A Conversation with Rick Warren
October 11, 2013 Length: 56:55
In this special edition of Lord, Send Me, Fr. John Parker sits down with best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren. They talk about Orthodoxy, evangelism, and the current state of the Evangelical movement.
Mr. John Maddex: Welcome to a special edition of the Lord, Send Me podcast with Fr. John Parker. Fr. John is the chair of the Department of Evangelization for the Orthodox Church in America and the priest at Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Fr. John, what we’re about to hear is an interview you did with Pastor Rick Warren, the well-known author of The Purpose-Driven Life and the pastor of Saddleback Community Church in California. Tell us what you were doing at Saddleback Church, and how did you land this interview?
Fr. John Parker: Well, John, last year in September I was invited to a very small gathering in New York City on marriage and public policy, which was for church leaders, religious leaders from around America, and Pastor Rick was there, a very generous and kind-hearted fellow who went around and greeted everyone by name with a personal handshake and, in many cases, a hug. At that point I met him at the tail-end of that meeting which lasted for a day. I went to him with a couple of gifts: a copy of a book that we call “Alleluia,” which tells about our particular parish, and a photograph of the icon of St. John Chrysostom from the royal doors in our church. Since Rick Warren is a preacher extraordinaire in terms of his audience and his life’s work, I thought it would be appropriate to give him an image of the greatest preacher in the history of Christianity.
With those gifts I greeted him in the name of Metropolitan Jonah. I knew that His Beatitude had begun a conversation with Rick Warren a few years earlier, when both Metr. Jonah and Pastor Rick gave sort of inaugural addresses at the first meeting of the Anglican Church of America in Bedford, Texas, and I had had some conversations with Metr. Jonah about that, and he shared with me that they had begun a conversation wherein Pastor Rick expressed his desire to learn about spiritual formation from an Orthodox perspective, sort of in exchange for sharing with Metr. Jonah about his views and practice of missions and evangelism.
So I took a brief opportunity with my role as the chair of this department to say, “You know, Pastor Rick, if that’s a conversation that you and I could continue, I would be very delighted and humbled to do so,” and he said, “I accept,” as he did in a couple of moments in our podcast. So after a number of months of email correspondence, both with him and then with some of the members of his staff, I was invited to come to Saddleback Church, and that’s how I wound up meeting with him out there.
Mr. Maddex: Yes, and when I found out you were going, I kept badgering you to bring along your tape recorder, and I’m so glad you did.
Fr. John: Indeed. Well, I wondered, you know, if I may say so… I was a little bit hesitant to even ask. Pastor Rick is a—well, what can we say?—he’s the most famous Evangelical pastor in the world, and although I’m usually rather forthright in saying, “Would you mind if we sat down and talked about this?” at your urging I did ask him, and in two minutes he replied to me, “I would love to do so, and in my personal library.”
Mr. Maddex: How did you find your own reception at the church among all of these Evangelicals? You probably stood out a little, right?
Fr. John: Well, it’s true that I stood out. In fact, concurrent with my visit was a conference called, “Exponential.” Exponential is a church-planters’ convention, basically, which normally happens on the East coast, and Saddleback Church offered to host it this year. They had somewhere between 50 and 80 guest speakers, and 2,000 to 2,500 conference attendees, so I was in a sea of church-planters, Evangelical church-planters, and in my black cassock and my gold cross, well, it turns heads. It does. It was an opportunity, as it always is, to break down some barriers and to introduce myself and maybe offer a little bit of insight into the Orthodox world for those who have no or little idea about what the Orthodox Church is.
And then there was actually a pretty remarkable moment when a couple of Pastor Rick’s staff, who were very, very gracious and good to me, we were walking together in the midst of the registration area, and a young fellow—I believe his name was Ryan—came up to me, and he said, “Are you a Catholic priest? An Anglican priest? An Episcopal priest?” I kind of indicated with my hand: keep going, keep going. He said, “Orthodox priest?” I said, “I am an Orthodox priest.” First thing he said: “Do you know Fr. Josiah Trenham?” I said, “In fact, I’m going to see Fr. Josiah tomorrow,” and he was extremely blown away by that.
Then, in a moment of sort of bewilderment and joy at the same time, he said, “Am I correct that if I put my right hand over my left and say, ‘Father, bless,’ you’ll give me a blessing?” And I said, “Well, you know, that is our custom,” so he put his right hand over his left and said, “Father, bless me!” So I gave him a blessing, and he kissed my hand, and that was a cultural experience for all of us, Pastor Rick’s staff looking on, and an opportunity for further conversation after that.
I definitely stuck out in that way, but in terms of the main question—how did I find my reception there—the people that I was hosted by, a lovely family, could not have been more generous and kind. Ann and Len Svensson opened their home to me, a complete stranger. We stayed up every night until midnight, speaking with one another, talking about a thousand things. And then particularly Johnny Montgomery who manages Pastor Rick’s Facebook and social media outlets and so forth: he was, if I could say, my driver, and we spent countless, countless hours together. And his secretary, a wonderful woman. We spent half an afternoon together and ate dinner together. David Chrzan, who is the chief of staff at Saddleback, warmly welcomed me, introduced me to probably 50 people, some of them staff at Saddleback, and others the leaders and speakers at this church-planting conference. Super, super warm hospitality, and very generous souls, not to mention just a chance to make connections with people that I never, ever would have had the opportunity to do otherwise.
