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Around 1825 Charles Finney introduced the “altar call” into his ministry endeavors. Initially, Finney used it to recruit his new converts to join his abolition movement.1In addition to becoming a widely-popular Christian evangelist, Finney was involved with social reforms, particularly the abolitionist movement. Finney frequently denounced slavery from the pulpit, called it a “great national sin,” and refused Holy Communion to slaveholders. “Charles Grandison Finney Finney borrowed the practice from other churches with chancel rails, anxious seats, or the mourner’s bench for people to come forward and pray. As Finney’s numbers increased, this practice became the norm for other churches as they observed his church growing “success.” The mission of the church, evangelism, gradually replaced the ministry of the church, which is guarding the flock against false teachers, discipling believers in the faith, and training them to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12-13). By the turn of the Twentieth Century, much of the church was fully engaged in evangelism but were not well taught in the fundamentals of the faith — and as a result, were not able to stand against the increasing influence of German “Higher Criticism” and liberal theology. Noting this critical lapse, R. A Torrey, A. C. Dixon “and others” produced a set of ninety essays published between 1910 and 1915 in twelve quarterly volumes titled, The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. It was a call to the church to return to sound biblical teaching regularly and systematically.

Roughly sixty years later, Dave Holmbo and Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church in October of 1975. The premise was simple. Like Finney, they tried to find new ways to entice non-believers to attend their unique style of church. The goal was to give the gospel in a more “user-friendly” format to “seekers.” Their understanding of the church was that it primarily existed to proclaim the gospel each week to those who attended. As this movement grew and spread, a significant concern centered again around the serious issue of Bible teaching and discipleship. Over time it seemed that question rather faded into the background as “success” became increasingly measured by WCCC’s undeniable numerical increase of people in the seats. It wasn’t long before churches around the nation went to Willow Creek seminars to be tutored on the new church growth strategies.

We believe that much of the momentous numerical growth at Willow Creek was due to Christian people leaving other churches to get in on an exciting “new thing.” This vast exodus created many rather forlorn “holes” in the local church landscape. However, in all fairness, we must say that in the early days of Willow Creek, they did preach the gospel from the pulpit, and undoubtedly there were invited “seekers” who were brought to the Lord.

Also important were those at Willow Creek who recognized the need for more biblical instruction and deeper apologetics training. In the early 1990s, apologists Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg were on staff at Willow Creek, and our friend Chad Meister (now Dr. Chad Meister) was a volunteer leader in the fledgling Willow Creek apologetics ministry. We worked with the research team to help Dr. William Lane Craig prepare for his June 27, 1993 debate “Atheism vs. Christianity: Where Does the Evidence Point?” against atheist Frank Zindler before an audience of 8,000.

Just seven years later, however, at the turn of the millennium, WCCC was transitioning — away from anything related to the defense of the faith — and embracing a more mystical faith path. Sadly, this regrettable transition was passed along to the many churches in the Willow Creek Association.

In 2003, Mary Fairchild posted a blog article, “Protestant No More: Willow Creek is Infiltrated by a Mystic Quaker Movement Called Renovare,” about her realization that she would be trained to serve “as a New Age spirit guide”:

I went back to Willow Creek earlier this year only to discover my plans to be serving in the women’s ministry as a “Biblical Titus 2 woman” were, in actuality, going to be “serving as a New Age spirit guide.” Mystic ways of praying (repeating and meditating) were being taught along with frequent references to Quakers and Catholics. New Age authors like the mystic Quaker Parker Palmer and Renovare founder Richard Foster were quoted frequently along with terms like “lectio divina” and “covenant groups.”

They gave out free books to us in the women’s mentor training class in January (“Sacred Companions” by David G. Brenner, and “Spiritual Mentoring” by Keith Anderson & Andy Reese) and one class included a clip from the movie “The Matrix.” This movie was recommended and had keen insight for us. We were encouraged to “avail ourselves to the classics” of Roman Catholic mystics and we did detailed timelines on our lives.

