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.