Mr. Maddex: We’re going to get to the interview in just a bit, but I’ve just got to find out more from you. How did you find your time with Pastor Rick himself. Tell us a bit about that.
Fr. John: Again—I’ll end up using the same words over and over—supremely warm and personal. Pastor Rick invited me to see his personal library which [is], as he describes in our interview, a 30,000-volume library with relics from all over the world, relics in the sense like he was given Billy Graham’s personal hat to use at the inaugural prayer at President Obama’s inauguration, and really a collection of items from all over the world: a beautiful Ethiopian triptych, for example, was in his office. So he came into the library, greeted me just incredibly warmly—a big, firm handshake and a hug, as if we had known one another for our whole lives—then eagerly took me through his library and showed me all his favorite things. For example, he’s got the busts of both Calvin and Luther and their complete works on bookshelves that face one another. He picked up the bust of each one and said he makes each one kiss and make up whenever he has the opportunity. He’s got the bust of Dante in his fireplace. He’s got a great sense of humor and was very gracious to show me around.
Mr. Maddex: Of course, he recently had this tragic loss in his family with the suicide of his son. I know he references this at the end of the interview, but what has been your observation with how he’s dealt with this loss which was so prominently reported in the media?
Fr. John: Yes. Well, he and his wife both—I had the opportunity to meet Kay, his wife, a very dear and gracious lady—and I think that they both are approaching this with the grief that I cannot begin to imagine as a parent, but yet very, very clearly and soberly, that he—Matthew was his name—Matthew was struggling his whole life with depression and other mental illness. They are taking every opportunity to speak clearly about that and to be advocates for those to find help, people who have children in similar situations.
Mr. Maddex: Just to give us a compass here about who is Rick Warren and the Saddleback Community Church: Is Saddleback part of a denomination, and, if so, which one?
Fr. John: It’s interesting, because I had read Pastor Rick’s book specifically, [The] Purpose-Driven Life, many years ago, and [The] Purpose-Driven Church back when I was in the Episcopal seminary, and it completely did not dawn on me that they’re technically a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The basic theology of Saddleback Church is of Southern Baptist bent, although I will say it seems to me, in my conversations with Pastor Rick and the general theme of life at Saddleback Church, that it is not the sort of stereotypical view of Southern Baptist theology.
Mr. Maddex: So as we listen to this certainly there will be some things that may not line up with our views, but it’s helpful to hear, and I just wonder why you think that, listening to an interview like this: why should we be interested in his thought processes, the interaction of a mega-church Evangelical pastor?
Fr. John: Sure. It’s a very good question, John, and for some reason my recent thinking is really propelled towards these kinds of questions. The truth is that I think we have a tremendous amount to learn from people like Pastor Rick Warren. As a Southern Baptist man, obviously, his views on certain matters of Church life and doctrine are going to differ, and in some places perhaps significantly from ours. Nevertheless, he has a very firm faith in Jesus Christ, and the work that is done at Saddleback, which they do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, is utterly commendable and amazingly impressive.
So I think that one of the things that we can learn from such a conversation and such a visit would be to see the power of vision in a community. He took a vision 25, 30 years ago, and ran with it through lots of prayer and hard work, and the result is a remarkable community that has literally—he showed me a book—planted a church in every nation in the world, which I think they did in the year 2010. They took the Scriptures at their face value. It said, “Go to the ends of the earth.” They made a list of every country on the planet Earth, and in the year 2010, I think two or three thousand members of his church, in small groups of people, went to visit every country on the face of the earth and to start a church there. I think we should be incredibly inspired by that kind of obedience to the written word of God, and hopefully that can light a match under our Orthodox communities, for example.
Mr. Maddex: It should cause us to ask ourselves: What are we doing? How are we evangelizing in any way? Even if we don’t agree with how other people do it, well, then, how are we doing it? Let’s not complain about how other people are doing it; let’s make sure we’re doing something.
Fr. John: Right. One of the things I found most impressive was the open stance that Pastor Rick has about building bridges with other Christians. It certainly can be said today—and is often said—my friend, Fr. Chad Hatfield, for example, says this all the time, that bridges are necessary to be built between various Christian communities on various areas of moral life, for example, even simply the defense of the possibility to be free to believe, no matter what you believe. Pastor Rick is willing to go sort of to the ends of the earth on that one, and that’s inspiring to me.
Mr. Maddex: Let’s listen now together as Fr. John Parker and Pastor Rick Warren chat in the pastor’s library at Saddleback Community Church, and the first thing you’ll hear is Pastor Rick Warren kind of describing the library.
Pastor Rick Warren: Welcome, Fr. John. This is my library. I have about 30,000 volumes. I began reading books, one a day, when I started at 14, and have been collecting. I’ve always been a lover of books. My mother was a librarian at a seminary, and then was a bookstore manager at a seminary, and when she was a bookstore manager, my father got free books often. When I was ordained, my father gave me probably about a thousand of these books.
Fr. John: Mercy!
