Reconciliation in the Kingdom


I. A New Move?

“It was a Monday evening in January 1982. I was sitting in on a class entitled Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth… We had invited John Wimber- a man we knew and trusted- to teach the course. We were aware that up until 1976 John had been at least as skeptical as we were about ‘faith-healers.’ Yet clearly something had changed for him since he was now pastoring a church with a healing ministry… what I saw there was different from what usually happened either in the classes or the churches I attended…”

Charles Kraft, “Christianity with Power”

Harvey Cox tells about a phone call from a reporter asking for comments on an article about the unfulfilled assertions that God is dead. Intrigued Cox looked into the Pentecostal movement within the world, and he saw the Pentecostal movement in terms of a return, rather than that of restoration, or reduction. He writes that “in an age that has found exclusively secular explanations of life wanting, but is also wary of dogmas and institutions, the unforeseen eruption of lava reminds us that somewhere deep within us we all carry a homo religious. Pentecostalism is not an aberration. It is a part of the larger and longer history of human religiousness.”[1] In his book he states that Pentecostals and Charisma tics represent a return to primal speech, piety, and hope.[2]

In the case of John Wimber, a former skeptic and a teacher of church growth started a church based on the premise that God still works miracles and heals His people. In 1995 Wimber addressed a National Conference of churches that had risen out of his vision (his last national conference). In his report on the health of the Vineyard, Wimber announced that there were 524 churches in 29 nations (160 of these outside the U.S.).[3] The next few years were tough for the Vineyard with the ongoing issues raised by the renewal movement occurring in the Toronto Airport Vineyard, and with Wimber’s death to cancer. Many stated that the movement would then die but five years later Wimber’s movement was still flourishing. In a similar address to the Southeast Region of Churches in 2004, Vineyard President Bert Waggoner announced that churches in the Southeast region of the U.S. had doubled (from around 200 to around 500), and that statistics from other regions in the U.S. were the same. Today the Vineyard Community claims to have almost 1500 churches worldwide.[4] His fellowship tripled; it did not die. The Vineyard is just part of a trend. These churches are rapidly outpacing the growth of other churches. The question has been asked, and needs to be answered. What is going on?

The Vineyard leadership would answer that they are providing a form of religious experience that is lacking in today’s world, and they are doing so in forms both evangelical and charismatic. This is not a simple case of sheep-stealing, they would argue. This is a case of providing better care for the sheep. Sociologist David Martin saw Pentecostalism as not only a return, but also as a creative synthesis of that primal religion with the concerns of modern religion and life. “Pentecostalism… brings together the most ancient and the most modern, and unites the modernizing thrust to the deep structure of spiritual ‘animation.’ ”[5] This writer believes that the Vineyard movement and the third wave theology it often represents has a very pentecostal and very important ability to unite the ‘deep spiritual animation’ of Christianity with many of the modern tenets of life. Perhaps because of this synthesis as Wimber and the Vineyard movement have advanced, it created tremendous turbulence within a modern evangelical community that is increasingly at odds with both its heritage as an existential religion and its place in a modern world. In his discussion and critique of the Vineyard movement, John Schmidt gives several reasons for the growth and attraction of evangelicals to the Vineyard:

1) Dissatisfaction with a lack of power in one’s Christian experience and life

2) Greater freedom in worship

3) Greater feeling of love and acceptance within the communal life of the church

4) Use of functional ministries rather than traditional predetermined organizational structures (a commitment to do what works rather than what has always done)

5) The setting and fulfillment of clearly articulated goals

6) Greater sense of church meeting the felt needs of the community and congregation[6]

As the Vineyard Movement led by John Wimber has become a ‘Community of Churches’ led by a national board of regional overseers (most of tem trained and mentored by Wimber), there has been much discussion about what values, beliefs, and practices form the core of the Vineyard. Much has been written and discussed about what ideas and practices should be taught. Yet, there is an even more interesting and timely story that has not been told, or if it is mentioned, it has not been told well. It is this story that holds an important piece to unlocking the Vineyard movement, as well as possibly enlarging and elaborating the Vineyard movement’s place within both its place in American Christianity and that of the larger world. Twenty years before Phillip Jenkins was writing books about the place of Christianity in the Global South. Ten years before Harvey Cox and many of other mainline scholars were waking up to the fact that Christian life in the Global South is vastly different from its Western “fathers.” John Wimber and a group of evangelical leaders and teachers were scratching their heads and wondering just what the religion of the two-thirds world could say to the ‘older’ religion of the West. As Wimber began to converse with this world and wonder about his own, a new movement was born. Even more interesting is the fact that this religious expression which formed because of a creative synthesis between southern seeds, and western soil is launching itself back into the Global South. To understand this movement fully one would need to look back at the synthesis, and look forward to its ongoing establishment. In this paper the writer would like to do this by looking back at the early history of the Vineyard movement, and look forward to the movement’s place in South Africa where a thriving fellowship of churches remain the pride of the movement as they have sought to be true to themselves, and true to the roots of the Vineyard.

