Question: Rick Warren hypes different “venues” for different styles of worship and music in his church in order to reach and accommodate people with differing tastes. He claims to take this from the NIV translation of Acts:5:42, which refers to “temple courts.” I couldn’t find this in any other Bible. Is he reaching a bit here?
Answer: I do not question Warren’s Christian sincerity. Sadly, however, in this instance (as throughout his book), he has misapplied Scripture. As you noted, one of his basic teachings involves “Multiple Venues,” by which he means a number of different facilities in the same church, where a variety of styles of music and worship can be offered in order to appeal to people with different tastes. The emphasis thus unavoidably becomes pleasing the audience rather than pleasing the One whom they desire to worship.
In his attempt to support this practice from the Bible, Warren is forced into some serious errors. For example, he declares: “‘On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the Word of the Lord” (Acts:13:44 – NIV).’ We want to gather all South Orange County together to hear the Word of the Lord. How do we get that many people gathered together? The same way they did in the New Testament: by using Multiple Venues.”
But, Paul never used multiple venues to attract people by offering varied styles of music and worship in different places, as Warren does at Saddleback. Nor didthe early church ever use this practice upon which Warren now places such emphasis. Yet the early church grew faster with new converts and edification than Saddleback—a fact that Rick is frank to admit.
Warren turns to Acts 13 for support. Yet this huge crowd came together not for the music that was offered (there was none) but to hear what Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, had to say in his preaching—and they all gathered together in one place (one “venue”), not in many. There weren’t different styles of music and worship for those with differing tastes. Neither this passage nor any other portion of Scripture can be used to support such a practice.
Rick believes different venues breed success. Such misuse of God’s Word ought to cause grave concern among God-fearing church leaders. And part of this pattern is the fact that to find biblical support for his teachings, Warren must draw from a wide variety of alleged translations and paraphrases, some of which (like The Message) we have documented to be perversions that actually change the meaning of Scripture in many places!
As you note, Warren quotes “temple courts” from the NIV. This is the only translation or paraphrase (out of dozens available) that refers to “court” or “courts” in this verse. In contrast to the NIV, all other translations or even paraphrases (including his favorite, The Message) simply say, “temple.” Why use a “translation” that is so clearly wrong that it isn’t supported by any other?
There is nothing in the Greek from which the NIV could translate “courts.” No wonder that word is found in no other translation! Yet Rick uses this erroneous translation and declares: “Circle the letter ‘s’ at the end of ‘temple courts.’” But the word “courts” with the letter “s” is not in the Greek and should not be inany translation! Yet upon this error rests the “temple courts of Jerusalem” building campaign that cul-minated on Thanksgiving with so many millions of dollars contributed for new construction at Saddleback.
Furthermore, the Scripture is clear that the disciples did not practice different venues at the temple, but “were all with one accord in one place” (Acts:2:1). Peter preached that Pentecost sermon in which 3,000 (Acts:2:41)were saved. Quite clearly, he preached to this huge crowd in one place. And far from various musical styles being the means of attraction, it was the miracle of the disciples speaking in languages they had never learned that drew the crowd. As far as we know, there was no music at all, much less a variety to attract people with different tastes, as is being practiced now at Saddleback.
Yes, there were four courts in Herod’s temple: the Holy Place was called the “court of the priests,” there was the court of men, the court of women, and the court of Gentiles. But the divisions were to separate different classes of people, not to separate different “styles of music and worship,” as Warren implies, in order to support what he does at Saddleback! Indeed, there would be no way for Jews to teach in the Gentiles’ court or for men to teach in the women’s court or for any of the disciples to gather in the priests’ court. Furthermore, the separation of priests from ordinary people, of men from women and Jews from Gentiles would contradict the “unity of faith” that Warren is trying to achieve and certainly would not fit into his “venues” program!
In attempting to promote a practice he finds successful, Warren is misleading his congregation and readers. Many other examples could be given, such as on pages 9 and 10 of A Purpose Driven Life, where his enthusiasm for 40 Days causes him to make unbiblical assertions. He claims “David was transformed by Goliath’s forty-day challenge.” In fact, David was present only one day—the forty days of challenge were over when he arrived and had no effect upon him. Rick says, “the spies were transformed by forty days in the Promised Land.” In fact, ten rebelled and forty days had no significance.
Rick further says, “Jesus was empowered by forty days in the wilderness.” Hardly! Rather than teaching from the Bible, Warren seems prone to manipulate it to support his latest ideas.
The book’s success has given Warren numerous media interviews, including some on national television. Sadly, he fails to present a clear gospel to these huge audiences that the Lord has given him. One would have to question whether Rick is fulfilling the purpose for which God has given him such opportunities.
Finally, in conjunction with his teaching that God has endowed every person with a special talent and has a unique purpose for their lives (which he claims can be discovered by following his “Forty Days of Purpose” program), Warren cites, “We should make plans—counting on God to direct us” (Prv 16:9 – TLB). But The Living Bible actually contradicts what God said. Here is the real Bible: “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” To plan one’s future life is contrasted with God’s direction of a step at a time. Furthermore, never does the Bible say that we should make our own plans and “count on God to direct us.” How can He direct us if we have already made our own plans? It is such planning on our own that this verse actually warns against.