Vineyard

What is Church? Part Two

by Dan Sheed

Every year on the 25th of April, New Zealand stops to commemorate ANZAC Day. This day always involves some deep reality-checks for me. I find the stories of sacrifice by our soldiers calls me from my normal, self-absorbed day-to-day life to view a different story. ANZAC Day invites me to see a different narrative in the history of our world, to remember it and then live differently tomorrow as a result.

This is all a bit like Israel’s moment of stopping at Mt Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20. After miraculously being taken out of Egypt, where they were slaves to the power and glory of the Egyptian empire, God stops them at Sinai to command them how they are to interact with Him and each other. This is a reprogramming of sorts, a moment of God telling them how they are really meant to be as His image-bearers. The first of these re-humanising commandments is that the Israelites are to "worship no other gods but me”. 

This commandment can make God seem a little egocentric to some people, but if we look deeper we can see there is actually something very beautiful in all this. God is saying the man-made gods and idols like they saw in Egypt are not worth their time, energy or money because they will ultimately only let them down. God is the only one able to meet their needs – as He already had by miraculously taking them out of Egypt. God knows the Israelites are going to put their worth into something, and He wants them to know He is the only God worth it.

We live in an Egypt culture of power, glory and gods. We spend our days, weeks, months and years worshipping various man-made gods. But a church takes this power of worship and changes its direction. We, too, can have our Mt Sinai moment. As we gather to worship and fellowship we can notice a God who is miraculously working in our lives. Like at an ANZAC Day service, we can notice another narrative going on around us and our worship can change from being directed to the gods our culture says will satisfy our needs, and instead we give our time, energy and resource to the one who has already done so. 

There is an old truth that “We become what we worship” – and it is still a truth. What we give worth to is ultimately what we become more like, and seeing the call of a church gathering is to become more like Jesus, as Vineyard churches we value spending time giving Jesus our worth by singing together.

There is an old truth that "We become what we worship” – and it is still a truth. What we give worth to is ultimately what we become more like, and seeing the call of a church gathering is to become more like Jesus, as Vineyard churches we value spending time giving Jesus our worth by singing together. We believe that with our worship we can bless God directly and give Him joy, so we use the words and prayers of those songs to intimately express to Him how we are thankful for all He has done, is doing and will do. 

When we do this together we, as Paul says in Colossians 3:16, “let this new message of Christ dwell richly among you”. And in the midst of singing and praying, but also in talking around cups of coffee and catching up, of listening to each other and encouraging one another, or of coming to the communion table or enjoying a meal together, we experience this new story of the Kingdom of God and grow in the hope that it is making things new in this world. Church is coming together to do any of the things that would give you that kind of perspective, and to then live that into the world.

Why the Vineyard? - Christoph Zintl

We're asking Vineyard leaders all over the country the question, "Why the Vineyard?"

Christoph Zintl, who along with his wife Jane is planting The Story Vineyard in Wellington, shares why he loves the Vineyard because of it's expectancy for the Kingdom of God to break in and change everything.

What is Church? Part One

by Lloyd Rankin

"The church” is a very easy and soft target for any criticism of Christians, and any group of Christians. Yet the church is the visible sign of Jesus’ presence on earth today. Together we are the church, and any criticism of one is a criticism of all. Any success of one is the success of all. We are the church and we stand or fall together. The church is not an “it” it is an “us.”

The church is Jesus’ idea, and He builds and nurtures and grows His church. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28 TNIV)

A few years ago God reminded me to not get my “orders” mixed up. It was one of those dark moments when life gets a bit much, and people can seem to be the problem. (Perhaps I am alone in having these moments??) I was wanting Jesus to look after loving people so I could get busy building His church. He firmly and lovingly and gracefully reminded me that I had it the wrong way around. “You love the people, and I will build the church!” He won’t do our work, and we can’t do His work. Jesus said ““And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18 TNIV)

As Vineyard churches in Aotearoa New Zealand we are focussed on the mission of helping lost people find their way to Jesus, and we do this through the planting of churches around our country. Churches are redemptive missional communities of faith hope and love. We are stretching and encouraging each other in this mission by working towards having 40 Vineyard churches in NZ by 2020.

We want all sorts of churches: small churches, house-churches, middle sized and large churches, mega-churches and multi-campus churches.

When we read the word “church” in the Bible it is normally an english translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which simply means a gathering of people for a shared purpose, or “called out ones.” In the scriptures it was used to describe something as big as the people of Israel, and it was used to describe something as small as a town council meeting. What Jesus and the apostles did was to invest the word with special meaning for followers of Jesus

The church (ecclesia - called out ones) exists at several levels

  • Two or three gathered in Jesus name (Matt 18:20)
  • Church in your house (Rom 16, Acts 2)
  • Congregation (neighbourhood church - e.g. house with internal walls removed) - larger than a house church, smaller than a city church
  • Church in a city - e.g. Church at Ephesus
  • Regional or national church - e.g. Church in Galatia
  • Worldwide church - every believer.

