TWO EVENTS took place the weekend of August 16-17, 2008 that Christians should mark well. They herald nothing less than the march of American evangelicals down a road that culminates in the ascendancy of the Antichrist.
The first event was the televised “Saddleback Civil Forum”, hosted by Rick Warren, arguably the most recognizable and popular evangelical pastor in America. Warren, author of the best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, managed to bring presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain together for a nationally televised (on two cable news networks) forum.
Many evangelicals watched the event to see how the candidates responded to Warren’s questions on faith and politics and a sea of virtual ink has been spilled debating the candidates’ answers. However, the most important question of the night was never asked: Doesn’t a minister of the gospel, especially one responsible for the 22,000 souls who attend his church, have anything better to do than inject himself into a political campaign?
The answer should be clear: Yes, he does. That the question hasn’t crossed the minds of most evangelicals is the real story of the Saddleback Civil Forum.
Jesus called His disciples to be in the world, not of it. In fact, He made it clear that being in, not of, the world was not the way to win friends and influence people:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…“
(John 15:18-20, ESV)
Jesus was crucified for his preaching. Rick Warren is a New York Times best-selling author who gets a couple hours of live simultaneous prime-time coverage on two competing cable news networks. Think on that.
The political realm is familiar territory for Pastor Warren, who hobnobbed with the rich and famous at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2006 and again this year. He’s addressed the United Nations, the African Union, the Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, TED (the Technology Entertainment Design conference), and TIME’s Global Health Summit.
Warren has recently signed on as a member of the Advisory Council to Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, an ecumenical organization that intends to unite the Abrahamic faiths — Muslim, Christian, and Jew — in advancing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Those eight goals are:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development
Noble goals, to be sure, but we followers of Christ must remember that the Great Commission was to preach the gospel to the ends of the Earth. We were never commanded to partner with earthly governments to redistribute wealth. And let’s be honest: all eight of the MDGs ultimately involve taking money from taxpayers and giving them to government.
To achieve these noble goals, Warren has launched his global PEACE plan, which aspires to:
• Promote reconciliation
• Equip servant leaders
• Assist the poor
• Care for the sick
• Educate the next generation
It’s significant that Warren changed the “P”. In his original PEACE plan, P stood for “Plant churches”. Presumably, that didn’t go over too well with some of Warren’s prospective partners in global development.
Now, it’s pretty easy to understand why Rick Warren softened the gospel message at his Civil forum last Saturday night. If he’d talked about Christ and Him crucified, he would never have been granted a two hour national simulcast. The programming gurus at Fox News and CNN knew he’d steer clear of the gospel and so they had no fear of featuring “America’s most influential pastor” in a prime time broadcast. But why would Warren water down the gospel message with his global outreach?
Simply, Warren treats church as a business. One of his mentors was the late management consultant Peter Drucker. So for Warren, it’s all about results, measured by tangible, quantifiable actions. In his own words: “The first Reformation was about beliefs. This one needs to be about behavior.… We’ve had a Reformation; what we need now is a transformation.”
In other words, rather than reaching out to the world with a message about beliefs essential to eternal salvation, Warren preaches a gospel of changing the world now. And that is what the old-timers called heresy.
Which is where last weekend’s second big event comes in. While overshadowed by Warren’s political forum, it’s no less significant in what it represents.
An estimated 50,000 people converged on Washington, D.C., for “TheCall”, twelve hours of fasting and praying for God’s forgiveness on a nation that’s turned away from His holiness. Like Warren’s PEACE plan, it sounds noble. But look beneath the surface.
TheCall is the work of Lou Engle, who was inspired by the Promise Keepers’ 1997 “Stand in the Gap” gathering on the Mall in D.C. Since then, he’s organized TheCall DC and a number of regional gatherings aimed at bringing young people together in a nascent “Joel’s Army” through “prayer furnaces” and an invitation for young people to become modern-day Nazirites (see Numbers 6:1-21), in clear disobedience of Christ’s command against swearing vows (Matthew 5:37).
12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.
18 Then the LORD became jealous for his land
and had pity on his people.
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
(Excerpts from Joel 2, ESV)
This is a classic example of proof texting. First, the apostle Peter said that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21). And while it’s true that prophecy often has dual fulfillments, it’s clear that the events Joel describes refer to the “day of the Lord”, which prophecy scholars identify with a future divine cataclysm that immediately precedes the Second Coming.
The prophecy also refers to Israel, an inconvenient truth for Engle and his supporters. And the command to weep and pray “between the vestibule and the altar” is directed to “the priests, the ministers of the LORD”, not kids aged 14 to 24.
So what’s the purpose of TheCall? It’s patriotic dominionism, a call to the youth of America to reclaim their country from the evils of secularism, paganism, and especially abortion, in disturbingly military terms.
To many Christians, this sounds a like a good thing, a way to engage youths and young adults who are the principal targets of the peddlers of our culture of death. Wrong; it’s a conflation of Old Testament prophecy and modern military jargon with an emphasis on prophetic “words” from self-proclaimed seers who keep getting it wrong (which, under Mosaic Law, would be a death sentence).
