Were John Wimber & Vineyard Church Responsible for Modern Faith Forgeries?

wimber-filterAcross the world today, a surplus of names and categories bridge into historic Pentecostalism (i.e. Third Wave, Fourth Wave, New Apostolic Reformation, Neo-Pentecostalism, Dominionism, Kingdom Now etc). Sometimes, amidst the clutter, well-intended people get tainted by poor alliances. As part of our forthcoming book, Defining Deception, we detail one such story pertaining to John Wimber of the Vineyard Church and his former counterpart C. Peter Wagner. An excerpt below…

Roots of Early Pentecostalism (Late 1800’s to early 1900’s) – Birthing out of John Wesley’s 18th century gospel-centered passion, and his friends like John Fletcher (1729-1785) who were looking for their own “Pentecost” experience[1], early Pentecostalism finds its most admirable roots here. Both men were immortalized after their deaths. Wesley would become the father of the Methodist denomination and because of his influence, revival sparked in both England and America. Soon, the 20th century Pentecostal framework was taking shape as a gospel preaching, Pentecost reviving movement. As stated (in Defining Deception) Charles Parham then broke off from biblical authority and Methodist accountability, and took his own form of Pentecostalism away from it’s roots – giving way to the faith healers and rogue preachers.

Roots of Charismatic Renewal (Mid 1960’s – 1980’s) – Centered on the charismata (literally meaning: “grace gifts”), this era ushered in a new desire for signs and wonders in the local church. In April of 1960, news stations began to report about a strange phenomenon out of Van Nuys, CA. Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest, started speaking in supposed tongues. Hysteria spread and soon after, Christianity Today was reporting that two thousand Episcopalians were apparently speaking in tongues in southern California. In the words of one charismatic historian, “The Charismatic Renewal had begun.”[2] Other denominations soon began to pursue the same experience and even Catholics held their own conference in 1970 which attracted thirty thousand Catholic Charismatics.[3] Denominational lines blurred as many evangelicals accepted various manifestations of spiritual gifts for the first time in modern history.

Rise of The Third Wave (1983 – Present Day) – In the early 1980’s Peter Wagner (1930-2016) was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary who believed modern day signs and wonders could be wielded in the hands of all Christians. He helped design a course called, “Signs and Wonders” (course code: MC510)[4] and taught with his friend John Wimber (1937-1997) at Fuller. It was during this time, at the pinnacle of the Charismatic Renewal era, that Wagner coined the term, “Third Wave” as the next big thing to hit the church. Initially, the Third Wave rejected certain excesses and unbiblical teachings (like tongues as evidence for salvation), and believed that people could stay in their denominations, respect their congregational governance, but still enjoy the work of the Holy Spirit through charismatic-like experiences such as tongues (for some), euphoria, being slain in the spirit, healing power, prophecy, and more. Though walking a fine line for evangelicals, and clearly crossing the line for cessationists, initial proponents of the Third Wave were sober compared to much of what we see in the movement today. Below is a list of what they originally taught, a list that could pass the doctrinal muster of many conservative evangelicals today [5] [6]:

  1. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at conversion (1 Corinthians 12:13) and is not a second work of grace.
  2. There is one baptism (new birth) but can be multiple fillings.
  3. God gives tongues to some but not all believers and is not a validation of some spiritual experience but rather a gift to be used for ministry or prayer.
  4. Ministry is commonly a body of believers rather than individual activities like that of a faith healer.
  5. Rejection of terms “charismatic” or “Spirit-filled” because of their alleged implications that those labelled with these terms are an elite spiritual class.

By and large, Peter Wagner and John Wimber started off with a dream to recapture the early “experiences” of Scripture that accompanied the apostles at Pentecost, all the while hoping to bring order to the unbiblical mayhem that had swept through Charismatic Renewal.

However, as has happened throughout church history, rebuilding a home on the same faulty foundation only leads to another collapse. Sadly, the dream of unity built around experience wasn’t meant to be and the two men ended up on opposite sides of their own Third Wave dream.

John Wimber’s Role – Though still a controversial figure, it is prudent of us to affirm that John Wimber became more well known as the beloved founder of the Vineyard Association of Churches than for being a false teacher. While many disagree with Wimber’s pro-charismatic and kingdom theology, Wimber vehemently stood against much of what the Third Wave/N.A.R. became, including what Bill Johnson, Word of Faith teachers, faith healers, and other revivalists are teaching and doing today. He was widely known for the following viewpoints:

  • He stood against the Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel
  • He was complementarian (non-ordination of women)
  • He openly acknowledged that he suffered from depression, and cancer; condemning teaching that physical healing is guaranteed for all Christians in exchange for faith.[7]
  • He preached against money hungry faith healers and called their manipulation of people, “religion at its worst.”[8]
  • He was known to tell people to stop faking their shaking and excessive manifestations at meetings.
  • He personally flew to Canada and dismissed the Toronto Airport Church from the Vineyard Association of Churches for insane behaviors (including false prophecies, barking like dogs, acting drunk) during the 1994 Toronto Blessing Revival.[9]

