Sunday, August 10, 2003

Next generation of churches is alive in Vineyard



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If college kids got together to build their own church, what would it look like?

Beer-kegger communions? Missionary trips to Fort Lauderdale in March? Would final exams be a holy week because of all the praying?

Nope. It turns out a church created by college kids would look more like this: An auditorium big enough to hold a UC vs. Kentucky basketball game. Speakers loud enough for a concert by The Who (or as they say on campus these days, "The who?"). More spirit than a frat house on Friday night. A band that rocks like Third Day. A pastor in Levi's. And hundreds of college kids in T-shirts, cargo shorts and flip-flops, singing, holding hands and praising God.

In other words, it looks like The Vineyard when I visited last Sunday.

The church in Springdale near Interstate 275 and Kemper Road has been called the biggest in Southwest Ohio. It's not all college kids - but it looked that way from where I sat. And "church" hardly describes it.

Churches, as we knew them, were small, triangular things with stone-hard pews, ornate pulpits, flickering candles, stained-glass windows and steeples. The Vineyard looks like a sprawling new high school, with a stage, overhead video screens and deep, cushy movie seats for four services on Sunday and one on Saturday night. And don't forget the cup holders for the free coffee.

The first time I went to a church like this a few years ago at Solid Rock, I felt like Paul when he was knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus. I saw people clap and sway to the music, shouting "Amens," and actually smiling. In church.

This was quite a shock compared to mainline Protestant churches, where "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" on an acoustic guitar is a "radical" service.

I changed churches. So have many others. Many more are following us out the doors. And you don't need a prophet to figure out why.

The Episcopalians have now ordained an openly homosexual bishop. The local Presbyterian Church could barely muster the gumption to object to gay marriages in Cincinnati. The Catholic Church can't seem to connect the dots that link homosexual priests to sexual assaults on boys.

The Bible is unambiguous: Homosexuality is a sin like adultery. Only someone blinded by political correctness would ask Presbyterian Pastor Stephen Van Kuiken and new Episcopal Bishop Rev. V. Gene Robinson to lead a church. Anyone who deliberately puts his own agenda first, knowing it will tear apart the church and threaten the flock, is unfit to be a pastor.

God is not Silly Putty. I don't believe he can be twisted and stretched and rolled on our comics-pages world to pick up any distorted image of him we want.

The good news is that while dying churches cling to ritual and abandon the Word, the living churches are doing just the opposite.

The message at The Vineyard was Matthew 7: 24-27, about the quality of workmanship in our lives.

It applies to churches, too. And the young people who are helping to build The Vineyard are building a faith that will last.

E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.




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