Previous | Next

Fall 1988 · Vol. 17 No. 2 · pp. 42–57 

New Wine from the Vineyard

John P. Schmidt

INTRODUCTION

John Wimber started the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in 1977. As an organized movement it is about four years old. Yet in the brief time of ten years it has grown to nearly 300 churches. Though Wimber at first rejected the idea of the Vineyard being a new denomination, he now says that “functionally we are a denomination; we are just doing our job” (1987: Class Notes). His goal for Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim is 10,000 people and world-wide, to plant 10,000 Vineyards in his generation. Already the Anaheim Vineyard has planted over 30 churches and has helped non-Vineyard churches get started as well.

We may not enjoy the initial taste of this new wine, but. . .

With its distinctive theology, terminology, music, and style, “it is breaking into churches that have never felt the full force of the charismatic movement” (Stafford, 1986:17). Peter Wagner refers to the Vineyard movement as the “third wave” of the twentieth century. The first wave was the Pentecostal movement at the turn of the century with its emphasis on entire sanctification and on tongues as the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. By 1980, 51,000,000 of the 345,000,000 Protestants world-wide were Pentecostals. The “second wave” is {43} the Charismatic movement which, since the 1960’s, has been a powerful movement of spiritual renewal within mainline Protestant, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic Churches.

The “third wave” is the use of signs and wonders, more popularly referred to as “Power Evangelism,” as a means of reaching people with the Gospel. Wimber agrees:

Perhaps the next stage of the Holy Spirit, one affecting conservative evangelicals, will come with different models of how the charismatic gifts should function, such as in power evangelism. Just as Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal have produced different results as they affect different groups of people, this next stage. . .will have a different flavour, with a particular emphasis on personal evangelism (1985:120,131).

Thus a Vineyard service typically consists of 30-50 minutes of worship choruses led by a musical team and which involves total participation: clapping, raising hands, standing, sitting, dancing, and reaching out to one another in caring love. This emphasis on a free style of worship and fellowship, as well as on miracles and healings, is attractive to those who are dissatisfied with a lack of spiritual power. As one pastor put it, their aim is to reach the unchurched person, the one who watches religious television shows, who may be converted, but who finds church boring.

Wimber makes no apologies for the fact that the baby boomers are the target audience of the Vineyard. It is a group that is very independent, liking little or no structure but who are willing to follow a leader who knows where he is going. John Wimber’s background in business and marketing have provided a training ground for formulating and articulating clearly spelled out goals. His warmth, magnetic personality, and fatherly image is appealing to the baby boomers which he has targeted as his audience. The style of worship and ministry in the Vineyard attracts a certain kind of person and so reinforces the Church Growth emphasis on the homogeneous unit. In 1982 Wimber said:

Few churches are effectively reaching the young—those who do not feel comfortable with the lifestyle, music and jargon of establishment Christianity. . .As a young church, we experience all of the opportunities and problems {44} which accompany youth. . .Because we are young we are current. We speak the language of these people. Our sermons and songs are familiar and acceptable. . .We are a “second marriage” church [ministering to those who] felt they couldn’t live up to the standards the church set for them. . .We are a church that ministers in power. Today in America people need to see there is a tremendous increase in the occult, spiritism and all sorts of demon activity. . .People in our culture need to see that God is more powerful than the lifestyles they are serving. . .We are a church with a mission. . .to reach out to people who have not been reached by traditional approaches to the Christian faith” (Wimber, 1982:22-23).

Because of its phenomenal growth and its great impact on other denominations—and because “Vineyard fever” is spreading—it is important to evaluate its beliefs and practices, as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

VINEYARD’S THEOLOGY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

According to the Vineyard Training Manual the purpose of the Vineyard is intertwined with the theology of the Kingdom of God, namely that Christians are called to speak God’s words and do His works in order to re-establish His reign on earth. Beginning with this, Wimber and his followers teach that the works Jesus did while on earth (signs and wonders) are to be continued today through his disciples. For many Evangelicals this represents a shift in how they have traditionally interpreted the relationship of the church and the Kingdom and raises the question whether the miracles and healings that occurred in the Gospels and Acts are prescriptive or descriptive.

