Monday 11 June 2007

Encounters with tradition (4): from Pentecostal to Vineyard

A guest-post by Frank Emanuel

There is a saying in the Vineyard: you don’t join the Vineyard, you find out you always were Vineyard. This captures the sense of family that I experienced when I finally found my home in the Vineyard movement. The Vineyard began in the 70s in Los Angeles, California. In 1977, John and Carol Wimber, easily the most recognizable names from the Vineyard movement, had left their Quaker church to be part of the Vineyard movement within Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapel was the denomination made famous for starting the Jesus People movement of the early 70s – images of thousands being baptized in the Pacific Ocean made the cover of Life magazine.

The Vineyard blends Pentecostal spirituality with conservative evangelical theology. Many of the early Vineyard leaders were associated with Fuller Seminary, a conservative evangelical institution. For me, and many others, the Vineyard represents the best of both worlds, bringing together the passion of the Pentecostals and the assuredness of the evangelicals.

I discovered the Vineyard during the early years of my pastoral career. I was interning at my second Foursquare Gospel church when my whole world was yanked out from under my feet. A number of factors led to this, many of which were my own doing. I was a young Christian, four years into ministry but without a lot of real life experience. I had become cocky and thought I knew how everything should be done. It was also around that time that I began to question some aspects of Pentecostal theology; this did not help my case any. I found myself thrown out of my ministry position, in a strange city far from my family. All but one of my friends went to that church, so I was alienated on that front as well.

I remember calling up the Toronto Airport Vineyard and asking if they had any home groups I could go to. I explained that I was technically on staff at a local church so I was unable to come Sundays, but that friends kept telling me I needed to find what they called a Kinship (home group). I was invited into one not far from my house in Clarkson.

I don’t think I will ever forget my first visit. It was nothing like I expected; the worship was wonderful and intimate (I was the primary worship leader in my own church), and the teaching was simple. What struck me was the prayer time; they asked me to sit on a chair and began to sing songs of the Father’s love over me. I spent a few months healing up at that Kinship until an opportunity came to head back to Ottawa.

I landed in Ottawa with the intention of making my way back to Nova Scotia. There was no Vineyard in Ottawa and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to fit into the Pentecostal church anymore. I was busking a bit to make ends meet when I met up with my friend Mike – through Mike, I ended up in a wonderful little Convention Baptist church. My time in the Convention was restorative. It was also the time to sort out my life a bit more. I went back to school and completed college. I met my wife to be and was made a lay minister in the church. Things were going well, but I was still restless inside. It soon became apparent that this church wanted me to pursue formal ministry, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t a Baptist.

I left the Baptist church with a fiancé, a job as a college teacher, and new hope, since a Vineyard had just started up in Ottawa. It was especially exciting as the couple that pastored this Vineyard came from my hometown; they had pastored the Alliance church around the corner from the house I grew up in! It looked like everything was finally coming together.

That did not last long. The Vineyard I had left in Toronto had been experiencing wonderful renewal. But as a result, folks in Ottawa expected the new church simply to be an extension of the same renewal. Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the Vineyard is the belief that we are hyper-charismatic; the reality is, we don’t focus on these things, but we don’t stop them when they happen either. Our focus is on being Christ to the world. Sometimes God shows up in amazing ways, but John Wimber always exhorted us to stick to the main and the plain of the gospel. All this made planting a new Vineyard really hard, and my fiancé was hurt in the process. So we left the Vineyard, even though this broke my heart.

We were married and three years later we both felt a clear call to go back to the Vineyard. Lots had changed, but coming back for me felt like coming home. We spent two years helping close down what was left of that congregation, and not long after we were released to start a new Vineyard, to build one from the ground up. That’s the church we’ve been planting. It’s very much a part of me; I long to give back some of what was so graciously given to me. This is why I am a Vineyardite.


Anonymous said...

Since I have very limited experience of Vineyard churches, and only slightly more of Pentecostal ones, could you explain further the differences. You say the Vineyard movement combines Pentecostal spirituality with conservative evangelical theology--but my experience with Pentecostals is that they all have conservative evangelical theology.

