Three church associations that have been influential in my Christian life and thinking are Vineyard, Sovereign Grace Ministries and Newfrontiers. I first became familiar with Vineyard (in the mid 1990s when God changed my life) through their worship songs (Vineyard were “in” before Hillsong came along!) and also the Toronto Blessing (the Toronto Airport church was initially a Vineyard church). John Wimber (one of their founders) was a giant in Charismatic Christianity and I was really attracted to their balance of Word and Spirit – as well as their heart for the poor. I came to know Sovereign Grace in the late 1990s when they were still called PDI – see here and here. What attracted me to them was the fact that they were both Reformed in beliefs, yet Charismatic in practice. At that time, I was very attracted to the Reformed / Calvinistic tradition because of their solid teachings. I considered myself Reformed and Charismatic then and Sovereign Grace / PDI was really at the forefront of this growing “movement”. I probably know the least about Newfrontiers but my impression over the years (for various reasons) has been that it’s a church association that’s strong in both the Word and the Spirit. All three have some Reformed influences – the most being Sovereign Grace Ministries. I’ve actually moved away from the Reformed tradition, but understanding this rich heritage has helped me a great deal in terms of my understanding of Scripture. Not that I agree with a lot of the distinctives of the Reformed tradition, but it’s given me a great foundation to build on.
Right now, I don’t really follow much of Sovereign Grace Ministries because I think it’s too Reformed and not very charismatic at all – which I think is sad. They also seem to have a lot of problems with control and authoritarianism. However, I love their cross-centeredness and their music is pretty good in terms of having meaningful and biblical lyrics. As for Vineyard, I still greatly respect them and they have a lot of good resources and a good balanced charismatic heritage to learn from. I find myself still learning from this very broad “tradition” and my only regret is that they don’t have more resources available for free on the internet.
But I want to talk here a bit about Newfrontiers. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot. But I’ve always had this strong impression that if you compare UK Christianity with American Christianity, UK Christianity somehow is more balanced in terms of Word and Spirit. I think this is partly to do with the rich theological heritage in that part of the world. So you actually get a lot of charismatics that are very well-grounded in the Word and aware of various historical traditions, which I think is the strength of Newfrontiers. In America and elsewhere, you get lots of charismatics without any familiarity with past Christian movements to build on and that’s why many go astray so easily or they focus on the wrong things – not so much the Vineyard, but more so for a lot of independent charismatics. In the UK, many charismatics appreciate the past and want to build on it and thus they are somehow better able to combine Word and Spirit. After all, this is the place that gave us people like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and RT Kendall, respected leaders that are strong teachers of the Word of God yet open to the Spirit.
I’ve listened to a lot of Joseph Prince, Andrew Wommack, Bill Johnson and Curry Blake over the past few years. I’m hoping to complement all these charismatic teachings with listening to (and reading) some teachings that can be found free at Newfrontiers’ Resources page – especially their take on different aspects of charismatic Christianity and other stuff that I haven’t been focusing a lot on (I’ve been focusing on healing a lot the past few years, and while that’s an important element of God’s Kingdom, there are other things to be learned). They have lots of good resources there – browse the past events for many interesting teachings. To get a closer look at where Newfrontiers is coming from, look at their Book Store and you’ll see that while they sell books by prominent Charismatic leaders like Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle and Mahesh Chadva, they also sell lots of books by good non-charismatic evangelical leader like John Piper, DA Carson, Tim Keller, etc. I think that kind of balance is awesome! I don’t necessarily agree with John Piper and DA Carson on a lot of things, but I respect them and I think there are things to learn from them. I wouldn’t go near what they have to say regarding charismatic beliefs like healing, but I do believe God has granted them wisdom in other areas – and most definitely God has not deposited all wisdom and revelation only in the charismatic Christian world!
While I’m pretty independent in my thinking, love learning from many individual ministers and am very open to new teachings and revelations, I also do believe in learning from communities and groups like Newfrontiers and Vineyard. You know you can’t go too far wrong with these two established groups – and in fact, you can learn a lot from them.
