In the mid-1970s, Wimber became affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary and was strongly influenced by Fuller professor C. Peter Wagner, a pragmatic church growth guru. In analyzing church planting models, Wagner seems to be as impressed by "success" as with doctrinal purity. If a methodology "works" it has value, regardless of whether or not it is scriptural. I’m sure he wouldn’t describe his philosophy in those terms, but this is how it appears to me, having read several of his books and having heard him speak.
John Wimber applied this same type of pragmatism to the practical side of Christian life and ministry. Though he claimed to care deeply about theology, in practice he focused more on experience and feeling than on doctrine.
In 1977 Wimber assumed leadership of a church in Anaheim, California, that eventually grew to 6,000 members and became the mother church of the Vineyard Association, comprised today of more than 500 churches worldwide.
JOHN WIMBER WARNED AGAINST BIBLICAL DISCERNMENT
He warned against "worshipping the book" and mocked those who judge everything strictly by the Bible, saying they have "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Book" (Wimber, as cited by Hank Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival, p. 109). On another occasion Wimber warned against being "too rigid" and "too heavily oriented to the written Word" (Ibid.). One would say something like that only if he were attempting to promote things that were not in accordance with the Word of God. The Psalmist said the written Word "is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Ps. 119:105). It is impossible to be too strongly oriented toward the Bible!
In his healing seminar, Wimber made the following amazing statement, "It's evil when you hide behind doctrinal beliefs that curtail and control the work of the Spirit. ... The Church today is committing evil in the name of sound doctrine. And they are quenching the work of the Holy Spirit" (Wimber, Healing Seminar Series, cited from Testing the Fruit of the Vineyard by John Goodwin).
In 1994 Phillip Johnson visited the Anaheim Vineyard, the church pastored by Wimber, and he and the rest of the congregation were told by one of the Vineyard pastors: "In a moment I'm going to call down the Holy Spirit. Things like you've never seen will begin to happen. ... Don't be alarmed by anything you see ... And above all, don't try to rationally evaluate the things you will see. ... Subjecting the revival to doctrinal tests is the surest way to put out the fire" (Phillip R. Johnson, "My Visit to the Anaheim Vineyard," 1995, www.gty.org:80/~phil/articles/laught.htm). At the same meeting a woman church staff member led in public prayer with these frightful words: "We refuse to critique with our minds the work that You want to do in our hearts. We refuse to subject Your work to our little doctrinal tests."
This is the same philosophy that has produced the popular charismatic saying, “We must not put God in a box.” If the “box” referred to is human tradition, that saying is true. But more often than not, the “box” refers even to the Bible.
Such a mindset leaves one open to spiritual delusion. If the Holy Spirit operates contrary to the Scriptures, there is absolutely no way to discern between the true Spirit and false spirits. This subtle undermining of biblical authority is one reason why strange and unscriptural things such as spirit slaying, spiritual drunkenness, “holy laughter,” and imperfect prophesying have been accepted in the Vineyard movement.
WIMBER PUT AN UNSCRIPTURAL EMPHASIS ON MIRACLES
Shortly after John Wimber became a Christian, he became a voracious Bible reader. The Scriptures excited him. Finally, after weeks of reading about life-transforming 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," said John. "You know, like stuff Jesus did-raising people from the dead, healing the blind and the paralyzed. You know, that stuff."
"Well, we don't do that anymore," the man said. "You don't? Well what do you do?" asked John.
"What we did this morning," replied the man. In frustration, John responded: "For that I gave up drugs?"
Wimber taught a course on "Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth" at Fuller Seminary in the early 1980s. Later he traveled to many parts of the world with his "signs and wonders" crusades, promoting his doctrine that the Christian life and ministry should be accompanied by experiential miracles to be authentic, that miracles produce faith. In his popular books Power Evangelism and Power Healing, Wimber promoted this idea: "Clearly the early Christians had an openness to the power of the Spirit, which resulted in signs and wonders and church growth. If we want to be like the early church, we too need to open to the Holy Spirit's power" (Wimber, Power Evangelism, p. 31). In reality, kingdom power and the manifestation of the sons of God in glory will be enjoyed when Christ returns, and we who live in this present world must patiently hope for those events (Rom. 8:23-25). Timothy was told that the kingdom will come when the King returns (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Paul taught the new believers that they will enter into the kingdom after the tribulation of this present time (Acts 14:22). Jesus warned that it is “an evil and adulterous generation” that “seeketh after a sign” (Matt. 12:39).
This carnal enthusiasm for the miraculous is the atmosphere that has produced every variety of strange and unscriptural thing in our day. It was the soil from which the strange Laughing Revival or Drunken Revival sprang in ---- at the Airport Vineyard Church in Toronto, Ontario.
