John Wimber & The Vineyard

by Albert James Dager*

In 1963, a young jazz musician by the name of John Wimber made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. In 1970, he joined the staff as an assistant pastor at the Yorba Linda Friends Church (Quaker) in Yorba Linda, California.

In 1974, Wimber left the pastorate of Yorba Linda Friends Church to join the staff of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. For four years he studied factors that lead to church growth. He was impressed by the statistics which showed that the most dramatic growth was being enjoyed by Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Wimber's attitude toward signs and wonders greatly changed, not because of his study of Scripture, but as a result of the reported growth of Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Wimber's wife had become a charismatic. She had undergone what she called a "personality meltdown" through the work of the Holy Spirit to change her attitude toward charismatics (Carol Wimber, "Hunger for God: A Reflective Look at the Vineyard Beginnings," The Vineyard Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 3, Fall, 1987, p. 1).

The man who would have the most impact on Wimber's philosophy was C. Peter Wagner, alleged expert on church growth, and a strong proponent of signs and wonders for the purpose of church growth. Affiliations at Fuller convinced Wimber to study the relationship between spiritual gifts and evangelism. The result was his development of what he called "power evangelism," predicated upon the supposition that the Gospel is largely ineffective unless accompanied by signs and wonders.

The Beginning of the Vineyard

In his book Power Healing (Harper and Row), Wimber relates that on Mother's Day in May of 1977, he preached his first sermon as pastor of what is now called the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Wimber's pastoral association with Calvary Chapel began in 1978 when he requested "Calvary Chapel covering" for his new group.

"In 1978, God spoke to me about returning to the pastorate, ... I resigned my position at the Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth and returned to the pastorate ..." (John Wimber & Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism, p. 84).

It wasn't long before Wimber began to categorize methodologies for healing, music ministry, leadership, outreach, evangelism, etc. All aspects of body life became studies of method.

Within a short time, Wimber brought on Sam Thompson, a licensed psychologist, as an assistant pastor in charge of counseling. Thompson developed the ministerial aspects of the Vineyard, combining psychological theory with charismatic practices. He taught how to look for signs of spiritual and physical problems, and how to deal with them. The emphasis was, and still is, on attaining spiritual power. The congregation would stand in circles, holding hands and commanding demons to manifest themselves in order to cast them out.

The church was growing in numbers, and had the outward appearance of a typical Calvary Chapel. Wimber's "signs and wonders" philosophy was developing and gaining adherents under the Calvary Chapel label. Concerned Calvary Chapel pastors began to ask Wimber about the reports of people levitating, being "slain in the spirit," engaging in aura reading, and other bizarre practices.

Wimber made two statements in defense of the manifestations at Yorba Linda on which Chuck Smith challenged him: 1) "God is above His Word"; and 2) "God is not limited by His Word." In other words, Wimber did not need a Scriptural basis for the manifestations.

Smith then offered the Calvary Chapel pastors the opportunity to either remain with Calvary Chapel and stress the teaching of Scripture, or follow after Wimber and stress manifestations. Many chose to follow Wimber, converting their churches to Vineyards.

The rest is history. The Vineyard has grown to more than seven hundred congregations in eight countries. They claim some one hundred thousand members. In 1982, shortly after taking over the Vineyard, Wimber returned to the Fuller Theological Seminary to co-teach with C. Peter Wagner a course entitled MC:510, "The Miraculous and Church Growth." It was a laboratory for experiments in signs and wonders.

The Vineyard Philosophy

The Vineyard philosophy of signs and wonders is expressed primarily in the teachings of John Wimber. Major points he emphasizes are:

(a) The need for a paradigm shift in the Church (we must change our Western world view to that which integrates reliance upon supernatural influences);

(b) The charismatic movement is "where it's at" in church growth;

(c) We should be doing the "stuff" Jesus did;

(d) The supernatural practices beginning to emerge were of the Lord, and to be desired and pursued (i.e., hot, tingly sensations indicating healing taking place during prayer; trance-like euphoric states of "worship" characterized by a restful "alpha-wave"-type feeling, which is verification of the "presence" of the Lord; supposed "words of knowledge," "discerning of spirits," "personal prophecy," etc.);

(e) Every believer can walk, talk, and do the very things Jesus and the apostles did;

(f) The signs-and-wonders movement is the third wave of God's power manifesting in the 20th century (the first wave was turn-of-the-century Pentecostalism; the second wave was the charismatic movement);

(g) We are involved in spiritual warfare to take the Kingdom by force; for this, the major weapon is "power evangelism."