II. The Vineyard: A Hybrid Breed

But what of my own heart?

I die when I think of doing

I die as long as I don’t

Jesus, is it really you that I see

In the ‘distressing disguise of the poor’?

Jesus is it really you that I hear

Bidding me ‘come and die’?

Alexander Venter, The Struggle

John Wimber[7] was a rock musician who created and managed The Righteous Brothers. He was wealthy and successful, yet his marriage was disintegrating in a sea of drugs and alcohol. After calling out to God in desperation, John and his wife Carol joined a bible study led by a Quaker named Gunner Payne. John was a natural leader and found himself more and more involved in the establishment of a Quaker congregation. He soon graduated from Azusa Pacific and was ordained by the California Yearly Meeting of Friends. However, the more he did, the more he felt unsatisfied with his church and life. In 1974, John met a young man from his church in the hallways before a service. The young man was disillusioned and dealing with several major issues in his life. John’s response was that the young man ought to come to church more often, and be a better man. As he walked away, Wimber claims to have heard the voice of the Lord ask him, “Would you go to this church, if you were not paid?” The only truthful answer a thunderstruck Wimber could come was “no, no he wouldn’t.”[8] Over time John decided that he needed to get out of ministry and clear his head. As he was stepping down, a new job was opening up; one that was offered to him; one that would change Wimber forever. It was a position at the Fuller School of World Missions under the much respected Donald McGavran.

At Fuller Theological Wimber would soon be working with other professors and teachers such as C. Peter Wagner and Charles Kraft. He would also be bumping into the theological considerations of such Fuller teachers and alumni such as Peter Hiebert, Allen Trippet, and George Eldon Ladd. Rich Nathan, a Vineyard pastor, writes that Fuller at this time was full of Western evangelical missionaries fresh from the field. Many of these reported less than the desired impact on the field. At the same time they were noticing tremendous growth in many of the same areas they had just left. In his classes, Dr Trippert would often remark that “power encounters are common in countries where Christian missionaries confront animistic religions.”[9] The big difference seemed to be that these Christians were “addressing disease and demonic oppression in the power of the Spirit…” and cannot help but begin to ask if “the gospel spread more effectively when it was accompanied by biblical signs and wonders.”[10]

These questions dogged Wimber. He would later quote glowingly from an article by Paul Hiebert calling for “missionaries to deal with questions of ancestors, spirits, healing, food, guidance, and other existential questions.”[11] It was not that he had not experiencing inklings of what the charismatic ‘crazies’ were up to. He had actually had an experience with speaking in tongues early on in his Christian life, as well as with the miracle of healing when he had prayed for his son after Sean Wimber had been attacked by a swarm of bees and was going into anaphylatic shock. Wimber, however, had been dissuaded from believing in the reality of these experiences by the teachings of his Quaker friends, and the adamant stance by Carol that the charismata were not for today.

These questions were also dogging Peter Wagner who had denounced the working of several native faith-healers from his podium in a Divinity School in Bolivia. Likewise Fuller Professor Charles Kraft describes his time as a missionary in Nigeria by stating that “we were totally unprepared to deal with the one area the Nigerians considered most important- their relationship with the spirit world.”[12] Kraft describes his frustration in the mission field with a story. One night there was a knock on the door. One of his parishioners was deathly ill, and he was asked to come. He hurried to the man’s house and was rapidly trying to get the man into his car for a visit to a hospital when he was asked if they could not pray for the man. Kraft reports giving it a quick, limp-wristed effort before finishing getting the man into the car and leaving for the hospital. In retrospect Kraft was left with his feeling that in that experience that he had not “really honored God.”[13] This inability did not go unobserved by the locals. In discussing how the Pentecostals were succeeding so much in her country of Nigeria, Kathryn Hauwa Hoomkwap told the Roman Catholic Synod that “these movements or sects are winning our Catholic women over because they seem to be responding to their real needs… the African Christian is fearful: fear of the environment, fear of neighbors, fear of sorcerers. Only Jesus Christ can free him.”[14] In the lives of these men one can imagine the similarities of feelings between them and in that of John Wesley freshly back from his failed mission to the Indians of Georgia and the Carolinas.


