Category: Vineyard and the Charismatic Movement

Good News For Anxious Christians: that voice inside you is not God, says Phillip Cary

It’s not a book for Christians with an anxiety disorder; instead, Phillip Cary’s book claims that the ‘new evangelical theology’ is making Christians anxious by leading them to believe God works in ways God doesn’t work. (He calls ‘new evangelical theology’ the charismatic-influenced evangelical mainstream, particularly what you find in Christian living books for non-academic audiences.)

Chapter 1 is called “Why You Don’t Have to Hear God’s Voice in Your Heart: Or How God Really Speaks Today”. It certainly does challenge present day evangelical practice, whereby many evangelicals are ‘listening out’ for God’s promptings in their heart. Cary insists God doesn’t speak to our hearts; what we’re hearing is our own (fallible but often helpful) inner voice. Mistaking it for God can only give it an absolute authority it shouldn’t have. Instead of speaking in our hearts, God speaks through the Gospel, Cary insists – particularly, I suspect, the proclamation of the Word.

If he’s right, does this mean God’s silent, even as we pray to God? Is the Holy Spirit not even prompting or prodding us gently? I think I’d find it hard to pray if I completely agreed with him.

Anyone remotely charismatic will find themselves at odds with Cary. I’m keeping an open mind. He has a good point when you think of the way God speaks in the Bible – dreams, visions, audible voices, proclamations by prophets, but not so much voices in our hearts. But what about the charismatic gifts in the assembled church? I’m sure God speaking isn’t meant to be the private affair evangelicals make it, but I think Paul would say that God speaks new words to the congregation through people with the gift of prophecy, a gift God particularly poured out on a diverse range of people.  Not sure what Cary would say to that; in short my hunch is that’s right in relocating God speaking away from the individual’s heart, but that he has not given enough consideration to God speaking to the body in Pauline churches of the NT.

Leaving Home

Last week we said goodbye to our church of three years, Network Vineyard. It was a sad thing; I believe in church loyalty, and yet here I am leaving a church which isn’t bad and at which there are a lot of people I like.

Three years ago, at the disbanding of our Anabaptist fellowship, Nicole and I joined Network after going there to hear Ray Gingerich, a visiting Mennonite academic, speak. I thought that any church which invites a Mennonite academic to speak and is only a few kilometres from my house has to be good. What’s more, we had been hoping for a stronger experience of the Holy Spirit, and it was a charismatic church. We were also hoping to plant a new house church, and this was the sort of thing Network encouraged.

Planting a house church didn’t work out.  But we stuck around at Network, not happy, trying to make the most of it. It was my first go at a conventional church in quite a while. It’s in a wealthy area, and the profile of the church is busy professionals and busy parents with young children. This, of course, makes strong community very hard. I have little doubt it’s a problem facing most churches, especially amongst certain demographics. I don’t think you can have strong community if everyone’s busy. What can you do? You can try to critique the culture of busyness from the pulpit (which the pastor did) and in small groups; but it’s really hard to defy the spirit of busyness in our society, even if you want to, and most people don’t want to and wouldn’t see it as an aspect of discipleship. (I’m too busy myself, not in a career driven way, but with my jealously guarded time for writing, reading, thinking.)

I grew increasingly cynical toward charismatic-ness, at least to what I saw. I believe there is a strong witness in the New Testament to the outpouring of charismatic gifts on the body of Christ. But just because it’s meant to happen, doesn’t mean it IS happening, even when people stand up and say what they think God is saying to them. In 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul instructs the church at Corinth in orderly use of the charismatic gifts, he imagines a church where prophecies and tongues and all sorts of other things come to people. Network, to its credit, attempts to recreate this, with a space for anyone to stand up and say what God has been speaking to them through the worship. But for me, prophecy and the like finds its full meaning in a church which is a strong community. Prophecy means far more when you are involved in each other’s lives and are wrestling with things together. I think genuine prophecy is more likely to come in this situation too. Strong community should be foundational; then we should seek the showy gifts. As it was, I was asked what God was telling me through the worship (nothing – I didn’t connect to the worship in its style or substance) and I wasn’t asked what was going on in my discipleship during the whole week.

I have a theological belief in the diversity of the body, as I’ve written about on this blog, but I can’t live it when it comes to diversity of theology itself. Most evangelicals have such a different understanding of God, a different Jesus. I find it so hard when I feel I don’t have enough common ground to even have meaningful theological conversations. What is an Anabaptist to say to a YWAMer, a Zionist, a creationist? The last few years I’ve been too shaky in my faith to have robust conversation, and encountering so much diversity has only discouraged me. I think I’ve needed to be around similar-minded people to reinforce what I believe for a while. (And I’m saying this, if you can’t hear it, with a strong element of self-critique; I guess we all want reinforcement that we’re right. That’s why we have so many different types of churches. I wish there was one more, an Anabaptist one, in this city.)

