LAKE FOREST, Calif. — Megachurch leader Rick Warren, known for his best-selling book “The Purpose-Driven Life,” said in a recent interview that he hopes his partnership with a local Roman Catholic leader to collaboratively combat social ills becomes a “model” for others around the world. His remarks have drawn disagreement from those who believe that ecumenism with those who preach another gospel is unbiblical.
The Roman Catholic site Crux published the interview, which featured both Warren and friend Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, on Sept. 14. They were asked by interviewer and diocese Chancellor Pia de Solenni to share about how their friendship formed and developed.
Vann recalled that Warren attended his installation as the bishop of Orange and also called to congratulate him. The two continued to communicate and soon also began praying together.
“One way we stay in touch is by texting personal prayer requests to each other,” Warren explained. “When my youngest son died in April 2013, I knew Kevin was praying for me, and when his father died in November 2014, I was praying for him. Sharing pain and grief brought us closer.”
Not only did Warren and Vann pray together, but “brainstorming meetings between [their] two staffs” about the issue of mental illness—in light of Matthew Warren’s suicide—led to the formation of a joint conference and other efforts to address mental health.
“Out of these discussions about working together, the Diocese of Orange and Saddleback church decided to partner in sponsoring two gatherings, or symposia, on what should be the Church’s response to mental illness,” Vann explained.
“[O]ut of Matthew’s death came a partnership in creating a conference to help others, and also a number of other mental health initiatives,” Warren added. “It also brought Catholics and Evangelicals together as I, and our church, received many letters of comfort from Catholic priests and parishioners.”
Vann noted that the two have worked together on other projects as well, including jointly expressing their opposition to physician-assisted suicide. Warren noted that he also organized a retreat in which priests and pastors cooperatively strategized how churches can be the face of love in the midst of the blot of racism.
“So really, our friendship began with heart-to-heart praying together, but then it grew into working hand-in-hand together on projects where Christians can offer a compassionate response to those in need, and also stand together with clear and united voice in opposing evil,” he further outlined.
Vann and Warren agreed that the world is a better place when Evangelicals and Catholics work together to address societal issues.
“We’ve seen first-hand that much good can be accomplished for the Kingdom of God by Catholics and Evangelicals being present to one another, praying for each other, and ministering to our communities together,” Vann said.
“If unbelievers like what they see, they will listen to what we say,” Warren also remarked. “Consider this: about 25 percent of Americans are Catholic Christians, and another 25 percent are Evangelical Christians. That’s about half of America! If just these two groups were committed to modeling the love of Christ together, imagine all the good that could happen!”
“Our prayer is that Orange County might be a model for others around the world,” he said.
Warren shared the article on Twitter, writing, “If you love Jesus, we may serve on different teams, but we’re in the same league of receiving His grace and forgiveness.”
His post generated mixed response, with some commenting in favor of the partnership and others expressing that ecumenism with those who do not adhere to biblical orthodoxy is verboten.
“Yes pastor! I am happy because Jesus is uniting us,” one commenter wrote.
“How do you explain the Counsel of Trent placing an anathema on those who believe that justification is by faith alone?” another asked.
John Fallahee of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries and adjunct faculty at Knox Theological Seminary told Christian News Network that the gospel is the only means by which the evils of the world can be addressed, as it is the power of God to save and transform. However, since Catholics preach a different gospel/adhere to erring doctrines as to how men may be saved, how “[c]an two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)
“Jesus Christ’s perfect, once for all sacrifice for sin on the cross and resurrection from the dead three days later (John 19:16–20:29), proves there is no other message or means to address sin and evil in this world,” he explained. “This is why Paul proclaims, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).”
“[But] the false and fatal gospel of the Roman Catholic Church is a different gospel than Jesus Christ and the apostles,” Fallahee continued. “Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church condemns anyone who believes you are saved by faith apart from works (Trent, Session 6, On Justification, Canon 9, 12, 14, 15). They condemn anyone who denies the necessity of the sacraments (Trent, Session 7, Concerning the Sacraments, Canon 4). And they condemn anyone who denies the eucharistic sacrifice remits sins (Trent, Session 13, Concerning the Eucharist, Canon 5).”
He noted that Jude, in observing false teachings creeping into the Church, instructed the Christians of his day to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3-4). Likewise, Fallahee explained, those in our day who mistakenly think that Christianity can be compromised for the sake of unity do not truly understand the necessity of the purity of the gospel that saves souls.
“If anyone puts forward a lesser ‘light,’ like the ‘picture of unity,’ they prove they do not understand the primacy and power of the gospel of Christ to change a sinner, like Saul into the Apostle Paul, and the ‘such were some of you’ mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11,” he outlined.
“Since there is only one authorized gospel from Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16–20) and all other gospels preached are forbidden and cursed (Galatians 1:6-9), there can be no genuine unity when individuals do not believe in the same gospel and the same Christ,” Fallahee stated.