Wimber writes about his experience this way, “at Fuller’s School of Missions… their courses and reports of signs and wonders from the third world softened my heart toward the Holy Spirit and divine healing… not only was there numerical growth, there was vitality and integrity.” Paul Hiebert does a good job of tracing some of these formative influences. From G.E. Ladd, Wimber “gained an understanding and emphasis on the Kingdom of God.” [15] For Ladd the kingdom of the World equaled that of Satan, and it was a world “afflicted with natural catastrophes, bondage to sin, sickness, demons, and death.”[16] Into this world Jesus “came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, rebuking storms, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead.” Upon reading and interacting with Ladd’s theology Wimber would begin to wonder if “Jesus’ followers are to follow in his footsteps.”[17] Even as Wimber was becoming fascinated with these power encounters in the mission field, he was becoming more and more frustrated with the “gimmicks and mechanical processes” that were being sought by many churches with which he was consulting.[18] Carol Wimber has remarked that both of them were disillusioned and ready for a change. Both of them felt that while their life was good, it was not great. It was disappointing. Carol stated that they were through their theology and practice they were living case of “religion for winners.” There was no place for weakness; no place for the poor (be it spirit or otherwise).[19] The Wimbers were ready for a change. Unknown to either John or Carol, the break with the church mechanical that they was looking for would be coming from an unexpected source- Carol, the more out-spoken, charismatic basher of the two.

Years before Carol had forced John back into the fold after a couple of “charismatic” experiences; likewise she had (by her own account) berated or chastised almost 30 people from their circles of friends for their dabbling with various charismata.[20] Now it was Carol’s turn to ‘experience the spirit.’ It started with a dream. Carol saw herself giving a sermon on why tongues are not for today. As she launched into her last point, she awoke speaking in tongues, herself. Shaken by the experience, Carol found herself crying out to God, and repenting to God for her past blindness to the power of the Spirit. Her next step was to visit all the people that she had hurt and ask for forgiveness. [21] As Carol was still working out her feelings on the issue of the Spirit’s work, she had another incident. One night she decided to put her new experiences to a little test. Her shoulder had been hurting for several days, and she remembered the earlier incidence with her son Sean, so as he was sleeping she put John’s hand on her shoulder and said, “OK Lord, now do it!” Suddenly her shoulder felt like it was burning. John woke and asked her why his hand was warm, and she said nothing. He went back to sleep, as she began to realize that the pain in her shoulder was gone.[22] From these experiences and from those people with whom Carol was reacquainted, a new bible study and prayer group was born that would soon become the basis for the Vineyard. The seeds from Fuller, from the influence of the third world theologies, and from personal experiences had been lodged and were ready to spring up.

Johwento: Redeeming the Failure of Colonialism?

“You come here with your laptop computers, your malaria medicine and you little bottles of hand sanitizer and think you can change the outcome, huh?”

— Danny Archer (to Maddy) in “Blood Diamond”

To understand the Vineyard Movement and its work in South Africa, one must fast-forward from these beginning in 1978 to 1981. The Vineyard movement in South Africa came early in the movement’s history. In fact, many of the early seeds of the movement were planted when John Wimber was still a Calvary Chapel pastor. The first official Vineyard Church was started in 1982. The Association of Vineyard Churches- South Africa (AVC-SA) website has this to say about these beginning, and its place now:

In 1982, John Wimber visited South Africa for the third time, having received a clear word from the Lord to plant a church in Johannesburg. The Parkview VCF was planted in October 1982, and since then the movement in South Africa has grown to about 40 churches and plants in progress, which are connected through a formal church association called the Association of Vineyard Churches. The churches are self-governing, but overseen and encouraged on a voluntary basis by experienced pastors…. The Board of AVC (SA) is also responsible for the oversight of missions activities in the 16 African nations in which we are currently involved. [23]

A quick perusal of the website shows a listing of over 60 churches and plants in the 5 regional areas that make up the trans-national office. Here is the officially stated vision for this group of churches: “To establish a church planting and renewal movement in Southern & Central Africa which is driven by a set of specific values, held together by adult relationships, and results in the planting of churches with a unique and recognizable ethos and style of ministry in pursuit of the mission given in Luke 4:16-18, Matt 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8.”