True, the branches of Pentecostalism that come from Wesleyan-Holiness roots (e.g., Church of God (Cleveland, TN), Church of God in Christ, Apostolic, etc.) have a different theology than the branches which have more Calvinist or Baptistic roots (e.g., the Assemblies of God), but they all seem very conservative and evangelical--unless one restricts the term evangelical to cessationists which certainly seems arbitrary.

One Pentecostal tradition, Oneness Pentecostals, have a heretical view of the Trinity (a modalist view that is almost a unitarianism of the 2nd Person, since these folk think that "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" are all "titles for Jesus!"), but they are not typical of Pentecostalism as a whole.

Is the Vineyard difference one of ecclesiology (or, at least, ecclesiastical structure), theology, ethical emphasis (I had heard that the Wimbers had more of a social conscience than many U.S. Pentecostals) or what?

My ignorance of Four-Square and Vineyard matters is keeping me from understanding quite what you moved from and what you now embrace. (By contrast, I new immediately that by "Convention Baptist" in Ottawa, you had to mean a congregation of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec[BCOQ]). Please help me out.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I have the same questions posed by Michael. I went to Wikipedia (that cybernetic Wizard!) and read the Vinyard Statement of Faith, and it seems to me it could easily be endorsed by any conservative evangelical denomination/ congregation (and, in all honesty, just as easily held at arms' length by Christians of my ilk). So I suspect I'm missing something, since until reading your well-written post I was totally ignorant of The Vinyard.

One of Freedom said...

No problem.

Michael you are right that the Pentecostal movement stems primarily from Methodist roots. And it could be argued that Vineyard shares those roots as well: it comes out of the Foursquare breakaway Calvary Chapel and Wimber was a Quaker. Before joining up with the Vineyard Wimber had already been teaching at Fuller Seminary and was quite pro-education. In fact he instilled a love of learning into the Vineyard calling us to be lifelong learners.

The Pentecostal experience used to be primarily anti-education. And the adaptation of Methodist theology was quite sloppy (Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the theology I have the most problem with). It was also not that mature. Fortunately I've since met many wonderful exceptions, but all of my old Pentecostal friends are quite concerned that I am in seminary, in fact a number have disassociated with me over that.

The Vineyard is kind of a funny church in that we value a high degree of autonomy in ecclesial structure/character. And many of our senior ministers are from other traditions. So when you visit the three different Vineyards in my area each one feels a bit different. One is obviously more Pentecostal than the others and mine is almost high liturgy at times. But the values are our common denominator.

Theologically we are all influenced by Laddian Kingdom Theology. Because it is a realized/unrealized eschatology there is an emphasis on this world that is lost in some of the more dispensational paradigms. So you are right we are fairly big on justice including social justice. That was something I never even considered in my Pentecostal days.

There is another distinction, that of practiced spirituality. The Vineyard is way more clinical in its approach to spiritual gifts/manifestations. This comes out of a theological understanding of the gifts in terms of Laddian Kingdom Theology (Ladd was cessational I believe so he probably wasn't too keen on this himself). In the Pentecostal framework the gifts were part of a covenential model. That is why there is a tendency towards the primacy of "faith" in these movements (a la prosperity gospel). In the Vineyard it is seen as tied with our participation in the inbreaking reign of God. So we are hesitant to attach spiritual gifts to individuals (Wimber would always have the congregation pray for each other for healing instead of the Benny Hinnesque model of bringing them up for prayer from the "prophet". And it is also understood that results are not guarenteed by covenant, our role is to pray and expect that God will break in in some way. In other words we abhor the idea that the spiritual gifts are a means to manipulate God.

So while we have a rich spiritual expression, it comes out of a different framework.

A great example is that I lead the occasional prophetic workshop. I'm not trying to make prophets, but helping each of us learn better the ways we already hear God for ourselves and the church. So we teach people to not say things like "thus saith the Lord" etc. About a year ago I went into a FreeMethodist church to do this (at their invitation of course) and I had a very conservative bible college skeptic in the crowd. I taught first and he came up to share how I was able to address his fears and see that this was also for him. There was no hype (we didn't even sing) and we were quite clinical. We stop, explain and move on. A technique that actually weeds out a lot of those just there for the attention.

