Vineyard DNA – Is there room for me here?

Father’s Day. Besides it being Father’s Day, today was the “installation” of Chuck as our new pastor. Ron, the worship leader, had been tagged to make some introductory comments before Chuck was set to give his own sermon. Alas, Ron’s comments became a sermon with Ron chronicling his own insights in Vineyard History and the journey he’s taken toward accepting Chuck as our pastor. It was an honest personal reflection that spoke volumes about Ron’s integrity and a wonderful example of someone working through their Faith questions versus the usual excuse making that makes up the lives of many of us Christians.

The structure of Ron’s talk came from the 10 Vineyard “Distinctives” found on the Vineyard USA website. I know I’d seen the list before but must have not really thought about them at any length. One thing that particularly struck me was his comment that the values that the Vineyard had continued from it’s Calvary Chapel roots was the belief that one of the greatest strengths of the movement was clear Biblical teaching set in the simplest language possible, that is in the language of the people. Remembering back to those crazy Jesus-freak days, it did amaze me that the church would even consider how it would communicate with and then bring these unwashed hippies into its hallowed sanctuaries and allow itself to be culturally changed, instead of expecting the hippies to become suit and tie Stepford Christians.

Right there one might imagine that a church which could be comfortable for the former druggie as well as the OC housewife would be a most flexible place. And maybe it was, but then as someone back in those days who was less flower child and more inquisitive observer, it became my observation that those of us who were drawn to intellectual scholarly approaches to biblical studies were openly made fun of (one Sunday evening at the main Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa the speaker said that PhD stood for “phenomenally dumb” and that ThD stood for “thoroughly dumb”). The anti-academic sentiment was a bit confusing given that Calvary was more rational and about the text of the Bible than emotionally, “cult of personality” driven. I mean, I remember one associate pastor in an effort to aspire to an air of intellectualism took to attempting to speak at an inhumanly fast pace just to prove that his brain was faster than his mouth.

Now that I think about it, this anti-intellectualism was probably part of the reason that I changed churches when I decided to work on a Master’s Degree in Theology at Fuller Seminary. Alas, the conservative Presbyterian church I ended up at was very open to academic pursuits but was culturally trapped in 18th century Scotland. I kept thinking that if the robes and liturgical nature of the service didn’t scare a “modern” Southern Californian away, the complete lack of being able to communicate with anyone not raised in the church probably would. I’ll never know how I convinced my former druggie, street-wise then-wife to go to this church with me. Maybe it shouldn’t have been too surprising that my academic/theological pursuits collapsed when my marriage did and took with it any effort at maintaining my personal relationship with the One who said He loved me just as I was.

So, given this “simplest language possible” approach to biblical studies (which I do believe in) I still wonder if there’s room for someone like me here. Is there room for one who understands the poetic nature of what happens when one takes centuries old oral traditions and decides to create a written record? Is there room for someone who believes that the intended meaning or message of the story is of greater importance than the story’s possible historical accuracy? I mean, I have no patience with those who would create their religion out of the top of their pointed little heads, but then to hold that Moses sat down one day and wrote the first five books of the bible and make that an essential requirement for orthodoxy seems equally blind and ill-concieved. That God would create the universe in seven solar days or several billion years, neither concept seems any less miraculous than the other to me. I wonder if there really is room for me here, or if I’m just better off keeping my mouth shut except to sing the worship songs that I love? JBB

Music: The Winds of Time – Mark Heard – Ashes & Light

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