Pastor Warren: Yeah, so I had a great start. My first book that was ever given to me was Strong’s Concordance, a concordance of the Bible, and the second was Young’s Concordance, so I started with two concordances, and, of course, that makes sense. Then I’ve just always been a fan of books, and, as I have often said—I tell young pastors, you need to divide your reading: 25, 25, 25, 25 percent. 25% in the first 500 years of the Church, then another 25% in the first 1500 years, which takes us up to pretty much Reformation, then 25% in the last 500 years, and usually 25% in the last 100 years. A lot of guys, all they read is contemporary books, and if all you read is contemporary, you’re no smarter than anybody else, because all of the wisdom is in the ages.
Fr. John: Well said.
Pastor Warren: If it’s true, it’s not new.
Fr. John: Amen.
Pastor Warren: Truth is eternal, so if it’s true a thousand years ago, it’s true today, it’ll be true a thousand years from today. Really, we need the deeper roots. One of my biggest complaints for Evangelicals, for charismatics, and for Protestants… And I don’t call myself a Protestant, because I’m not protesting anything; I have more in common with an Orthodox who believes in the authority of Scripture than I do with a liberal Baptist or a liberal Methodist or Presbyterian who denies the authority of Scripture, and things like that. The same thing: I have more in [common] with an Anglican or a Catholic. I’m always trying to tell them, “You guys need to read the giants of the faith. That deepens your roots.”
The word “radical”—I’m trying to bring back the meaning of that. The word “radical” actually comes from the Latin word “radicalis,” and it means “of the root.” A radish—or eradicate, which means to pull out by the root. In every single area of study, “radical” means “rooted.” For instance, in biology, or botany, the radical leaves are the leaves closest to the root. In medicine, radical surgery means to cut the cancer out by the root. It doesn’t mean you just put a band-aid on it. In mathematics, the radical is the root of the equation, and the square root is the radical number. In grammar, the radical is when you remove the [prefixes] and the [suffixes] and you get the root word; that’s the radical of the word. Every area: in chemistry, a free radical means an unpaired electron, which is the most basic thing you can get to. What I’m trying to teach the next generation is: to be truly radical means to go back to the roots.
Fr. John: Amen. That’s beautiful.
Pastor Warren: To be radicalis, we have to go back to the roots. Today, a lot of churches are what I call “tumbleweed” churches. They’re not rooted in the fact that God has been at work in the Church for 2,000 years. Some young pastors act like nothing happened before 1990. You may not know this, but I am actually a podcast subscriber to Ancient Faith Radio.
Fr. John: Thank the Lord.
Pastor Warren: And I actually get Lord, Send Me.
Fr. John: What? I’m delighted to hear that.
Pastor Warren: I’m delighted to be on your podcast.
Fr. John: Well, thank you. It is a great joy to be here with you, Pastor Rick. Maybe it would be helpful, just for a moment, since we didn’t have a formal introduction: This is Fr. John Parker, the chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America, and I’ve had the great joy for these couple of days to be at Saddleback Church… Forgive me, but I don’t remember the town we’re actually in.
Pastor Warren: Lake Forest.
Fr. John: Lake Forest, California. Yesterday Pastor Rick’s staff, Johnny and David and Ann treated me to a great tour of not only the main campus but the beautiful ranch.
Pastor Warren: Isn’t that a great center? Did you meet our spiritual director down there?
Commenter: He wasn’t there.
Pastor Warren: Jamin Goggin is my spiritual director on staff here at the church. He actually grew up at Saddleback Church along with my son, used to swim in my backyard, went off and did his advanced degrees with college and university and seminary, and has co-written a new book called, Reading the Ancients. It’s a terrific book. It’s making the ancients accessible to modern readers, so it gives them in bite-sized pieces, but it’s a good book, printed by InterVarsity Press.
Fr. John: I’d like to see that.
Pastor Warren: He is the spiritual director, and actually he’s doing a retreat this week while we’re doing the conference. It’s a “Surrender” retreat. It’s a very powerful [one]. My family has actually gone through it together.
Fr. John: Amazing.
Pastor Warren: After Matthew, my son, died.
Fr. John: Bless you. Mercy.
Pastor Warren: Thank you.
Fr. John: Tell me, Pastor Rick, an experience of yours. Have you been to an Orthodox church? Have you been to a service someplace? What’s your experience in the Orthodox Church?
Pastor Warren: Well, we’ve had many experiences. There’s a beautiful Orthodox church in Irvine, and I’m actually hoping to go up and see the beautiful cathedral in Los Angeles. As you know, I just got back from Jordan, where I met with 80 Orthodox patriarchs and priests and bishops from Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. It was primarily Arab-speaking leaders, Armenian were there, though, Russian were there, but it was primarily Egypt and Syria and Palestine, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem was there. It was an amazing time.
I’ve actually invited the Patriarch of Russia, Patriarch Kyrill, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem to come to Saddleback before Christmas. I’ve asked them to come and speak to my staff. I haven’t received an answer yet back, but I’ve invited them both to come.
Fr. John: Fascinating. Was that through your visit in Jordan?
Pastor Warren: It was. I’d been wanting to invite them for a long time, because I really believe in building bridges. Years ago, when the new Anglican denomination formed, and Metr. Jonah was there, we just struck up a friendship instantly, and we began to talk about what I felt I could learn from the Orthodox, and he began to talk about what he felt they could learn from the Evangelicals, and we thought, “Let’s be in a matter of prayer on this.”
