What is the Vineyard Movement?
The Vineyard Movement is an association of charismatic churches whose most notable figure was John Wimber, one of its founding members. In 1976 Wimber began to pastor Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda, CA. Then around 1983, because of differences with Calvary Chapel leaders over issues related to the charismatic gifts, such as tongues, healings, and prophecy, some 30 pastors including Wimber, broke away from Calvary Chapel. Wimber renamed his church the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Anaheim, following an associational union with a small number of other churches called “Vineyards” led by a man named Ken Gulliksen. From that time on Wimber became the main spokesman for the movement.
From 1982 through 1985, Wimber also served as an adjunct faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. He along with C. Peter Wagner, a renowned church growth expert and professor of Fuller’s School of World Mission, co-authored the Fuller Seminary course MC510 – Signs, Wonders and Church Growth, which soon became the most popular class at the seminary. Wagner’s interest in signs and wonders grew out of his observation that church growth was most rapid among the Pentecostal and charismatic churches, especially in the Third World.
Wimber also became the founder and director of the Association of Vineyard Churches (AVC), which boasts approximately 600 churches in the United States, and 250 more in other countries. One of the more notable of these is the Toronto Airport Vineyard which was later disfellowshipped from the AVC in 1994 for aberrancies such as “holy laughter” and the “golden sword prophecy.”
Wimber died on November 17, 1997 from a massive brain hemorrhage however the movement continues to gain force. Recently other figures have come to prominence within the movement such as former Dallas Seminary professor, Jack Deere. His book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit is probably the best defense of the Vineyard’s position to date and has undoubtedly drawn many into the movement.
What are its Teachings and Practices?
The Vineyard Movement because of the diversity among its various churches is known by several different aliases. The first of these is “Power Evangelism” because the followers use supposed displays of the power of the Holy Spirit to win converts. Because of this “power” its members are referred to as “empowered evangelists.” The movement is also referred to as the “Signs and Wonders Movement” due to its emphasis on miracles as well as its ties to the Fuller Seminary course taught by Wagner and Wimber. Finally, the name “Third Wave,” coined by C. Peter Wagner, is a popular name for this group due to what he views to be three waves of the Holy Spirit’s activity within the last century. He sees the first wave of the Holy Spirit as the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles which took place in 1906. The second of these waves was the Charismatic movement of the 1960’s, leaving the supposed rise of signs and wonders in the 1980’s within the Vineyard Movement to be the “third” wave.
As part of the “Third Wave” the Vineyard Movement emphasizes miracles, healings, casting out demons, and prophetic utterances as the things that will cause people to be won to Christ and discipled. This thought was predicated on Wimber’s belief that the gospel was ineffective without the accompaniment of signs and wonders.1 Therefore, “signs and wonders” are employed with certain church growth methodologies to get the desired results, namely converts. These "Third Wavers" are taught that by performing “signs and wonders” they are reliving the days of the apostles.”
Personal experience rather than Scripture seems to be what drives the movements worship. Congregants are told not to allow their minds to quench the Spirit, but to be open to allowing the Spirit to speak directly to their hearts. Consequently, observers of the services have witnessed congregants barking like dogs as well as making other animal noises such as roaring lions, weeping and dancing uncontrollably, shaking, jumping up and down (pogoing), and falling on the floor in group convulsions. In other words, chaos is normative in their services.
In addition to this fundamental flaw, Vineyard’s theology is errant in several other areas, the most serious of these being their teaching on the person and work of Christ. They teach that although Jesus was fully divine, He completely set aside His divinity during His time on earth and performed His miracles as a human through the power of the Holy Spirit. This leads them to believe that man can perform miracles, works, and have knowledge as Jesus did.
While they may not admit it, Vineyard also teaches a form of Dominion theology.2 They believe that Christ’s first coming restored dominion over every area of life. Therefore, it is the church’s obligation to redeem not only individuals, but every area of society in order to usher in God’s Kingdom. They suppose that certain characteristics of the Millennial Kingdom are in place today, therefore, believers should manifest all the power that Christ had while He was here.
The Vineyard churches hold some positions which separate them from traditional Charismatics and Pentecostals. The first of these differences lies in their beliefs regarding the baptism of the Spirit. Unlike the other two groups which teach a Spirit baptism subsequent to conversion, the Vineyard believes that baptism of the Spirit takes place at conversion. However, they do believe that a person can be filled multiple times. As far as speaking in tongues, the Vineyard also differs somewhat from Charismatics and Pentecostals, in that it downplays the importance of speaking in tongues. Even though it is practiced by many within their ranks, it is neither expected, nor encouraged.
Observations and Conclusions
- Personal experience should never be held in higher esteem than the all-sufficient Word of God, lest one’s spiritual moorings be lost, and he be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Our Lord Himself prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth of the word, not experiences (John 17:17). As the Apostle Peter also said, we have the prophetic word made more sure to which we do well to pay attention (2 Peter 1:19-20).
- The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, addressed the issue of orderly worship in regards to the spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 14:22-33). One should pay close attention to the fact that God is a God of order, and worship is to be orderly, not chaotic.
- In the process of sanctification, believers are supposed to have their minds renewed, not bypassed in favor of emotions (Romans 12:2).
- Believers are told by Scripture to flee from evil and to resist Satan. Nowhere are we instructed to try to confront the powers of darkness (1 Peter 5:8).
- Until the late-1900s, Orthodox Christians believed that the miraculous sign gifts all ceased with either the closing of the canon or the death of the Apostles.
- Scripture declares that the gospel has the power to save in and of itself (Romans 1:16; I Cor. 1:18, 22-24, 2:1-5, 15:1-3).
- Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human (John 1:1-5; Hebrews 2:1-4; Colossians 1:15-17).
This article is copyright 2006 by Vincent Nicotra. This article may be quoted, in part or in whole, without permission.
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1.) Wright, Eric E., Strange Fire? Assessing the Vineyard Movement and the Toronto Blessing, Evangelical Press: Darlington; CO, 1996, 225-226.
2.) Seibel, Alexander, The Church Subtly Deceived? Chapter Two: Plumstead, London, 1996, 91-95.
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