(October 1995 – Volume 1, Issue 12)
Almost everyone has heard of the Vineyard Movement (referred to as VM from this point on) by now, but it seems that few know much about it. It is our intent in this newsletter to get a firm handle on the VM by describing its beginnings, identifying its leaders, and examining its teachings.
The VM is a recent development within Christianity, having been founded in 1982 by John Wimber. The movement has experienced rapid growth with a reported 250 churches and 50,000 members by 1990. Two years later Wimber claimed that those numbers had already doubled (Power Evangelism p92). Its leadership has set a goal of 10,000 churches by the year 2000, and it would appear that they are on target. However, the VM’s influence is even wider than that. For example, on the academic level, professors at several evangelical seminaries have joined VM’s ranks. Three professors at Dallas Theological Seminary were finally dismissed in 1987 for their views in this regard. Both Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Biola Seminary currently employ Vineyard professors. These teachers obviously hold great sway over their students. On the popular level, the VM has infiltrated numerous organizations, the most visible of which is Promise Keepers. Few seem to notice, or care, that Promise Keepers was founded by a man in the VM, now has a president who is in the VM, and has on its board several VM leaders. Apparently, most fundamental Christians naively believe that the theology of these leaders will not affect the direction and teachings of Promise Keepers.
The VM is also known by several other names including: Power Evangelism, Signs and Wonders Movement, and the Third Wave. This final name reflects well the background of the movement. It was a term C. Peter Wagner used to explain what was beginning to happen in many churches. Wagner claimed that the first wave of the Holy Spirit began at the turn of the Century with the Pentecostal movement. This led to the establishing of various Pentecostal denominations such as the Assembly of God. The second wave, which started in 1960, was the charismatic movement which brought the power of the Holy Spirit within the major denominations. Then he said, “I see the third wave of the eighties as an opening of the straight-line evangelicals and other Christians to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that the Pentecostals and charismatics have experienced, but without becoming either charismatic or Pentecostal. I think we are in a new wave of something that now has lasted almost through our whole century” (“The Third Wave?: An Interview,” Pastoral Renewal, 8 (July-August 1983):1-5). So we find that the VM leaders, while recognizing their roots in the Pentecostal and charismatics movements, believe that they have moved beyond the first two waves of the Holy Spirit. They do not like being called charismatic, and as we will detail later there are some real differences between the three groups.
John Wimber: No one doubts that the central figure behind the VM is John Wimber. After Wimber’s conversion he became active at a “Friends church” (Quaker). Later he joined its staff but became disillusioned with the local church. During this time Wimber was a dispensationalist who rejected the “charismatic gifts” as viable for today. Wimber left the church and took a position at Fuller Institute of Church Growth. While teaching at Fuller, as a result of personal experience and testimonies of happenings among Christians in the Third World, Wimber, “Felt compelled to reexamine Scripture, looking more carefully at the relationship between spiritual gifts and evangelism” (Power Evangelism p85). In 1978, he returned to the pastorate at one of the branch churches of Calvary Chapel (mildly charismatic). During the first year of that pastorate, he began praying for supernatural healing of his people. Nothing happened for ten months then one day a women was healed. This was the beginning of the “signs and wonders movement” (Ibid pp90,91). In 1982, because of sharp differences Wimber’s church broke from Calvary Chapel and was renamed the Vineyard.
C. Peter Wagner: Wagner has long been recognized as an authority in both world missions and church growth. He was drawn towards signs and wonders by observing that church growth was most rapid among the Pentecostal and charismatic ranks, especially in the Third World. Through Wimber’s help he claimed to be able to rebuke a demon that was causing him headaches. Wimber and Wagner taught a course together at Fuller called, MC510 “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth Course.”
Cain is the most well known of the Vineyard prophets. Cain was a contemporary of Oral Roberts during the tent revivals of the 1940s and 50s. He left the healing revival circuit in 1957 because many of the leaders were becoming “disobedient.” He remained semi-secluded until the VM was born and then he stepped into the revival arena once again. He is considered the greatest of the modern day prophets by the leadership of the Vineyard. He claims to speak regularly with angels, receive prophetic revelations directly from God, and have powerful gifts of healing. Some believe him to be an apostle, although Cain does not accept that title.