Fr. John: I recall those days, and Metr. Jonah’s a dear friend of mine, has stayed at my house many times.
Pastor Warren: Oh, he is? Wow.
Fr. John: Perhaps you’ll come to Charleston, South Carolina, one day and stay with us likewise.
Pastor Warren: I accept the invitation.
Fr. John: Tell me, according to the conversation with Metr. Jonah, what would be, in your mind, something that Saddleback or the wider Evangelical world could gain from Orthodox Christianity.
Pastor Warren: The number one thing Evangelicals need to learn from Orthodox is spiritual formation. I would say they can help us on spiritual formation, and we can help them on evangelism. I said, “If you’ll teach me about spiritual formation, I’ll teach you everything I know about reaching contemporary Americans.” I know that. In the last ten years, I’ve baptized 27,000 adult converts.
Fr. John: Mercy!
Pastor Warren: Yeah, almost 3,000 a year for ten years. We’ve got evangelism down. I know how to—I’m a translator—how to take ancient truths and communicate them, like a missionary would. A missionary has to learn the language. Today, we have to learn the language of whatever culture God has called us to. If we’re in America, we have to learn to communicate American. If we’re in China, we have to learn to communicate Chinese. Even in the city, for instance, like in Los Angeles, one block is very different from another block, so there’s no single language in L.A., literally, in physical languages.
When I started Saddleback Church 33 years ago, I had one member—my wife. I preached the first sermon; she said it was too long. It’s been downhill ever since.
Fr. John: You offended your first parishioner.
Pastor Warren: She still says they’re too long. When we started, we were kind of a lily-white, suburban, young urban professional church. Today, Saddleback Church speaks 69 languages.
Fr. John: That’s remarkable.
Pastor Warren: 69 different languages. So we call ourselves an “all-nation congregation,” and we really intentionally reach out to different cultures. That has taught me about: “What’s the best way to say this?” But the process that we use for disciple-making at Saddleback, which is known to the world as “purpose-driven,” there’s absolutely nothing new about “purpose-driven” that hasn’t been done for 2,000 years in historic Christianity. We simply call them catechisms.
For 2,000 years, the Church has been teaching new believers a systematic, sequential process of “you learn this, then you learn this, then you learn this, and then you learn this.” That process—“purpose-driven” is simply a catechism for the 21st century. There’s nothing new about it [at] all. In [The] Purpose-Driven Church, the first book I wrote, 1995, there’s not a single new thought, I think, in that book. I just said it in a new way, and I just said it for a new generation.
The same thing with [The] Purpose-Driven Life. When I wrote [The] Purpose-Driven Life, the six months prior to that, I didn’t read any contemporary books. I went back, and I was reading 500-year-old books and 1,000-year-old books, and I was reading things like Imitation of Christ, and Practice of the Presence of [God] by Brother Lawrence, and St. John of the Cross, and the Desert Fathers, and Athanasian Fathers. I was reading these, and I’m thinking, “How do you create a book that lasts 500 years? or in their case, 2,000? a few thousand years?”
I asked Metr. Jonah to introduce me to some Orthodox works, so I read the great book On the Holy Spirit, and other books, so those are deeply moving to me. I’m filling my mind with ancient faith, and then saying, “How can I say this to somebody who last year was watching MTV?” Do you know what I’m saying?
Fr. John: I do know what you’re saying. It’s a vital question for us to answer.
After David served God’s purpose in his generation, he died.
That’s a strange verse, but if you think about it, it actually says he served God’s purpose in his generation. He did the timeless in a timely way. He served God’s purpose, that which never changes, but he did it in his generation, which is constantly changing.
I want to do the timeless in a timely way, and I want to do the eternal in a relevant way, and I can only serve God’s purpose in my generation. In other words, I can read books from 100, 500, or a thousand years ago, but I can’t serve in that generation, because I’m not in it. I can’t even serve in the next generation, the one that comes after me. I can only do it in mine. I’m a Baby Boomer. So how do I serve God’s purpose, which is eternal, timeless, never changes, in my generation, which is not eternal; it’s timely, contemporary. I really do look at myself as a translator.
Fr. John: Yes, I see that. Can I ask you kind of a difficult question?
Pastor Warren: Sure.
Fr. John: What is your view of the Church, and, related to that, if you’ve read these early works that so inspire you, what is your view of the Church?
Pastor Warren: My view of the Church is there’s one holy, catholic Church. We subscribe to the creeds. In fact, I’ve taught the creeds. I’ve done series on the creeds at Saddleback Church. We actually covered every one of them. The Church is the living Body of Christ. It is past, present, and future. It is the only thing that’s going to last. In fact, the Bible says that God created the universe for the Church. The Bible says in Ephesians that before the foundations of the earth, he had us in mind. God wanted a family. He wanted a family. God wanted children to share his love. The Bible says that God is love; it doesn’t say that he has love. It says he is love; it is his nature and his essence.
God made us to love us. God didn’t need us. He’s not lonely. God is actually in a relationship to himself in the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit models love. The only reason there’s love in the universe is because God is love. The only reason I’m able to love my wife, my children, and others, and to even love God is because I was made in God’s image. God is love.