The AVC-SA story is a compelling one that needs to hear more. It is an interesting case of the combination of a white, American movement taking root in the soils of Africa. It would be an oblivious overstatement to say that the Vineyard was not the first such experience in South African history. In fact much of the religious history of South Africa works against the arrival of a new white American movement. Desmond Tutu writes that, “the struggle of the Church in South Africa was fundamentally how to bring a more just society where differences of race, color, and culture were seen to be irrelevant and without theological significance.”[24] Vineyard Johannesburg pastor Alexander Venter is more demonstrable in his analysis, stating, “ the three C’s of commerce, Christianity, and civilization worked hand in hand to penetrate ‘darkest Africa,’ leading to the slave trade and a ruthless imperialism that was nothing more than an arrogant paternalism…. It further led to a radical ongoing exploitation of the colonies.”[25] To be sure there have been many positives that Christianity has brought. Yet for the story of South Africa to be told right, one must address this tremendous black-eye for the church that has occurred within this country.

Christianity came to South Africa (in its present forms) in 1652 as a group of Dutch immigrated to the Cape for business reasons. The Cape would become a very important hub for the Dutch East India Company, and many came to work for this company.[26] Others came to farm the land. The Dutch Reform Church (soon to become the NGK church) sent pastors to shepherd these growing “flocks” of Dutch men and women settling in South Africa. Curiously no missionaries were sent out by either the Dutch church, or by these new churches. It would not be until 1738 that the first true missionary would arrive in the colony (a German Moravian). DeGruchy writes that “the white settlers were largely unconvinced at the need for or desirability of such missionary enthusiasm and endeavors.” In realty many of the Dutch were upset at the Moravians ‘ruining’ their cheap, disposable work force.[27] Soon many English-speaking missionaries and settlers would be on their way in a new influx of emigration from the Continent.

One such of these families was the Venter family who arrived in 1813 from Belgium. These pioneer farmers settled in the East Cape near Xhosa, and rapidly adopted the country becoming like many before them Afrikaaners. As the power struggle between the English and Dutch become increasingly prominent the Venters along with many of the Dutch Afikaaners came to quiet realization that they would soon be on the outside looking in. As the English solidified control, much of the Venter family joined the Great Trek, a group of Afikaaners that ‘fled’ into the heart of South Africa to evade British control of the coastlands. One Venter would join an emerging Dutch colony in Argentina for much the same reason. It was a hard-scrabble existence in Pampas, and the Venters longed to return to their home in South Africa. That chance would come with the end of World War II and the loosening of British control all over the world. From all around many Afrikaaners began returning to South Africa, and one of those was Frederico Jacobo Venter. Back in South Africa he would met a recent escapee from the Eastern sector of Berlin in Germany Helga Thelka Schiele. Like many the two would become a family and seek to make a life for themselves in Johannesburg.

South Africa was going through a lot of changes in the post-war ere. For one thing the segregation that had ‘naturally’ occurred in the past was becoming aware of the laws of the land known as Apartheid. Alexander Venter tells of a family he knew that found themselves caught in this trap:

They had given birth and on registering the baby a week or two later at the relevant government office, were told by the young clerk that the baby looked like a Bantu (African) and was not colored. Apparently he held up a written list of ten physical characteristics (of black Africans) and pointed out the flat nose, flared nostrils, big lips, the curly hair and dark complexion…. He wanted to have the baby registered as a Bantu (black) child and have it ‘sent back’ to Transkei, a thousand kilometers away. The Transkei was the Xhosa ‘homeland’ that most blacks in the Cape province came from and black babies born in the Cape, at a certain age, had to go back to their families in Transkei. These were the requirements of a complex system of apartheid control that governed population and people movement through the homelands policy, migratory labor legislation, influx control, pass laws and the Group Areas Act. That was the procedure. No recourse- end of story. The clerk had the power to decide, despite the parent’s desperate pleas for understanding.[28]

This separation between white, black, colored (of mixed race), and Indian would set the agenda for any and every family. This is the system as it had developed by the 1950s. Venter describes his father though intelligent and dedicated had no love any race other than Afrikaans or perhaps German. “At times he treated them (Africans) with pity as if they were stupid children… at times he was blatantly abusive to them.”[29]