The Paradigm Shift

Wimber stated that the Western Church is largely out of touch with the power of God because of Western materialism. Third World countries are more open to God's power because they have a different world view or "paradigm."

Looking at the influences in Wimber's paradigm shift (originally a New Age term suggesting a shift from Western materialism and pragmatism to Eastern spirituality), we can see how he had crossed the line from sound Biblical truth to Eastern spiritual methodologies, while espousing a Biblical Christology. The fact is that the Vineyard does adhere to a sound doctrine in statement. But the words don't line up with the deeds.

The call for a new world view, a shift from an objective approach to God's truth, to an almost entirely experiential approach, to attempt to abandon your entire world view, particularly, your "Western rationalistic paradigm," and replace it with a more subjective view, leaves you quite vulnerable.

Power Evangelism

In simple terms, "power evangelism," according to Wimber, means the combining of the proclamation of the Gospel with the demonstration of supernatural power through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The premise is that signs and wonders such as healing, raising the dead, and other miracles, are especially effective as tools to reinforce the truth of the Gospel. Wimber has said that the Gospel is largely ineffective without signs and wonders.

The Other Side of the Pragmatism

Wimber suggests that we must demonstrate supernatural power in order to win souls, especially among "primitive peoples":

"Primitive peoples often need to see the superior power of the gospel demonstrated for them to believe" (Power Evangelism, p. 54).

First, there is no such thing as "primitive peoples." Mankind is unchanged since his creation. What has changed is his knowledge of science, which has produced some advanced civilizations. Second, Wimber fails to see that reliance upon signs and wonders for belief is just as pragmatic as intellectual investigation of the Gospel. (cf. John 20:29)

True, lasting faith comes to those who do not need signs and wonders to validate God's truth. The flesh looks for a sign; the Holy Spirit impresses the truth upon our minds.

Method Ministry

The problem with Wimber's ministry was not only that he insisted that the [sign] gifts of the Spirit are still operable today, it was also the assumption that the gifts of the Spirit can be manifested through a particular methodology -- also, that every supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit should be manifested in every believer on a regular basis. This, most often, leads to the abuses and excesses of human flesh masquerading as the work of the Holy Spirit.

Compounding the problem is the penchant on the part of those obsessed with signs and wonders to cite Scripture erroneously in order to validate their attempts at getting God to work in their behalf. An example was Wimber's citing of Jesus' miracles to validate power evangelism. In fact, he believed that Jesus taught His disciples how to perform signs and wonders.

There were many ways in which Wimber's attempts at signs and wonders differed from the simple, direct, and unfailing ministry of the Holy Spirit. With the Wimber/Vineyard method, in order to effect a healing one must "interview" the subject, often taking him or her back into the past to relive circumstances (inner healing) that may have lead to their problem. Casting out demons is likewise a process that may take days or even years. The byword for all Wimber/Vineyard ministry is method.

In spite of Wimber's statements that seem to warn against the use of methodology, it is methodology that typifies the Vineyard form of ministry. Their methods include inner healing techniques, visualization, meditation, and psychological integration. Wimber's book Power Evangelism has even been updated to include a study guide on how to perform signs and wonders, replete with methodologies.

Experimentation

Two words characterize Wimber's methodology: experience and experimentation. In the former case, most of Wimber's teachings were anecdotal, drawing from unverifiable but seemingly credible testimonies of signs and wonders, rather than from Scripture. Often, Scripture was used as a proof text to validate the anecdotal. In the latter case, Wimber encouraged his disciples to experiment through trial and error. And his idea of prayer went beyond petition to commanding healing.

Having begun in the flesh, it is no wonder that the Vineyard ministry continues in the flesh. Yet even the flesh will be gratified eventually, if not by God, certainly by Satan, or even by psychosomatic reactions to suggestion.

The Same As Jesus?