We’re known by the company we keep, and Lou Engle is no exception. His advisory board includes:
• Rick Joyner (Morning Star Ministries), who shared his vision of God’s kingdom:
The kingdom of God will not be socialism, but a freedom even greater than anyone on earth knows at this time. At first it may seem like totalitarianism, as the Lord will destroy the antichrist spirit now dominating the world with “the sword of His mouth” and will shatter many nations like pottery. However, fundamental to His rule is II Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Instead of taking away liberties and becoming more domineering, the kingdom will move from a point of necessary control while people are learning truth, integrity, honor, and how to make decisions, to increasing liberty so that they can. (Emphasis mine.)
• Che Ahn (Harvest Rock International), under whom Engle served as associate pastor, and C. Peter Wagner (Global Harvest Ministries), who appeared together onstage June 23 to “align” themselves with charismatic evangelist Todd Bentley, who believes the Holy Spirit ordered him to “leg drop” a pastor, “clothesline” a man hoping for a miraculous healing, and kick an elderly woman in the face with his biker boot during worship services. At the very least, this calls into question the discernment of Ahn and Wagner — and, of course, Engle for requesting their advice.
• Cindy Jacobs, whose prophetic ministry, “Generals International”, perpetuates the use of military terminology for theological concepts.
• Chuck Pierce (Glory of Zion International Ministries), another self-proclaimed prophet, whose teachings appear to draw more from astrology and Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) than the Bible.
But lest you think TheCall’s support comes exclusively from Christianity’s charismatic fringe, consider that the Lou Engle’s advisory board also includes such recognized mainstream figures as Gary Bauer (former presidential candidate and president of the Family Research Council), Tony Perkins (current president of the FRC), Coach Bill McCartney (founder of Promise Keepers), Dr. Alveda King (niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.), Rod Parsley, Luis Palau, Steve Douglas (president of Campus Crusade), actor Stephen Baldwin, musicians Ricky Skaggs and Michael W. Smith, and others. Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was a member of the board before his very public fall from grace.
Perkins and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee were featured speakers at TheCall DC last week, so writing this off as a fringe event underestimates its growing influence with evangelical power brokers. Next stop for Engle is San Diego, to organize voters for Proposition 8, the gay-marriage ban on the California ballot in November. In this, Engle’s political activism echoes that of established evangelicals like Pat Robertson, Dr. James Dobson, and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, but with a cooler website.
Here is the heart of the matter: Lost in all of the political dealings of Lou Engle and Rick Warren is the simple gospel message of sin and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Oh, most evangelicals assume it’s in there somewhere, amidst all the talk of Nazirite vows and goals to eliminate poverty, but in the dominionist theology of Engle and Warren, grace is replaced by “purity”, reformation by transformation, and doctrine by deeds.
Grace? That’s so 18th century.
We’re on a dangerous road, the same path traveled by our ancestors in the faith nearly 1,700 years ago. American Christians are tempted to see good in what appears to be the growing influence of Jesus Christ in the political realm. Similarly, most 4th century Christians were convinced that the Emperor Constantine’s decision to legalize the faith was an act of God, and Theodosius the Great’s decree to make Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire was seen as further evidence of God’s power.
After 300+ years of often brutal persecution, that’s an understandable reaction. Instead of God’s kingdom on Earth, however, state support of Christianity spawned the grasping hierarchy, worldly excesses, and extra-biblical doctrines of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Why should we expect any better from a 21st century marriage of church and state?
The emphasis by Warren and Engle and their supporting ministries on producing quantifiable changes in the here and now, rather than storing up treasures in heaven through individual witnessing, has produced a profound shift — a word that keeps turning up during my research into the growing stream of New Age thought in American evangelicalism — away from orthodox Christian doctrine by our most influential pastors. Political power is sought because it’s necessary to bring about God’s kingdom now. Don’t worry; it will only seem like totalitarianism at first, until we re-educate all those rebellious unbelievers. (In its most extreme forms, dominionists actually believe that Jesus cannot return until we “take dominion” of the Earth, which makes it easier to justify the means.)
Ultimately, this dominionist heresy will lead many professing Christians to welcome the Antichrist as one of their own.
Bear in mind that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light”. If American evangelicals are so lacking in discernment that thousands swallow Todd Bentley’s demon-inspired histrionics as the work of the Holy Spirit, and tens of millions buy into Warren’s purpose-driven social gospel without questioning his documented habit of proof texting, then how many more will welcome a charming, self-effacing leader who’s only stated desire is to bring, well, PEACE to Earth?
Now, Rick Warren probably isn’t the Antichrist, and Lou Engle no doubt believes that changing the culture according to God’s standards is a holy and righteous thing to do. But their actions are not scriptural, and they’re laying the groundwork for a political leader who says he shares their goals to win the hearts, minds, and souls of millions of people who claim to be Christians.