Much evidence suggests Wimber served as an example of a somewhat more biblically defensible neo-Pentecostalism. Noted theologian Wayne Grudem did evangelicals a service with an attempt to clear the air surrounding Wimber’s teaching just a few years before his death. In his article, Grudem demonstrates that most of what Wimber wrote and preached had more to do with suffering, the true gospel, and living for Jesus Christ than any other topic – including spiritual gifts. Any leader or reader who chooses to publicly comment on Wimber would be wise to start with Grudem’s article.[10]

Is the history of Vineyard Church flawless? No. Are there still many excesses that need reform? Certainly. But one thing is clear, if Wimber were alive during the past 20 years, he would have stood against the rogue teachings of Bill Johnson, the N.A.R., and what the Third Wave has become. Further, as previously mentioned, mainstream Pentecostal denominations like the Vineyard Association of Churches, and the Assemblies of God do not stand in support of these divergent movements. In a format, strikingly similar to Wimber’s dismissal of the Toronto Airport Church, the Assemblies of God has shown the door to both both Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson.

C. Peter Wagner’s Divergence – In 2001 C. Peter Wagner took the Third Wave another direction entirely when the former Fuller Seminary professor announced, “The year 2001 as the beginning of the second apostolic age.”[11] Wagner founded the New Apostolic Reformation (N.A.R.) during the late 1990’s with an unbiblical vision, seeking to restore the office of “Apostle” back to the church, and take authority over the church, appointing leaders who would influence world government.[12] He chose the name “reformation” because he claimed it would be equal in impact to the Protestant Reformation. Some of Wagner’s apostolic activities include:

  • Spiritual abuse and control of followers as he claims, “N.A.R apostles receive revelations from God, and consequently they are able to say ‘This is what the Spirit is saying to the churches right now.’”[13]
  • Forming the International Coalition of Apostles and initially charging $69 per month in member dues back in 2000. Later adjusting fees based on location. International apostles would pay $350 annually, while North American apostles would pay $450 per year, or $650 for married apostles.[14]
  • Creating numerous subcategories of unbiblical apostles. You could be a “Vertical apostle”, “Horizontal apostle”, “Congregational apostle”, “Ambassadorial apostle”, “Mobilizing apostle”, “Territorial apostle”, “Marketplace apostle”, and more.[15]

Wagner launched his own training school called, The Wagner Leadership Institute. This unaccredited front for Wagner’s apostolic teachings boasts Brian Simmons, one of the most dangerous “doctoral graduates” and self-acclaimed linguists in the world today. Simmons, who holds no accredited doctorate and has done little actual linguistic work, is the man who has taken it upon himself to translate the entire bible into the N.A.R.’s own translation. What better way to manipulate and control followers than to have your very own version of the original bible? Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses’ paved the way for this cult-like practice long before Simmons, but he and the N.A.R. faculty who now lead the Wagner Leadership Institute are following suit. This group claims to be bringing the “emotion” back into the bible that God intended, have substituted the original Greek text for Aramaic wherever they deem best and having removed all gender-biased pronouns. This isn’t just paraphrasing or modernizing the bible, it’s a “rewrite” that claims to be from God.[16]

Thankfully, the internet now contains a plethora of easy-to-find material on the New Apostolic Reformation, Peter Wagner who founded it, and the self-appointed apostles who lead it today. For numerous encouraging stories from people who have been saved out of this deadly movement, type into Google: “Leaving the N.A.R. Church.”

Based on careful research, it is essential to separate Wimber and Wagner. Varying denominations are bound to (and should) scrutinize Wimber for any number of his Third Wave errors or missional accolades, but as a heretic? No. Conversely, Peter Wagner embodied the essence of cult leader and took the Third Wave into an era now being coined “Fourth Wave.”[17] No matter how many waves are to come, Wagner “birthed” another gospel and his apostolic mandate has damaged the body of Christ.

In one sense, the true Third Wave seemed to die with John Wimber and has been replaced by it’s much more shadowy “fourth wave” N.A.R. daughter, full of self-aggrandized apostles like Bill Johnson, who privately meet in closed fraternal order, outside of denominationalism, or accountability structures, teaching practices far outside the boundaries of even their own charismatic ancestors.

[1] Eddie L. Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic History (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 106.

[2] Ibid., 175.

[3] Ibid., 178.

[4] Stanley M. Burgess, Gary B. McGee, and Patrick H. Alexander, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), Letter: “W.”

[5] Ibid., This list was adapted from the list found under in section “T” under term: “Third Wave.