There are a lot of people sincerely trying to follow Jesus at Network, and open to the Spirit. I hope they flourish; they’re doing things differently, and are willing to give things a go. I’ll miss them.

Basics #1: a guide to labels and why they matter – fundamentalist, evangelical and pentecostal

(Here’s a post written for that you might want to read. I realise I don’t ever write about any of the basics; this might be the first in a series. If you’ve studied theology, all of this will be superfluous and potentially erroneous!)

Last night I was watching a secular documentary called Jesus Camp. It’s an interesting and rather disturbing look at a ‘Bible boot camp’ run by a Pentecostal children’s pastor in the USA. (The disturbing part was the black and white view of the world these kids were getting, and the pro-George Bush, anti-climate change, anti-the rest of the world attitude. But that’s all a different story.)

What struck me was that on the back cover blurb, the terms ‘Pentecostal’ ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Fundamentalist’ are used interchangeably, as if they all mean the same thing. They don’t mean the same thing, and mixing them up causes a lot of confusion. I get the feeling that most Christians wouldn’t be able to distinguish them clearly either, so I thought I’d give a quick guide. I’ve simplified things a lot here, and I’m just going off the top of my head, so please take this as a starting point, rather than a definitive guide.

‘Fundamentalism’ started early in the 20th century as a reaction against a group of theologians called ‘Modernists’ (or liberals). The Modernists were very taken with the findings of science and rationalism and were interepreting the Bible and theological doctrines in the light of science. (That’s not altogether wrong; but they were certainly taking things too far.) In reaction to this, a group who became known as the ‘Fundamentalists’ issued a series of booklets on the ‘fundamentals’ of faith – doctrines they saw as absolute foundations which were non-negotiable.

The movement – or the label at least – became more and more conservative and reactionary. Fundamentalists became those who shut themselves off from the findings of scholarship and theology; who read the Bible in rigid, literal, unnatural ways and who had a real fortress mentality – ‘them and us’. Today, fundamentalism is also associated with political conservatism and religious fanaticism.

‘Evangelicalism’ in its twentieth century form started as a reaction against fundamentalism. They were Christians who believed the Bible and traditional doctrines of faith but felt that they could still engage with scholarship in science and theology. The movement that grew out of this would tend to be seen as emphasising the trustworthiness of the Bible, the need for a personal commitment to following Jesus, and the importance of evangelism.

Confusingly, fundamentalists would believe these three things too, and the line can be hard to draw. It’s often in the mode of engagement with the world – Evangelicals are willing to dialogue with cultural trends in the world, to make their faith culturally relevant without compromising it, and to politely debate liberals and fundamentalists.

My concern is that if ‘evangelical’ and ‘fundamentalist’ are used interchangeably, the word ‘evangelical’ will be tainted beyond usefulness or redemption – if it hasn’t happened already.

‘Pentecostalism’ grew out of the Azusa Street Revival in the USA in 1904, when the Holy Spirit came upon a congregation and there were manifestations of spiritual gifts. The movement came to generally emphasise the need for a ’second blessing’ or baptism of the Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues. Besides the emphasis on the Spirit, the movement was often quite similar to the fundamentalists in tone.

If this was the ‘first wave’ of the Holy Spirit, the second wave came in the 1960s through the mainline (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran) churches and people affected by this were called ‘Charismatic’. Many of these people stayed in their traditional churches, so you can see why there was a big difference between ‘pentecostal’ and ‘charismatic’.

The ‘third wave’ of the Holy Spirit is where Vineyard fits in. It’s associated with John Wimber and the Vineyard movement starting in the 1980s, and emphasising a basically evangelical outlook with Holy Spirit empowerment, most often shown not in tongues but healing.

The danger with labels is that they can be used to judge too quickly and shortcut really understanding people. But the benefit of them is that they give us an understanding of what tradition, what strand of Christianity a person comes from.

‘We need more money’

A reluctant visitor to a megachurch last night, the ‘financial giving’ talk made me feel queasy and miserable. I wanted to run out of there. I believe they have that every week, a talk to encourage everyone to give more money, to ‘sacrifice’ for the kingdom.

I guess you have to do that when you employ as many staff as they do. I know they do a lot of stuff in the community, but I am very uncomfortable with how corporate they are and how money orientated. One might call them ‘postpentecostal’ but the roots show.

It made me proud of my little church, Network Vineyard, where the pastor sometimes forgets to take up the offering and has to be reminded by the elder. Or he just leaves the flowerpot up the front and says to come up and give before you get a cup of tea. People actually give heaps of money at our church, but they don’t need to be exhorted to it weekly.