Unfortunately, this system (like that of Nazi Germany) was initially given much support from church teachings and precedents. The early churches of South Africa were white only as a matter of course (no one was going to the natives, so there were no questions about the place of blacks, and Indians in the churches). Later as the missionaries began their work of converting the native Africans the question was raised as to where these converts were to worship. DeGruchy writes that crisis was similar “to that which beset the early Jewish Christian community when, to their amazement, the gospel was readily accepted by the gentiles.”[30] Early synods of the church recommended (much like the Jerusalem conference of Acts 17) that there should be no discrimination in the church. However, these situations proved untenetable to many. Surprisingly the missionaries and their native congregations were among the many asking for ‘separate but equal’ treatment. In a lamentable decision the NGK Synod of 1857 stated that “through not desirable or scriptural, due to the weakness of some (i.e. the whites), it was permissible to hold separate services.”[31] Much like in the U.S. it was not long before “separate but equal” became just separate, and not longer still before it become “separate and unequal.”

In all this turmoil Alexander Venter was still able to find the church. As he began to walk out his new life, Venter states that he began to be filled with a new love that he had not known. This love “led to a naïve transcendence of race and racism…. At time I was not aware of the racially-divided socio-political context and the depth of my own conditioning.”[32] As Venter went to school and became a pastor for the Assemblies of God, his world was changing. He gives three momentous discoveries and events in these early years:

1) G.E. Ladd’s Kingdom Theology which “gave me a theological framework for understanding social issues.”

2) He attended and became a part of the South Africa Leadership Assembly (SACLA)

3) His membership in the Progressive Ministers’ Fraternal [33]

Each of these three influences was pushing him to what he thought was the frontlines of the confrontation between race, racism, the church, and society. Yet it would be in meeting two individuals that his life would be forever changed, a new church would be planted, and a movement for reconciliation would be formed.

In 1981 Venter would meet a man little known outside the Vineyard movement, but widely praised within, Lonnie Frisbee, an American hippie turned worship minister in John Wimber’s Yorba Linda Calvary Chapel. Through Lonnie and Derek Morphew (a pastor friend), Venter would be introduced to John Wimber, himself, when Wimber came down on a missions trip to Dave Owen’s “Invisible Church” in Johannesburg.[34] Discussions began with Wimber and the Vineyard about starting a venture on South African soil. Venter records that Wimber in answer to his questions about becoming a Vineyard person was told, “You don’t join a Vineyard, you find out that you are Vineyard.” That is “who you really are and what is home for you is discovered in the relational mirror of like-minded people who share common values and are called to do similar things in the Kingdom together.”[35] A group of like-minded people including Venter, Derek Morphew, Costa Mitchell, Dave Owen, and a team of 72 Americans from the states would work to launch the Vineyard in South Africa. Venter was not sure what would happen, but he was determined that he would not make the same mistakes made by the church plants from other dominations. “If we planted just another white suburban affluent charismatic church, we [would] have failed,” Venter told Wimber. [36]

A year later, Venter looked around and to his dismay here he was planting a white, affluent church. He was not sure what to do, but as the often do, the answer came in an unusual meeting. Venter was teaching at one of the local schools where he was attempting in his own way to be a gracious man of no discriminating tendencies common to the rest of South Africa. One night a student challenged him by saying in class, “Are you not just another white English liberal, a hypocrite trying to patronize blacks by saying nice words to us in front of whites. You appear to support our struggles for justice but in reality you want to save your own skin. If you mean what you say then came into Sowento, and meet my friends and see how we live.”[37] This road trip with Mokote “Paul” Mpete would be a true eye-opener. Soon Venter and Mote were leading meetings in Soweto (attended by mixed crowds of whites from Johannesburg and blacks from Soweto): meeting like none of which this author has heard. There would be some singing then the two of them would get up and invite the participants to ask any questions of them they wanted. Here was the chance for these poor, downtrodden blacks to say all the things that they had ever wanted to say to a white man. Needless to say, the meetings were tense, emotional, and raw. Venter writes about the meetings:

The questions came thick and fast…. Who are you- our brother or our oppressor? Do you come riding around in Soweto in military vehicles shooting up our children? If you do, we’ll respond to our government in exile (the ANC) and their military call-up. We’ll join MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Spear of the Nation, the military unit of the ANC) and fight you guys in the streets. Do you believe in detention without trial? Do you support the release of Nelson Mandela from prison? How many cars do you have? If you sold your garden tools, you could by me a bicycle. Why don’t you give me a job?…. It was like lancing a boil…. It also became clear that what was important to me was not very important to them; what I understood by the gospel and the church was very different…. I cannot fully emphasize enough the fact that one does not know oneself until you are exposed to the other side. Only then does prejudice from years of conditioning surface. I really did not think I was a racist…. I was a good Christian pastor and I voted for the Progressive Federal Party (then the white liberal political party)! I was mistaken.”[38]

Venter and several others from both Johannesburg and Soweto purchased an abandoned farm and set up a commune of sorts. There they provided food, and shelter for the less fortunate whom they met in the meetings. As the meeting continued an interesting thing began to happen with frequency. Despite the intensity of the meetings (some so powerful that people could not take it and left in tears), “we would end up falling on our knees and crying out to God for mercy.”[39] One night in particular Mkote began crying and confessing his sins repenting of “worshipping the god of Soweto, the god of black nationalism, revenge and violence.” Venter following him weeping and repenting of “worshipping the god of Johannesburg, the god of gold, of white wealth and arrogance, privilege, and power.”[40] It was in this confession that the name Johweto was born. This name which was a combination of Johannesburg and Soweto symbolized for the participants of coming together to repent of their nation’s great sins, their own contributions to the horrors of their society, and pledge to love one fully and deeply.

Johwento by Venter’s own admission was a wide ride that would last until 1995. Out of its wake, the Kehillah Farm would arise as an AIDS hospice, the Zone 3 Vineyard in Soweto would be planted by an African member of the group named Trevor Ntlhola. Venter would go on to pastor a mixed race Vineyard in Johannesburg. Venter and Derek Morphew, another Vineyard pastor, would begin to go all over the world teaching other Vineyards about the AVC-SA’s experience and understanding of reconciliation and the Kingdom of God. In 1990 Morphew and Venter would find themselves addressing the Rustenberg Consultation of Churches presenting a paper calling all South African churches to unity in pressing for equality in their nations. In 1997 the men from Johwento would be among the first churches to present a paper to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. In the Vineyard churches pf South Africa today, half continue to be predominantly white with a small racial mix, a few are predominantly black with a small racial mix, there is one predominantly Indian church, and perhaps 40 percent are mixed to a good degree (at least to a statistically significant degree). The struggle for an Africa where the color of ones skin is inconsequential continues. Johwento and the Vineyard remain an example of the goods that reconciliation can bring, but even they would say that they have a long way to go (like all of us). In this way they serve as a good case study for the dialogue for which Phillip Jenkins and others have called. They are also a case study for the turmoil that such a dialogue creates.

Undone: The Legacies and Unfinished Work of the Vineyard

You are so good to me

Your endless mercies capture me

I revel in this saving blood

You paid it all to show me love

I’m undone

I’m undone by You

I’m undone…

You are my refuge

My help in time of need

You wrap Your arms around me

Encompass me in Your wings

You paid the sacrifice of love

To hold me in Your arms

You reached Your hand out for my own

And You pulled me from the dark

You pulled me from the dark

Lauren Jackson, “Undone.” If You Say Go. Vineyard Music Group

How this fledging movement went from a small bible study in Yorba Linda to become a church planting force in the 1990s is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that as the eighties wound down, Wimber and the Vineyard quite naturally began sending teams overseas to start Vineyards in other countries. Many of these initial plants occurred through the “Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth” seminars that Wimber would lead. Regardless of the initial inspiration by 1991, Wimber was openly advocating for new Vineyards in new places. When he would stand before the 1995 International Pastors’ Conference he would include in his ‘state of the union’ address a call for there to be Vineyards in 50 countries by 2001, and for there to be 10,000 Vineyards worldwide. He would also include a call to World Missions as the number one priority of the Vineyard (church planting and evangelism being the other two priorities).