Emphases to be Affirmed

First among the Vineyard emphases which Evangelicals can affirm is the prominence given to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. For many years the Holy Spirit was the neglected member of the Trinity, but in the past 20 years that has changed dramatically. Nevertheless, it is easy to react negatively, especially when a new movement appears to overemphasize one aspect of truth, such as signs and wonders. For {45} example, until about twenty years ago Evangelicals tended to regard Pentecostals as cultic because of their doctrines of baptism in the Spirit subsequent to conversion and of speaking in tongues as “the” sign of such an experience.

While John Wimber does not emphasize tongues as “the” evidence of the Spirit or stress the “second blessing” theology of the Pentecostals, he does “believe that when a person is converted he received the Holy Spirit [although] he may or may not experience the Holy Spirit at that time. Conversion and the initial filling of the Holy Spirit can happen simultaneously” (1985:142). However, in his teaching he suggests that those who speak in tongues are liberated and have power.

Although we may not agree with all points on the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit, we can affirm a movement that emphasizes the ministry of the spirit in the believer’s life, for Jesus promised that the Helper who would take his place would be with us and in us to empower us for witness and service (John 14-16; Acts 1:8).

A second truth we can affirm is that spiritual gifts are given for service and should contribute to building the body of believers and reaching unbelievers. While the Vineyard claims to emphasize all the gifts of the Spirit, an overview of their Ministry Training Manual shows that the key gifts stressed are teaching, healing and exorcism, primarily those dealing with signs and wonders. While we agree that healing is a valid gift and that such a sign gift can contribute to evangelism and church growth, it must be recognized as only one of the many gifts the Spirit gives, and should not be elevated to a place of primary importance. Ben Patterson raises a legitimate concern that “the ultimate goal of the Christian life is fruit, not the gifts of the Spirit. It is not that the Signs and Wonders people deny this; it is just that their emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit impedes the ripening of the fruit” (1986:20). When gifts are overemphasized it leads to an underemphasis of the ethical demands of the gospel so that gifts become more important that fruit. One would wish for a better balance between the sign gifts and the verbal and serving gifts which are also given by the Holy Spirit and are equally as important as those emphasized by the Vineyard.

A third truth we can affirm is that every believer must be actively involved in ministry and witness. The Vineyard teaches that all believers are priests who minister with their {46} gifts to the needs within the body. Therefore in their worship services those giving words of knowledge and prophecy as well as praying for people in need of healing are lay people who have been trained for this ministry. This requires risks of faith. As one Vineyard pastor admitted, it was rather disconcerting to see an 18-year-old praying for healing and God performing a miracle! The Vineyard practices the biblical truth of the priesthood of all believers which in more recent years has been made popular through Ray Stedman’s emphasis on “body life.” The apostle Paul makes it clear that the work of leadership is to equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). This truth needs continual emphasis in the church.

A fourth truth which comes from their kingdom theology is their strong emphasis on the continuing battle between God and the forces of darkness. That we are engaged in spiritual warfare is evident daily as we are involved in the “power encounter” between the kingdom of God and the dominion of Satan. The powers of evil are real, yet few Christians have become actively involved in exorcisms or dealing in personal ways with demonic forces. As the powers of darkness increase, we must heed Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6 to put on the full armor of God, to stand firm, to utilize the Sword of the Spirit and prayer as mighty weapons against the forces of evil. This is especially so when we move out in evangelism, for we are challenging the strongholds of the enemy and he will not let people go without a tremendous battle.

Teachings To Be Questioned

The Church and the Kingdom

To understand the Vineyard movement one must be clear on the meaning and message of the kingdom as taught by John Wimber. Basing his theology of the kingdom largely on the thinking of George Eldon Ladd, Wimber defines the kingdom in the New Testament as kingship, or God’s right to exercise kingly rule in today’s situation. According to the Vineyard Training Manual, the church is “called to speak God’s words and do His works in order to re-establish His reign on earth.” Wimber explains that Christ’s pattern of ministry was that of, 1) Proclamation: He preached repentance and the good news of the kingdom of God, and, 2) Demonstration: He cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead—which proved he was the presence of the kingdom, the Anointed One (Wimber, {47} 1985:19). The church is to follow this two-fold pattern since it has been given the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19). “The keys,” says Wimber, “are the spiritual insights and authority that enabled Peter to lead others through the door of revelation. The keys are the narrow path to the kingdom of God” (1985:20). Wimber follows Ladd’s teaching that the kingdom and the church must not be equated, but that at Pentecost the kingdom of God brought in the church, that the church witnesses to the kingdom, is an instrument of the kingdom, and acts under the authority of the kingdom (Shenk, 1983:211-212).

