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The Story of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

The conservative churches of Christ are under sustained attacks from brethren who pose as "people of the Book." They command the pulpits of large urban churches. They sit in ivory towers of academia. They edit papers such as the faltering Image and the failed Wineskins. There are three smoldering hot beds of postmodern paradigms already surfaced and are posing mounting threats to churches of Christ. The three models are the Willow Creek Community Church, the Vineyard Church Fellowships (Third Wave, and the Toronto Blessing), and postmodern theology.

Gary Holloway and Michael Weed, senior faculty in the Christian Institute of Christian Studies in Austin, Texas, presented a paper in May 1985 before the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville. The paper was titled "The Gospel in Urban Vessels: Churches of Christ Face the Twenty First Century."

The article as a whole strives mightily to prove something that is never clearly articulated. Holloway and Weed do offer two specific models in particular for worship changes in churches of Christ which they suggest may help churches of Christ to survive and prosper into the 21st century. And what they suggest makes a stunning impact when once it is learned what they have in mind.

Holloway and Weed proposed two new models of worship practices for churches of Christ in a few words tucked away in a short paragraph. These two models they say are already evident among churches of Christ. The statement:

One is the seeker service model of the Willow Creek Community Church.... The other model influencing Churches of Christ is the third wave charismatic worship described by church growth expert C. Peter Wagner and others.

An informed person is left wondering if Holloway and Weed would write what they have, and believe what they say provided they know their facts.

The Willow Creek Community Church model was addressed in a previous article. Some in churches of Christ have a limited awareness of the Willow Creek church model based upon the likes of Max Lucado and Jeff Walling. Some churches of Christ have already converted over to the Willow Creek Church Community model, e.g., the Hendersonville Community Church of Christ near Nashville.

Its senior pastor, Doug Varnado, is DLU's most popular Bible faculty member. DLU's CEO, and Senior Vice President give their full endorsement to the Willow Creek paradigm by preaching in the Hendersonville Community church pulpit by invitation.

On the other hand, very few in churches of Christ have ever heard of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship which is tied in with the "Third Wave" Pentecostal theology articulated by a professor, C. Peter Wagner, in the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

The burden of this article is simply to trace the historical development of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship and its "Third Wave" connection to determine if there could be any possible connections with conservative churches of Christ.

The Vineyard Christian Fellowship

Previous articles in various papers have addressed the Willow Creek Community Church model (paradigm). The full story of the Vineyards Church Fellowship is much more complex, and nothing is known about it by the rank and file members of the churches of Christ. Since Holloway and Weed propose the "Third Wave" (the Vineyards) as an optional model for the postmodern church of Christ, we have no choice but to bring to the light of day the secrets of the doings of the "Third Wave" as endorsed by church of Christ apologists.

The history of the Vineyard Fellowships in Southern California: About 1973, a small group of Calvary Chapel churches had come under the influence of John Wimber. Wimber, an ex­member of the Friends church, was the charismatic pastor of a small church which started in 1978 and grew to a membership of 700. Wimber requested and was granted permission to join Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel church.

On the other hand, the original Vineyard Christian Fellowship (Signs and Wonders) began as a small study group led by Ken Gullickson. In 1982, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship resulted from a merger of elements of Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel, and Ken Gullickson's original Bible Study Fellowship which later developed into the Vineyard Christian Fellowship.

John Wimber had approached Gullickson about joining his Vineyard Fellowship. Permission was granted. John Wimber changed the name of his Calvary Chapel church to "Vineyard." He would later move to Anaheim where Wimber's Vineyard church soon grew to over 5000 members. Since then the Vineyard Christian Fellowships has grown to a membership of 50,000 with more than 600 Vineyard churches located in 28 states, Canada, and five foreign countries.

Today John Wimber, senior pastor of the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, is the undisputed godfather of the expanding Vineyard churches. In 1986, the "Association of Vineyard Churches" was formed giving the Vineyard churches a quasi­denominational status. In May 1990, Wimber announced that the Kansas City Prophets had become a part of the Vineyard network of churches.