In a recent sociological experiment, several people are shown a deck of cards and asked to identify the cards (number, suit, color) as they are shown. Throughout the deck cards with the wrong colors were mixed in (for instance a spade might be colored red). At the outset of the experiment the participants did not miss a beat when shown the wrong-colored cards stating that the spade was black and so on. The authors of the report stated that the participants responded “without any awareness of trouble, it was immediately fitted to one of the conceptual categories prepared by prior experience.”[41] As more exposure to the cards was given, more hesitation was given upon seeing the wrong colors. Eventually and in most cases suddenly, the participants would go back to their rote recitation of the cards, but this time they would be able to get the anomalous cards correct. Some, however, were never able to process the new information correctly and only became more and more increasingly agitated. One of these subjects was recorded saying, “I couldn’t make the suit out…It didn’t even look like a card at the time. I don’t know what color it is or whether it is a spade or a heart. I am not even sure what a spade looks like.”[42] Several Vineyard leaders comment on this experiment in their writings, and this leads to something that everyone mentions in this discussion- the idea of worldview. We are all captives to our set worldviews. We see the world through glasses colored by our experiences, our training, and our preset beliefs. Venter, himself, writes of the South African experience saying, “our entire history has been one of whites presuming to know what blacks need and want. Without asking blacks anything we have prescribed ‘solutions’ which we imposed on them… and we wonder why they are so ungrateful and resentful.”[43] In his article in Power Religion, Kim Riddlebarger makes the following statement when discussing some of the eschatological developments of Pentecostalism, “we are not sure which dimension our enemy occupies… we do not know if the real enemy is Satan… the secular humanists who do the devil’s bidding; the key players in the current geopolitical scene who are setting the scene for the antichrist.”[44]

Like Venter, and many others, this author has been dramatically impacted by the Kingdom Theology of George Eldon Ladd. South Africa Vineyard pastor Derek Morphew writes, “God’s rule is eternal and universal that is to say he was and he always will be the supreme ruler of all things…. Yet we do not necessarily experience his rule in our lives. The coming of the kingdom involves God’s intervention in the course of human history. His power breaks into the affairs of men, confronting the forces that withstand him and imprison people, interrupting the normal course of society.”[45]

Or as Morphew reminded a gathering of pastors in Europe: “the bittersweet reality of being a Christian is that you live as a victorious failure, and you always will be so until the Kingdom comes. You live in ecstatic sadness.”[46] This author can appreciate the honesty and humility for our leaders to say we do not know what to do or say. We are not sure how this will all work, but we are going to take time to listen: listen to each other, listen to our own hearts, and listen for the promptings of our Father.

This is perhaps one of the more frustrating aspects of both Vineyard teaching as well as much of the Pentecostal teaching that precedes it. Harvey Cox makes the same complaint in his book Fire from Heaven. Time spent around the spirit encounters of the Vineyard movement can be thrilling, but they can also be taxing. Wimber, himself has remarked that these power encounters have not made his life easier, but much more difficult. Successfully navigating these uneven and rough waters found in the power encounters is always difficult. With practice and hard work they do become easier to understand and predict, but they never become less messy, or less frustrating. One is often reminded of C.S. Lewis’ statement that was is good and just may always be harder and more taxing in the immediate sense of the word, but are always better in the long run. Cox states that

“Pentecostals must be understood as people who have become what they are because they wanted something badly enough they allowed themselves to be changed in a fundamental way, and they were willing to embrace the elemental terror that sort of change requires. However vaguely or incoherently, they yearned for something- healing, fellowship, salvation, empowerment, dignity, meaning, serenity, ecstasy- they saw in other people, and decided to claim it for themselves; then having done so, they became glad-bearers of its message. I am not sure my scholarly compatriots got this point.”[47]

While this author is not as sanguine about the importance and place of experience in religion as is Cox, he must concur with Cox’s understanding of the larger Pentecostal movement, and remark that it explains a lot of the concern over the Vineyard movement. Wimber, Wagner, and Kraft were good men that felt they were missing something important in their lives. They began hearing reports from their third- world compatriots. They began seeing anomies occurring within the Christian life and faith. Before too long they too were experiencing the anomie themselves, and it was good

As those of us in the Global West wake up to the great and mighty works that are occurring within the churches run by our brothers and sisters in the South, we need to heed the words of authors such as Phillip Jenkins and Andrew Walls and listen to them. If the case study presented in this article of the Vineyard’s work with Johwento is any indication this dialogue will not be easy. Hard questions will be asked, and tough answers will be required. The hope of this author is that we will faithfully follow the footsteps of both Westerners like John Wimber, and Southerners like To quote Vineyard critic John Schmidt, “scores of people are being won to Christ. The rate of growth… is phenomenal. Many people are being healed of physical, emotional, and spiritual ailments. The gifts of the spirit are functioning… The Vineyard is impacting many people… We cannot deny its existence as a genuine work of the Spirit, and so said not discredit it.”[48


[1] Cox, Harvey. Fire from heaven : the rise of Pentecostal spirituality and the reshaping of religion in the twenty-first century. (Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley Pub., 1995), 83

[2] Ibid, 82.

