Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Post-charismatic or plain old burnout?

Rob MacAlpine writes about post-charismatics and the problems dealing with the Church after burnout.

MacAlpine writes as if it is a new phenomenon, but having a bird's eye view of the charismatic and pentecostal movements over 30 years, I think charismatic burnout attrition goes hand-in-hand with any church that emphasizes the gifts of the spirit. The problem is just as he states: People need a church that puts more emphasis on the fruit of the spirit. You can pray for healing until Jesus returns, but it means nothing without the transforming power of the Spirit inside of you. As a correlary, you can preach all the right doctrine, but if you do not major in the fruit of the spirit -- if you do not place your focus on the grace, love, and redeeming power of Christ -- your church members face the same dilemma.

It is nothing new to say it's easy for a Spirit-filled church to grow out of balance. There is such a foxhole mentality to defend a small portion of our theology, it becomes a point of emphasis in many churches to the neglect of the rest of Biblical teaching.

In mentioning his and his friend's departure from the Vineyard, my church affiliation, he follows by mentioning four broad reasons many people now consider themselves "post-charismatics":
1. Abuses and elitism in prophetic ministry, coupled with a “carrot and stick” approach to holiness that many find legalistic, manipulative, and repressive
2. The excesses of Word Faith teachings (health and wealth, prosperity doctrine) which clash with the emerging generations’ concern for a biblical approach to justice and ministry with the poor
3. Authoritarianism and hierarchical leadership structures that exist more to control people than to equip the saints for works of service
4. An approach to spiritual formation (discipleship) that depends on crisis events – whether at “the altar” in a church service, or in a large conference setting – but either neglects or deliberately belittles other means of spiritual maturation (ie. spiritual disciplines)
I am in no way an official spokesman for the Vineyard, but I can say the Vineyard Community of Churches as an organization is in no way defined by the above as it stands today. There would be serious corrective measures taken by leadership if any of those problems became evident. His points bear no resemblance to the Vineyard I am familiar with.

What I can't defend is the number of invdividual churches under the VCC banner the last 10 years who I know have dipped into one or more of those errant directions. It's a problem I have long blamed on the mass expansion in the late 80s and early 90s that came with two built-in church-killing issues:

  • Church plants by groups of people who had great intentions but no practical skills or a Biblical exposition background.

  • Churches from other denominations who did not buy in to the Evangelical portion of the Vineyard's theological mixture, but wanted to fly under the banner of the latest popular movement.

    Some of these churches failed to weigh the wholeness of the movement's mission, how John Wimber defined Vineyard orthopraxis in 1992:

  • Clear, accurate, Biblical teaching
  • Contemporary worship in the freedom of the Holy Spirit
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation
  • An active small group ministry
  • Ministry to the poor, widows, orphans and those who are broken
  • Physical healing with emphasis on signs and wonders as seen in the book of Acts
  • A commitment to missions - church planting at home and world missions abroad
  • Unity within the whole body of Christ; a relationship with other local churches
  • Evangelistic outreach
  • Equipping the saints in areas such as discipleship, ministry, serving, giving, finances, family, etc.

    So the Vineyard has had something of a fall out in the post-prophetic, post-renewal phase of the organization. The newness has worn off, and people that were attracted by the hype are less inclined to stick around because now the Vineyard's more evangelical grounding is becoming a burden. I don't know if that fall out equates to a large number of churches lost, but I know the loss is felt by most of those in leadership.

    None of this bothers me on a serious level, however. I have always been among the more conservative in the Vineyard, and if we move back a little closer to the center of orthodoxy, I think it's healthy. Wimber even anticipated this and encouraged this, believing it was the normal progression for a new church organization. He only warned against becoming stale in theology and practice, advising that when the Spirit wind blows, we must be ready to follow His lead.
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