Understanding the "Third Wave" in Pentecostal Circles

That there is a third wave must mean there were two previous waves. The first Pentecostal movement (first wave) has its own American story. The Pentecostalization process began in the early 1900s with the emergence of classical Pentecostalism which has its roots in the Wesley/Holiness tradition.

The First Wave: The story was reported April 16, 1906 in the Los Angeles Times of a revival being held in a tumble down shack on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Not since the revival in the Kentucky cane breaks (1801) had such things been seen on American soil. A part of the news story follows:

[T]he devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into states of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal.... The night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howling of the worshippers.

It took almost fifty years for classical Pentecostalism to gain the respectability of mainline Protestantism. By 1985, it was estimated there were 240 million "old line" Pentecostals.

The Second Wave: The second wave of the Holy Spirit was the charismatic movement of the 1960s during which time claims were introduced that the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit was at work in the mainline denominational churches. Speaking in tongues and the exercising of other gifts enumerated by Paul marked this second Pentecostal/charismatic phenomena. Peter Wagner calls this the "Second Wave." We recall the role of Pat Boone in this movement.

What Is the "Third Wave"?

One of the most dramatic developments in the 1980s has been the rise of the "Signs and Wonders" movement associated with Jack Wimber and the Vineyard Movement. While the origin of "Vineyards" goes back to 1978, Wimber's distinctiveness came to prominence in 1983 through the "Signs and Wonders" course (MC510) offered in the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. This most popular seminary course enrolled 2800 students, but was discontinued amidst controversy after four years.

He was assisted by C. Peter Wagner (church growth expert) who wrote the primer for the power manifesto of the Vineyards titled The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit. This is the book which helped launch the "Third Wave" Pentecostal Movement, and is used as a major reference to understand power healing, e.g. the "Third Wavers" who were taught by Wimber that they were reliving the days of the apostles. They were told they too could perform miracle healing, exorcise evil spirits, and raise the dead as did Jesus and the apostles. Timber said that tongue speaking is not for our time. Who told him so?

The desire of those in the Third Wave is to experience today the miraculous power of healing the sick, raising the dead, and receiving prophecies. Wimber taught that "signs and wonders" will accompany the preaching of the gospel today as in the personal ministry of Christ. Timber taught: "We can do what Jesus did-we must do what Jesus did."

The emphasis of the Third Wave is on miraculous healing and words of knowledge that come as immediate revelations from God. As a matter of fact, the Third Wave Movement is based on the superstition that the age of miracles never ceased. Randy Harris (DLU professor) lends his personal support to the "Third Wave" in an article printed in the 1996 April­May Wineskins and by paying special deference to Jack Deere, once the scholar of residence for the Vineyard Christian Fellowship churches.

Postscript

In the words of the preacher, "The half has not yet been told." And the truly amazing part of the story begins on the evening of January 20, 1994 when about 120 Vineyard devotees gathered near the Toronto airport for a series of meetings. Then the "giggles" for God erupted and people fell on the floor, laughing, rolling, and other bizarre exercises.

The next article will present the full story of the surrealistic scenes of the "Toronto Blessing" when the worshippers go "ape." Nothing like it has been seen since the Cane Ridge and Azusa Street revivals.

(Editor's comment: If what the new Pentecostalism is promoting is presented as "doing what Jesus did" in the line of miracles, then the wonders and signs of the Son of God are deprecated and amount to no more than sham and fakery. The truth is Jesus and those authorized by him did real miracles. They gave perfect sight to one blind from birth, caused a man lame from his mother's womb to run and leap, instantly calmed a stormy sea and called the dead out of the grave. Such things are not happening today. The counterfeit miracles of modern day impostors tends to discount the bona fide supernatural acts of 2,000 years ago. More is the pity. Cannot these people see they are doing damage to the cause they profess to love? The thing is capable of demonstration. If these people can produce a real miracle, let them do so. We will gather with any of them at any cemetery in the entire nation and witness a resurrection of someone dead and embalmed. If the dead person breathes again, I will convert- and so will multiplied millions. In the meantime, Pentecostalism is branded for what it is-a spurious imitation; deceitfulness and empty pretense ­ H. A. (Buster) Dobbs.)

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