Know your story, people!

Reading this history of the Vineyard movement made me remember how important history is. Evangelicals and Charismatics are mostly ignorant of their own history, and are poorer for it. Or I know I am. So many things we take for granted have historical reasons and interesting stories behind them. This book connected the dots of lots of snippets I’d heard about pentecostalism, charismatics and the vineyard since I was a kid – including the Toronto Blessing and John Wimber’s visits to Australia but also things like the impact the Jesus movement had on Christianity in the 1970s.

The radical middle of the title is what Jackson sees as the Vineyard’s capturing of the radical middle of both biblical doctrine and Spirit-led spontaniety. In the early chapters he puts the case for the
Vineyard as being a movement which has managed to harness the best of both the Word stream and the Spirit stream of Christianity. As someone from the Word stream, I saw less of the Word stream in the history which followed, but at the Vineyard’s best, I think he’s right.

As you would expect, John Wimber is central to this history of Vineyard. His story is fascinating, with so many strands and turning points (they’ve already gone out of my head). Spirit empowerment didn’t come instantly to him. He prayed and preached it for a long time until the healing started.

Wimber appears in the pages as a benevolent dictator. Jackson paints him as a flawed but talented man who God raised up to do something special with. He made some questionable calls and lost his passion at times, but comes across as a man who had a special mission and unusual power. The Holy Spirit broke out where he went.

There hasn’t been much room in my thinking for a movement that is centred on a particular individual, as good as he or she might be. Last year I read some things talking about APEPT ministry in the church, and the recovery of apostle-leadership. I guess Wimber had the role of an apostle within Vineyard, bearing at least some resemblance to the function of apostles within the early church (strategic leadership and vision?). I’m still suspicious of concentrating power or influence in one person’s hands, but I’ll grant that there was something special about Wimber and that God genuinely does use particular people.

It’s very disturbing to hear of how Sydney Anglican leaders allegedly treated Wimber in the early nineties; according to Jackson they didn’t even give him a hearing but just told him he was not wanted in Australia. I would like to know how they saw it, but I have encountered some Sydney Anglicans like this. (As well as some wonderful ones.)

I found the more pentecostal phases of Vineyard threatening to my comfort zone. I vacillate between thinking truth might reside here, and feeling that it’s crazy. In fact, even when I think it might have truth, I still think it’s crazy.

The story of the prophet Paul Cain is intriguing. I would like to write a novel inspired by his life. For a time he had the ear of Wimber and influenced the direction of the Vineyard, before a split with him and the Kansas City Prophets. (Alas, a google search reveals he has had a bad fall in the last couple of years and has been stood down from the Kansas church where he was ministering.) Here’s a long quote giving some of his story:
Paul Cain was born in 1929 to his mother Anna who was 45 years old. Anna was pregnant and had inoperable cancer that had eaten away one of her breasts; the doctors sent her home to die. In the throes of death she vowed to offer her child to God, as Hannah had done with Samuel, if the Lord would spare her life. a short time later the Lord spoke to her through an angel and promised her that she would live and bear a son. She was to name him Paul since he would preach the gospel as Paul of old. She was immediately healed, her breast grew back and she suckled her new baby as a medical miracle.

… By the time Paul was eighteen, he had a regular radio ministry and was conducting healing services in a small tent…

… Paul was on the verge of a stellar career in the early 1950s. He had, by this time, received a call to celibacy and became something of a recluse, desiring to be alone with God…

[Leaves the big tent revivals]

In the midst of this, Paul says God spoke to him and told him that if he kept himself from corruption and became content with living a humble life, given to Scripture reading and obedience, one day he would be allowed to stand before a new breed of men and women who were serious about holiness and the things of the Lord. This new breed would be a ‘faceless’ generation wanting nothing for itself and giving God all the glory. God added that this new generation would be used to usher in a great revival and he would see them before his mother died. At that time Anna was 73 years old.

Paul assumed that this would be fulfilled within a few short years but he spent the next 25 years living in a two-bedroom home in Phoenix, Arizona, where he took care of his mother with the help of family members. He spent most of those years reading Scripture and occasionally preaching. He refused to take offerings and trusted the Lord for his income. He briefly pastored two churches and was a help to many leaders during the Charismatic movement.

As the years of seclusion were coming to an end, Paul felt the Lord told him that he would soon see some of the new breed he had so often seen in the prophetic realm. His mother was 102 years old when he met Mike Bickle and others from Kansas City Fellowship in 1987. He said God spoke to him that these were some of the people….

Paul never even considered John Wimber as an option until he was in the room with John delivering a prophetic word to him on December 5, 1988. It was then that God whispered to him that John was the man he had been looking for.

-pp. 181-188

You probably get a sense of the style of this book from this extended quote. No sources are named for the rather big claims that Anna’s breast grew back and the like. (I wanted to know how old she was when she finally did die, but that’s just my obsession with longevity.) It’s a believer’s history and as much as it admits mistakes in the movement, it’s certainly not scholarly.

I found it a very readable book, with a narrative drive. Yet it’s unpolished prose and structurally has problems. If you care about those things.

10 thoughts on “Know your story, people!

  1. I was in Sydney in the nineties during the Wimber days. I went to a couple of the meetings as a Sydney Anglican. On one ocasssion Wimber hopelessly missapplied Mark 2 the healing of the paralytic. He focussed in on Healing (the small thing not Forgiveness the BIG thing) He left people looking for healing and not forgiveness in Jesus. This kind of misapplication of the Gospels has a way of stirring up Sydney Anglicans.

    Even Apostles & Prophets need to be critiqued…including those who misapply Ephesians 4….

    Don’t quench the Spirit…


  2. PS

    It is a false dichotomy to split the Word stream from the spirit stream the Word stream and the Spirit stream of Christianity.