Wimber acknowledged that his healing techniques didn't always work. His approach to "prophetic words" was similar:

"Many if not most personal prophetic words given today are conditional, and as such are invitational, not certainties" (John Wimber & Kevin Springer, Power Points: Your Action Plan to ..., p. 56).

This is a convenient way to explain why many personal prophecies do not come to pass. But what about John 14:12? -- Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. Wimber often cites this verse to validate his attempts at signs and wonders. Up to his death date, after over 15 years of trying, he still hadn't done as well as Jesus, let alone greater.

Psychic Healing

The methods of inner healing, including meditation, visualization, and other psychic and psychological manipulations gleaned from the writings of Agnes Sanford and her disciples, are the same as those of psychic healers. So is the evidence of healing power described by Wimber.

Because Wimber rejected the "Western worldview" and accepted certain forms of Eastern mystical practices, he confused the deceptions of Satan and the flesh with the power of the Holy Spirit. Although he cited psychic healing as a false system, by using the intuitive approach to healing Wimber nonetheless dabbled in the occult realm of psychic healing. His methodology included exercises similar to those of psychic healers, such as aura healing.

Psychic healing is predicted upon the belief that the mind is capable of both causing and healing disease. This was also affirmed by Wimber as far as the cause of disease is concerned (Wimber & Springer, Power Healing, pp. 44-45). Unlike psychic healers, however, Wimber would also say that illness can be caused by Satan or demonic attack. This, too, is partially true.

Seldom if ever taken into account by practitioners of so-called "divine healing" is the fact that God Himself causes illness, and brings calamity upon the world (cf. Isa. 45:7; Ex 4:11). Unless one includes God's will in the equation, one will be found fighting against God in the name of Holy Spirit ministry. Not recognizing God's design, those who attempt trial-and-error healing methodologies are utilizing occult techniques. This is why the Vineyard healing teams are encouraged to use the mind-science inner healing techniques of Agnes Sanford, which include visualization, meditation, and other psychic healing methods.

Wimber would deny that he believed in a cosmic consciousness. But because he had been influenced by deceivers masquerading as ministers of the gift of healing, he had adopted their psychic healing methods. How can an self-proclaimed apostle of Christ learn spiritual truth from those who deny Christ?

The Vineyard's inner healing methods are especially rooted in psychic healing practices which, in turn, are based on the belief in karma. Karma is said to be "the unconscious memory or knowledge of, and attachment to, unfinished relationships, unfulfilled desires, and other incomplete cycles." Karma does not relate only to alleged past lives; it also relates to memories of childhood and even of the womb.

Wimber would have denied such concepts as psychic surgery, and most of what is taught by psychic healers philosophically. But in practice, he adopted virtually every form of psychic healing without being able to relate any of it to Scripture. This should be cause for concern to all believers who would have any contact with the Vineyard.

Discrepancies

Wimber seemed oblivious to the many contradictions in his writings. His suggestion that methodologies are improper, countered by the fact that his entire ministry was methodologically empowered, is only one such discrepancy.

Wimber insisted that Scripture must be the basis for all belief and practice. In reality, the experiences themselves were to him validation enough that they were from God, unless they came in the name of an overtly occult philosophy (i.e., mind science, T.M. est, psychic healing, or some other movement). As long as they came in the name of Jesus, or were perpetuated by one who called himself a Christian, they were accepted by Wimber, even if they originated in New Age occultism or, at best, Roman Catholic mysticism.

Influences

In order to properly understand Wimber's metamorphosis from that of a hard-line dispensationalist to an ecumenical, charismatic "apostle" and healing practitioner, one must understand the influences upon his beliefs.

Morton Kelsey's name popped up frequently in Wimber's teachings, and Wimber had even dedicated a seminar series to him. One wonders how one who claimed to be an apostle of Jesus could give credibility to someone who equated the ministry of Jesus with that of a shaman -- a witch doctor.

Wimber evidently hoped to justify his learning from Kelsey by saying that he didn't agree with some of his teachings. But there is no justification for "learning from" someone who equated Jesus with a witch doctor, or His divine ability to know with "extra-sensory perception." Kelsey's errors extended far beyond this blasphemous teaching. Anyone with a modicum of Holy Spirit discernment wouldn't touch Kelsey's writings with a ten-foot pole, let alone dedicate a teaching to him.

