In one of my other lives, I serve as regional underseer of the Great Lakes Region of Vineyard Churches–about 114 churches in all. We had our regional conference in Cincinatti last week–hence my blogging silence. A wonderful time. We had nearly 200 more in attendance than our previous regional conference, always a good sign. The theme of the conference was 4Ward ’till Kingdom Come, because the theology of the kingdom is the treasure buried in the field of the Vineyard.
John Wimber, one of the founders of the Vineyard movement, was really a popularizer of a dynamic theological undercurrent expressed in the works of scholars like Oscar Cullmann and George Eldon Ladd. It’s a theology rooted in the vision of the Hebrew prophets, fulfilled in the living, dying, rising, ascending, and Spirit outpouring of Jesus of Nazareth, expressed in Jesus’ inaugural address in Luke, chapter four.
Which means it’s as much about bringing heaven down to earth here and now as it about securing an eternal destiny after death. As N.T. Wright says, the focus is on “life after life after death” or the new creation in which heaven and earth are fully re-integrated–a future kingdom breaking into the present by virtue of Jesus’ life and death and rising punching a hole in the dam separating the future from the present. Mind boggling, I know.
Which means the mission of the church is about peace rolling down like a river and justice like a never-ending stream . It’s about bearing witness to the future kingdom making it’s power felt here and now.
Which brings me to Tri Robinson’s climactic presentation on Wednesday night. Tri is the pastor of the Boise Vineyard, and a leader in the emerging field of creation care–bringing biblical principles of environmental stewardship to bear on the mission of the church. Tri made the case that environmental degradation is a justice issue. Well over a billion people don’t have access to clean water. Water borne diseases account for more infant deaths than any other cause. This crisis is exacerbated by a warming climate which increases drought in many places in the developing world which lands heavy on the poor. Whose children are often consigned to walking by themselves for hours each day in order to get a gallon or two of drinkable water. Leaving them vulnerable to terrible things, like being abducted and thrown into the slave trade, which is flourishing in the twenty-first century.
So no, contrary to what you hear on talk radio, concern for the environment is not an issue for the ivory tower or the “cultural elites.” It is a justice issue, which places it smack dab in the middle of Luke 4: 14-28, a concern of the gospel of the kingdom. The environmental crisis is part of the global poverty crisis and the water crisis and the slave trade crisis. Each and every one part of a bigger whole that is meant to be addressed by the gospel–which if it ain’t good news for this bad news, ain’t good enough or big enough.
While Tri has been working this out in the Boise Vineyard and speaking at a national level, many in his own tribe, the Vineyard, have been watching somewhat bemused and perplexed. Some have taken his lead and launched environmental stewardship ministries in their local Vineyard churches. But less than you’d think, to date.
Which is why I was so thrilled to see the Spirit moving on Wednesday night after Tri spoke. More than twenty-five Vineyard pastors who had never addressed our biblical obligation to “serve and protect” the environment, had never released a creation care ministry in their local church, made a committmennt to do something rather than nothing on this kingdom issue. Including one of the mega churches in our region. As I prayed with these pastors, I gave them my cell phone number. I hope to hear from each and every one.
It’s why I was thrilled to go from there to a Vineyard church in Northern Kentucky, where Tri and I led a creation care conference on Friday and Saturday. Because they want to do something rather than nothing. Had a chance to pray with someone in attendance who was responsible for reducing the carbon footprint of one of the nation’s largest utility companies. Small world.
And why I was thrilled on Sunday to speak at the Central Vineyard, in Columbus, led by Jeff Cannell. What a church! Nestled in a wonderful neighborhood near the OSU campus. Jeff and Adrienne well known among their neighbors. The church growing to nearly 400 after four short years. Young people mostly. A new-wine-skins-for-new-wine kind of church. Committed to the gospel of the kingdom. Unapologetic about mobilizing the church to “do justice, love steadfast love, and walk humbly with God.” And there, I prayed with a young woman who wants to launch a green vineyard ministry in their church. Already the church understands that care for the environment is part and parcel of care for the poor.
No, not everyone in the Vineyard sees the connection between the global environmental crisis and the gospel. Many at the conference will take away a vision of the kingdom that doesn’t include this particular concern. No matter, as long as they keep digging for the treasure of the kingdom, and putting into practice those things which they do discover. As many of them do. Praying for the sick, reaching out to the poor, gathering isolated people into community, and all the other kingdom things we’re called to do. I plan to keep learning from them, as I’m sure they’ve discovered things I haven’t.
And so I came home mightily encouraged. Not just because of the progress on this issue. But because of the kingdom of God. The coming kingdom. The unstoppable kingdom. The future kingdom breaking into the present because Jesus punched a hole through the dam separating the present from the glorious future with his dying and rising. And we get to drink from the river flowing back from the future into our present.
I love my job.