Admittedly, with all groups, there’s generally less freedom to be radical in one’s beliefs and there’s that need to conform. That could be bad. Tradition can be limiting and I don’t want to accept something just because many people have always believed in it that way. For example, my view on healing at the moment is more radical and I’m sure would be different from Newfrontiers and Vineyard. On the other hand, I think it’s important not to go at it too much alone (just me and the Holy Spirit, thank you very much!) or think that we can survive without the community of believers and learning from the past or other traditions in the present. In my opinion, this could be equally as dangerous as being limited by tradition. I believe God gives truth to community and there’s safety there. This is not to say we are to be beholden to what others think, but God is surely at work in communities and there is much we can learn from different ones. Let us learn from different groups and traditions without being limited by them.
You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:
They tell another side.
Hope this helps.
Hi Steve, I am familiar with the websites and do visit one of them occasionally. I think authoritarianism and control in the church are horrible and I’ve seen a lot of such things in churches in Singapore. Having said that, as with all such sites, I’d recommend the readers take what’s written there with a pinch of salt. There are legitimate concerns to be noted, I’m sure, but I think these sites also have a clear agenda and people who write there have clearly been hurt and in some cases are very bitter – and understandably so. Because of this, these websites would hardly present an objective view of SGM. Some stuff written there are too much of an over-reaction for my liking.
I agree with you whole heartedly that we learn in a community and by sharpening one another. There is certainly the danger of being exclusive in ones doctrine/ teachings and shutting oneself from the teachings and learnings of others. Elitism and heresies can breed without check and balances. Someone once said that no one have a monopoly in God and his Word.
I haven’t read your blog in a while, but it’s great to see that you’re growing in the knowledge of God and His power!
What you wrote about UK Christianity is interesting. I’m presently studying in London, and it’s taken me a long time to find and settle down in a church.
I’ve visited a broad spectrum of churches here, much more than in Singapore. What I like is that the emphasis on the Word tends to be much stronger, especially among evangelical/non-charismatic churches, when compared to Singapore. Perhaps this has to do with the culture. In the UK people tend to (and this is a generalisation) be more open to a slower pace of life – you’d see many more people reading than you would in Singapore.
Having been exposed to/and spoilt by New Creation, I’ve come to desire a sound emphasis on the preaching, as well as a worship environment I can be comfortable in. And that’s the problem. Churches that preach grace tend to be under the reformed tradition, and thus tend to be conservative and non-charismatic.
On the flip side, charismatic churches have a tendency to be loose with scriptural intepretation. Not to say, unscriptural, but often the emphasis is not on from the Word, but purely, more Spirit. In some churches this may not be a bad thing, but in others it can be dangerous and lead to false beliefs.
Many of the Charismatic churches I have visited here are very simplistic with the preaching. Of course, there’re difference between churches, but you’d see everything from preaching on humility, talking about how it’s good to be humble, etc, very little Word to preaching about the community and how we can add to it and grow (very missional). Very rarely would you see anything like Ps Prince, a charismatic preacher who emphasises a basis in the Word very strongly.
Let me say from personal experience that at least one Sovereign Grace Ministries church has control issues that have been devastating to a number of individuals and families–and the local Christian counselors know about it too well. (Please don’t say “take those comments with a grain of salt.” It is an insult to those who have been devastated by this ministry–I do not post on those blogs BTW, but visit occasionally.) Let me also say that fifteen years after leaving, I find myself looking again for a Reformed Charismatic church because I have really never been at 100% in my intimacy with the Lord since I left and have decided to try one more time. Unfortunately, most of the churches that fit that description in my area are Sovereign Grace churches. I hear that some things have changed there, but not enough for me to trust them or possibly put my family through the hell we went through for 7 years. I have also looking into Episcopal and Anglican charismatic churches. I am looking for scholarly teaching, grounded theology and interaction with the Holy Spirit that I learned were possible to have at my SGM church. I have come across this blog in my searching. Enjoying it very much, thanks.
Virtus, thanks for your comments. I am sure many have been hurt by SGM. I know a lot of people who have been hurt by authoritarian church leaders and that’s very sad indeed. On one hand, I don’t want to overlook the hurts experienced by these people. On the other hand, I think a lot of these blogs are not helping their cause. I can understand people being hurt and describing what they’ve gone through. However, the overly-critical tone doesn’t help. I hope you’ll be able to find a good church that is strong in both Word and Spirit.