"And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies' plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger." CS Lewis
Dylan Morrison, author of The Prodigal Prophet (reviewed here at TWW), shared his testimony about charismatic leaders who affected him. One of those men was John Wimber. Morrison explains in his book that he was first introduced to Wimber when he came to Ireland and did a “Signs and Wonders” conference. As a result, Dylan had close personal contact with Wimber which resulted in Dylan and his wife relocating to California where they would become involved with the Vineyard Movement.
John Wimber was one of the founding leaders of what has come to be known as the Vineyard Movement. According to the Vineyard website:
“His influence profoundly shaped the theology and practice of Vineyard churches from their earliest days until his death in November 1997. When John was gripped by God he was, a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study.”
Wimber was raised in a non-religious family in Kirksville, Missouri. In the early 1960s he became the keyboard player for a band called The Paramours. Interestingly, some have attributed the formation of the band The Righteous Brothers to Wimber (then called Johnny Wimber) because he was the one who recruited Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley to join the Paramours in 1962. According to the Wikipedia article on the Righteous Brothers (the Hatfield and Medley duo), “They adopted their name in 1962 while performing together in the Los Angeles area as part of a five-member group called The Paramours, which featured John Wimber, one of the founders of the Vineyard Movement, on keyboards. At the end of one particular performance, a Marine in the audience shouted, "That was righteous, brothers!", prompting the pair to adopt the name when they embarked on a career as a duo.” The Righteous Brothers are best known for their classic hits “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and “Unchained Melody”. In 1963 The Righteous Brothers teamed up to launch their career and Wimber converted to Christianity because of his involvement at a Quaker church in Yorba Linda, California. He became a voracious Bible reader because the Scriptures excited him.
Soon after becoming a Christian, Wimber became focused on the miraculous. Here’s an interesting excerpt from the Vineyard website (referenced above):
“After reading for weeks about life changing miracles in the Bible and attending boring church services, John asked one of the lay leaders,
“When do we get to do the stuff?”
“What stuff,” asked the leader. “You know the stuff here in the Bible, the stuff Jesus did like healing the sick, raising the dead, healing the
blind. You know, stuff like that!”
“Well, we don’t do that anymore,” the man said to John. To where John replied, “You don’t? Then what do you do?” “Well, we do what we did here this morning,” the man replied. John answered, “You mean I gave drugs up for that?” John had much passion for the Scriptures, but he also often said, “It’s not enough to be Biblically literate, we must also learn to be Biblically obedient.”
In Wimber’s first decade as a Christian he led hundreds of people to Christ. He had established such a following that by 1970 he was leading 11 Bible studies involving over 500 people. Wimber’s popularity caught the attention of Christian leaders in California, and in 1974 he became the Founding Director of the Department of Church Growth at the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth which was founded by Fuller Theological Seminary. He also served as an adjunct instructor at Fuller Theological Seminary where his classes set attendance records. While there Wimber and C. Peter Wagner taught a church growth course together.
During this time a group of Christians began to meet in Wimber’s home. They embraced some of the beliefs of the Charismatic movement, which resulted in the group splitting off from the Quaker church to which it belonged.
Wimber became the pastor of this group which become known as the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Eventually, his home could not accommodate the growing group, and they began to meet elsewhere. After initially joining Calvary Chapel, Wimber and his followers had some differences with the Calvary Chapel leadership, which prilarily involved the practice of spiritual gifts. They then left Calvary Chapel to join a small group of churches started by Kenn Gulliksen, known as Vineyard Christian Fellowships, which became an international Vineyard Movement..
The Vineyard Movement is rooted in the charismatic renewal and historic evangelicalism. Church planting was especially emphasized in the Vineyard Movement. One of Wimber's famous sayings was that "church planting is the best form of evangelism". Both during Wimber’s lifetime and since his death the Vineyard Movement has established thousands of churches across the USA and internationally.
Wimber emerged as the leader of the Vineyard Christian Fellowships, which was a hyper-charismatic organization within the Vineyard Movement. It became known as the "third wave," "Signs and Wonders Movement," and "power theology". Wimber served as senior pastor of the 5,000-member Anaheim Vineyard from 1977-1994.
John Wimber became internationally known and often spoke at charismatic conferences with a focus on what he called “Power Evangelism and healing through the power of the Holy Spirit”. It is important to point out that even though he was considered to be a charismatic teacher, Wimber himself (as well as Vineyard Movement leaders) rejected the charismatic label when applied to their teachings. This new approach inspired Wimber’s friend, C. Peter Wagner to coin the phrase, "The Third Wave fo the Holy Spirit" to describe the concept he taught (and to avoid some current labels with their negative connotations). The Third Wave was different from classic Pentecostalism because Wimber and those he influenced emphasized that speaking in tongues was just one of the many spiritual gifts taught in the Bible. Wimber also differed from his contemporaries because he rejected the Word of Faith movement, especially its showiness.
