Of Advent and Lent: a conversation with Michael Flowers on the postmodern revival of the Liturgical calendar — part 1

Michael Flowers has been a well-known Vineyard pastor, and regional leader in the Vineyard movement. He was there on the front lines, active in the Vineyard, when the Holy Spirit was changing the face of Church in North America. So why is he speaking out for a revival of the liturgy, and the yearly liturgical calendar? Wasn’t he part of doing away with that sort of old religious thing? Wasn’t he paying attention?

Well, it turns out that there is a revival of liturgical practice going on in non-denominational and post-denominational churches across Europe and North America. I’ve felt it. I suddenly have dear friends that I am ministering with, talking about the beauty of the advent season. Say What?? I have tuned in to the podcast of a popular postmodern community planter and gotten an earful of what happened on St. Crispin’s Day. Huh? The missional community network that we’ve joined is making materials available about how to discover the power of Lent. I’m starting to wonder, what is going on??? Finally, Michael Flowers posted an article online entitled: “What is Ash Wednesday?” which finally pushed me over the edge, and prompted a response.

Scott: “Okay, Michael — you’re the perfect person for me to ask about this. After having served on Vineyard church planting and subsequent leadership teams for the past twenty years, I’m dumbstruck by this new focus on Saint’s days and lent. You must understand where I’m coming from… what’s the deal? I don’t even know anything about this stuff. It’s not in the Word; it only seems like the traditions of men. But I’m open. Is this stuff important?”

Michael: “Scott, that’s a great, great question. I came into the Vineyard from a liturgical background, the Episcopal Church. Personally, I never knew what dead, liberal Episcopal churches were like; I came from a charismatic community that incorporated historic faith with charismatic renewal. The whole time I was in college I thought I was going on to seminary to become a priest, bringing renewal from within. My pastor asked me to come back after college to work with him in my home church, St. Andrew’s by the Sea in Destin, Florida. St. Andrew’s was a mature charismatic Episcopal church with a real grace for healing and community. That is where I fell in love with the majesty of the liturgy flooded with the presence of God. During my four years working there I wanted to pursue seminary, but then decided not to become a priest. This was due to the condition and direction of the Episcopal church; a direction they had been taking long before they officially ordained a professing, practicing gay bishop. My priest pointed me to the Vineyard when I moved to California to attend Fuller Seminary. As a Vineyard pastor I used the Book of Common Prayer for all of our communion services. So I have always carried the historic church in my heart.

John Wimber was a rare gift. He pastored renewal in a way that no one currently seems to value. The charismatic world is pretty much anything goes now. There’s no central accountability for false teaching or questionable practices. After John’s death the Vineyard has gone in so many directions. There’s no unity at its core… classic Vineyard meets Toronto meets Emergent meets Seeker Sensitive… meets standard Evangelical.  In 2000 the Anglican Archbishop of Rwanda heard the cry of various Episcopal leaders in the USA to welcome them under the covering of his authority. He accepted the call, and now there are over 250 new congregations formed and forming in the USA called the Anglican Mission in the Americas. Todd Hunter, former Association of Vineyard Churches Director, is now one of their bishops. My spiritual father, Sandy Greene, from St. Andrew’s days, the guy who pointed me to the Vineyard, is one of their bishops. I am now seeking ordination in this body. They hold three streams together that I really value: catholic (historic), evangelical (reformed) and charismatic (flexible life in the Spirit). I am a three streams person, not just a “River” guy . I want authority and accountability. I don’t want to have to worry about myself or others going off course with false doctrines and practices without help.

When I was pastoring at the Vineyard in San Ramon, we had a small group of 40 or so people who met regularly to study and experience the spiritual disciplines. At that time we used Richard Foster’s materials, Henri Nouwen, etc. There’s a gold mine of resources out there that are rooted in ancient faith. So many people have no roots. If they talk about their history or connections they refer to the Jesus Movement or to the Charismatic Renewal of the 70s, or to Azusa Street or to the Latter Rain revivals, etc. That’s fine. That’s their heritage. But many of these folks accept only the first century as valid and look at everything up to the Reformation as a huge, dark mistake. In my opinion, this is a gross misunderstanding. Were there problems? Yes, many problems, But there’s no difference today. We just don’t have the perspective as participants that we do on history. There is so much great material to draw from … but we’ve been ripped off by such a total rejection of all things Catholic. We don’t have to accept everything the Catholic church teaches in order to glean from what has endured throughout the centuries … beginning from the desert monastics to the monastic movements throughout the West and East. These were the reformers in many ways, who went against the grain of the institution. Hope this helps provide some context for my journey.

