At the annual Society of Vineyard Scholars meeting in Media, PA last week (yes there is such a thing, and it is one of the highlights of my year, and each year the Spirit moves in significant ways, and you should come next year), my mentor Stanley Hauerwas came and spoke to us. His basic message to us was to focus on being the church, which echoes strongly what Wimber always said about us doing the stuff we read about in the New Testament. During the Q&A, someone asked Hauerwas for advice on how we go about being a community that lives like this, that actually walks out a life together as followers of Jesus. His answer: “Don’t lie to each other.” That is such a loaded statement (like so much of what he says). Becoming a people who tell each other the truth is no small feat. It requires love for each other, great courage, hope, trust, unity, freedom, and equality (among other things). Telling the truth takes practice. Over time, faithfulness to those practices creates habits. And sustaining those habits leads to formation as persons and communities capable of being truth-tellers, creating truth-tellers, and being known in our broader communities as truth-tellers.
And it’s something we should really be able to do well because our most basic practices (what makes us Vineyard) are worship and prayer, both of which are practices that only make sense as acts of truth-telling. I talk to Vineyard song writers and worship leaders regularly and we agree that truthful lyrics are important. In practical terms, we try to focus on songs that say more about God than they do about us (some worship songs are too me-centric) and avoid basic heretical claims about God. Often, the easiest (and most powerful) way to do this is just to sing Scripture. And in prayer time, Vineyard people understand that we listen closely to the Spirit and try only to say what the Lord is giving us, ever mindful that we might be getting it wrong, that try as we might to speak the truth, that is a high bar, and something to work at, not assume.
I preached about this yesterday at Vineyard North with the text of 1 Pet. 4.7-11:
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
I love that passage. Amy painted the Eugene Peterson translation of v.8 on the wall of our building’s upstairs entrance (see photo above). And that idea – that our words should be the very words of God – that is what it means to tell each other the truth. We tend to think that there is only one opposite of telling the truth but actually there are many. Lying is an opposite. Withholding information to deceive is an opposite. Cynical oversharing can be an opposite. Massaging some truth is an opposite. Opinions can be an opposite. Theology can be an opposite.
That’s right. I’m a theologian and I will admit it. Sometimes we fail to tell the truth because we’re too enamored and enslaved by our own theology.
Becoming a community that has the patience, courage, and mutual love to refuse to lie to each other is a great achievement and always a work in progress. Building out from our worship and prayer practices, I think the Vineyard can become such a community even more than it is now. It takes a lot of work, a lot of vulnerability, and a lot of courage. But it also comes to us as a gift since what it takes most of is an infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. I will say more about that in part 2.