by Mitch Berry
I guess you could say our journey to Orthodoxy, unknowingly began back around 1990. Until that period of time, my wife Trenna and I had no other reference than the Protestant church. I had spent the previous 14 years with the Vineyard and was very involved there; and previous to that about 10 years with the Friends (Quaker) church; as well as being connected to Calvary Chapel in one way or another. For nearly as long, so was Trenna.
In 1990, Leonard Ravenhill, understudy to A.W. Tozer, came to stay with the Vineyard, stating at that time he believed his many years of ministry were going to culminate with the Vineyard. I was fortunate to have spent time “hanging out” with Mr. Ravenhill and was struck by his commitment to God and his lack of need or want of “modern” Christianity. Having become Orthodox, I believe that Leonard would have embraced Orthodoxy as well, had he known to go back a little further, before the Reformation.
Leonard Ravenhill came to the Vineyard in his infamous style:
- preaching love for God,
- the necessity of suffering,
- if we were to know God, the need to repent and holy living.
This confronting message however, placed Ravenhill on a rail right out the door, and he wasn’t welcomed back.
I had trouble with the Vineyard’s response to this message, thinking at the time, that
“it was in fact just what we needed to hear.”
I began to look upon the Vineyard and its worldwide growth; the Kansas City prophetic movement; and the Toronto Blessing, as something that just might not actually be from God. And, if not, then what is it that we had been doing for the last decade and a half? Furthermore, I began to see this more from a birds eye view; in fact I literally began sitting at the top rim of this 3,800 seat auditorium, later only an observer, of what we referred to as the sanctuary.
For the sake of not wanting to put God in a box, we had gone wildly off the rails at The Vineyard. It was almost “an anything goes environment”; however it was all supposedly for the sake of “learning” and experiencing all that God had for us. Vineyard was known for it’s cutting-edge ministry, and having the worldwide corner of the market on worship. We would begin to find out about five years after leaving, how wrong we were.
Trenna and I spent most of the 90’s saddened, perplexed and confused as to what should we do. We knew our days were numbered as Vineyardites, but didn’t know what to do about it. Eventually, strongly wanting a “serious” approach to our faith, we gravitated back to our Calvary Chapel roots. “Getting back to the Bible” seemed like the safe place to be. Therefore, in 1998, after 22 years with the Vineyard, we left for Calvary Chapel Saving Grace. This proved for us not much more than just the stepping stone we needed, to confess to ourselves that,
“we had just had enough.”
During our final few Vineyard years and then with CCSG, we realized if nothing else, that there was no true, God-given authority in either place. These were men who had identified certain “gifts” in one another, and raised each other up, to positions of leadership, to the detriment of many.
In the end, the results were pride and arrogance; to the congregation, scores of hurt, disillusioned or misguided people, and a paradigm that gave the people an inherently flawed system in which to see and understand The Church and God. While being thankful for finding Christ in our Protestant membership and gaining literally scores of wonderful friends who deeply love God, experiencing every “move of the Holy Spirit” imaginable, our prior three decades plus of church, hadn’t changed us much.
And it was that real change that we began seeing the need for. We didn’t care to see one more “move of the Spirit,” hear one more “word,” listen to one more band playing worship songs, nor attend one more conference. Instead of looking ahead to what was new, it was time to look back to what was old!
I had some friends become Orthodox and that piqued my interest. I began reading and considering early Church history, and began to agonize over how far away we were from the richness that I was reading about. I began to pray about becoming Orthodox and it would be years before that came to fruition. Trenna was not there at all; in fact it was irritating to her at that point. It just wasn’t God’s timing yet.
After a terribly hurtful series of events at the Calvary Chapel we attended and a year in the “wilderness”, Trenna was open to reading about the Orthodox Church. She was praying on our porch one day and was telling God about what type of church she would like to attend, down to the smallest details. All of a sudden it occurred to her that who was she to create a church according to her own standards, especially since Christ and the Apostles had already done that 2000 years before!? That was it; she began to read Church history and books about Orthodoxy one after the other.
We visited St. Barnabas and we were home. No more trying to figure it all out. It had already been done.
I’ve heard our parish priest say,
“if you want to see the Church, look at the Saints.”
And, every time I do, I thank God for the Sacraments of The Church. After all these years, we know the search is over, the long journey and work has begun. Given the condition of our fallen selves, which we began to see after coming into The Church, it’s obvious that we’ve got a long way to go before anyone makes an icon of us.
It is good however to know that we are on the path preceded by some pretty good company.
What a beautiful story.
Yes, I agree Modern Christianity has gone “wildly off the rails” and there is an “anything goes” environment in most churches. But I don’t believe Leonard Ravenhill would have become Orthodox while he was alive. Otherwise he would have. Why didn’t he?
20th Century Modern Christianity, be they Southern Baptist, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic have used all kinds of gimmicks over the last 60 yrs to get people into church: rock bands, polka masses, wienie roasts with wild west shootouts (yes, in 1981, I attended a Southern Baptist church where they actually had that). A.W. Tozer was against all that kind of foolishness.
Right now, I worship in a home church that, at their highest, has maybe 6 to 8 people attending at any given time. Our oldest participant passed away last week at 99. His 72 year old daughter still attends. So you see it isn’t just people my age (55) and your age. It affects all, at any age who have a heart seeking the Lord.
Jerry Woodruff says
Thank you for sharing. I to spent many years inthe vineyard and really enjoyed most of what went on there. All I can tell you is that I have been searching for the truth for a very long time and I was just aboutm at the end of my rope when my Methodist pastor introduced my to the Orthodox faith. He gave me the book the Orthodox Church by Timothy Wares. I was hooked line and sinker. I also was tired of being entertained by all the rock bands in my churches. I played bass and guitar in all of them as well. I loved when I went to the Orthodox CHurch and seen poeple worshipping God in what I would consider spirit and truth. No hype no loud fast music. Amazing is all I can say. Anyway on Aug 14th I will be an Orthodox Christian and I can’t wait. God Bless and thank you.
I too am a convert to Orthodoxy from evangelical Protestantism. But I will say it all started when I watched this documentary on Fr. Solanus, a Catholic Priest who clearly had the gift of healings. I remembered all the anti-Catholic sermons and books my protestant church put out and I thought to myself after seeing the documentary on this most extraordinary priest– am I really to believe this man was not a Christian?? That among other things started me questioning. I knew there were problems in protestantism, in particular evangelical protestantism–like the fact there are so many divisive, contradictory interpretations of scripture and they all say they are right. As an example, how can Calvanism and Arminianism exist under the same umbrella of Christianity when they really espouse 2 different Gods?? When asked I was given the old, “In the essentials unity, in the nonessentials liberty and in all things charity.” Well, that just didn’t cut it. I ended up in an Orthodox church on the midnight service on Easter because someone I knew had just recently converted to Orthodoxy after not attending any church in almost 30 years, and I wanted to have something to talk to him about. I had no clue as to what was going on, but it was the most beautiful, wonderful, moving, awe-inspiring reverent and mystical church service I had ever attended. I never went back to my protestant church. And you know what? After 13 years of attending it, the pastor never even called me to find out why.
The more I attend the Liturgy, the more I love it. I thank The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, the Theotokos and all the Saints that I finally after so many years, found home…
Fr. John says
I, too, am a fan of Fr. Solanus Casey (I’m from Detroit) and for me it started when reading his life and realizing that the life he was leading, and the Church he was serving, was no longer Catholic, but Orthodox. And here we are.