Scott: Most of what you say here I understand completely. I was saved in the American Sunday School Union, the oldest home missions organization established in the U.S., dating back to colonial days. Very, very conservative. I was also filled with the Spirit at that time. Officially outcast from that denomination, I couldn’t find real fellowship in the Assemblies Of God or Foursquare congregations either. So at 13 years old I started to read the Spiritual Classics — Madame Guyon, St. Theresa, St. John of the Cross, and so many more… I found a depth in those writings that resonated with the Spirit of God in me, but also the experience that God had brought me into. I found a charismatic renewal house church made up of much older Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. That was where I was mentored in the Gifts of the Spirit, and my personal visionary and prophetic giftings. Later, while I was in YWAM I took communion with a Catholic partner group, and was accused and brought to the leadership. After my defense statement both John Dawson and the Catholic priest said that I could take communion with them any time — that my faith encompassed our connection as Christians. I was only 17 years old. I’ve taken communion with believing Catholics many times since. So I understand some of what you are talking about — the Deeper Spiritual Life parts, the connected body of Christ parts, the “Rich Christian History” parts — but my mentors were people who considered themselves refugees on a certain level, survivors of a dead liturgical practice that was passing away.

After I got married the Lord led us into the Vineyard. It was good, and we received more relational connection, equipping and release than I had ever known. But even in the Vineyard I was sometimes a “voice crying in the wilderness” where it came to the deeper life. I have said , probably millions of times, “For fifteen hundred years every Christian in the world was a Catholic: how can you say that you are a Christian if they aren’t?” Denominationalism can be very arrogant. It was when my son was to be born that I got the answer to my questions about the deeper life. I was praying, “God, I want to give more to my children than Santas and Bunnies. Where is my heritage as a Christian?” God told me, “It’s in the book!”

So I went in and found the stuff that God told His people to observe “as an everlasting covenant”, do these things “throughout all of your generations”. We as a family began to study and observe Passover, then Booths, then the rest of the festivals, until now we live by God’s calendar. I see the value in the things God has given, but am completely confused when Christians I love start talking about:”It happened on St. Anselm’s Day…” or, “These worship songs are very good for the Lenten Season.” My home fellowship that we’ve established here in Korea has connected for relationship and accountability with 3-D ministries, originally out of England, and I’m now getting this all the time.

So, I guess I get the very ancient roots of the faith, and I believe that it is crucial for the Body of Christ to re-connect with them…

Look for Part 2 for the rest of the conversation…

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About jscotthusted

J. Scott Husted is a writer, educator, minister and teaching missionary currently living and working in Seoul, South Korea. He carries a passion for cultivating authentic community, the establishment of the house of prayer, the plight of children at risk around the world, and raising up a new generation of leaders with a passion for the Kingdom of God.
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2 Responses to Of Advent and Lent: a conversation with Michael Flowers on the postmodern revival of the Liturgical calendar — part 1

  1. Jeannie Rodgers says:

    Interesting article. I’m glad, Scott, that you took this back to the Jewish roots of history. That is our beginning – that is where the Bible started. To go back only to the time of the Catholic church robs us of what God intended.
    Going back to lent and advent etc seems taking a step backwards. If we want to move forward, we have to step much further back to the real roots of Christianity – we were grafted in to the Jewish root not the Catholic root.

  2. This conversation is very interesting and very needful in our day!

    I like Michael’s point that much of modern, non-denominational Christianity only looks back to a fairly new root stock when referring to their history: Jesus Movement, Azusa, etc. But, as you both point out, Christianity’s roots go back much farther and there is such richness and depth to be gleaned from those great one’s who have gone on before us.

    I view liturgy and the traditions of orthodox church life much like the written songs of worship that we sing repeatedly in our church gatherings. They are the creations or ideas of man that have come from the heart and soul of a worshiper that then help to draw others into a deeper experience in their relationship with God.

    Where liturgy (or any form of worship) becomes a travesty is when it becomes solely a religious practice of these things that replaces the reality of intimacy with our Lord. So many people down through the ages have put stock in liturgy to ease the conscience or to temporarily fill a void within until the next Sunday rolls around. For example, I know many, many people who practice Lent, but whose life is not changed by it. They fast from some form of eating or even some form of sin only to return to the old ways the day after Lent has ceased. Liturgy, like worship, is beautiful when it enhances our relationship with God and draws us into a deeper expression of Christ-likeness in our lives.

    I agree with Jeannie Rodger’s comment, that we as Christians need to step back even further though to embrace the totality of our Christian, liturgical experience. God Himself established times and seasons, commanding feasts and celebrations as intentional reminders of His great faithfulness as well as markers or road signs of what would come, and even of what is still coming at the end of ages.

    There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with observing liturgical practice except when it replaces what God Himself established so long ago as an “everlasting covenant” between He and His people, of which, as Jeannie pointed out, we are a part, having been grafted-in to that most ancient root stock of Israel.

    Liturgy to me is just the further culmination of worship expression from the heart of God’s people down through the ages, but it should always begin with God and His traditions for His people first.

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