In this series we are looking at six attributes of a church. As we plant and develop churches this is what we are working with. Martin Luther wrote about the distinguishing marks of what makes something a church, as distinct from simply a being a group of people with similar ideas or purposes. We can summarise them in to these six attributes

  1. A gathered group of believers
  2. Worship and fellowship
  3. The preaching of the Word of God
  4. Practice of the ordinances
  5. Proper discipline - moral oversight
  6. Church government / rulership - Biblical leadership

So I am briefly working on the first - that church is a gathered group of believers. Many of us will know people who have been hurt, disillusioned or just frustrated with church, and have made the decision to disconnect from church. There can be valid reasons, which can easily be understood. When you gather with a group of fallible human beings feelings can be hurt, mistakes can be made, things can go wrong. Yet the very nature of our relationship with God calls us into family, and family groupings. Someone who has removed themselves from a gathering of Christians may still have a faith, but it is not a biblical faith. Biblical faith calls us into relationship, into deliberately connecting with others.

Church, at it’s most fundamental understanding, is a community of people who have chosen to arrange their lives together around 3 commitments:

  1. A commitment to the Person of Christ - Christ
  2. A commitment to the People of Christ - Church
  3. A commitment to the Passion of Christ - Cause

While there is no promise that gathering together to deliberately do life together will be easy (it isn’t!!) it is actually the only way forward. Through our gathering together on a regular basis (at least weekly) we accomplish more than we can ever hope to accomplish alone, and we grow in maturity, because God designed us to be social creatures who flourish when brought together, and the act of being together enhances and enlarges our individual lives.

The church exists in the act of being gathered together with Christ in the centre. We become the church when we come together. Never forget the incredible power and miracle that occurs every time we gather together as church. We have the incredible privilege of working together to make our gatherings as wonderful and life giving as we possibly can.

“On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27 TNIV) The church exists in the act of being gathered. We become the church when we come together. Never forget the incredible power and miracle that occurs every time we gather together as church. We have the incredible privilege of working together to make our gatherings as wonderful and life giving as we possibly can. 

So can I encourage everyone of us that loves and follows Jesus to regularly, deliberately and wholeheartedly gather with our church community, and grow and serve together. Come to the gatherings with the expectation of using your gifts talents and abilities, and in so doing you will receive as you give. Welcome to the adventure of being the church.


A wonderful book to read further on this topic is “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Te Rongopai and the Vineyard

by David MacGregor

"The Treaty of Waitangi is a document of profound importance to Christians in New Zealand in the 21st Century.”

This was the message I clearly felt God speak to me during my Sabbatical in 2009. I had been travelling around the North Island, not looking for any cultural experience, but rather feeling the Lord say “Let me show you what I am doing in this nation, and what I want to do.” I was taken completely by surprise when I felt led to visit Waitangi, and there, for the first time I discovered that the Treaty of Waitangi had been birthed in the hearts of the early christian missionaries, heavily influenced by William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. Their desire was to see Maori people not ripped off by the European settlers who were arriving in boatloads, eager to get land at a cheap price.

Missionaries, contrary to what we were taught in school, were great friends of the Maori, and were desperate to ensure that iwi (tribes) were able to keep their land, possessions and resources, and treated fairly in all transactions. They appealed to Queen Victoria to sign a treaty, ensuring Maori were able to keep their land and resources, and be treated lawfully as British Subjects. Many Maori chiefs were hesitant about signing the Treaty, for fear of being ripped off, but in the end most of them signed for one simple reason… they trusted the missionaries.

One of the leading chiefs, Hone Heke, who was the first to sign the Treaty, made a rousing speech the day before, encouraging chiefs to put aside their fear and just trust the missionaries. He felt that while Maori didn’t really understand all the implications of the Treaty, their friendship and trust with the missionaries was enough know that they would not be betrayed. Heke remarked:

Maori believed that the Treaty would give them a special relationship with Pakeha that they call “Kotahitanga”… living together in one accord.

“The native mind could not comprehend these things: they must trust to the advice of the missionaries”

Maori saw that Treaty as a sacred covenant where two peoples would come and live together peacefully. Maori had converted to Christianity in huge numbers across the country, and some estimate that as many as 70% of Maori people had become committed christians in the mid 1800s. Maori believed that the Treaty would give them a special relationship with Pakeha that they call “Kotahitanga”… living together in one accord.