[3] Wimber, John. “The State of the Vineyard.” 1995 International Pastor’s Conference.

[4] “Our History”. http://www.VineyardUSA.Org

[5] Martin, David. Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish. (Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishing,, 2002), 5.

[6] List taken from Schmidt, John. “New Wine from the Vineyard.” Wonders and the Word: An Examination of the Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement. Ed James R Coggins and Paul G. Hiebert. (Hillsboro, Kansas: Kindred Press, 1989), 78-80.

[7] There are several good sources for biographical information on John Wimber. Carol Wimber, John’s wife, has written a memoir entitled The Way We Were which claims to give Wimber’s understanding of his life. Bill Jackson, a Vineyard pastor, has written a book entitled The Quest for the Radical Middle which attempts to tell the story of the Vineyard (from an insider’s perspective). For an outsider’s perspective of Wimber’s life, David Shepherd provides great biographical detail in his Phd dissertation titled A Critical Analysis of Power Evangelism as an Evangelistic Methodology of the Signs and Wonders Movement. The stories told in this section come from these books.

[8] Jackson, Bill. The Quest for the Radical Middle. (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing), 52.

[9] Hiebert, Paul. “The Man, the Message, and the Movement.” Wonders and the Word: An Examination of the Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement. Ed James R Coggins and Paul G. Hiebert.( Hillsboro, Kansas: Kindred Press, 1989), 16.

[10] Nathan, Rich and Ken Wilson. Empowered Evangelicals: Bringing Together the Best of the Charismatic and Evangelical Worlds. (Ann Arbor, Mich : Servant Publications, 1993), 47.

[11] Hiebert, Paul. “The Man, the Message, and the Movement.” 16.

[12] Kraft, Charles H. Christianity with Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural. (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Vine Books, 1989), 3.

[13] Kraft, Charles H. Christianity with Power, , 6.

[14] Jenkins Philip. The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. Oxford UP: 2006, 111.

[15] Hiebert, Paul. “The Man, the Message, and the Movement.” Wonders and the Word: An Examination of the Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement. Ed James R Coggins and Paul G. Hiebert. Kindred Press: Hillsboro, Kansas; 16.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid, 18.

[19] Back to Our Roots: Stories of the Vineyard as told by Carol Wimber. Doing the Stuff Ministries: Vineyard Music Group, 2007.

[20] Wimber, John and Kevin Springer. Power Healing. (San Francisco: Harper, 1987), 31.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid, 32.

[23] “History.” http://www.avc.org.za/

[24] Tutu, Desmond. Foreword to The Church Struggle in Africa, 25th Anniversary Edition. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2005), ix.

[25] Venter, Alexander. Doing Reconciliation: Racism, Reconciliation and Transformation in the Church and World. (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 2004), 103-104.

[26] For an incredibly well-written history of Christianity in South Africa see John and Steve DeGruchy’s book The Church Struggle in South Africa. Many of the basic facts about this history came from reading his book.

[27] DeGruchy, John and Steve DeGruchy. The Church Struggle in Africa, 25th Anniversary Edition. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2005), 2.

 

[28] Venter, Alexander. Doing Reconciliation, 34-35.

[29] Venter, Alexander. Doing Reconciliation, 31.

[30] DeGruchy, John. The Church Struggle in Africa, 7.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Venter, Alexander. Doing Reconciliation, 32.

[33] Ibid, 35.

[34] Venter, Alexander.. “Beginnings.” http://www.avc.org.za/

[35] Ibid.

[36] Venter, Alexander. Doing Reconciliation, 36.

[37] Venter, Alexander. Doing Reconciliation, 36-37.

[38] Ibid, 40-41.

[39] Ibid, 41.

[40] Ibid, 42.

[41] Bruner, J.S. and Leo Postman. “Experiments.” The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago UP: 1970, 63.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Venter, Alexander. Doing reconciliation, 42-43.

[44] Riddlebarger, Kim. “This Present Paranoia.” Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 268.

[45] Morphew, Derek. Breakthough, 9.

[46] Morphew, Derek. From a transcript of a Message given at the 1995 European Vineyard Pastors Conference. Posted on http://www.nextreformation. com.

[47] Cox, Harvey. Fire from Heaven. 182.

[48] Schmidt, John. New Wine from the Vineyard, 78-79.

 

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