Vineyard churches are known for many things — some identify the Vineyard with worship music and others know us as a church planting movement. Though there is much diversity within the Vineyard, we share a common set of values and distinctives that make us unique (not better!) when compared to other sisters and brothers in the global church. And while we like guitars and drums and we definitely believe that planting churches is an effective way to join God’s Mission, if the Vineyard is anything, it is a theological movement.
Though theology can be scary to some, largely due to how some theologians have made thinking and talking about God unhelpful and disconnected from the practical aspects of life, theology matters. What we believe about God, Scripture, and how to engage with the world matters, right? Plus, if theology is simply the study of God, everyone is a theologian… they just might not be a very good one!
I’m convinced that one of the primary roles that church leaders serve in is to help people understand how to think theologically and to make great theology accessible. We in the Vineyard have a rich heritage to draw from and have been significantly shaped by some brilliant thinkers who have helped us develop our theological foundation. Our future is only going to become brighter as women and men, young and old, from ethnic groups all over the world, are called and empowered by God to serve our movement by engaging in the life of the mind.
But I digress.
Anyway, the primary reason why I believe we are a theological movement, in addition to many of the other markers we share, is because our movement’s identity is centered on the theology of the kingdom of God. After all, the central message of Jesus was the proclamation and demonstration of that kingdom (cf. Luke 4:43) and we have long believed that we are called to continue the ministry of Jesus!
In other words, all that we do in the Vineyard rests on the foundation of a robust theology of the kingdom. Our sense of mission springs from our understanding of God’s kingdom. As John Wimber wrote, “I believe the most effective form of evangelism today has at its heart the proclamation of the King and His kingdom” (Power Evangelism). We pray for the sick because we believe the kingdom is breaking into our lives! We pursue social justice because at the heart of the kingdom is a promise to make things the way God intended them. We seek reconciliation because the kingdom invites us to view people through a lens of God’s love. Everything we say, do, and believe springs from a rich and beautiful understanding of God’s kingdom.
Defining the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he said the following:
“Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:9–10 NLT)
Jesus tied the in-breaking of the kingdom to God’s will being done. George Eldon Ladd, a New Testament scholar who significantly influenced Wimber and the early Vineyard leaders, described the kingdom of God as the dynamic rule and reign of God (cf. The Presence of the Future). This is a helpful way to understand what the kingdom is. When the kingdom comes, God’s will is done.
When we look at the New Testament, we notice that in some verses, the kingdom will come and in other verses, the kingdom has come; the kingdom is coming immediately and the kingdom is pictured as being delayed. As Derek Morphew acknowledges in his popular Vineyard book, Breakthrough, “These statements seem contradictory. How can an event be simultaneously future and present?”
This is why the Vineyard states that the kingdom is both now and not yet, inaugurated at the first coming of Jesus and to be consummated at his return. Theologians define this understanding of the kingdom of God as inaugurated eschatology. It is the theological grounding for why we seek for healing, as when God’s kingdom breaks into our lives, his will to heal and restore becomes a reality… but it also helps us understand the mystery as to why some are not healed. The kingdom of God is both present now and will be in its consummate fullness in the future (by the way, if you want a really helpful non-scholarly but super practical book on understanding the kingdom of God, I highly recommend Robby McAlpine's The Genesis Cafe: Conversations on the Kingdom).
The Kingdom and the Church.
One common misunderstanding about the kingdom of God is the assumption that it is synonymous with the Church. This idea suggests that God’s kingdom is one and the same with the Church, God’s people. Again, Ladd provides a helpful corrective here, writing:
“… the New Testament does not equate believers with the Kingdom. The first missionaries preached the Kingdom of God, not the church (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). It is impossible to substitute “church” for “kingdom” in such sayings.” (A Theology of the New Testament).
In addition to Scriptures teaching a distinction between the kingdom of God and the Church, Ladd provides a number of helpful clarifications for us, several of which our wonderful Regional Leader, Rose Swetman, spoke on at last year’s Regional Conference:
I might add that it may be helpful to theologically imagine the Church as a “sacrament” of the kingdom for the world. If we understand sacraments simply as a “means of grace,” one might envision the community of the kingdom, the Church, as the way in which the world encounters the grace of God. We are, after all, called to proclaim and demonstrate the hope of Jesus’ promised come and coming kingdom.
So take note: the Vineyard believes that the Holy Spirit empowers people to “do the stuff” because the kingdom of God broke into our world when Jesus began his public ministry some two thousand years ago. We pray for the sick and witness people receive healing, both physically, spiritually, and emotionally because we encounter God’s dynamic rule and reign. We speak Spirit-inspired and empowered words that encourage, strengthen, and comfort people because God’s kingdom releases tokens of grace to help people know the King and his kingdom are present.
Everything we do is grounded in the theology of the kingdom. So go… proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God to the people in your community who are so deeply loved by Jesus!
Red Bluff Vineyard