In what is hopefully the final entry in this last month’s series covering my life’s journey, we come back to where we left off—at the Vineyard in 1989.
I came to the Vineyard after most of the leadership left the Presbyterian church I had been going to. Many of my friends and some of those leaders wound up at the Vineyard and I followed them there.
Now this does not mean that I was unfamiliar with the Vineyard. In fact, I had been listening to the worship CDs they had and loved the purity of what the Vineyard was trying to accomplish, recovering a worshipful attitude. I even recommended the church to some friends, so it was not a difficult leap for me.
It seems like an eternity ago, but at one time the Vineyard was highly controversial. Sadly, this was largely due to some poor choices the Association of Vineyard Churches (AVC) made in their attempt to remain on the “cutting edge” of the charismatic movement. But I’ll get into that later.
I started teaching classes at my new church and was heavily involved with the prayer team, the latter being a natural outgrowth of my desire to be an intercessor. Still, I was beginning to realize I had some unfinished business elsewhere.
After a few months at the Vineyard, I felt a calling to finish my education, eventually getting on at Wheaton College in the Christian Ed department. I attended a Vineyard church at Wheaton and encountered actual persecution for doing so. To this day, Wheaton acts like the AVC doesn’t exist. Being a charismatic at Wheaton was definitely no fun. The Kansas City Prophet movement blew up while I was there and I was forced into defending it by some profs who liked to put the lone charismatic on trial. The whole movement gave me the heebie-jeebies actually, so it was no fun trying to keep others at the school from throwing out the charismatic baby with the prophetic bathwater.
Truth is, Wheaton was stifling. I found the lack of openness to anything but what people grew up with to be a grind on me spiritually, so it was nice to get back to my Vineyard home church with my degree and my love for the Lord intact. In the earlier days of the AVC, there was a great emphasis on grace, and that was healing.
But what started with the Kansas City Prophet movement showed the dark underbelly of the Vineyard, too—an unwillingness to scrutinize “new moves of God” more fully before jumping on board with their imprimatur. The worst part was that when these new moves fizzled or their leadership fell into error, no one in the Vineyard would stand up and try to explain to the people in the seats what happened and why.
I met my wife, whose background was Evangelical Friends (the same denomination John Wimber had come from), in 1994 and she started coming to the Vineyard, too. I think it was a good thing for her, but we would not stay in that church for long. After getting married in 1996, I took a job with Apple Computer and we moved from Ohio to Silicon Valley.
Finding a church in California was something we thought would be easy, but we had a false start at one Vineyard church there before finding another Vineyard in Palo Alto that was a good place for us. We were at that church for almost four years.
Before we left for California, I asked the pastor of our Vineyard in Ohio to not let the church become a clone of Willow Creek. While at Wheaton I had done a year-long study of the Willow Creek ministry model and had come away seeing that what others were billing as the model of the future was actually an emperor with no clothes. I viewed that model as lowest common denominator Christianity and the last thing I wanted to see was that model being adopted at our Vineyard church. Little did I know how prophetic my warning would be.
After returning to Ohio in 2000 to address the ill health of my parents, we found our old Vineyard church had swallowed the Willow Creek ministry model hook, line, and sinker. Seeker sensitivity had become the new mantra and everything that had been good about the church had been dumbed down and laminated in order to not offend anyone.
But the Gospel is offensive to many people and you lose something by trying to take the cross and sin out of the equation. When my wife and I moved later to the far eastern portion of Cincinnati, we were now faced with an hour-long drive to the church. I’d just buried both my parents and we’d had our first child. After moving, we lost our primary source of income and were truly in the pits. When we needed to hear about the Lord most, we were instead getting sermon messages about self-esteem.
Things got better for us as we looked past our church for the spiritual strength we could not get there any longer. We also realized the importance of being local, so after a long withdrawing period we finally split from the Vineyard after fifteen years and have recently found a wonderful, small non-denominational charismatic church just a few miles from where we now live.
And that’s the whole story!
As for Cerulean Sanctum, this blog was actually born out of another blog I started in 2001 (does that make me a blog pioneer?) that looked at current events from a Christian perspective. But out of my dissatisfaction with the direction our Vineyard church in Ohio had taken, I felt a calling to change the blog to reflect the growing unease many Christians were feeling with the church growth movement, spiritual deadness in many congregations, foolishness in the charismatic movement, and “mega-Churchianity.” Many of us are reading the Bible and thinking, How come churches today are not like the one we see in Acts? That’s a very good question that we show much reluctance in addressing.
I want to tackle these issues because we cannot ignore them. The future of the Church in America depends on us using God’s wisdom to be strong and wise.
My heart is for the Church as it is expressed in America. I know where we can be because I’ve seen glimpses of how astonishing the Church can be when we are living out the truth of Jesus Christ in its fullness. But rather than this being the norm, too many Christians are settling for something far less. My prayer is that Cerulean Sanctum can be a nexus for people who are looking for more than lowest common denominator Christianity. I hope to inspire people to think more critically about many of the fads in Christian circles and to call us back to the true heart of the Lord.
Some would classify that as prophetic and perhaps it is. But that is why I am here. I hope you can be edified by the discussion here, and that together we can grow to become the Church God has always desired us to be.
Blessings on you all. Thanks for stopping by.