But the Bible says very clearly that we were created as objects of God’s love, and he wants us to be in his family. Romans 8:28-29, to me, are crucial to my theology. Romans 8:28, one of the most famous verses in the Bible:
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
But it doesn’t make sense until you read verse 29:
For those he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, that Christ might be the firstborn among many brethren.
In other words, God wanted a family. Now, we’re not going to be gods. We’re not going to be even little gods. That’s the oldest temptation; Satan came and said, “You’ll be little gods.” I’m never going to be a god; I’m not even going to be a mini-me god, but God wants me to be godly. He wants me to be like Christ.
So the whole purpose of the universe is the Church. It is the Church. It is universal, but it is also local. While I believe that there are various expressions of it, it’s kind of like, in my family—I have five in my family—not one of us agree on the same type of music, but we’re still family. I actually think that God loves variety. I do. I am not in favor of everybody being in one denomination. I actually, for me, there’s strength in diversity in that it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. I look at this from a missionary viewpoint, from an evangelism viewpoint. I look at it and say, “Different kinds of emphasis.”
For instance, in worship, some people need a very structured worship. They come to God through the liturgy. They find God in the liturgy. There are other people who need a totally emotional service. They literally are running around the aisles, hands waving, and they’re shouting, and things like that. Then there [is] every experience in between. To me, what is the definition of biblical worship? What Jesus said: we must worship him in Spirit and in truth. When he’s talking about Spirit there, I think he’s talking about a capital /S/, Holy Spirit. I think he’s talking about in our spirit. I think he’s saying we must worship God authentically and theologically. It must be devotional, and it must be doctrinal. It must be both at the same time. Doctrine without emotion can be dry; emotion without doctrine can be heresy!
Fr. John: That’s true.
Pastor Warren: To me, as long as worship is done in Spirit and in truth, Christ is honored, the Spirit is present, I believe in true worship, God’s presence is felt, God’s power is displayed, God’s word is taught, God’s grace is offered. These, to me, are the acts of real worship. But when it comes to style, it’s kind of like… well, there are all kinds of style. Having been around the world, I’ve discovered that genuine worship in Africa is very different [from] genuine worship in Japan, and genuine worship in Latvia is very different [from] Buenos Aires. And even as I would go back to Los Angeles, I could take you down four blocks, four churches, in different styles.
What I think God wants is unity without uniformity. This is a deep conviction of mine, that we must have unity as brothers in Christ. Catholic brothers, Orthodox brothers… See, the problem is in America, most Orthodox… People don’t realize that Orthodox is the second-greatest “brand” in Christianity. In other words, 300 million Orthodox around the world, but because they don’t have as strong a foothold in America, people don’t know what a powerful force the various branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church have preserved the Gospel, preserved the Church, and preserved basic doctrine for 2,000 years.
Fr. John: Yes, indeed. Tell me: when we were speaking a few moments ago, before we started to record this, you said that the Evangelicals are lacking the mystery.
Pastor Warren: I do.
Fr. John: Say a little bit about your thoughts on that.
Pastor Warren: I was brought up in a Baptist background, which, in a Baptist background, in worship, it’s all about the sermon. It’s not about communion, the Lord’s table. It’s not about the sacraments. It’s about the word. Even while there’s music and there’s singing and things like that, the main part of the worship is the word. I think many Evangelicals reacted to both liturgical churches and to what I would call emotional churches, maybe more on the charismatic side, and they would take the life out. In many places, it could be a head-knowledge service, where it’s simply: I hear the word, and then I go and I practice it. James 1:21-22: “Be doers of the word, not hearers only.” There’s a value to that.
But there’s great mystery in the Church. There’s mystery in the elements of communion. There’s mystery in baptism. There’s mystery in the Gospel, and the Bible talks about this. I also think that Protestants, when they were reacting to what may have been some true excesses of the Catholic Church in the 1500s, went to the extreme and got rid of a lot of helpful worship aids: icons and pictures and symbols.
Fr. John: Yes, I saw one of Holy Ascension today.
Pastor Warren: Exactly. Those kind of things are aids. Here’s my belief. I believe that the Eastern Orthodox Church particularly, and also Catholics, could see a revival in America, because the new generation is craving more mystery. I see this in the next generation. What has been derisively referred to as “smells and bells,” they’re saying, “Where is that?”
Fr. John: Do you think that’s something that, if I would be so bold… Can I come to Saddleback sometime and teach your people about that?
Pastor Warren: Absolutely. Absolutely you can. Actually, we have experimented. Saddleback Church is so big, we can’t all fit in one building.
Fr. John: I saw that yesterday. Amazing.
Pastor Warren: What we have is: our church now is in about 12 locations and about 45 services, because it’s spread out. Last Sunday, for instance, we had about 25,000 people in worship. Our largest auditorium seats about 3,200, so you obviously can’t put those there. We actually have not only different locations, but we also have different styles of worship, and we have a more meditative service; we have an acoustic service; we used to have a service which needs new leadership now, called “Passion,” which really moved more toward the mystery, and it was a Sunday evening service.
It’s interesting, because the Saddleback background, the number-one background is former Catholic. The number-two background at Saddleback is former nothing. In other words, no church background at all. Then we’ve got every kind of other things. Because California was founded by the Spanish missionaries, so there’s a great Catholic influence in California. I mean, I’m 13 miles away from Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded by Fr. Serra in 1776. So that church was there when America was writing the Declaration of Independence. So that’s a very old… That’s roots.