In 2007, Christianity Today published the article “Willow Creek Repents?” with the subtitle “Why the most influential church in America now says ‘We made a mistake.’”  With 12,000 member churches in the Willow Creek Association at the time, the question, “What was the mistake?” loomed large. In April and May of that year, Bill Hybels, Gene Appel, and Mark Breaux did their series ”Unleashed: The Power of Multiplied Impact,” in which Bill and Gene revealed their shock to discover — through surveys and focus groups — that people were attending church because they wanted to actually learn stuff about the bible. In the message “Unleashed to Grow,” Gene Appel mentioned that they were beginning biblical literacy classes for 150 of Willow’s future small group leaders. However, this new biblical thrust did not last very long. There were no longer any apologists at WCCC. It seems that the church leadership viewed apologists as “high-maintenance” irritants. Raising up a new crop of biblically literate Christians within the church would be counterproductive to their new mystical shift. Did they really want biblically informed people in their midst, calling out the new mystical bent in WCCC for the New Age heresy that it was?

In their Willow magazine, issue 4, 2007,  “Shifts: Rediscovering Spiritual Formation: From Monastic Communities to the emergent church, spiritual formation continues to shift and change a whole new generation of Christians.” It is a long but accurately descriptive title. Progressive mystical thinkers were invited to import Roman Catholic monastic and Buddhistic mysticism into the faith. The fact that Willow Creek embraced it and, in turn, passed it on from them to other WCA churches has been — and continues to be — an unmitigated disaster. We are not simply asserting our opinion of the origins of this movement. The author of the article in Willow, Keri Wyatt Kent, freely admits that all this came from Rome:

Such disciplines have been part of the Catholic tradition for a long time, although they were often practiced primarily within the walls of the monastic community. Foster and Willard brought them to the evangelical community, although it took a while for mainline and evangelical churches to embrace them.

She continues:

[Scott] McKnight sees a trend toward wider acceptance and use of spiritual directors, which in the past was mostly a part of Catholic tradition.

The article goes on to describe the evangelical church as moving “Beyond Bible Study.”

McKnight says that he sees a growing number of evangelicals (especially younger ones) using traditionally Orthodox or Catholic practices, such as lectio divina, icons, candles and prayer books.

Not surprisingly to us, one of the chief theologians behind this massive change was and continues to be Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr, founder of The Center for Action and Contemplation and part of the Jesus and Buddha Paths to Awakening Conference. Rohr is all in favor of “moving beyond the Bible.” Rohr is the influencer and discipler of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Suzanne Stabile, Ian Cron, Christopher Heuretz, and others. He is also the architect of the theology of the Enneagram, which is horrifyingly sweeping the church at present.

WCCC is now under new leadership by Pastor Dave Dummitt. Will there be a “Shift” to sound biblical teaching under his leadership? We do not know, but the prospect does not look promising to us. In “Summer Notes: Dave Dummitt Picks Up Bill Hybel’s Mantle at Willow Creek Community Church to Promote Peter Drucker’s ‘Next Society, ’”  Mary Fairchild doesn’t hold out much hope either:

Double-speak and new Bible translations geared for the New Age often make it difficult to decipher what is being taught at Willow Creek Community Church. Through carefully worded topics, the megachurch has been responsible for a move towards religious experience without the restriction of such doctrines as original sin, and the necessity of a blood atonement. At a closer look, it appears to be lining up more with Theosophy than historical Christianity.

We must reiterate that this isn’t simply a question of what one individual church, however large it may be, is doing. The Willow Road has tragically led many churches away from The Christian faith to Buddhist and Roman Catholic mystical practices — where the Scriptures are given lip service but are no longer held as the final authority for faith and practice.

This mystical movement — the path so many are taking — denies the faith and the person of Jesus Christ as our only savior and Lord — our only possible path to God and eternal life — and indeed teaches that the “Christ” is already in all. How so you ask? According to them the cosmos is the first incarnation of the Christ. In this theology, the human need is merely to discover that one is not now, nor ever has been, separated from God. In this, they deny Jesus Christ and the gospel wholeheartedly.

God only knows whether or how much of the believing church will rise and fulfill their God-given responsibility “to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 3, NIV) Jude goes on in verse 4:

For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only savior and Lord.”

Now is a good time to startΩ

Don and Joy Signature 2

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End Notes

End Notes
1 In addition to becoming a widely-popular Christian evangelist, Finney was involved with social reforms, particularly the abolitionist movement. Finney frequently denounced slavery from the pulpit, called it a “great national sin,” and refused Holy Communion to slaveholders. “Charles Grandison Finney
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