There were many other influences whom Wimber cited in his teachings:

(a) Agnes Sanford -- pantheist and "mother" of inner healing in the churches;

(b) Ruth Carter Stapleton (former President Jimmy Carter's sister) -- disciple of Agnes Sanford, who claimed that one could be "born again" by listening to greater music or gazing upon certain works of art;

(c) Dennis and Rita Bennett -- disciples of Agnes Sanford, and early pioneers of the charismatic movement;

(d) John and Paula Sanford -- pantheists, and disciples of Agnes Sanford;

(e) Francis MacNutt -- Roman Catholic charismatic priest, disciple of Agnes Sanford, proponent of inner healing methodologies;

(f) Michael Scanlan -- Roman Catholic charismatic priest, disciple of Agnes Sanford, proponent of inner healing methodologies;

(g) Kenneth E. Hagin -- "father" of the word-faith movement, mentor of Kenneth Copeland, and disciple of E.W. Kenyon, whose theology was heavily influenced by science of mind teachings;

Space does not allow for more except to say that Wimber often sprinkled warnings about the New Age, the occult, and erroneous charismatic suppositions as if his power evangelism methodologies were removed from them. This, coupled with his listing in his bibliography the words of men like Kurt Koch and Doug Groothuis, acted as a smoke-screen

Roman Catholic Influences

Wimber gave much credence to Roman Catholic sources for establishing the validity of miracles. (Power Healing, p. 7). He contrasted the false claims of healing by "Elmer Gantrys, men and women out for material gain at the expense of the faithful," with the Catholic Church's "stringent criteria" for validating true miracles from God (Power Healing, p. 10). Wimber implied that the Roman Catholic approach to miracles was more trustworthy than that of Protestants (Power Healing, p. 11).

But why should this surprise us? Wimber's wife Carol was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. Wimber stated that after having separated for awhile over marriage difficulties, he and Carol were remarried in the Catholic Church. Neither of the Wimbers ever renounced their Roman Catholic experiences -- another reason why the occult influences of Roman Catholic mysticism find expression in the Vineyard.

Additionally, Wimber wrote for the Catholic charismatic publication, New Covenant (June, 1988). His article, "Why I Love Mary," didn't affirm the Catholic dogmas of Mary's sinlessness, her perpetual virginity, or her assumption into heaven. But neither did it offer any refutation of them. Knowing the Catholic belief in Mary as "the Mother of God," and the unbiblical doctrines that attend her veneration, such an article left the impression that Wimber had no problem with the Catholic approach to Mary. (Moreover, in his ecumenical fervor, Wimber publicly apologized to the Archbishop of Los Angeles on behalf of all Protestants.)

Holy Laughter

A phenomenon that has swept through many Vineyard churches is that known as "holy laughter." Many churches are reporting spontaneous, uncontrollable laughter erupting from their congregations, even during times of solemn ceremony or messages from the pulpit. Some report uncontrollable weeping, falling to the floor in ecstatic trances, and animal noises such as barking like dogs and roaring like lions. Some stagger and reel like drunken people, unable to walk a straight line. For simplicity's sake, all these have come to be called "holy laughter," since laughter is the pre-eminent phenomenon displayed. In simple terms, it is physical manifestations in the form of virtually any expression attributed to absolute control by the Holy Spirit. Proponents of these phenomena say they are evidence of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in response to the people's desire to see a new sign from God.

The phenomena was imported into the United States and Canada from South Africa through one Rodney Howard-Browne. It erupted in 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard in Toronto, Canada, pastored by John Arnott. The bizarre exhibitions of human flesh in this movement are in every way similar to what, for centuries, have been regarded as evidence of demonic influences. It's little wonder that the Vineyard has led the charge, considering the lack of discernment on the part of its leadership. Actually, these manifestations were in evidence during the early years of Wimber's Vineyard ministry.

Initially, John Wimber kept a wait-and-see attitude, while validating the experiences as perhaps fleshly at times, but, overall, a move of God -- "There's nothing in Scripture that supports these kinds of phenomena that I can see, and I can't think of anything throughout the church age that would. So I feel no obligation to try to explain it. It's just phenomena. It's just people responding to God" (2/95, Charisma). In December, 1995, he moved to disenfranchise the Toronto Airport Vineyard. This was perceived by some as evidence that the Vineyard was acting reasonably to keep such phenomena separate from its "legitimate" ministry.