‘Two lists’ theology

I’ve been re-reading some of Tom Finger’s Contemporary Anabaptist Theology ahead of a talk I’m giving on Anabaptism, and I was struck by his discussion of the ‘two-lists’ approach to Anabaptist theology.

In the two lists approach, Anabaptists share the standard distinctives of evangelicalism you might find for any evangelical organisation (like the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students for example), usually one starting with the infallibility of Scripture and going on to the trinity, the divinity of Christ, substitutionary atonement and ending with the second coming.

We then have a second list of Anabaptist distinctives – usually confined to ‘social ethics’ (peace) and ‘ecclesiology’ (the disciplined church).

I don’t like this approach (and neither does Finger, really). The vision of the church found in Anabaptist thought and the radical understanding of Jesus should infect every part of our theology. I don’t want to be an evangelical with extras.

I see the same issue even in the Vineyard, where we’re careful to establish our evangelical credentials with a ‘first list’, and then offer our distinctives in the ‘second list’, centring on the kingdom and the Spirit. Same again with Baptists in WA.

I think there’s a good impulse behind this – the unity that the evangelical movement hopes to achieve as an umbrella above all these particular expressions of ‘orthodox’ (very small o) Christianity.

Why the church must be attractional: an Anabaptist critique of the emerging missional church via Milbank

A few weeks ago, Hamo wrote an interesting post called ‘Why the missional incarnational church is screwed’. He quoted at length from the postliberal theologian John Milbank:

The church cannot be found amongst the merely like-minded, who associate in order to share a particular taste, hobby or perversion. It can only be found where many different peoples possessing many different gifts collaborate in order to produce a divine–human community in one specific location.

St Paul wrote to Galatia and Corinth, not to regiments or to weaving-clubs for widows. He insisted on a unity that emerges from the harmonious blending of differences. Hence the idea that the church should ‘plant’ itself in various sordid and airless interstices of our contemporary world, instead of calling people to ‘come to church’, is wrongheaded, because the refusal to come out of oneself and go to church is simply the refusal of church per se.

One can’t set up a church in a cafe amongst a gang of youths who like skateboarding because all this does is promote skateboarding and dysfunctional escapist maleness, along with that type of private but extra-ecclesial security that is offered by the notion of ‘being saved’.”

– From ‘Stale Expressions: the Management-Shaped Church’, Studies in Christian Ethics, April 2008 by John Milbank.

It would be wrong to focus on Milbank’s defence of the parish and how admittedly un-diverse many parishes are, rather than his critique of emerging-missional ecclesiology. I’m no great fan of the parish, but it’s these words and talking to Ian Packer while he was over that have helped consolidate my points of difference with EMC ecclesiology. As much as great things are happening with the EMC, I think it would be a mistake for me to lose the distinctive Anabaptist ecclesiology that I had clear in my head for a while and which Milbank has helped me begin to recover.

I need to re-articulate the fundamental point of disagreement between an anabaptist ecclesiology and the agenda laid out by Frost and Hirsch in The Shaping of Things to Come.

As much as EMC criticisms of church culture are valid, an anabaptist ecclesiology maintains that the church must be attractional. We mustn’t think the two choices are between ‘mega-church attractional beasts’ and ‘incarnational missional communities’. There is a third way…

The church is a counter-cultural community, a city on a hill embodying the gospel, a people called to be now what the world is called to be ultimately. It calls people into a new humanity living in the kingdom of God. It calls people to be baptised into this new humanity where their primary identity is no longer their subculture – whether that be skater, biker, twentysomething, mortgage belter, activist, gay, professional or artist (or Jew, Greek, slave, master, male, female) – but where their identity is in Christ.

The diversity of the church is part of the good news! It announces to the world that the old barriers have been broken down, the emnity between peoples has been overcome. Baptising subcultures as ‘churches’ misses this good news. It may even risk retaining an individualistic evangelical idea of what the good news is: ‘personal salvation’.

Where can this church be found?

It’s hard to find, and that’s why we need to articulate the hope, pray for it, and do what we can in the power of the Spirit to practice it.

For me, right now, it is found in Network Vineyard Church. Maybe part of my call is to help the church, right where I am, discover its call to diversity and to the body-life of the kingdom. I want people to know that when they break out of their comfort zone and reach across culture in church, they are partaking in the good news. It starts in small ways. It starts with who you talk to in the coffee break. It leads to you becoming family with people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with: different classes, different races, different outlooks.

Know your story, people!

Reading this history of the Vineyard movement made me remember how important history is. Evangelicals and Charismatics are mostly ignorant of their own history, and are poorer for it. Or I know I am. So many things we take for granted have historical reasons and interesting stories behind them. This book connected the dots of lots of snippets I’d heard about pentecostalism, charismatics and the vineyard since I was a kid – including the Toronto Blessing and John Wimber’s visits to Australia but also things like the impact the Jesus movement had on Christianity in the 1970s.