It is true that the church can neither be wholly identified with the kingdom nor can it be totally separated as distinct entities. As Johannus Blauw wrote, The church “is not herself the kingdom but she is its manifestation and its form” (quoted in Peters, 1981:43). It is also true that the gospel of the kingdom was a “call to a radically new Lord. . .with a new citizenship and new demands. The emphasis is not on how easy but how costly it is to enter the kingdom” (Elliott, 1982:69). Lewis Smedes writes: “Jesus himself told us that the call of the disciple is to a life of the cross, of self-denial, not to a life of reliance upon miracles to free us from the ailments and agonies that we are heir to on earth” (1987:26).

To what extent, then, does the church exercise God’s kingly rule? This also raises the significant question of whether the mandate Jesus gave to the seventy to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons and even raise the dead (Matt. 10:1-5; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6) was given to the church for all ages? Wimber would argue that it is so, because the church has the ongoing mandate to bring about the kingdom rule of God. Therefore we not only can but must do the works Jesus did. But as Lewis Smedes points out, the mission Jesus gave the seventy had the limited objective of preparing the way for Jesus’ coming to certain parts of the country. When the conditions changed, the directions were different (Luke 22:35-36). Then, after His resurrection, Jesus gave no mandate for a healing ministry. He told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing in his name and teaching them to obey all he had commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). (Wimber would argue that “teaching to obey” Christ’s commands includes the command to heal.) They were to preach repentance and forgiveness in his name (Luke 24:47) and were given {48} authority to forgive and retain sins (John 20:22-23); but Jesus gave no renewed commission to perform miraculous healing and exorcisms. Though there are indications that the apostles performed “signs and wonders,” yet the indications are that

Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to prepare his way to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” are not the same as his instructions to his universal church. The disciples’ mandate to heal the sick and raise the dead is not necessarily equivalent to the church’s mandate” (Smedes, 1987:29-30).

It becomes evident that because Wimber places primary emphasis on the kingdom he can equate the mandate given to the disciples before the resurrection with that given after, since in his understanding the church fulfills the kingdom mandate given in the gospels. This leads very naturally to his strong emphasis on visible manifestations of kingdom power by the universal church. It also produces his tendency to downplay the local, visible church as an expression of that universal body. The local church receives no mention in the “Theological and Philosophical Statements” of Vineyard Churches. It also tends to shift the focus away from the King and his desire to bring about his reign in the hearts and lives of believers.

The deepest miracle and the one most keenly and quickly sensed by the world is the miracle of the changed person. This is a miracle difficult to resist and impossible to disprove. The church should covet miracles of transformed lives more than anything else in this world (Peters, 1981:160).

Suffering and Healing

A second question to consider is that of suffering and healing. Suffering has plagued humanity throughout history. Why does God allow suffering if he has the power to stop it? Why must some suffer so much, while others seemingly escape the pain and agony? Suffering is a mystery, one of the effects of the fall, something which continues to impact the human race.

God created people for wholeness of spirit, mind and body. But Dr. J. I. Packer of Regent College reminds us that {49} there is “spiritual value, the maturing effect of the discipline of suffering, going through pain with the Lord” (1986:7). Sometimes sickness serves to chastise or bring us to our senses and redirect our lives into a better course. In Packer’s view, Wimber leaves no room for sanctification through suffering. He writes: “There is a special sanctifying value in suffering that is patiently borne with the Lord’s help. . .If you are not careful at this point, prayer for signs and wonders becomes very similar to magic; you are trying to manipulate God. You think you have a way of doing it. You have a magical technique for making him do what you want” (7). Michael Green comments:

God does not always choose to heal us physically, and perhaps it is as well that he does not. How people would rush to Christianity (and for all the wrong motives) if it carried with it automatic exemption from sickness!

Wimber says, however, that Christians should always expect healing. “The answer to prayer for the sick is always “Yes.” It’s a matter of time, for there will be no sickness in heaven. My job is to pray; God’s job is to heal. If he doesn’t that’s up to Him, just as it’s up to Him to convict, forgive and convert” (1987: Class notes). In either case, he is clear that prayer is always wholesome and welcomed. He also agrees with Francis McNutt that healing can be a process and that prayer for healing may need to be made repeatedly over a long period of time (McNutt, 1977:37ff). Wimber also agrees with Father McNutt that too much emphasis has been placed on the “redemptive value of suffering, [so] that it has all but obscured the Good News of the gospel” (1974:74). And he believes that healing may sometimes be blocked by something in the sick person or in short-circuits (sin, lack of faith, lack of knowledge how to pray) in those who are praying (1984:17).

