Even if you are not part of it, you are probably aware of the influence that the Vineyard movement, led by John Wimber, has had on the Church of England. The latest Grove Worship booklet, Encountering Vineyard Worship by John Leach, explores this and assesses how the two traditions relate to one another.
In a fascinating article, Stephen Hunt suggests that the Church of England is the English denomination most open to, and therefore most influenced by, Vineyard praxis. This influence, I suggest, is more far-reaching and radical even than he described 20 years ago.
Most notably this has happened through two networks: those associated with New Wine (NW), which had its origins in St Andrew’s Church, Chorleywood; and Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). I will refer to this phenomenon as ‘Anglican Vineyard’ worship. My aim is to write a friendly critique which encourages us to think more deeply about this worship style. I hope that I might ask some hard questions of it, and perhaps help churches which have adopted this model to understand more clearly what they have done.
Given the influence of these two networks, such a critique and understanding is surely essential to understand what is happening in the Church of England today. (If something merits a chapter of scathing parody by Linda Woodhead and Andrew Brown, it must surely be important!)
John goes on to recount his own first experience of Vineyard worship, and explains the background to its development in the life of John Wimber, as well as its adaptation in Anglican settings.
Vineyard worship is a five-stage journey to lead us into the intimate presence of God. Wimber originally articulated these stages as: The call to worship; Engagement; Expression; Visitation; Giving of substance. Whilst this model has continued as the foundation stone of Vineyard worship, it has been refined along the way. So for example Matt Redman, originally an Anglican worship leader, who was heavily influenced by the Vineyard, has slightly different names for the five phases: The call to worship; Engagement; Exaltation; Adoration; Intimacy.
It will be worth taking some time to explore a bit more deeply the five stages of worship, since neither the words nor the experiences might be familiar to Anglican worshippers. Matt Redman helpfully pads out his titles with more information:
The call to worship uses songs addressed to others so that we are mutually encouraged to give ourselves to the period of worship ahead. This will be familiar to more liturgical Christians, although not usually in song.
Engagement occurs when we begin to address God personally; what John described as ‘the electrifying dynamic of connection to God and to each other.’ As this happens the presence of God is manifested among us.
Exaltation is the more celebratory singing which, according to John, we cannot help but offer when we become aware of his presence.
Adoration is the next phase, as the songs become more tender. The emphasis shifts from thanking God or celebrating him to telling him how much we love him.
Intimacy, the final goal of our worship, is an awareness of God’s intimate presence with us. John himself defines intimacy as ‘belonging to or revealing one’s deepest nature to another (in this case to God), and it is marked by close association, presence, and contact.’ Worship leader Brian Doerksen adds, ‘People want to sing intimate songs to God because they say what their hearts have been yearning to say, and many of them have been longing for intimacy their whole lives.’ This phase has also been described as the climax in the love-making of worship, which you might or might not find a helpful picture.
Underlying this shape for worship are three core values: intimacy; integrity; and accessibility. Intimacy seems to be about real heart connection to God; integrity refers to the worship leaders’ own personal heart for worship (the opposite, I suppose, of paid choir members with no faith but an enjoyment of choral music); and accessibility is about the ease with which anyone can join in.
Few, I suspect, would want to argue too much with the Vineyard’s core values in worship. It must be the case that Wimber’s positive background in the Friends denomination, along with his negative experiences of Catholicism and traditional Anglicanism, and his work as a church growth consultant, have made intimacy and experiential encounters with God so important to him, since they are so apparently lacking in the worship of other churches. Typical of Vineyard rhetoric is this from Carl Tuttle:
There is no life for us in much of what traditional Christianity offers us. Apart from God’s presence, the system and structure of the church including its Bible studies, singing, teaching, programmes, and traditions of outward righteousness are only forms without God’s presence and power. We need to turn from lifeless forms and begin to draw near to God and kiss his heart through the experience of worship.
In John’s discussion, he recognises the importance and the appeal of such an approach. But it is not without its disadvantages, and John goes on to offer a critique from an Anglican perspective.
The first thing to note is that in the Vineyard worship equals singing. It is a wry joke in charismatic circles that after having gathered, prayed, confessed, and so on ‘We are now going to have a time of worship.’ But in the Vineyard there simply is nothing else to worship but singing.
Of course I must generalize here, but my experience of Anglican Vineyard worship is that many of the ingredients of Anglican worship have become lost. I have been to many services in Anglican churches where we have not confessed our sins, joined in corporate spoken prayer, joined in psalms or canticles, heard Scripture read, celebrated the tenets of our faith together, interceded for anything outside the four walls of the building, taken bread and wine, joined in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, or been sent out to work for the kingdom. The worship of most denominations has evolved to include most if not all of these ingredients, but in Vineyard worship they are notable by their absence. So, more specifically, what is missing?
John then explores the role and value of liturgy (in the broadest sense), intercession, symbolic action, musical variation and interest—but I was most stuck by his comments on the role of scripture:
Vineyard churches are nothing if not biblical. Whether or not one agrees with facets of their interpretation, nobody could claim that they do not take the Bible seriously. Yet it is often the case that services do not contain the reading of Scripture in the way traditionally practiced by others. It may be the case that one or two verses are used during the sermon, but often without the congregation having heard or read the context. It is certainly not likely that there will be more than one Bible reading, with a balance between Old Testament, psalms, epistle and gospel. This public reading of Scripture has long been an important element in the worship of the church, dating back even to the New Testament itself, and before that to Judaism (Col 4.16). It used to be a joke in Anglican circles that, however heretical the sermon, one could still gain spiritual nourishment from the Bible itself and the liturgy of the church. But it is also essential in helping the congregation to be biblically literate and to see the big picture if the Bible is read in significant chunks, and not merely used as a quarry for individual proof texts. One thing which marked John Wimber out from US Pentecostalism was his willingness to engage with biblical and sociological study. He would not, I suggest, be pleased with the way in which Scripture is often used. I am not arguing for a return to conservative evangelical expository preaching as the only valid way of handling the Bible; indeed I have argued the very opposite. But the omission of the public reading of Scripture is, I believe, a loss to the church, and a loss potentially detrimental to its health.
John goes on to offer a fascinating reflection on the integration of worship and teaching in the context of Anglican worship which perhaps many Anglicans have not really appreciated. But he also notes the remarkable contribution the Vineyard approach has made to the C of E:
Anglican Christians and Christian leaders have indeed experienced more of God in the context of Vineyard conferences and events than they did though their normal Anglican liturgical worship. This quest for an experience of the presence of God has quite rightly become compelling, and leaders long for their congregations to experience more from God than they have before. They genuinely believe that to drop the liturgy and focus on the quest for intimacy will take them further towards achieving this goal, and in many cases it has.
The same appears to be true in terms of evangelism. HTB and NW churches have proven track records of numerical growth and evangelism, and it appears that this style is worth adopting simply because it works. The church I attend, which has grown from seven to around 250 in just over a year, is a case in point. Of course some of the growth is through transfer, although we have tried to avoid that as much as possible, but a significant amount appears to be from Christians alienated from churches which did nothing for them, but who have now been able to reconnect.
We noted above Carl Tuttle’s sweeping condemnation of church life outside the Vineyard, but the fact is that in many cases he is right. When liturgical worship serves to replace an expectation of the life of the Spirit it is no surprise that it is experienced as a turn-off.
You can order the booklet post free in the UK from the Grove website—and I don’t think you will be disappointed. It is a vital and fascinating read.
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