However, the reason given by the leadership of the Association of Vineyard Churches (AVC) was not that the Association rejected the goings-on at Toronto, but that the Toronto Airport Vineyard had gone "over the edge" by promoting and encouraging the animal sounds and accompanying behavior (Marcia Ford, "Toronto Church Ousted From Vineyard," Charisma and Christian Life, 2/96, p. 12). In September 1994, the AVC issued guidelines which indicated that, while they were not against such phenomena, they did not want it promoted.

It needs to be emphasized, John Wimber never did reject the laughing revival. He endorsed John Arnott's book, The Father's Blessing. He merely rejected some of the grosser aspects of this movement. The Vineyard Association's statement of December 1995 concluded: 

"OUR ACTION DOES NOT MEAN THAT WE HAVE REJECTED THE CURRENT RENEWAL. Many of our churches have benefited greatly from this current renewal and have incorporated it into their church life within the healthy and biblical guidelines reflected in the articles and policies published over the past two years. WE HOPE THAT THEY WILL CONTINUE TO PURSUE RENEWAL IN THIS WAY."

Why would Wimber and the AVC take such harsh measures since Wimber himself had endorsed the Toronto phenomena, and since he had allowed the same behavior in his own meetings? Are they manifestations of God or not? If so, why not allow Arnott to promote and encourage them? If not, why has the AVC not condemned them and taken similar action against the other almost 50% of Vineyard churches that encourage the phenomena?

Not ever being able to take a firm stand on the authority of these things, the AVC decided to dissociate from the most visible and central Vineyard church promoting these phenomena, on the basis that its pastor did not comply with the AVC Board's position. The AVC Board took the same non-committal stance that Wimber had taken. In fact, they allowed their statement to be subject to the discretion of the local pastors.

The Kansas City Connection

Toward the mid to late 1980s, Wimber became enamored by the ministry team of the Kansas City Fellowship, or as they became known as, "The Kansas City Prophets." At an August 1989 conference in Denver, Colorado, Wimber called on Vineyard pastors to receive their ministry.

Interestingly enough, in 1990, when the Kansas City Prophets began to be exposed as fraudulent, it was to Wimber that they went for "correction." But, he never stopped promoting the erroneous teachings of Paul Cain, Mike Bickle, Bob Jones, and John Paul Jackson. In 1991, he did stop promoting Bob Jones, but not because of heresy, but because of immorality.

The point is that Wimber, by his acceptance of false prophets, paved the way for an unquestioning acceptance of "prophets" in general. Of course, there is nothing wrong with "modern day prophets" as long as they will submit to the tests of Deut. 18 and Deut. 13. But, these prophets actually boasted about the margin of error that the Lord had graciously allowed them!

The Gifts of the Spirit

God always has performed and always will perform His miracles according to His own purpose and pleasure. The excesses and errors of the Vineyard, as well as many within the charismatic and Pentecostal churches, merely prove that most of what is transpiring in the name of God's power is really the flesh of man seeking a sign to validate the truth of God's Word.

Essentially, the [permanent] gifts of the Spirit are given primarily for the edification of the Church, not for evangelism. The sign gifts, i.e., the miraculous gifts, have ceased. This does not negate the fact that God might occasionally use the gifts to convict and convince those He has chosen for salvation. But first and foremost, the gifts are for "power edification," not "power evangelism."

Conclusion

To hear virtually every major teacher in the Church today, there are no false teachers except those who call out the false teachers and staunchly insist on a defense of the Faith -- the so-called "heretic hunters." Why are few leaders of any real magnitude warning the brethren about false teachers? Because most are the false teachers. They are compromising with the Vatican to lead all of Christendom back under the papal umbrella. And the central force for that unity is not the true Gospel; it is false "love" combined with false doctrine and lying signs and wonders -- miracles of God -- implemented through occult methodologies.


* This report is adapted as a condensation of a 1996, 32-page report ("The Vineyard: History, Teachings & Practices") by Al Dager of Media Spotlight.


Biblical Discernment Ministries - 12/97

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