While God can and does heal, Smedes argues: “We do not believe that Christian believers have a special entitlement to lasting health and instant healing” (1987:51). Some of God’s most noble saints are those who have suffered through long years of physical illness during which the work of the Spirit became very evident in their lives. Not even St. Paul could heal himself (2 Cor. 12:7) or Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20). Wimber admits that God does not always choose to heal, as in the case of David Watson who died of cancer after many prayers for {50} healing. Wimber himself carries nitroglycerin tablets for a coronary problem.

Power Evangelism

Another area of concern is “power evangelism.” Wimber defines power evangelism as

a presentation of the gospel that is rational but also transcends the rational. The explanation of the gospel comes with a demonstration of God’s power through signs and wonders. . .Power evangelism is that evangelism which is preceded and undergirded by supernatural demonstrations of God’s presence (1985:46).

This again raises the question (discussed above) whether the mandate Jesus gave to his disciples to go into all the world with the message of the gospel includes his mandate to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons and raise the dead. As noted, Wimber would argue that it is so, because the church has the ongoing mandate to bring about the kingdom rule of God. Whether or not this argument is accepted, we need to question the close linking of signs and wonders with evangelism.

In discussing “Power Evangelism” Wimber pits power against program: “By its very nature and assumptions, programmatic evangelism tends to have as its goal decisions for Christ, not disciples” (1985:56). His contention is that programmed evangelism lacks the demonstration of the power of the Spirit and so is not as effective as power evangelism. He says, “In programmatic evangelism there is an attitude that we do something and then God works. In power evangelism, God speaks and then we act.” He suggests that programmed evangelism simply means going and sharing the message, whereas in power evangelism

each evangelism experience is initiated by the Holy Spirit for a specific place, time, person or group. . .In programmatic evangelism, the Christian says, “In obedience I go. Holy Spirit bless me.” In power evangelism, the Christian says, “as the Holy Spirit tells me to go, I go” (1985:57).

The assumption is that the only legitimate kind of evangelism is done by signs and wonders.

Previous | Next

Wimber also cites texts like Hebrews 2:4 as the basis for {51} power evangelism: “God also testified to it by signs and wonders and various miracles.” But this misinterprets that text. Don Lewis reminds us that “the NT emphasis is on the proclamation of the gospel which is subsequently confirmed. . .To become sidetracked on signs and wonders is to be entranced by sensationalism” (1986:10). Jesus warned against this when he said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 15:4). Colin Brown contends that nowhere in the NT are healings and exorcisms used as evangelistic tools. He argues that the ministry of caring and prayer for healing “should be done in the name of Christ in order to meet the needs of the needy,” not as “a kind of advertisement to pull people in” (1985:216). To make signs and wonders the key mark of a movement of God (as Pentecostals and some in the Charismatic movement have done with Spirit baptism and tongues) tends to reverse the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who have never seen and still believe” (John 20:29).

Brown also claims that “Very few people today seem to come to faith because of miracles. Most often it seems that people find that God in Christ meets their deepest needs” (1985:60). Donald McGavran does not agree with Brown:

I do not come from a church background that emphasizes healing. In fact, we have been a bit critical of it. Yet in my research I have discovered the winning of the lost has come in great numbers where men and women were healed in Christ’s name. Amazing church growth has resulted (1982:39).

It is true that for many years our western world has been dominated by scientific rationalism, so that we have attempted to explain away much of the supernatural. As a result a spiritual vacuum has been created in our culture alongside a lack of spiritual power in North American churches. So Martin Marty can charge:

We have become a nation of metaphysical shoplifters, spiritual window-shoppers, pious cafeteria-liners. In the end our religious being everywhere tends to be nowhere. Ministers become chaplains to ethnic groups, or persons who keep the doors open to preside at weddings. But they have a hard time representing the legitimate and biblical {52} kinds of power that go along with “organized,” not diffused religion (cited in Rose and Hadaway, 1982:55).

And so Wimber’s emphasis on power presents a strong appeal to those in or near the church who are emotionally and spiritually starved and who long to experience more visible evidences of power in their lives.

