This is the second part of a two part blog series
covering my church journey from a non-charismatic evangelical Bible church to a
charismatic evangelical Vineyard by way of a Messianic Jewish Synagogue. To
start at the beginning, click
Beth Hallel Days
I mentioned, yesterday, that my children thrived at Beth
Hallel. During those stormy days of dysfunctional family life, while my nieces
lived with us, Beth Hallel was the one place we all anticipated. If their doors
were open, we were there. The people all turned out to be friendly, they just
seemed to need the outside world to commit to them before they opened up. There
was a day when Jonathan was very sick. Stephanie went to the store for a few
things and came back to find Jonathan up and dressed. He announced that he was
better and could certainly go to Beth Hallel. His fever, when she checked it,
was 103 degrees.
One year after we joined, I began to teach a series on
Isaiah. Rather than the five years that I expected, it took only one. I decided
to follow Paul's ministry model and paid for all my handouts and course
materials out of my own pocket. Many people responded positively to this series
and I was very encouraged.
The Jews have a great community life and a full holiday
calendar that teaches essential theological truths. Living that cycle of
holidays added an unexpected dimension to my understanding of their
significance. Each spring I would anticipate Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot).
In the fall, I would anticipate Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), The Day of Atonement
(Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth). One day, it occurred to me
that Jesus' first coming fulfilled the spring holidays and that his next coming
would fulfill the fall. You can find complete details in my online paper, "The
Lord's Appointed Times"
Two things happened that dramatically changed my status
at Beth Hallel. The first thing was the Rabbi asking me to cut the Isaiah series
short by two weeks. He was a regular kind of guy and did not plug into the more
scholarly aspects of my lessons. He was anxious to have them end. The second
thing was his announcement that his wife would teach the next series. I did not
really mind the former. As for the latter, I scheduled a meeting with Robert to
discuss the scriptural implications of his decision to have his wife teach a
mixed group (I realize that many of you would not have a problem with this, but
it was a still is a matter of conscience for me: also see Biblical
Gynecology). He was cordial, but decided to go ahead with his plan anyway.
My wife and I opted to not attend the lessons taught by a woman to a mixed
audience. We did, however, show the respect of not discussing the issue with
others. We did not wish to be divisive.
Showing an independent spirit to a controlling leader is
never good. I never taught publicly at Beth Hallel again. If anyone asked me to
do anything publicly, they had one of the rabbi's famous meetings. Afterwards
they would express their regrets to me and found someone else more to the
rabbi’s liking. I guess there are some who would have become embittered, but I
carried on cheerfully, although I would occasionally feel a frustration level
I may have had no public platform, but I still had
influence behind the scenes. In 1991, one of the leaders quietly began a Monday
morning Bible study and invited me. At first we shared the teaching, but soon
they just asked me to do it. We kind of flew under the rabbi's radar. This study
goes on to this day. I may not have had a public platform, but I had the some of
the elders and the deacons of Beth Hallel quietly receiving solid instruction
from the Bible. Through the years we have studied 1st and 2nd Timothy,
Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Hebrews. We spent 5 years on the life of Jesus
Christ, sat with Job, and are now swimming in Romans. Even though I no longer
attend Beth Hallel, I still have a small influence.
During my time at Beth Hallel, I learned to appreciate
the Jewish holidays and the Jewish sense of community. There is no parallel
among the Gentile churches. I also attended several yeshivas conducted by the
Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. I was able to listen to David Stern,
who translated the Jewish New Testament, Dr. Louis Goldberg of Moody, and
others. Those were stimulating times.
In the spring of 1994, five years after joining Beth
Hallel, two events precipitated a change of direction. First, my wife had an
intuition that my time of waiting was about to end. The second was that I read
Jack Deere's "Surprised by the Power of the Holy Spirit."
