Saturday, March 19, 2016

Awkward Continuationist: Kingdom of God

“Is this church going Kingdom Now?”

She asked the question with a furrowed brow, mirroring the expression on her husband’s face as he hovered next to her.

Kingdom Now?” I replied. “Never heard of it. What do you mean?”

She gave me a quick thumb-nail sketch describing some of the signature teachings of Kingdom Now advocates, and my initial response was a cheerful: “No, were definitely not going in that direction at this Vineyard. Not on my watch, anyway.”

She didn’t appear convinced. Her husband said nothing, but looked as if he wasn’t sure he believed me, either.

And with good reason, I guess. They had been raised Pentecostal, which meant they were already very familiar with the Latter Rain movement, a.k.a. Kingdom Now, or its newest iteration, the New Apostolic Reformation. They recognized the “buzz words” showing up in our local Vineyard church.

I, on the other hand, had been raised in a cessationist evangelical denomination, and was blissfully unaware of the Latter Rain or its teachings. Id heard the same buzz words and thought they were strange, but didn’t understand the implications.

After doing the background research for Post-Charismatic 2.0, I now realize—in the perfect clarity which hindsight provides—why the concerned couple seemed unconvinced by my assurances our Vineyard wasn’t moving in that direction. They saw the signs; I didn’t. (And, also in hindsight, they were right about the church’s shifting direction.)

The Kingdom of God is a very important concept throughout the Bible. It was Jesus’ introductory message during His earthly ministry: “repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” There are many denominations which explain it as the already and not yet—the Kingdom is “already” breaking into human history in the ministry of Jesus, and “not yet” because it won’t come in its fullness until the second coming of Jesus. George Ladd wrote eloquently on this topic is several of his books (which were my inspiration for writing The Genesis Cafe).

The similarity of language in the Latter Rain view is probably why a lot of people don’t recognize the trajectory away from orthodoxy. (And might also explain why people today are suddenly lauding its proponents like William Branham—I hope they’re just unaware of what he actually taught. But it would be nice if theyd done their homework before promoting Branham.)

The already/not yet view of the Kingdom has some key points to emphasize against Kingdom Now teachings. While not an exhaustive list, this would include emphasizing:

  • Jesus brings the Kingdom; we do not hand it over to Him when He returns
  • Jesus will bring the Kingdom in its fullness when He is good and ready; He is not trapped in heaven until we complete the spread of the Kingdom
  • whenever healing occurs, it’s the Kingdom breaking in (conversely, whenever healing does not occur, it is a sign that the Kingdom is still “not yet”); as opposed to the idea that healing is 100% available on demand (there is some overlap with the Prosperity teaching on this point)
  • we participate in the Kingdom by responding to the voice/promptings of the Holy Spirit as we minister to others; we do not run ahead, assuming that we already know His will for the world
  • we, the church, are citizens in His Kingdom; the church is not the Kingdom
There were many other Latter Rain/Kingdom Now teachings that range from bizarre to heretical, but there isn’t space here to go into it (at the risk of blatant self-promotion, you could always read the book).

A biblical understanding of what the Kingdom of God is about would be a good antidote. As the saying goes, if you know the real thing, the counterfeit becomes obvious.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Awkward Continuationist

I was there when this album was recorded, oh-so-many years ago.

It was not the first time I'd been to something “Vineyard,” but it was the first extended (four day) time of enjoying worship and workshops.

It was a “high water mark” in my spiritual journey up to that point.
And yes, it also had a direct connection to getting fired by my church shortly after. But that’s a story best left in the past, where it belongs.

Ironically, my termination confirmed a corollary to something John Wimber had written a few years earlier:
Many [people] were not offended by the theory of divine healing; it was the practice of healing prayer that offended them.” (Power Healing, pg 49, emphasis in original)
The corollary, in this case, was the difference between believing the gifts of the Spirit are available today (which they did), and the practice of them (which they rejected). Long story short: attending the Worship Festival will always be a fond memory in my spiritual life.

Years earlier, when Wendy and I were dating/engaged, we usually attended a charismatic church near our Bible college because we really enjoyed the lively worship and the joyful zeal of our friends there.

The preaching made us cringe at times, but we were encouraged to know that quite a number in our “college ’n’ career” group had similar concerns. We invested many hours in local coffeeshops, discussing what we loved about the freshness in the worship, and debating the content of the sermons.
And at one point, Wendy and I gave voice to The Dream: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a church that had the exegetical preaching of the evangelicals, and was also open to the charisma of the Spirit?”
In our Bible college, some of our required reading included books like George Mallones Furnace of Renewal and Those Controversial Gifts, as well as Michael Green’s To Corinth, With Love and I Believe in the Holy Spirit

These books gave us hope that it might be possible to be evangelical in belief and charismatic in practice, without compromising sound theology or quenching the Spirit. And while I would (and still do) describe myself as evangelical (as per Bebbington’s quadrilateral), there had also been some powerful and unexpected encounters with the Holy Spirit that informed some of our desire to see some kind of “radical middle” between the two.

So in retrospect, the Worship Festival hosted by the Langley Vineyard was just another step in a journey that had begun years earlier.

Being a “continuationist” is almost as awkward as the word itself; the radical middle is hard to find and harder to maintain. Because people.

Bebbington’s Quadrilateral is a helpful (albeit broad) synopsis of evangelicalism. I am not aware of a widely accepted definition of continuationist. I think it would be safe to define it like this: a belief that all of the charisma (gifts of the Holy Spirit) are available today and necessary for the church to function biblically.
And there will be a plethora of caveats and permutations of what that looks like. There is nothing new under the sun. :)
I suppose continuationist could reasonably be called “vague,” because everything from Prosperity (Health and Wealth) on through to Latter Rain (New Apostolic Reformation) would also fit under that banner. It’s not unlike the term evangelical. You almost have to say “yeah, but which kind?”

Clearly, it’s awkward to call myself a continuationist, but at the very least, it has less negative baggage than the term charismatic.

I’d rather avoid turning negative at this point, and saying “well, yes I’m a continuationist but not like (fill in the blank).” It’s better to look at the foundational understanding of the context in which the charisma can function in a healthy, biblical, Spirit-honoring way.

And that foundation would be our understanding of the Kingdom of God.