This past week Joe Boyd and I were in Galveston for the Vineyard National Leadership Conference. Besides thoroughly enjoying the time with Joe, it reconfirmed what I love about our particular tribe and why it seems to fit me/us nicely. By the way, the head of our region, Ken Wilson, spoke at the Vineyard this weekend on the passage about the Church in our Nicene Creed series. Ken is the author of two great books; check out his last one called Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back.
Since my earliest recollection of the Vineyard and connection in 1984, there has always been a “kingdom-centered” theology, that is, the incarnation was the fulfillment of the Kingdom…and that the central message of the Church is the Kingdom…and that the Kingdom is expressed in supernatural and practical ways. John the Baptist’s first message was, “Change the way you think: the Kingdom of heaven is near.” In other words, the curtain between heaven and earth is opening and the playwright is stepping onto the stage. A thin place has suddenly been breached.
Jesus’ first public announcement was the well-known prophetic passage from Isaiah 61 that had been referenced for centuries as the day when the Sovereign Lord rebuilds and restores a devastated planet, when justice flows like a river. When I look at the rampant political corruption in Zimbabwe and the desperate lining of pockets of power in an economy with an unfathomable no-kidding inflation rate of five-hundred-billion percent, or when I saw the long-abandoned massive strip-mined craters for tin in Nigeria as a result of colonialism, or read of the approximate quarter-million children trapped in sex-trade slavery in Thailand, I shout, “That’s not fair. Where is the justice?” Who wouldn’t?
Only one problem: what if God applied His perfect justice to me? Ouch.
Would I weep like the German Oskar Schindler, whose factory saved nearly twelve-hundred Jews, and say, “I could have got more out. I don't know. . . I threw away so much money. . . If I'd just...”? I live in a country where the average American is financially worth nearly a hundred times more than the average Indian.
And what about the unseen pettiness of my thoughts, the unspoken demand for comfort, the sense of entitlement?
How often have I turned a blind eye? Have I hoarded in ways that are indiscernible in our culture? Do I spend more on DVD’s than an Indonesian makes in a year? The average American spends a whopping five hours a day watching TV; is that justice when hands and hearts are needed for the homeless, for forgotten senior citizens, for global peacemaking, for neglected children, for whatever? If justice really ran down like a raging river, would I be swept off the banks in it?
That’s why I need the fresh mercies of God every morning.
But the message of the Kingdom focuses on individual wholeness and systemic social righteousness. It functions both on the level of practical justice and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what appeals to me about the Vineyard movement—it’s not just talk. And it’s not just about social causes. And it’s not just about the charismas. It’s the practical and supernatural outworking of the Kingdom. There is a risk element to it that we like to define as faith.
I need a family, a tribe, that’s bigger than my own. It’s not about “joining” the Vineyard movement. For me, it’s like discovering your spiritual DNA in a family you’ve been searching for for years.
And that’s what the conference reminded me.