Even when I was in Dallas, I never considered myself a
cessationist. The typical arguments about prophecy, healing, etc. only being for
the first century always seemed weak. At Beth Hallel, the rabbi often had words
of knowledge about people that had uncanny accuracy. All this is to say that the
actual theology in Jack Deere's book was not what struck me so hard and caused
me, at the end of chapter 2, to rush upstairs to tell my wife that the material
in the book would change my life. Coming from Dallas and Scofield Memorial
Church and Believers Chapel and Community Bible Chapel etc. I felt like I knew
the soul of strong evangelical life. We take life and the Bible seriously. We
strive to be strong in Word and Spirit. Our meetings are conducted in decency
and order. So how was it that a 3 day seminar taught by John White (White not
Wimber in this instance) could reduce our kind of church to a cacophony of
tearful repentances, inner healings, and demonic deliverance? If it had happened
at Beth Hallel, it would have been no surprise to me. Reading chapter 2 of Jack
Deere's book, quite honestly, gave me a vision for it happening at other evangelical
churches, and that's when my sense of the Power of God awoke.
At first, my idea was to attend a local Vineyard Church
to see what kind of training they had. I quickly discovered that Vineyard
Churches were all different. They were not so much connected by common Theology
and church practice as they were by a set of values. We visited The Marietta
Vineyard that hosted many young Gen-X'ers. They sensed that my family would not
fit in well, so they told us about Cobb
Vineyard, which we attended the following week. The Sunday service was OK.
It was good to hear real teaching again. The worship music was not as good as
The following Wednesday, my son and I attended their
prayer meeting. We both commented afterwards about feeling a strong sense of
God's Spirit while we prayed for others. Everybody seemed to be very open and
The next Wednesday my wife came to the prayer meeting.
Things could not have been more different. A group of them had gone to both the
Toronto Vineyard and the Kansas City Vineyard and they were hyped!
While one young woman was telling about her time, a small group behind us
just began laughing. It was and sounded rude, but nobody seemed to mind. Then
the girl fell down laughing with great gusto. A young man began to tell his
story and it was a battle between him trying to be heard and her seemingly
trying to laugh above him. It was not a pretty evening. If this had been my
first meeting, I may never have returned, but I had the warmth of the first and
decided it would be good to see which evening was typical.
The next Wednesday, when I parked the car, my wife asked
me if I had a dollar. I said, "Yes. Why?" She replied, "Because
if it's like what is was last time, you can find me in the Huddle House across
the street drinking coffee." I gave her the dollar. For some time after
that every time we went into a meeting she would always flash that dollar at me.
Things, for a while, were never quite as dramatic as that
second Wednesday night, but I was told that a new wave of "renewal"
was flowing through the Vineyard and other churches. They said that it began in
Toronto that January (1994). A lot of dialog was flowing among the Vineyard
leadership to discern what was going on. Supposedly, nothing was going on at
Toronto, Kansas City, and the local Vineyards that had not happened before.
During this time, I came face to face with the less well known side effects of
the First and Second Great Awakenings: besides a wave of repentance, there were
also waves of strange phenomenon. Jonathan Edwards, for example, had written his
“Religious Affections,” to help the church understand the why religion was affecting
people the way it was.
Vineyard was the second anomaly of my Christian walk. I did not join because
of the renewal. As I told my wife at the time, the renewal train was going
somewhere, but I did not know its destination. However, there was wisdom to be
gained no matter where it stopped. Either it was going to show a profound move
of God, or I would have the means to communicate why it was not. I joined
because my inner sense told me it was the right thing to do. It was a call
seemingly from the Lord. The only logical objective pieces in this decision were
the pastor's character and his vision for what a church should be. Thomas Cooley
understood the priesthood of the believer. He believed that each one had a
spiritual gift for the good of the body. He was not comfortable with the
renewal, but He did not want to quickly interfere with what God might be doing.
My inner sense of calling was very strong. When we joined
Beth Hallel, my wife had the same inner calling as I did. We went as a team.
Changing to Cobb Vineyard meant that I had to ask her to follow, against her
desires, as a Christian wife. She did so as unto the Lord, and although she
rightfully spoke her opinions, she never attempted to undermine my decision or
sabotage the path. My inner call was so strong, that I would cry to the Lord to
unify our hearts on the issue. He did not. It was as if He were asking me to
choose between my wife and Himself.