Fr. John: That’s right. We have a similar church. The Orthodox Church came to North America two ways. The first way was in 1794 from missionaries through Alaska. Actually, they came down from Alaska into California.
Pastor Warren: Across the Aleutian Islands?
Fr. John: Yeah, it’s a remarkable story. I’ll share a little something before I go. I’ve got something to give you. Then, down through Fort Ross.
Pastor Warren: I’ve been to Fort Ross. I actually grew up in that area. It’s called Mendocino County, and Fort Ross was a Russian enclave.
Fr. John: Right, so the Orthodox Church actually came to America from Russia, into Alaska, and down into California and was likewise, 1794, just after the Constitution.
Pastor Warren: That’s amazing. I grew up about 40 miles from Fort Ross.
Fr. John: Fascinating discussion. I’m very grateful for this. May I continue with a few more questions?
Pastor Warren: Sure. Anything you want to ask.
Fr. John: Recently… Well, I have met some fascinating people yesterday who are here for the Exponential conference. So last night we had supper at the ranch, and many of the speakers were there, [and I] got a chance to meet some of them. Across that whole spectrum, because they surely represent a spectrum of Evangelical and other churches, there’s constant reference to a biblical church. Maybe you would say to someone where there’s not a Saddleback campus, for example, “Find a biblical church and get plugged in.” What does a biblical church mean from your perspective?
Pastor Warren: It’s the word and the sacraments, but it’s also more than that. One of the reasons I call our church a “purpose-driven” church is [that] I believe that there are five purposes for the church. I didn’t make these up; they are in Scripture. They are modeled in Acts 2 in the New Testament example of a Jerusalem church. By the way, when people talk about the New Testament Church, it’s kind of a misnomer, because it’s the New Testament “churches.” Corinth was very different [from] Antioch.
Fr. John: That’s true.
Pastor Warren: Philippi was very different [from] Jerusalem. To say “the New Testament Church”—which one are you talking about, because they really did have different expressions. But to be biblical, as I said, we see these five purposes, I see them modeled in Acts 2. I see Jesus praying them in John 17, when he gives a report to the Father and he tells what he did with the disciples in the past. You go to look, and there are these five things. “I gave them my word, I protected them,” there’s all these things. Paul explains them in Ephesians 4, these five purposes, but they are, to me, best expressed in two passages of Scripture: the great commandment and the great commission. When I started Saddleback, I asked the Lord to give me a slogan that would summarize kind of what we were going to do, what we would be built on, and the phrase that I felt inspired by the Spirit to start was:
A great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission will grow a great church.
We find the five purposes in those two verses. There are actually five verbs, and while they’re modeled in Acts, 2, Jesus prayed in John 17, and explained in Ephesians 4, and shown all through the Scriptures, you can find them best expressed in the great commandment, great commission.
One day Jesus is walking down the street and he says, “Lord, what’s the most important thing to do?” And Jesus says, “I’ll summarize the Bible in two sentences.” [CliffsNotes] on the Bible. “All the Law, all the Prophets are summed up in this: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
I believe these are the first two purposes of the Church: worship and ministry. Loving God with all your heart—another word for that in the Bible is worship. Worship is simply expressing our love for God, whether I am by myself in a quiet time, in a small group, or in a corporate worship service, worship is telling God how much I love him. Worship is expressing my love to God, and any time I’m expressing my love to God, it can be an act of worship. I could wash dishes to the glory of God.
Fr. John: That’s true, and you should, as we all should.
Pastor Warren: Exactly. So anytime what I’m doing I’m doing out of love for God, that is an act of worship. This is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1-2). This is your reasonable act of worship. The first purpose of the Church is worship. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In fact, when Jesus deals with temptation, he says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord your God, and him only thou shalt serve.” Worship always comes before service. Worship comes first. It’s the first purpose of the Church. If a church isn’t worshiping, they’re not a church; they’re a social club. Love God with all your heart: that’s the first purpose of the Church.
And then he says, “And love your neighbor as yourself.” Anytime I’m expressing love to another person, that’s service or ministry. Jesus says, “If you give a cup of cold water in my name…”
Fr. John: Yes, he did.
Pastor Warren: That counts. So I believe that the great commandment is about worship and service: loving God and loving others as yourself. Then the Bible says, “How can I say I love my neighbor if I leave him cold?” So it’s practical. It’s service. So we get service or ministry and worship from the great commandment.
Then in the great commission, it says, “Go make disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And teach them to do everything I’ve commanded you.” We believe these are the other three purposes of the Church. Or we call them discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism. “Go make disciples”—that’s evangelism. “Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then teach them to do what I’ve commanded you”—that’s education or discipleship or edification. “Teach them to do…”
Why does God put baptism right between the twin goals of evangelism and discipleship? Because of what it represents. We’re not just believers; we’re belongers. Baptism as a Baptist believes is a symbol of salvation. I know Acts 2:38, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sin.” For 2,000 years, Christians have debated the meaning of “for.” In other words, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sin.” Some would take the “for” meaning not to get salvation but to show salvation. In other words, if I “weep for joy,” I don’t weep to get joy; I weep because I have joy, I weep for joy. Christians have debated that for a long time, but the bottom line is I can’t imagine…
Fr. John: Not 2,000 years. About 500 I’ll give you. I’ll give you 500, but not 2,000.