    The Word without the Spirt is dead.
    The Spirit without the word has nothing to reveal.

    Rather the Spirit takes the written Word and writes it on our hearts…

    Hence false dichotomy…
    So Paul argues…

    “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—these things God has prepared for those who love him” for God has revealed them to us by his Spirit.”


  3. Hey Gavin, thanks for your comments. I definitely agree that prophets and apostles need to be critiqued – more than anyone, because they can lead more people astray.

    The Word/ Spirit thing was maybe more a case of Jackson seeing Evangelicalism as being more Word centred than Spirit centred in its practice and vice-versa for Pentecostalism. I think I agree with your argument against a dichotomy; indeed in this book, Jackson claims the Vineyard movement has managed to overcome the dichotomy in a way others often don’t.

  4. The things Wimber got bagged for are generally the things I I like about him and the Vineyard. He took risks and was prepared to cop the flak when he got it wrong. He occasionally let things get a little out of hand rather than controlling them because he trusted God. He was prepared to listen to his critics and argue the point with them when many church leaders won’t.

    As an aside, Its interesting how new movements get so closley scrutinised, wheras the existing church does not get, and is certainly less willing to be subject to such levels of scrutiny. Google Rick Warren and look out for the flood. Google Baptist Church and hear the listen to the disinterested silence.

  5. It is refreshing to see a critique of Vineyard that seems to have some research behind it. I have been part of Vineyard for 6 yrs and have visited many churches before Vineyard. I am aware that the early Vineyard movement was so enthusiastic in signs and wonders as to swing to the far side of spiritualism, but currently I fully believe that for the most part Vineyard has achieved the “radial middle” and I am so glad to be a part of it! To not only be grounded firmly in the Word of God but to also do the things Jesus told us to do is so amazing to me. I strongly encourage people who want to know more about Vineyard to look at Vineyard itself and it’s “statement of belief” which can be found at

  6. My wife and I just got back from the Southeast regional worship conference of the U.S. Vineyard churches. Among others, the national director, Bert Wagonner spoke. He talked a little about the Vineyard as a ‘centered set’ movement, drawing from social set theory. Just as a preface, the idea goes something like this:

    A ‘bounded set’ has clearly defined boundaries, and individuals as well as groups are clearly in or out based on their affirmation or dissention to the clearly defined beliefs. According to this definition, most religious fundamentalist groups fall into this category.

    A ‘fuzzy set’ has no specific ideology. Its members tend to gather around one shared experience, but there is nothing to hold them together. There is no core, no structure, so these groups tend to fail at growth and are ineffective at whatever tasks they attempt.

    The ‘centered set’ has core values and principles which give the movement definition and specificity. Since there are no hard boundaries, it is easy to get in or out of the group. It also allows the freedom to change models and approaches as time grinds away at praxis, without sacrificing those core values which are essential for giving the group it’s identity.

    According to Wagonner, (and Wimber, coincidentally) this is the type of movement Vineyard strives to be. Wagonner began by saying that from time to time, pastors will send him emails or letters saying things like, “We need to draw lines of demarcation here and here…” or, “We should set boundaries and limits and tell the churches what to believe about this and that…” All these calls for action, while well intended, are moving in the direction of crystalizing into a bounded set, a rigid institution. Bert pointed out that if the Vineyard movement were to take such a position, it would fracture into a thousand pieces, shattered under the weight of its own diversity. the fact is, the Vineyard is a very diverse movement. Every Vineyard looks and feels different, and you will find a myriad of different beliefs on what I would call ‘fringe doctrines’, or things which are not essential for faith in Christ.

    Ultimately, you will find Vineyards today which still dip heavily into the Prophetic stream, or the Reformed stream, or the Conservative Evangelical stream, etc. This may prompt one to ask, “Then how do I know what I’m getting when I go to a Vineyard?” Theologically, read the statement of faith. Ask questions. Visit. (That’s a complete one word sentence, BTW. Neat, huh?) I daresay you will find similar diversity in pulpits of all manner of denominations. My Mother-in-law’s Presbyterian church is affectionately known in town as ‘The Election Church’. This is due to the high frequency of sermons explaining the doctrine of election. Certainly this is an important doctrine, but not every Presbyterian church makes it the cornerstone of their Sunday preaching. Furthermore, it is unlikely you will walk into any church in which every person agrees 100% with everything their pastor says. This is a great comfort to me rather than a distress, since it only stands to reason that churches which encourage their people to think for themselves will contain people with varying opinions. When you find a church where everyone mirrors every minute detail of teaching the pastor utters, you have, in fact, uncovered a new cult.

    I found the conference to be quite refreshing. My wife and I had been seeing what we thought was a trend towards crystalization around certain teachings withing the greater movement. This was bothering us, until we heard Bert Wagonner adress these very issues publicly. After his address, my wife said, “Finally, now I know I’m not going crazy! What a relief!” (almost her exact words) After Bert’s talk, I asked him, “So, it’s ok if I don’t agree with everything my professors say in Vineyard Bible Institute?” His answer was basically this, that he hoped I didn’t agree with everything they say, and that if I could support and adequately defend my position, I could disagree with them all day long and that would be fine. It was very encouraging.

    For more on my visit and the questions I am currently considering as a result, see my blog on the Kingdom of God.

  7. Most interesting! The diversity in evangelicalism, unified in Jesus, surely illustrates the problem of sola scriptura. Is the Church the “support and pillar of the truth” (I Tim 3:15) or is the Scripture? What is the Church? Who is to say? Wimber really struggled with the problem but in the end the Vineyard is no different from all of the other new fellowships who have discovered one new truth or another. Perhaps our problem is with authority. Oh Lord, maybe the Catholics are right.

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