On December 13, 2007, megachurch pastor and Purpose Driven Life author, Rick Warren, spoke to thousands of Jewish leaders at the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) convention in San Diego. This biennial meeting is home of the largest Jewish denomination in North America with an estimated following of 1.5 million.
Interestingly enough, Rick Warren spoke to this Jewish convention on the topic of church growth (er, correction: synagogue growth). Warren, whose Saddleback Community Church has grown from seven to today’s burgeoning membership of 22,000, spoke to a captive audience of prominent rabbis and Jewish leaders representing over 900 synagogues nationwide about how they, too, could better recruit congregants for their own worship services. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “there are some principles [for growing a congregation] that apply regardless of our faith, if it’s Jewish or Christian”. At the conference, Warren shared such deep insights as, “Just be nice to people.” and “Smile”.
Now if you’re having trouble reading between the lines on where my own thoughts are on this issue – let me make them abundantly clear: are you serious?? (Or if I might use the language of the Old Testament, “Oi Vay!” which means “Woe is me!”) That’s like Ulysses S. Grant being asked to share war-time strategy and recruitment tips with Robert E. Lee and his Confederate company. They’re not even fighting on the same side!
Now I’m not saying that Warren shouldn’t have accepted the invitation. I would have. In fact, I would speak at the Vatican or the Annual Convergence of Satanists if given the opportunity. But the difference should be that when God provides God’s man with such an opportunity to speak, we should make it our aim to speak the truth in love and redeem the time. The occasion shouldn’t be wasted by merely talking about good manners, instead the time should be spent talking about the Good News!! I mean, why squander such a tremendous opportunity for sharing the light of the gospel among God’s special people who are living in darkness? Sure, you might not get invited back next year, but is that really what’s most important?!
Can you imagine what Paul or Peter might have said in such a situation? (Oh wait, we don’t have to imagine, we have it recorded for us in the Bible.) Peter would’ve said something like,
“let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel…[that] there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (italics for emphasis, taken from Acts 24:10-12)
Now don’t get me wrong. Judaism is undoubtedly the historical loins from which our faith was birthed. We owe a great deal of our foundation to our mutual forefathers. And this does give us a certain amount of religious common ground. But, as David Hesselgrave points out in his book Paradigms in Conflict, that common ground quickly becomes enemy territory when it comes to the main issue: Jesus. Or as Paul said in Romans 11:28
“From the standpoint of the gospel they [unbelieving Israel] are enemies for your sake…”
And as ministers of the gospel we have not been called to be mere “gurus for the enhancement of other religions” or some kind of “spiritualized Emily Post”. Instead, as heralds of the truth we have a God-given mandate to “preach Christ” and to “preach the Word; in season and out of season”. That means we preach salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone at times when it’s popular but also at times when it’s not so popular, like to hundreds of Jewish rabbis. You see, Paul earlier wrote of Israel in Romans 11 that
“they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.”
But they must first understand, Romans 10:4,
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
And He is the only source of true “growth” – as He said
“apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
Friendlier, smiling rabbis may bring more people into the synagogues, but ultimately it will bring them in to a false religion. Remember, 1 John 2:23 says,
“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father”,
which goes for the modern Jewish community as well. The real question is whether or not believers should be aiding and abetting other religions to recruit followers away from the truth? I think not.
Now, I’m not saying that my dear brother Rick Warren, is all bad. God has and continues to do some tremendous things through his service to our Lord. But this is one occasion that it would’ve been better for the kingdom had he been more “gospel-driven”.
If I’m ever invited to speak to such a group, (which, rest assured, will happen about the same time that Kermit the Frog becomes president) I would gladly accept the invitation. And if so, I might just borrow my opening line from Peter who said,
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene…[whom] you nailed to a cross…and put to death…God raised Him up again…therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified. [Therefore] Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” (taken from Acts 2:22-40)
That’s the message by which God has chosen to “cause the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:7)