Pastor Warren: Yeah, but I was saying this. I can’t imagine anybody repenting and not getting baptized.
Fr. John: Amen.
Pastor Warren: If you haven’t been baptized, you haven’t repented.
Fr. John: Right.
Pastor Warren: So to me, it’s a moot point, but I do know that churches have split over one word.
Fr. John: Isn’t that the truth! And far smaller things than words.
Pastor Warren: And smaller things than one word. But baptism is not just part of our salvation. It’s part of our incorporation. We are brought into the Body of Christ.
Fr. John: We would say it is the beginning of the entrance into the kingdom.
Pastor Warren: I love that.
Fr. John: In fact, if I may take a moment and say: in our church, which I do hope to have the honor to show you one day, our church building is built on the ancient cruciform shape. It’s a Byzantine-style church, inspired by sixth century. Our baptismal font… It was so beautiful to see your Spanish-tile–lined font, lined all around. Our baptismal font is in the narthex of the church, the vestibule, because in the ancient days, actually, the baptismal font was in a different building…
Pastor Warren: A different building!
Fr. John: ...and they were processed to the church. But what we did was: we put it in the narthex which represents the world. When we begin to baptize, first we ask about accepting Christ, then we have the person face West, which is away from Christ.
Pastor Warren: Wow. It’s a witness to the world.
Fr. John: Jesus, his name is Orient, so facing the East is to face Christ; facing the West is to face the direction of the prodigal, away from the Father. And [facing West,] to spit on the devil.
Pastor Warren: Wow.
Fr. John: And then, in our particular church—it’s not this way in every church, but we did this very intentionally—the adults are baptized under the floor of the church, as if a burial.
Pastor Warren: It’s a burial! Because it’s a symbol of a burial!
Fr. John: Yes. And then the last step out of the baptismal font is literally the threshold between the narthex (the world) and the nave (the Church). So the first step of a new Christian out of the font is into the Church.
Pastor Warren: I love that. This is a beautiful symbolism that’s often missed. So we say, as I was saying, that baptism is not just part of our salvation. It’s actually part of our fellowship, the incorporation. It’s a symbol of incorporation into the Body of Christ. So we take out of the great commission: evangelism, discipleship, and fellowship; that baptism is an indication of “I’m in the fellowship; I’m in the family.”
Fr. John: We take it in the same way.
Pastor Warren: We take that symbol very seriously as part of our fellowship. We say, “Worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and evangelism are the five purpose[s] of the Church.” And we get them from the great commandment and the great commission. So when you ask me, “What is a biblical church?” I would say, “Is the church worshiping? Is the church fellowshiping? Is the church discipling? Is the church ministering? And is the church evangelizing?”
Fr. John: I see.
Pastor Warren: I would look for all five of those, regardless of what the name says on it.
Fr. John: Maybe in another conversation—I know your time is tight, and you’re very gracious to give me as much as you have—maybe we can talk about apostolicisty on another occasion, and the relationship between those five purposes, which as you… I couldn’t argue that those, that they are there, but the link between those things and what I would call the relationship across time and geography.
Pastor Warren: Exactly. I’ll close with this, because Evangelicals today are always looking around, saying, “Where are our apostles?” They’re always asking that because they came out of a disconnected, severed from the tree, severed from the root…
Fr. John: Back to your “radical” word.
Pastor Warren: Exactly. I made a joke about this when I was with all the patriarchs in Amman, because I said I was asked to chair this and to convene this, and I thought, “I don’t know why I’m the one convening it, because I said: The congregation I pastor is only 33 years old. I’m the youngest pup in the room.” I said, “Okay, you guys can trace your lineage back 2,000 years directly.
Fr. John: If you met Patriarch Theophilos, he is the successor to James in Acts 15.
Pastor Warren: All the way back. So that’s a missing… And I think even Evangelicals today are saying, “Well, so, where are the [apostles]?” The Bible says God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, things like that. They’d say, “We know we’ve got the pastors, teachers. We know we’ve got the evangelists. We might have some prophets, but where are the apostles?”
Fr. John: Mercy, yes.
Pastor Warren: It’s a good question.
Fr. John: Yes. Well, it’s my great joy to be with you, Pastor Rick.
Pastor Warren: Thank you, Father.
Fr. John: And an honor for me to see this beautiful library, to have some time with you, to hear your views personally, face to face. I sincerely extend an invitation for you to come to Charleston on some occasion.
Pastor Warren: I accept it, and I will come see you.
Fr. John: I do hope that this could be a friendship, or at least a discussion that we could continue on some occasion.
Pastor Warren: You know what? It’s a wonderful bridge, and if I can help Evangelicals and charismatics and even a lot of these independent churches realize the connections to the Church historically, and to say, “Okay, you guys, you’re missing the richness of 2,000 years…”
Fr. John: Well, thank you, my friend.
Pastor Warren: God bless you.
Fr. John: I keep you and your wife and your family in my prayers.