The problem with focusing on miracles is that people may not be moved unless they see something bigger and better each time. People will soon cease to wonder at the usual and seek for something new and different. The danger is wanting the spiritual heights without the low points, of not recognizing the marvels of God in nature or the daily wonders that may be very ordinary and are taken for granted. People may also forget that throughout history many thousands have come to faith in Christ without ever having seen any kind of demonstration of power. Furthermore, the suggestion that power evangelism is normative downplays the impact of evangelists like D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and a host of others whose message has touched and transformed scores of lives without any visible demonstration of the kind of power events Wimber talks about.

Non-Christian Healings

A fourth concern is the well-attested fact that Christianity has no monopoly on healing. There are many documented instances of healings attributed to numerous gods, spirits and healers. Victor Ernest says, “In nearly every session where the demons ministered, there were healings” (Lovett, 1973:26). Lovett adds:

Those of the religious science cults, who in no way acknowledge the healing power of the Lord Jesus, are also able to obtain “miraculous” healings. They are a lot more sophisticated about it. They have learned some of the laws which regulate the health of the human body and have discovered how to harness them for healing. Their work is valid, but they give no credit to the Lord Jesus, the Author of those laws (1973:26).

Colin Brown refers to testimonies of miracles performed by voodoo spirits in Latin America, South India, and other places. Jesus reminds us, “Many will say to me on that day, {53} ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matt. 7:22-23). We must recognize that Satan and his forces also have power to perform wonders, as seen in Moses’ experience with Pharaoh’s magicians. Peter Wagner reminds us that the supernatural is not limited to the Christian faith. “Hindus and Muslims speak in tongues. Sorcerers perform miracles. Psychic surgery is uncanny. Faith healings and demon exorcisms happen in other religious systems” (1982:48). We need a great deal of spiritual discernment in this matter, lest the Christian faith use the name of Jesus in a kind of pious magic.

SOME PRACTICAL QUESTIONS

How should we respond to this new movement? The answers to that must first of all grow out of our answer to the question whether this is a genuine movement of the Spirit of God. Jesus reminds us that “a tree is known by its fruit,” so we need to look at the fruit being borne by this movement. Scores of people are being won to Christ. By the end of this year about 280 Vineyard Churches will be flourishing. The rate of growth in these churches is phenomenal. Many people are being healed of physical, emotional and spiritual ailments. The gifts of the Spirit are functioning, especially teaching, healing, knowledge and exorcism. This movement is impacting many people, both inside and outside the church. We cannot deny its existence as a genuine work of the Spirit, and so should not discredit it. Let us not repeat what was done with Pentecostalism and think that by criticism we can wipe it out, or by silence ignore it, hoping it will go away. We must recognize this as a new denomination which is attracting many people.

But at the same time we need to be aware of some of the extremes to which such a movement can go. Walter Unger says Wimber tends to quote Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards and Finney, all of whom describe similar signs and wonders as found in the Vineyard movement. But he points out that the quotations are from their earlier writings rather than their later, more mature, reflections. “Wesley and Edwards shifted considerably in their interpretation of what they at first called the ‘wonderful bodily effects’ attending their ministry” (1987:26-27). {54} Most new movements of the Holy Spirit are embraced by eager followers, many of whom tend to push the ideas of their leaders to extremes. However, rather than write off the movement because of certain excesses, we should draw alongside to render guidance and counsel where that is needed and welcomed.

We must also respond by looking at ourselves. Why have many people’s spiritual, social and physical needs not been met in their churches? In some cases there has been little clear teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Fundamentalism and dispensationalism have denied that the sign gifts are for this age, yet now these gifts are seen in operation. So there is a danger that the pendulum will swing to the other extreme among some of those who have had a new experience through the Vineyard. Moreover, their zealous attempts to bring the new emphasis to their home churches often cause a strong reaction and they may then leave in disillusionment or frustration. The second danger is that the church then formulates its doctrines in opposition to a new teaching rather than testing it in a proper exegetical study of the Scripture. This has often happened in the history of the church. It occurred when many Evangelicals developed their theology of the Holy Spirit in opposition to the teaching and practices of the Pentecostals. Rather than taking a defensive position against signs and wonders, churches need to honestly search the Scriptures and openly discuss what the Spirit is saying in this exciting era of church history.

This will affect our attitude to the charge of “sheepstealing” which is often leveled at new movements. One Vineyard pastor’s response to this charge was that

people are really not ‘stolen’; they go where they are nourished, developed, and can grow. When people come to a Vineyard from another church, they are asked to see their own pastor to get his blessing and release. As it is, most churches grow primarily by transfer.

