship, ministry, evangelism, baptizing and discipleship.

“It’s not enough to believe God’s inerrant Word — we must obey it and act on it and live it,” Warren said.

The autonomy churches enjoy within the SBC also has been a plus for Saddleback, he said.

“What we’ve done at Saddleback could never have happened in most denominations because of their hierarchical controls,” he said.

Warren, though, doesn’t agree with everything Southern Baptists do. He told BP the SBC’s 2004 vote to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance was a “major mistake.” He spoke at the BWA’s Centenary Congress this summer in Birmingham, England.

But Warren said he is fully behind the SBC’s effort to have churches witness to, win and baptize one million people in one year.

“I thank God for Bobby’s challenge for personal evangelism,” Warren said, referring to SBC President Bobby Welch. “The problem with many churches is that they begin with the wrong question. They ask, ‘What will make our church grow?’ This is a mistake. Instead they should be asking, ‘What is keeping our church from growing?’ All living things grow. You don’t have to make them grow. If they are healthy, they grow automatically. Since the church is a living organism, it is natural for it to grow. It is unnatural for it not to grow.”

Warren said he is “very hopeful” that Southern Baptists can reverse years of minimal growth. He said he gets “thousands of e-mails” each week from people and churches who have been impacted by 40 Days of Purpose.

“Revival and renewal always starts at the local church level,” he said. “It never starts as a national or denomination program.”

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  • Michael Foust