John Wimber, founder and director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, died November 17, 1997 of a brain hemorrhage following a fall and recent coronary bypass surgery. He was 63 years old. From its beginnings in the 1970s, Wimber’s Vineyard movement has grown to approximately 450 U.S. congregations and 250 more in other countries. It was a strong influence in the “Laughing Revival” and Promise Keepers movements (top PK leaders are Vineyard members). Wimber, a former Quaker, emphasized supernatural healing, spiritual warfare, and prophecies. He taught a church growth course at Fuller Seminary with C. Peter Wagner. Wagner said of Wimber’s Vineyard churches, “It congealed more around relationships than written bylaws.” Many of Wimber’s “signs and wonders” teachings are rooted in Eastern mysticism and mind-science inner healing techniques (per a 1996, 32-page report by Media Spotlight; see adapted report). (12/15/97, Calvary Contender)
Wimber was the leader of the Vineyard Christian Fellowships, a hyper-charismatic organization within the Vineyard Movement (which itself is also known by the names of “third wave,” “Signs and Wonders Movement,” and “power theology”). He was senior pastor of the 5,000-member Anaheim Vineyard from 1977-1994. He openly admitted that his so-called conversion to Christianity occurred “in total mental confusion and emotional frustration” (as quoted in Peter Masters’ 1988 book, The Healing Epidemic, p. 41). (Before professing to be a Christian, Wimber was the manager of the Righteous Brothers singing group.) Wimber had been a devotee to easy-believism from the beginning, but became especially impressed by the effect which charismatic healing gifts had in increasing church growth in Third World countries. It was, therefore, pragmatism combined with confusion that led Wimber “to chose the radical solution of charismatic experimentation” (Masters, p. 42).
– As an overview, Wimber’s teachings erred dramatically in three main areas (each one of these is addressed in more detail later in this report): (MS, p. 22)*
(1) Dependence on experience rather than Scripture, leading to both a pragmatic (if it works, it must be from God) and a subjective approach (all sources of truth are equally valid) — “experience first, then mold theology to fit the experience,” seemed to be Wimber’s motto.
(2) Acceptance of occult/New Age practices in “Christian” forms, such as aura reading and manipulation, the teaching of “inner healing,” astral projection, contact with familiar spirits, and psychological and occult methodologies.
(3) A mystical view of spiritual warfare that comes dangerously close to spiritism, culminating in the belief that even Christians can be possessed by demons.
– Wimber claimed that signs and wonders were the essential ingredient for success in first century church evangelism (a claim which is not supported anywhere in the Book of Acts), and that for today, the only way to get people to believe the Gospel is to startle them into believing through healing, prophecy, and the casting out of demons; Wimber called this “power evangelism.” It was Wimber’s opinion that only by startling the world by demonstrations of clairvoyance and powerful healings would the gospel message receive respectful attention, because (apparently) by itself, the Gospel is too weak and powerless to break the stubbornness and rebellion of the human heart. (Cited in Masters, pp.74-75.)
– Wimber’s approach to healing was not the mere laying on of hands accompanied by fervent prayer, but the incorporation of an unholy mixture of Jungian psychology and Agnes Sanford’s “inner healing” techniques, both of which have their roots in the occult, but have become popularized in our day through the New Age Movement (Albert James Dager, Vengeance Is Ours, p. 155). “There is every indication that the Vineyard movement, chasing after signs and wonders, has become caught up in a mystical [New Age] mindset that will lead inevitably to a greater religious deception to which the vast majority of the world’s populace will succumb” (Dager, p. 156).
– The conclusive influence which turned Wimber to a charismatic position was his conviction that God began to speak to him in a direct and authoritative manner, and that God told him to use his authority to cast out demons and illnesses from people. (“It never seems to have occurred to John Wimber that people who make dogmatic claims to have messages from God are setting themselves up in the place of God. They deify their imaginations and become their own god” [Masters, p. 43].) Up until 1995, Wimber pursued a worldwide ministry of healing through large convention meetings, receiving “words of knowledge” in which he saw the illnesses of various people present in the audience before praying for their healing. He then “called down” the Holy Spirit and ordered Him around with language that was nothing short of blasphemy.
