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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Lonnie Frisbee and the “Jesus Revolution,” Rick Warren and Saddleback Church, and Another Ministry Says It’s A Church

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be. 

Autonomy of the Local Church? Saddleback Church, the megachurch long led by Rick Warren, has been ousted from the Southern Baptist Convention for naming a woman to its pastoral team.  (There’s more to the story than that, so if you’d like to read the details, click here.)

The decision to “disfellowship” Saddleback was made by the Credentials Committee and then approved by the Executive Committee at their meeting last week. But that’s not the final word. Saddleback has the right to appeal to the messengers, or delegates, in attendance at the SBC’s next annual meeting, scheduled for June in New Orleans.

If you ask me, that appears likely.

I spent nearly a half-day with Rick Warren back in November, and I asked him directly about this situation. He told me that he thought it was possible for Saddleback and the SBC to resolve this conflict.  He said that Saddleback did ordain Stacie Wood, the new pastor Andy Woods’ wife.  That fact is not in dispute.  But Saddleback did not make her a senior pastor.

Rick Warren’s contention is that the Baptist Faith and Message, which is both a doctrinal statement and a book of church order for the denomination, makes it clear that ordination is a local church matter. Further, the SBC has long regarded as a core tenet that the local church has autonomy over the denomination.  Also, the Baptist Faith and Message did not forbid women from teaching so long as they were not in the senior pastor role.

By the way, I recommend reading the entire interview I did with Rick Warren.  It’s more than two hours long, and even heavily edited it weights in at more than 7,000 words, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff.  You can read it here.

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Another One Bites The Dust.  The Association of Christian Schools International, with affiliated schools serving 5.5 million students in 100 countries, now claims to be an association of churches. 

On what grounds does ACSI claim to be a church?  It doesn’t ordain clergy.  It doesn’t marry or bury or administer the Lord’s Supper.  How can it claim to be a church?

According to a statement by ACSI spokesperson Caitlyn Berman: “The Association qualifies as an association of churches because it is a cooperative undertaking involving local member churches with shared doctrinal beliefs that engage in a concerted effort to carry out a common religious purpose—impacting students of all ages with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Church status means that nonprofits don’t need to file 990 forms that reveal their executive salaries, grants, and major expenditures. MinistryWatch has gone on record opposing the practice of ministries claiming to be churches.  You can read our position here.

Will The Real Lonnie Frisbee Please Stand Up? I have not seen the new movie “Jesus Revolution,” about the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. It’s getting OK reviews. Christian reviewers are generally positive.  Collin Garbarino at WORLD said, “Faith-based movies have a reputation for, well, not being very good. But Jesus Revolution is the real deal.”  Secular reviewers are not so glowing.  James Barardinelli writes, “Jesus Revolution takes a fascinating period of American history – the hippie movement and its associated fallout within the Christian community – and transforms it into a bland, TV movie-of-the-week experience.”

I intend to see the movie, and my litmus test as to whether this movie is an honest telling of what happened during this era (or not) will be its portrayal of Lonnie Frisbee, one of the most interesting and complicated figures of the Jesus Movement. I’ve long had a fascination with him and the way he treated evangelicals, and the way evangelical leaders treated him.  You can read an article I did on Frisbee a few years ago here.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.