These are very legitimate statements, as Dr. McGavran writes:

During the past 50 years, most pastors in North America have leaned over backwards to avoid the charge of “sheepstealing.” Partly as a result of this, about a hundred million {55} Americans are nominal, marginal, or slightly lapsed Christians. What is now demanded is that every church seek to be a better church—to have more biblical teaching, warmer fellowship, more Christian love, more concerns for social justice, and more effective evangelism of the lost. When a prospect says “I belong to another church” he ought to be asked in as kindly a way as possible, “Are you a practicing Christian?” If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory, he (a sheep running wild on the range) ought to be found and folded, fed and transformed (Class notes: Church Growth I:5).

One suburban pastor, charged with sheepstealing by a pastor of a downtown, nongrowing church, responded: “Splendid! You go on sleeping and we’ll go on stealing.” While we are not advocating sheepstealing, we must acknowledge that many churches have grown mainly by transfers, not just from their own denomination, but from other denominations as well. Is that also sheepstealing, or is it sheepstealing only when our sheep go elsewhere? We must make a renewed effort to provide the kind of worship experience that lifts up Jesus and the kind of loving fellowship that binds people together so their needs are really met. Rather than pointing fingers at the Vineyards, let’s take a closer look at why the wine in our own churches is not tasty enough to keep people in the fellowship. Perhaps our church and denomination is in dire need of renewal; and if renewal comes through the Vineyard, let’s rejoice in God’s goodness and not cast stones because we fail to recognize what the Spirit is doing in this new denomination.

Though we realize that most new denominations were the result of some kind of schism, we may deplore the divisiveness which causes splits. There is reason for concern when a Vineyard pastor suggests that splitting churches is not bad, but is one way to see church growth happen (Packer, 1986:6). While some churches have grown through splitting, generally this is not the healthiest way to start new churches. Though the pastor was recognizing that renewal movements do split churches, he was not advocating splits. Such comments by leaders are picked up by followers who do not have the maturity or understanding to handle them. They add fuel to the fire rather then helping provide greater understanding.

Part of the problem is the impression of elitism that comes {56} through from some in the Vineyard who are overly zealous for their newfound experience of freedom and power. Whether Vineyards actually cause division in churches will depend not only on the attitudes of those who leave their church but also on the attitudes of those who stay. On the issue of divisiveness, David Hubbard says many pastors have expressed concern about those who promote their charismatic gifts as being divisive. When he asks pastors how they handle such people, the response is usually to either talk them out of their gift or to tell them to “shape up or ship out.” The question then is: “Who is responsible for divisiveness, the enthusiastic charismatic or the pastor?” Hubbard writes:

Change carries risks. But so does resistance to change. Change in an understanding of the Spirit’s work may lead to excessive zeal that advocates “speaking in tongues” as the answer to all personal or social problems. But refusal to change may lead to deadly orthodoxy, smug spiritual complacency that assumes, “We know all truth and are totally satisfied with our level of spiritual maturity.” (1982:37)

In conclusion, how should we respond to this movement? Let’s avoid the extremes of total rejection or wholesale acceptance of everything in the Vineyard. Both extremes are less than genuine wisdom. We should be open and honest in an ongoing evaluation of this movement to determine what is biblical and what is not. At the same time we must continue to honestly evaluate our own churches to ensure that what we are doing is truly biblical and not merely tradition. We should affirm the positive aspects of this movement and help strengthen the weak points. In pointing out to one Vineyard pastor his negative reflection on another denomination, his response was to invite further help in overcoming such weak areas. We need to come alongside this young movement and help to provide counsel and guidance, much as an older brother comes alongside a younger brother to help him grow and overcome his hangups and problems. Those in denominations that have had the benefit of growth over many years need to share the wisdom gleaned from experience rather than to simply sit back with a critical spirit. We can rejoice in the strong emphasis on renewal in worship; we can develop greater openness about healing; we can grow in our awareness {57} of the powers of darkness; and we can learn from the strong emphasis on prayer. Let us not sit in judgment, “lest we find ourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:39) and, while the Vineyards blossom and bear fruit, we find Him passing us by. We may not enjoy the initial taste of this new wine, but over time it may begin to provide a delightful spiritual flavor.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

John P. Schmidt teaches and serves as Academic Dean of Columbia Bible College, Clearbrook, British Columbia.