Does that help?

Patrick G. McCullough said...

Great post. I just want to make a clarification about Fuller Seminary, being a current student at Fuller. "Evangelical" is certainly central to their identity. Among all "evangelicals," however, I'm not sure I'd call them conservative. Sure, they're more conservative than non-evangelicals, but that seems inherent in the term "evangelical." Then again, it all depends on what you mean by "conservative" and "evangelical." In my view, evangelicals who do not hold to inerrancy and all that comes with it (creationism, for example) are not conservative. Likewise, evangelicals who are concerned about social justice issues are not conservative (again, depending on how you understand "conservative").

Sorry for the lengthy aside here. It is somewhat self-serving, as I don't want people thinking that I got my degree from a "conservative evangelical" institution, at least as I (not to mention many secular folk) picture "conservative evangelicals."

Thanks for indulging me.

Peter Rohloff said...

As a former Vineyard worker myself, I will lend assent to Frank's clarification that the single most defining feature of the movement is the practiced spirituality bit. A maxim that is bandied about quite a lot in the movement is that 'everyone gets to play' or something like that.

One problem that the movement is currently facing is that it has divided (not officially, of course) into two movements. One is a network of smaller grass-roots churches that continue that practiced spirituality model. The other is a group of perhaps only 20 megachurches (nevertheless although few comprising because of size a very big percentage of total national membership) that are really just pretty typical megachurches. No one really gets to play in those churches except the staff. Unfortunately, nearly all of the national staff for the movement are currently megachurch pastors.

Anonymous said...

That's helpful. I wish I had had this background in 2000 when I was a Visiting Prof. at Fuller. I had, at the time, never heard of Vineyard churches.

My friends in the Pentecostal & Charismatic Peace Fellowship would remind folk that their movement began among the poor, was originally multi-racial in a segregated society, and was, initially, almost entirely pacifist. The prosperity gospel, unconcern for social justice, and militarism popularly associated with Pentecostalism today (at least in North America) were later aberrations. PCPF is one of a number of renewal movements seeking to change that.

But this is helpful to an outsider. Because, I confess, when I read the confession of faith, I thought, "This took 10 years?" The description of the Kingdom of God in the statement seemed closer to Dispensationalism than the inaugurated eschatology of a Ladd or Beasley-Murray.

I could not see any of the Quaker background of the Wimbers in the statement.

One of Freedom said...

Peter, just to clarify there is a difference between the Vineyard in Canada (where I serve) and in the United States. Everybody plays comes up a lot at our pastoral gatherings here in Ontario.

Michael, Wimber came from the West Coast Quakers which IIRC has taken leave of a lot of its quietist roots. Wimber resonated with Anabaptists in British Columbia and so in Canada we have that as part of our heritage as well. It is interesting to me that Canada has taken some different positions than the US Vineyard, particularily on the issue of women in senior ministry positions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the additional words. It's all fascinating to me! Coming from a liturgical tradition, I have to admit that this part of the Christian trunk seems exotic to me. Incense, plainchant, adoration, desert asceticism, arcane mystical texts, Church Fathers: bring 'em on. But Foursquare, Laddian Kingdom Theology, Wimber, Benny Hinnesque, FreeMethodist, Vineyardism: I'm absolutely clueless. *sigh*

One of Freedom said...

Kerry I think a lot of us neo-pentecostals find the high liturgical traditions exotic. :-)

Anonymous said...

This seems to be to be a journey from one sub-tradition of Pentecostalism to another sub-tradition of Pentecostalism. That still makes it a powerful "encounter with tradition," however.

One of Freedom said...

I think that is a fair way of looking at it. At some point I should blog about my encounter with Catholicism as a neo-pentecostal. I find myself quite influenced by the Roman Catholic Church in ecclesial practice at least. Although I don't feel drawn to Roman Catholicism I do love their Eucharistic spirituality and have borrowed unashamedly from them.

steven hamilton said...

frank -

great post...i think you articulated the Vineyard movement very well, i especially liked your comment about practiced spirituality...if i ever get up ottawa way maybe i'll stop in!

peace to you

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