[6] An interesting 1990 article by John Piper http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-california-conference-on-holiness-kudos-and-cautions (accessed 4/27/17)

[7] John Wimber, “Signs, Wonders, And Cancer”, Christianitytoday.Com, last modified 1996, accessed April 28, 2017, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/october7/6tb049.html.

[8] John Wimber & Kevin Springer, Power Healing (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1987) 40, 223.

[9] James A. Beverley, “Vineyard Severs Ties With ‘Toronto Blessing’ Church”, Christianity Today, last modified 1996, accessed April 28, 2017, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/january8/6t1066.html.

[10] Wayne Grudem, “Vineyard Position Paper #4: Power & Truth, a Response to Power Religion.” http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/PowerandTruthVineyardPositionPaper.pdf (accessed April 27, 2017)

[11] C. Peter Wagner, The Changing Church (Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2004), 9.

[12] For a precise and stimulating explanation of the N.A.R. see P.J. Hanley, They Call Themselves Apostles: How Revival Churches Have Been Hijacked by the New Apostolic Reformation, 2017

[13] C Peter Wagner, Spheres of Authority: Apostles in Today’s Church (Wagner Publications, 2002), p. 97

[14] “Membership Information”, International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, accessed April 28, 2017, http://www.icaleaders.com/membership/.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “FAQ’s | The Passion Translation”, Thepassiontranslation.Com, last modified 2017, accessed April 28, 2017, https://www.thepassiontranslation.com/faqs/.

[17] James Goll, “The Fourth Great Wave Of The Holy Spirit Has Begun”, Charisma News, last modified 2016, accessed April 28, 2017, http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/56670-the-fourth-great-wave-of-the-holy-spirit-has-begun.

7 thoughts on “Were John Wimber & Vineyard Church Responsible for Modern Faith Forgeries?

  1. http://www.understandthetimes.org/lfrisbee.shtml has an article on a man that has been largely written out of Vineyard ( and Calvary Chapel ) history: Lonnie Frisbee, who died of AIDS in 1994. Wimber said that “The Holy Spirit brought Lonnie Frisbee into the Vineyard and Lonnie Frisbee brought the Holy Spirit into the Vineyard.”
    I don’t know if you mention Frisbee in any of your articles, but , if not, he must be seriously researched and talked about. IMO, he was nothing more than William Branham on acid . (Frisbee claims to have met God while high on acid and even continued to drop acid after he (allegedly) got saved, so my opinion of him is not far off the mark.)

    1. Frisbee was unrepentantly having homosexual relationships. Being celibate and having homosexual attractions that you submit to God are one thing, being actively and unrepentantly engaged in homosexual acts is another. Frisbee kept these things secret, since he knew they would be frowned upon, and wrongly assumed that his supernatural experiences validated his double life. He wrongly assumed all supernatural experiences are from God, and did not test the spirits, nor embrace the truth that his life and what he was experiencing needed to be consistent with God’s word. Unfortunately, Wimber was wowed by Frisbee’s bold and persuasive personality, and didn’t do the “fruit inspection” he should have before letting him take the podium. He ended up impressed by the powerful manifestations that happened when Frisbee spoke, and didn’t realize it was a demonic counterfeit until too late. Not all that glitters is gold. Paul makes clear the antichrist specializes in signs and wonders to deceive. Why are not more who acknowledge the validity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit willing to deal with this, and actively teach how to address it in the church?

      I appreciate rare posts like this. Too often the continuationists (?) are scrapping with the cessationists, when in reality the tension should be between the true, and those who are refusing to use discernment and are exercising the counterfeit. Churches should be experts on discerning the difference between the two, but usually they either throw the baby out with the bathwater, or throw the doors open to satan. The church in the usa is in a shameful state….

  2. One other piece of info on Frisbee: He is at the very heart of the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60’s/early 70’s, and has been all but written out of it as well
    2 Corinthians 11 talks about another Jesus , Spirit and Gospel. Frisbee’s life was an example of someone with all three , as was the Jesus Movement and the Vineyard Movement. Thankfully, Chuck Smith kicked Frisbee out of Calvary Chapel, but not after much controversy had occurred.

  3. Presently going through an exodus of a sister church Bethel, related to Bill Johnson’s teachings in Redding, CA. It was nothing but God that I got revelation of what was going on. My family, children and husband have been practically married to this place for 3 yrs and had no idea. I was deeply involved in childrens ministry and a part of leadership, until I joined their school BSSM. I couldn’t believe I had not seen all of the things early on but I wasn’t super behind the scenes and in the thick of it. I this has only been since November 9th and I have been spending so much time just learning and researching and praising God for opening our eyes. Thank you for your articles and information, it is amazing to continue to learn and grow.
    Blessings to you as you continue to shed biblical light on false teachings

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