Sadly the Treaty had the opposite effect. To the dismay of both missionaries and Maori, the Treaty was used by the British to enact corrupt laws, and enable the widespread confiscation of land, resources and destroy livelihoods.

Five years after the Treaty was signed, the same Hone Heke, wrote to his close friend Henry Williams, the missionary who had persuaded them to sign the Treaty, and said:

“The Treaty is all soap. It is very smooth and oily, but treachery is hidden underneath it.”

Another missionary, Octavius Hadfield, wrote to his mother in England, two years after the Treaty was signed: 

“But now that a footing has been made here, a different ground is being taken and it is broadly hinted that the treaty was not a bona fide act but a mere blind to deceive foreign powers. The Queen takes possession of the soil and the natives looked upon as nonentities, and what the result must be requires not any extraordinary foresight to determine.”

It is heartbreaking to read letters of protest written by Christian Maori chiefs to Parliamentarians, using many scriptures to appeal for justice and fairness, and to work things out in a christian way.

In the years to come, Maori became very disillusioned with christianity, as they felt betrayed by the missionaries, the church, and Pakeha in general, and left the church in great numbers. This is such a tragedy, because Maori had been impacted by Christianity in such huge numbers, and New Zealand had seen some of the largest revivals ever known in the world per capita.

Today, many Maori still feel very bitter towards the church, and feel that it was just a tool for colonisation. They feel that their trust in the missionaries was a betrayal, and that after the Treaty, missionaries and church people had no interest in friendship and working together.  This was not helped by the fact that some leading church ministers betrayed Maori to the British in the Land Wars.

The first 40 years of the gospel in New Zealand are an astounding record of revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The years after the Treaty are a staggering reversal of all the things God had been doing in the nation.

This year is the 200th Anniversary of the preaching of the first sermon in New Zealand by Samuel Marsden, in Oihi Bay on 25th December 1814. The first 40 years of the gospel in New Zealand are an astounding record of revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The years after the Treaty are a staggering reversal of all the things God had been doing in the nation. Alistair Reese has a term that sums it up well… “Mission Interrupted!”

I was so profoundly impacted by the Lord speaking to me on my Sabbatical in 2009 that my view of history has been completely changed.  I now realise that the Treaty is a sacred document, birthed through the prayer of godly people in both England and New Zealand and signed in good faith by a group of trusting chiefs who had put their faith in the integrity of missionaries, and their new found belief if God.

The following years of unjust land confiscation, genocide, corruption, deception and rampant evil amongst the European settlers and early Governors and Governments makes our nations current racial problems totally understandable. In those early years, most of the well known Christian pioneers and missionaries fiercely fought for Maori rights, and for justice in the face of extreme evil and betrayal. Sadly over the years, much of the church has joined the rest of “white New Zealand” in wanting to “just move on.”

This 200th Anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to learn our own history, to read the incredible stories of massive revival and miracles, which are extremely well documented, and to capture the excitement for what God could do again in this nation. 

The exciting part of our history is that the story is not over! It started with amazing revival… plunged into war and betrayal, but God’s story is not finished!  I truly believe that God wants to move again powerfully in this nation. The mission has only been “interrupted.”

So what will happen on our watch? What part will our movement play in the story?

At Grace Vineyard, we have spent 7 weeks telling the stories, the good the bad and the ugly, and it has been a very positive time of gaining understanding for how to move forward as a nation.

My prayer is that our whole Vineyard movement would have a desire to know the story of Aotearoa, understand what has gone wrong in our nation, and be part of a movement to see God move powerfully amongst our Maori people again, as reconciliation and forgiveness become our passion.

Our resolve as a church has been to learn our history well, come to value our Maori brothers and sisters and their language and culture, and to dialogue together as to how we can move forward in a spirit of “kotahitanga”.

The best book I have read on this subject is called The Bible and the Treaty by Christian author Keith Newman. There is also an excellent DVD called Te Rongopai (the Good News) put out by Presbyterian minister Stuart Lange. Prayerfully studying these materials may give us all a sense of what God’s plan is for the future of our nation.

My prayer is that our whole Vineyard movement would have a desire to know the story of Aotearoa, understand what has gone wrong in our nation, and be part of a movement to see God move powerfully amongst our Maori people again, as reconciliation and forgiveness become our passion.

I know that God is part of our journey, because he has been visiting us recently with exciting supernatural signs. 

During ministry times, some of our team have prayed over Maori people in tongues, and it has turned out they have been praying fluent Maori… even though they haven’t learnt the language. We have one young woman who felt led to get up and give a word in tongues, and Maori people present said she was speaking in fluent Maori, in an old formal form of the language (which she had never learnt). This was the message:

“I am calling you all as Maori and Pakeha to go forward together as my warriors.”