WIMBER PROMOTED EXTRA-BIBLICAL REVELATION
In the 1980s Wimber accepted the Kansas City Fellowship of prophets and promoted the ministry of "prophets" throughout the Vineyard movement. These prophets claim to receive divine revelation from God and they urged the churches to be open to such revelation. Many Vineyard churches have been caught up in this. James Ryle, pastor of the Vineyard church in Boulder, Colorado, has written two books explaining how Christians can learn to interpret the alleged revelations they receive through dreams and visions and the experiences of life. Ryle was influential in the founding of Promise Keepers and was on PK's board of directors until recently. He is also the pastor of Promise Keepers' leader Bill McCartney. In his books, Ryle describes alleged prophecies he received pertaining to McCartney and his college football team, and it was these "prophecies" which impressed McCartney that Ryle was a man of God. Ryle taught McCartney to believe in his inner urgings and visionary goals, and this was instrumental in his boldness to start an international men's movement even though he is in no sense qualified to lead a Christian movement which has a goal of building strong families and strengthening pastors. His testimony of salvation is unclear; spiritually he is extremely weak; he had a miserable family life (even after founding PK); and his understanding of Bible doctrine is grossly lacking. Based upon the Bible alone, it would be plain that McCartney is not the man for such a job (assuming that Promise Keepers were a scriptural organization, which it is not), but Vineyard churches do not follow the Bible alone (though they profess to).
WIMBER USED ROCK MUSIC AND PROMOTED SENSUAL PRACTICES OF WORSHIP
Instead of rejecting the music by which he served the flesh and the devil prior to his conversion, Wimber merely changed the words and incorporated the same carnal rock music for the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Worship services, in Vineyard practice, are occasions whereby a congregation comes under the sway of rock and other fleshly mood music. A typical Vineyard music group is built around the same components one finds in a secular rock group: drums, bass guitar, lead guitar, electronic keyboard. The makeup of such a music group is overwhelmingly tilted to the beat. Not only are the same music components used, but the same styles are also used. Repetition is a big part of secular rock. Repetition is also used in the Vineyard worship experience. It is not uncommon for one song or even one simple stanza to be sung over and over, creating a hypnotic environment. This worship-equals-rock-music phenomenon has swept through much of the Pentecostal-Charismatic world. Pentecostalism has always been characterized by jazzy music, but its has become even more worldly in recent decades. I have attended many large conferences and smaller meetings in various parts of the world, and the rock music-type worship has always been evident. The music is sensual, fleshly. It appeals to the body. It does not create a holy atmosphere, an atmosphere separate from this present wicked world, wherein the holy God of the Bible can be worshipped in spirit and truth. It creates a carnal atmosphere whereby the flesh exhibits itself and demonic delusions are easily promoted. The music used to create the sensual, immoral atmosphere of a bar or nightclub cannot be sanctified unto the Lord. The attempt to do so is a great spiritual blindness and delusion. After 30 years of prayer and Bible study and meditation on this topic, I am convinced that the Contemporary Christian Music, or "Christian" rock music, is one of the devil's chief tools for building the end time apostate Christianity. Wimber's Vineyard churches have been in the forefront of spreading rock music throughout the Pentecostal-Charismatic world, and beyond to non-Pentecostal churches. This music and the sensual "worship" services connected with it create an atmosphere in which error such as the Laughing Revival can easily arise.
WIMBER ALSO PREPARED THE WAY FOR THE LAUGHING REVIVAL BY HIS MYSTICAL, EXPERIENCE-OVER-THE-BIBLE APPROACH TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
True to his Quaker roots, Wimber was not satisfied with a life of faith; he wanted to "feel God." He wanted to see and feel his Christianity. He said, "God uses our experiences to show us more fully what He teaches us in scripture, many times toppling or altering elements of our theology and world view. If my experience topples my theology, then I am giving more credence to my experience than to theology" (Wimber, Power Evangelism, p. 89). Wimber always affirmed strongly that he believed the Bible is the final authority for life and doctrine, but he undermined that affirmation by constantly exalting experience and by putting down the doctrine-alone approach to truth. He was a study in contradictions.
It is the natural desire of every child of God, of course, to experience the Lord and His Word, but if our experiences are not subjected to the Scriptures they can lead to all sorts of error. We desire to know God experientially. We yearn to see and feel His presence. The problem is that God has ordained that this present life be lived by faith, and faith that is sight (or feeling or experience) is not faith (Rom. 8:24). Genuine Bible faith is the evidence of "things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The Lord Jesus Christ pronounced a blessing upon those who simply believe God without the advantage of sight (John 20:29).
By encouraging his followers to seek and expect signs and wonders, by downplaying doctrinal restraints, by promoting the idea of extra-biblical revelation through dreams and prophesies, through his promotion of sensual concepts of worship, and by his mystical approach to the Christian life, Wimber prepared fertile soil for aberrant movements such as the Laughing Revival.
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