Did the Lord Say?
The church of my youth—The Vineyard Anaheim—continues to misstep its decision to leave the Vineyard movement. If you’re interested in the whole drama, read here and here. Anaheim Vineyard’s actions are a lesson in how not to leave a movement. While lots could be said, I want to reflect on an argument used by Anaheim Vineyard’s board to leave the Vineyard movement. It is an argument I hear quite a bit in my religious world but never with such a laissez-faire attitude. In short, the argument goes something like this: the Lord told us to do it. To be fair, Vineyard Anaheim’s board does fill it out a bit:
We have waited and weighed; we have heard the invitation and direction of the Spirit (through scripture, counsel, prophecy, evidence of grace and circumstances) to do what we have always done: to take another step of faith and risk.”
In other words, God has spoken to us, and we have acted. We have made sure that we are right by doing x, y, and z. In religious language, they make their case. They layout categories of proof and declare we are moving as the Lord desires. But is this true? Did the Lord say to Vineyard Anaheim, “leave the Vineyard movement”?
In Christianese, the answer to the question is found in understanding New Testament ecclesiology; ecclesiology is how a church operates. You will not find a step-by-step guide in the New Testament on leaving a denomination. Instead, the New Testament, especially Paul, lays out principles of ecclesiology. In healthy systems, they will be operative. And when these principles are not operative, something is broken in the system.
Three principles come to mind when deciding whether the Lord has spoken or not. Think of these principles to weigh whether the Spirit is moving or not. It need not be a mystery or confusing whether God is acting. It can be known. As Jesus says, you’ll know by their fruit.
The first is the principle of accountability. The apostle Paul, the most crucial Christ-follower in church history, its second most influential leader, had to give an answer to his community, other leaders, and even outsiders. In Acts 15, Paul submits himself to other leaders at the Council of Jerusalem. In Acts 17, the Bereans, who are lauded in Acts as worthy of emulating, don’t take Paul at his word just because he is the great apostle Paul. These outsiders heard what Paul had to say—the gospel no less—and weighed it against the Scriptures. He was not taken at his word. Paul was held accountable for his words. This principle is carried into Paul’s ecclesiology. In 1 Corinthians 14:29, Paul places the prophets under the authority of the larger body. We are healthier when we are accountable one to another.
The Vineyard movement has no enforceable mechanism for accountability; its authority is derived from a commitment to mutual submission and respect. The movement exists to keep each church and pastor accountable to the values of the movement and the Bible. They believe they are better together. Each pastor and church are responsible for holding other Vineyard pastors and churches accountable. In turn, they submit to others in the movement. Of course, Anaheim Vineyard can do whatever it wants. It is free to act assuming no laws were broken. But the Vineyard Anaheim has rejected accountability.
The second principle is the principle of good order. Paul speaking to the church in Corinth, says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Co 14:33). Paul gave instructions to a church that was ‘following the Spirit’ too much. The Corinth church was chaotic and hurting the very cause they loved. So, Paul places broad boundaries for the Corinth church to follow in their times of worship. He applies the principle of good order. Good order comes from a Good God. Where there is confusion, there is chaos and room for sin.
I cannot figure out why Anaheim Vineyard’s board would allow the chaos of their decision to spread. By their admission, their decision has not been made in good order. It is a mess. Like the church in Corinth, the fame of Jesus is at stake. Good order can happen, but the board is choosing for it not to happen. It has been my experience that when chaos reigns in the body of Christ, Satan is not far behind.
The third principle is the law of love. In the preamble to one of the most remarkable pieces of literature in all of human civilization, Paul writes
if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Co 13:2–3).
You can hear from God and do great things for him, but it is worthless if there is no love.
Secrecy, obtuseness, and evasiveness are not usually the attributes of love. For love’s sake, the board of VCF Anaheim should treat the rest of the body with openness, clarity, and simplicity. This is how they can love the thousands of folks feeling left behind.
One final word. I live in Chicago. I have watched some of the most outstanding pastors in North America disintegrate right before my eyes. The primary reason is that they were not held to these three principles. It needed not have happened. The wrecking of their ministries was not inevitable. The writing was on the wall long before there was a catastrophe. Our decisions have consequences. Let this stand as a prophetic word.
The choices of Vineyard Anaheim are deciding its future. I pray that humility will win the day. So did the Lord say to the board of Anaheim, leave? The answer is…. Not yet.