The radical middle of the title is what Jackson sees as the Vineyard’s capturing of the radical middle of both biblical doctrine and Spirit-led spontaniety. In the early chapters he puts the case for the
Vineyard as being a movement which has managed to harness the best of both the Word stream and the Spirit stream of Christianity. As someone from the Word stream, I saw less of the Word stream in the history which followed, but at the Vineyard’s best, I think he’s right.

As you would expect, John Wimber is central to this history of Vineyard. His story is fascinating, with so many strands and turning points (they’ve already gone out of my head). Spirit empowerment didn’t come instantly to him. He prayed and preached it for a long time until the healing started.

Wimber appears in the pages as a benevolent dictator. Jackson paints him as a flawed but talented man who God raised up to do something special with. He made some questionable calls and lost his passion at times, but comes across as a man who had a special mission and unusual power. The Holy Spirit broke out where he went.

There hasn’t been much room in my thinking for a movement that is centred on a particular individual, as good as he or she might be. Last year I read some things talking about APEPT ministry in the church, and the recovery of apostle-leadership. I guess Wimber had the role of an apostle within Vineyard, bearing at least some resemblance to the function of apostles within the early church (strategic leadership and vision?). I’m still suspicious of concentrating power or influence in one person’s hands, but I’ll grant that there was something special about Wimber and that God genuinely does use particular people.

It’s very disturbing to hear of how Sydney Anglican leaders allegedly treated Wimber in the early nineties; according to Jackson they didn’t even give him a hearing but just told him he was not wanted in Australia. I would like to know how they saw it, but I have encountered some Sydney Anglicans like this. (As well as some wonderful ones.)

I found the more pentecostal phases of Vineyard threatening to my comfort zone. I vacillate between thinking truth might reside here, and feeling that it’s crazy. In fact, even when I think it might have truth, I still think it’s crazy.

The story of the prophet Paul Cain is intriguing. I would like to write a novel inspired by his life. For a time he had the ear of Wimber and influenced the direction of the Vineyard, before a split with him and the Kansas City Prophets. (Alas, a google search reveals he has had a bad fall in the last couple of years and has been stood down from the Kansas church where he was ministering.) Here’s a long quote giving some of his story:
Paul Cain was born in 1929 to his mother Anna who was 45 years old. Anna was pregnant and had inoperable cancer that had eaten away one of her breasts; the doctors sent her home to die. In the throes of death she vowed to offer her child to God, as Hannah had done with Samuel, if the Lord would spare her life. a short time later the Lord spoke to her through an angel and promised her that she would live and bear a son. She was to name him Paul since he would preach the gospel as Paul of old. She was immediately healed, her breast grew back and she suckled her new baby as a medical miracle.

… By the time Paul was eighteen, he had a regular radio ministry and was conducting healing services in a small tent…

… Paul was on the verge of a stellar career in the early 1950s. He had, by this time, received a call to celibacy and became something of a recluse, desiring to be alone with God…

[Leaves the big tent revivals]

In the midst of this, Paul says God spoke to him and told him that if he kept himself from corruption and became content with living a humble life, given to Scripture reading and obedience, one day he would be allowed to stand before a new breed of men and women who were serious about holiness and the things of the Lord. This new breed would be a ‘faceless’ generation wanting nothing for itself and giving God all the glory. God added that this new generation would be used to usher in a great revival and he would see them before his mother died. At that time Anna was 73 years old.

Paul assumed that this would be fulfilled within a few short years but he spent the next 25 years living in a two-bedroom home in Phoenix, Arizona, where he took care of his mother with the help of family members. He spent most of those years reading Scripture and occasionally preaching. He refused to take offerings and trusted the Lord for his income. He briefly pastored two churches and was a help to many leaders during the Charismatic movement.

As the years of seclusion were coming to an end, Paul felt the Lord told him that he would soon see some of the new breed he had so often seen in the prophetic realm. His mother was 102 years old when he met Mike Bickle and others from Kansas City Fellowship in 1987. He said God spoke to him that these were some of the people….

Paul never even considered John Wimber as an option until he was in the room with John delivering a prophetic word to him on December 5, 1988. It was then that God whispered to him that John was the man he had been looking for.

-pp. 181-188

You probably get a sense of the style of this book from this extended quote. No sources are named for the rather big claims that Anna’s breast grew back and the like. (I wanted to know how old she was when she finally did die, but that’s just my obsession with longevity.) It’s a believer’s history and as much as it admits mistakes in the movement, it’s certainly not scholarly.

I found it a very readable book, with a narrative drive. Yet it’s unpolished prose and structurally has problems. If you care about those things.