Thomas had character and vision, but minimal leadership skills. There
was insufficient follow through to bring the vision to pass. The children in the
church ran wild – We had some people over to our house and were amazed to see
one of the children dancing on our coffee table: the parents never said a thing.
All the young people Jonathan's age were from dysfunctional homes and on
medication – we were concerned about who he might meet and marry. The
associate pastor preached types and shadows and hinted that you could lose your
salvation. The renewal phenomena continued on. You can see why my being there
would be anomalous. I had a calling and a sense that what was would not always
But I learned two important Biblical truths from the
renewal. They were things I could not have perceived fully in the stable
environment of my evangelical past. They are maxims that I carry to this day,
and I think that they are true. The first is that "God will offend the mind
to reveal the heart." To put this in Biblical perspective: Think of Ezekiel
playing toy soldiers and cooking his food over dung (Eze 4); think of Isaiah and
Micah walking about naked for three years (Is. 20:2,3; Mic 1:8); think of Jesus
inciting a racial riot in his home town (Luk 4:14
ff.); think of Jesus talking about drinking blood to devout Jews
ff); and David dancing before the Lord in his underwear to the
consternation of Michal (2 Sam 6:14-23). The first maxim told me not judge a
situation too quickly.
The second maxim, which actually completes the first,
comes from 1Th 5:19-22 which says, "Do not quench the Spirit; do not
despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to
that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." You may have noted
that I close all my e-mail with "Examine everything. Cling to what is
good." It is the verse that charted my course through the renewal times.
Some was goofy and bad. Other things were strange but healthy. How easy it would
be for us today to despise a true prophet who showed up at church without
clothes. I have seen groups of women lying on the ground, holding their bellies,
and crying out as if they were giving birth. If the former could be giving a
live demonstration of foreign captivity, could not the latter be foreshadowing
the birth pangs to come?
And there was good that came from the renewal. My son and
I participated in the deliverance of a young man. During the prayer session, he
developed a lump in his shoulder that caused him great pain. My son laid his
hands on the lump and felt it go away. The young man's torment went away at the
same time. That young man now coaches 3 soccer teams with an evangelistic focus.
One of them is on its way the Georgia State championships.
I have experienced walking up to people when suddenly a
single word would pop into my head. When I then asked if "such and
such" meant anything to them, they broke down in tears. I have seen
healings of the soul and healings of the body. On the other hand, I have also
seen what I consider Satanic or even fleshly distractions. During a serious
sermon on concern for the lost, a group broke out in laughter. It totally
disrupted the message.
That was Cobb Vineyard in 1994. If you came to Cobb
Vineyard today, you would see Thomas, with the same character and vision,
leading a church increasingly ruled by its elders. He is teaching through
books of the Bible with great skill. The children behave like normal
children. The congregation is taught to seek life in the scriptures. The
congregation is coming to discover and use their spiritual gifts. There is still
much to do, but we have come a long long way.
We are striving to be a 4W church. We strive to love God
by our Worship and the study of his Word. We strive
to love others by our spiritual gifts Working to build the body
and expecting God to help with His Wonders. The 4 W's then are
Worship, Word, Work, and Wonders.
I have had a rich and rewarding time these 16 years since
leaving Dallas. I still have and value most highly the evangelical traditions.
If I had to pick only one from among Messianic Judaism, Charismatic
Christianity, and Evangelical Christianity, I would pick the Evangelical. A
disciplined study of the scriptures is the easiest and most reliable path to
maturity. But I have been fortunate to become intimate with all three. In my
view the evangelical tradition is actually able to accommodate it all. Again,
Daniel Wallace's paper speaks Vineyard Values and the scriptures clearly teach
the coming salvation of Israel and the Jews. Also, Richard Lovelace's book
“Dynamics of Spiritual Life” is interesting reading along these lines.
<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>