Pastor Warren: Let me just say to those who listen to the podcast, a personal note. Many of you know that six months ago my son died. He was struggling with mental illness his entire life. My wife was pregnant with our last child 27 years ago, and she got a very rare disease that put a rash over her whole body, that she could not get out of bed for months, could not even have anything touching her, no sheet over her body, couldn’t have that at all, couldn’t even get out of bed to go to the bathroom, for months.
During that pregnancy, I had three fears going. One, will my wife live through this? Number two, will the baby live? Then number three was: will the baby be healthy? Kay did live and Matthew did live, but the baby wasn’t healthy, and Matthew struggled his entire life with mental illness. He had a very tender heart, very strong, Christ-like character; knew Jesus from an early age, led many people to Christ. Tender heart, tortured mind. Probably ten years ago, when he was 17, he came to me and said, “Dad, I know I’m going to heaven when I die. I know Jesus. It’s very obvious that my pain’s not going away, that I’m not going to get well. We’ve gone to the best doctors, Mayo Clinic. I’ve gone to prayer, medicine, therapy, everything possible. I’m not any better. Why can’t I just die and go to heaven?” That kind of rips your heart out as a father.
Fr. John: I can’t even imagine.
Pastor Warren: I said, “Matthew, I know you feel like giving up, but I cannot give up and I will not give up and I have hope.” He lasted another ten years before he took his life one night, and really it was just in a moment of depression. He’d been at my home that night, and we had had a good time, watched TV, laughed, joked, and actually went home. He said he had a new job, said he had a date this weekend. He lived in his own house, and just in a fit of depression…
You know, I probably received, Fr. John, maybe 30,000 letters from people who expressed [condolences] because I’ve had a lot of influence over pastors. But the letters that meant the most to me were not the VIPs. I mean, I received letters from presidents, hand-written notes from several U.S. presidents, and prime ministers, but the ones that meant the most to me were letters from people that Matthew had led to faith in Christ. I wrote in my journal that day, “In God’s garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruit, and there will be people in heaven [whom] my mentally ill son had led to faith in Christ.”
That’s been a great comfort to me, but I just wanted to thank those… Many people prayed for me in many churches all over America, and I just wanted to say thank you to them.
Fr. John: Yes, indeed, and you and your wife and your son remain in our prayers.
Pastor Warren: Thank you so much.
Fr. John: God be with you, my friend.
Pastor Warren: Great. God bless you.
Mr. Maddex: We’re back in the studio now with Fr. John Parker. Fr. John, that was a fascinating interview.
Fr. John: It was fascinating and beautiful to be there with Pastor Rick, indeed.
Mr. Maddex: Were you surprised to hear about his interaction with the various Orthodox hierarchs?
Fr. John: You know, I was not surprised, actually, because one of the benefits of having met Pastor Rick a year ago and begun or continued a conversation with him was that he now has, if he didn’t before, a sort of active connection to the Orthodox Church, specifically with respect to the summit that he attended in Jordan that he mentioned in our discussion. He contacted me in August and said, “I’ve been invited to this event. Can you please help me get introduced to the Orthodox participants?” so that he will have some contacts when he gets there, not knowing any of them.
Very graciously, Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, who’s the Director of External Affairs for the Orthodox Church in America, he had a number of contacts there himself, and so, working together with Fr. Leonid, we were able to put him in touch with some folks who would help him meet those Orthodox Christians, and therefore I knew that he was going to that, and I was very grateful to hear how that turned out, and quite surprised, actually, that he’s invited both the patriarch of Jerusalem and the patriarch of Moscow to come to Saddleback before Christmas. It would be interesting to see what comes of that.
Mr. Maddex: Yes, it will. We’ll kind of keep an eye on that for sure. So you’re sitting there, you’re having this conversation, and you’re talking about the ecclesiology, you’re talking theology, baptism, et cetera. How did you feel about his comments? I’m just going to focus in on his comments about the nature of the Church, just to see how you process that.
Fr. John: You know, both he and I know going in, as should, I think, everyone who listens to this podcast, no matter what church background they may come from, that an Orthodox Christian and an Evangelical pastor are going to have differing views on these things. So that’s no surprise to me at all. I went to Saddleback Church to ask him specifically, “Tell me about your views on these things.” So that’s what I asked him and that’s what we heard. Obviously, we differ in a number of areas, and we might even agree that we differ on some critical areas, but it’s important to be able to state those things and, well, to start a conversation. Let’s put it that way.
Mr. Maddex: Well, thank you for doing this, Fr. John. It was enlightening to say the least, and we, of course, commend Rick Warren for the time and attention and respect that he gave you.
Fr. John: It was my sincere joy to be able to visit Saddleback. I don’t know in what format I might be able to… Perhaps on another edition of this podcast, I might speak a little bit about my impressions, things that I saw, areas where we can really learn from a place like Saddleback Church, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity, and it really was indeed a great gift that Pastor Rick gave to me, of his time, his interest, and his sincere commentary on what he does there.
So if you’re listening, Pastor Rick, I thank you publicly.
Mr. Maddex: You’ve been listening to a special edition of the Lord, Send Me podcast with Fr. John Parker. Fr. John is the chair of the Department of Evangelization for the Orthodox Church in America.
"This ministry is such a blessing to us. We live in an area where there are literally only a dozen or so Orthodox Christians, and staying connected to the worldwide community this way helps us daily in our faith walk. Thank you!"