All Nations Christian Fellowship (ANCF)
This week I decided to attend ANCF Church, which is currently being held in Wickliffe Progressive School in Upper Arlington. ANCF, on their bulletin, describes themselves as “a congregation of the Association of Vineyard Churches,” but that may not be true. One member I talked to said they partner with the Vineyard Church but they don’t fall under the Vineyard umbrella…whatever that means. Vineyard churches are a Neocharismatic Evangelical Christian denomination. There is a lot to unpack there. Neocharismatic, based on my limited research, is rooted in the beliefs of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, kind of like a new wave Pentecostal. “Gifts” from the Holy Spirit can mean gifts of wisdom, faith, healing, or miracles. Evangelical is the belief that faith in Jesus Christ is the only necessity for salvation. As far as I can understand, most of the Protestant denominations I have visited fall under evangelicalism.
Ok, so Vineyard churches are somewhere between Pentecostal and Evangelical, but this church claims they aren’t part of that. Or, at least that one member I talked to did. Their bulletin says otherwise. I think, essentially, my experience today was in line with what I might expect a neocharismatic/evangelical church to be like, which I will get into in a minute. I want to first address my church selection process. Why did I decide to go to ANCF? Mostly, by chance. I google “churches near me.” (You’d be surprised what pops up when you do that, by the way. Yesterday, I got recommended an Italian restaurant as a church. They must have some really good meatballs if eating there is a religious experience.) I try to select churches from denominations I haven’t been to yet. I will probably go back to the same denominations to get new perspectives, but if I can find one I haven’t been to, that is preferable. So yesterday I noticed a denomination called “Christian Science” and I thought I am exploring Christianity, I like science, this sounds great!
Then I did some quick googling and found out one of the main tenets of Christian Science is that all of life is just an illusion (we live in the Matrix) and therefore things like sickness are also an illusion and can be prayed away. That’s right, they don’t believe in medical treatment. My heart sank as I read those words, and further information about cases where Christian Science parents have been prosecuted for negligence for failing to seek medical treatment for their children made me feel even worse.
Being a big fan of modern medicine, I decided to not attend a Christian Science church and found ANCF instead. I know this experience is about me expanding my horizons and meeting with people of different faith backgrounds and trying to understand and respect their faith. But, if I know going into something that I disagree with a core value of the church, I don’t want to attend and just spend a whole post shitting on them. It’s like going to a comedy show just to heckle. It’s mean-spirited, it’s malicious, and I have decided against it. Also, if you are a Christian Science believer and you’re reading this and you’d like to have a real conversation about the basis of your beliefs, please contact me. I’d be happy to speak with you, I’m just not going to go to your church.
Ok! So ANCF. All Nations Christian Fellowship. Their mission is to bring together people from all over the world, since we are all people of God. I will admit their congregation was the most diverse of any I have visited so far. They sang songs in English, Hebrew, and Spanish during the service. I sat next to and talked with several international students from Ohio State, and it was refreshing. The people at the church really do seem to be reaching out and fulfilling their mission to be internationally-oriented. They even gave me and my friend Allison goody bags full of various candies from all over the world for being first time visitors.
The sermon focused on Jesus’ crucifixion, since they won’t be having a Good Friday service. Jesus was crucified along with two criminals, which I think I knew somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, but I had forgotten. One criminal scoffed at him saying, “if you really are the son of God, then why don’t you get us off these crosses?” The other criminal said (and I am strongly paraphrasing) “hey, we deserve to be here, this guy doesn’t” and asks Jesus to remember him in heaven. Jesus says (not paraphrased) “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today you will be with me in paradise. That is so powerful, so sweet. Jesus is dying, this criminal is dying, but because this criminal accepts Jesus as the son of God, he will be walking in heaven as well, the same heaven as Jesus. This is the evangelical piece I witnessed of ANCF, the belief in Christ leading to salvation. That’s it, no catch. If you’re worried about Christ saving you only in this life, like the first criminal, then you have too narrow a view of salvation. Criminal two gets it, it’s about eternal salvation. You can pray to God during this life for mercy and grace, and those things exist, but Christians aren’t exempt from pain and suffering because of God (I’m looking at you, Christian Science people). They are just exempt from eternal spiritual suffering.
The sermon was really great, but long. Like, 20 minutes too long. I think it could’ve been summed up much more quickly, but the pastor wanted to add a lot of emphasis to the salvation point. He was at least very authentic in the way he presented himself.
The Pentecostal piece of the service was afterwards. Another pastor announced that there were prayer circles for people suffering from different problems, and if you were suffering from that particular thing then you could go to that circle and receive prayer for the gift of wisdom or healing or whatever. Some of the problems they had circles for today: digestive issues, ankle pain, the stress of moving, romantic issues, issues at work, and others. I didn’t seek out any of these circles, but my friend Allison (who suffered a traumatic leg and ankle break last year) decided to check out the ankle pain circle, since she suffers from it daily. She said that several members laid their hands on her ankle and prayed. My non-Christian reaction to that was “ah! Don’t touch her!” but she said it was really nice. She said whether it was divine intervention or just a mental chemical reaction, the pain did lift for a short time.
Stuff like that (praying for healing) isn’t out of place in my opinion. But the refusal to use modern medicine is, which is the distinction between churches like ANCF and Christian Science. Now, do I personally believe prayer can heal? Ehhhh. Not really. I think positive vibes are always good, I think hope for something to get better is nice, I don’t completely believe in the power of prayer yet. I personally haven't seen or been touched by such a miracle, but I try to remain open-minded to it.
ANCF was a refreshing experience. I talked to the most people I have talked to at any specific church yet (except maybe Three Creeks), and I think their community outreach, authenticity, and transparency with their congregation was stellar.