Deere is influential in the VM not so much for what he does now, as what he did before he joined Wimber. As it tells you right on the cover of his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, he was “a former Dallas Seminary Professor.” Being a former Dallas professor is suppose to give his new views some clout. The book cover fails to mention however, that he is a former Dallas professor because he was dismissed for his Vineyard theology. Nevertheless, Deere is one of the most powerful spokesmen for the VM. His book is probably the best defense of Vineyard’s views and will undoubtedly draw many into the movement. His new book (released this year), Surprised by the Voice of God, is supposed to be a treatise on how to tell God’s voice from our own, or even Satan’s. In this volume He defends the view that God is giving fresh revelations today.
Grudem is Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a recognized Biblical scholar. His book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, is an attempt to bring some moderation to the extremes of the VM, and at the same time, persuade outsiders that God is still revealing His word today through the gift of prophecy. Grudem attempts to deal with the important issue of how Christians can receive direct revelation from God, and yet not claim to be inspired in the same way the Scriptures are. This issue is crucial. If God is speaking to Christians today, what weight are we to give these modern day prophecies? If we claim that they are equal to Scripture, then we should add them to the Word of God. We should be adding new books to the canon as God reveals His word as he did in the past. On the other hand, if these prophecies are not on par with Scripture then what are we to do with them? How can God be speaking in and through His people and yet not be speaking with authority?
Grudem’s answer is that OT prophecy and NT prophecy (as well as modern prophecy) are two different things. In the OT, prophets spoke the very words of God. As a matter of fact, if they prophesied in the name of the Lord and their prophecies did not come to pass, they were to be stoned to death (Deut. 18:20-22). Grudem assures us that all of this changed in the NT. In the NT only the apostles spoke with divine authority. They, according to Grudem, are the NT counterparts to the OT prophets. He believes that all other NT, and modern prophecy, while coming directly from God, is not really inspired. NT prophets can, and often will, be wrong and suffer no consequences. So, according to Grudem, we receive messages from God today, but those messages do not carry the weight of divine revelation. They can be in error, and we do not necessarily have to obey them. But we must ask, “Of what value are such prophecies?” If we don’t know for certain that they come from God; if we don’t know for certain whether they contain error, then what purpose do they have? Grudem never satisfactorily answers that question. Here are his best shots: “We are not expected to accept every word spoken through the gifts of utterance…but we are only to accept what is quickened to us by the Holy Spirit and is in agreement with the Bible…one magnification may be 75% God, but 25% the person’s own thoughts. We must discern between the two” (p110). “As a matter of fact there may be a whole range of degrees of inspiration” (p111). In answering his own question as to how we can know if a revelation is from the Holy Spirit, he says that it must first be in conformity to the Scriptures. Then he makes these amazing statements, “Did the revelation ‘seem like’ something from the Holy Spirit; did it seem to be similar to other experiences of the Holy Spirit which he had known previously in worship? Beyond this it is difficult to specify much further, except to say that over time a congregation would probably become more adept at making evaluations of prophecies, and individual prophets would also benefit from those evaluations and become more adept at recognizing a genuine revelation from the Holy Spirit and distinguishing it from their own thought” (pp120,121).
In other words, we are left in a sea of subjectivity. If the thoughts in my mind “seem like” they are coming from the Holy Spirit, then “probably” they are (according to Grudem). But of course, I may be wrong. Those thoughts could come from anywhere. We never really know. We can only hope that we will become more “adept” at discerning God’s voice as time goes on.
Again, we ask, of what value are such prophecies? Why seek after new revelations from God, revelations that we cannot be assured are even coming from God, when we have the sure words of Scripture? We agree with John MacArthur’s statement in Our Sufficiency in Christ p87, “Contrary to what many are teaching today, there is no need for additional revelations, visions, or words of prophecy. In contrast to the theories of men, God’s Word is true and absolutely comprehensive. Rather than seeking something more than God’s glorious revelation, Christians need only to study and obey what they already have!”