Then on January 20, 1994, something dramatic happened at a Vineyard church in Toronto. It was called the “Toronto Blessing”, and hundreds of thousands of people eventually flocked to John and Carol Arnott’s church to experience a special “anointing”. When this phenomenon first occurred, there were about 120 people in attendance. Suddenly, most of the members fell down “laughing, rolling, and carrying on”. Some began crawling around and barking like dogs. Don’t believe us? Check out this video footage of this most bizarre manifestation of the Spirit. Our question is, which spirit has possessed these people?
Not only were people in Toronto acting like dogs, but there was an incredible GOLD RUSH that tool place there – in people's mouths!!! No kidding… Take a look.
No wonder hundreds of thousands of people were rushing to Canada to experience the Toronto Blessing…
This video really sums it up.
A year later this Toronto church was “released” from affiliation with the Vineyard movement. Apparently, the church’s emphasis on unusual manifestations of the Spirit caused growing tensions between Arnott’s church and Vineyard leadership, which was unable to exercise proper oversight over the revival. Toronto Blessing type revivals have also occurred in Pensacola, Florida, home of the Brownsville Revival, and Bath, England, among other places worldwide. This phenomenon peaked in the mid to late 1990s.
Wimber suffered a mild stroke in 1994 and handed the reins of this 5000-member fellowship to a partner at Vineyard Christian Fellowship, although he continued his preaching. Hedied of a brain hemmorrhage on November 17, 1997, at the age of 63.
The Christian Research Institute featured an indepth analysis of “The Wimber Phenomenon”, explaining some of the serious problems associated with Wimber’s ministry, which you can read here.
According to this article, Wimber’s “Signs and Wonders” conferences had a great deal of “hype”. Just the label “signs and wonders” sometimes caused attendees to become entranced by sensationalism, which is definitely NOT something which Jesus encouraged; in fact, Jesus discouraged it because it can cause people to seek after Him for the wrong reasons. Another problem with Wimber, especially at his conferences, was the strong anti-intellectualism he sometimes exhibited. His insistence that "At some point critical thinking must be laid aside" was quite problematic. The article goes on to state:
“Aside from these questions about Wimber's grasp of intellectual questions, there are some serious difficulties in his theology for a thinking evangelical. In the fist place, his use of Scripture is highly problematic. His starting place seems to be his own experience and Scripture is drawn in to proof-text his own position. This was particularly seen in his teaching methodology regarding healing. People were taught a theology of healing based on the observation of phenomenological responses (shaking, stiffening, respiration, laughter, fluttering of eyelids, etc.) and were encouraged to use such subjective criteria as the basis on which to evaluate spiritual responses.
A second theological difficulty is Wimber's radical Arminianism (some might well argue it is Pelagianism). He seems to have little or no appreciation of the doctrine of the Fall and speaks of being involved in "restoring the Edenic state" in and through his ministry. He leaves no real place for an on-going struggle with the old nature in the life of a Christian which the New Testament teaches the believer to expect. In the long-run this can only lead to disillusionment because the promised state is not attained — or to a refusal to face reality by denying one's own experience of temptation and sin.”
A third area of theological difficulty is Wimber's demonology; certainly most evangelicals would disagree with his assertion that a Christian can be "demonized." His view on this seems to contradict the assurance of Scripture that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, behold, old things are passed away, and all things are become new." (2 Cor. 5:17) His concern with demonic activity does not seem to take seriously the Scriptural injunction that when Christians are afflicted by the power of darkness, a believer is to "resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)
Perhaps the Los Angeles Times summed up John Wimber’s legacy best by writing:
"John's enduring legacy will be the courage of his convictions to try to change the church of America for the better," Hunter said. "He'd be the first to say that occasionally he went too far. But he was genuine and gregarious, dynamic and disarming, and that is a rare blend for sure."
Wimber, who was said to resemble a cross between Kenny Rogers and Santa Claus, believed that the spiritual gifts of healing and speaking in tongues referred to in the Bible are still relevant. With them, Wimber believed, he could banish Satan, sin and sickness.”
Unfortunately, Wimber’s prooftexting and sometimes inaccurate interpretation of Scripture has been detrimental to many in the body of Christ. Is it any wonder that in the decade that followed Wimber’s death there was a significant move away from the manifestations of the spirit toward a more intellectual (reformed) theology?
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 15:17-16:40 Mark 15:1-47 Psalm 54:1-7 Proverbs 11:5-6