– “One of the most serious (and blasphemous) aspects of teachers like Wimber is that they are ready and willing to diminish the Lord Jesus Christ in their desperation to find some shred of biblical support for what they do … he [Wimber] claims the ministry of Christ as a pattern for his own work. In the most explicit way he denies our Lord’s divine character, detracting from His power and glory and reducing Him virtually to the level of an ordinary person. According to Wimber, Christ did not possess the personal power to read thoughts or to know the outcome of events.” Wimber’s motive in downgrading the person and work of Christ appeared to be “that he wants to make Christ our example not only for healing, but also for receiving ‘words of knowledge’ — direct impressions and commands from God … Wimber empties the Lord Jesus Christ of His divine attributes — particularly His foreknowledge — making Him totally dependent upon the Father for both information and orders concerning His activities moment by moment … Wimber repeatedly emphasizes this ‘limited’ divinity of Jesus as he strives to make Him a person who we can legitimately imitate in every respect, including the receiving of intuitions from God, and the performing of healing works” (Masters, pp. 46-47 — see Col. 1:15,19; 2:3,9; Heb. 1:3; Jn. 1:14; 6:64; 16:30 for Biblical refutation of Wimber’s theology). Wimber’s teaching was “anti-Christian in his abuse of Christ, despising and disregarding His divinity and glory in order to present Him as a ‘humanized’ example of healing techniques which may be copied in our day” (Masters, p. 51).
– Wimber consistently maintained an ecumenical spirit toward Roman Catholicism. He frequently appeared on the same platforms with Roman Catholic clergy in ecumenical gatherings, and hosted Catholic “leaders” at his various church growth/healing seminars. Wimber even once wrote an article for the Catholic charismatic publication, New Covenant, entitled “Why I Love Mary,” lending credibility to the doctrines of Mariology. In that article, Wimber wrote: “Wouldn’t you like to sit down with Mary and have a cup of coffee with her and talk about faith? The Bible doesn’t tell us some of the answers that it would be fascinating to know.” Remember when talking with the dead used to be called “séances,” and receiving extra-Biblical information is asking for the plagues that are mentioned in Revelation.
If the pope and/or other visible Roman Catholic clergy and laity ever begin to truly perform signs and wonders, Wimber will have played a large part in aiding the Vatican’s designs for “reunification” (Dager, p. 158). In fact, Wimber actively encouraged reunification — he once “apologized” to the Catholic church on behalf of all Protestants, stating that “the pope, who by the way is very responsive to the charismatic movement, and is himself a born-again evangelical, is preaching the Gospel as clear as anyone in the world today” (MS, p. 24). Wimber also called the pope’s “Evangelization 2000” program, “One of the greatest things that has ever happened” (2/1/91, Calvary Contender).
– Wimber’s personal testimony “is shot through with stories of signs and wonders and all sorts of supernatural events. But the important truth of the Gospel is missing. One can only wonder how God can be behind a movement that seems to ignore the Gospel in favor of the miraculous and replaces the cross with signs and wonders” (Robert Dean, Jr., Biblical Perspectives, “Don’t Be Caught By The Undertow Of The Third Wave,” p. 4).
– Wimber’s doctrine of Demonology was thoroughly unscriptural; he saw demons behind many physical illnesses, and most emotional problems, entering into people, both lost and saved, in varying degrees, either for “possession” or “oppression,” so as to control all or some aspects of their lives. “There is no biblical basis for the notion that demons are free to cause illnesses outside the context of full demon possession. [And the power of Satan to enter and “possess” souls uninvited; i.e., at the whim of the demon, was ended at Christ’s resurrection.] The only case in the Bible of a person who suffered from an illness caused by Satan without being demon possessed, is that of Job” (Masters, p. 86).
But even then, Satan had to secure permission from God, which would indicate that Satan and his demons have no power to inflict illnesses in the ordinary course of events. To treat illnesses on the basis of a demon needing to be expelled from a particular organ, as Wimber taught, is an idea derived from pagan religious cults and/or the priestcraft of Rome, not from the Bible. Believers will certainly do battle with the wiles and temptations wrought by Satan, “but nowhere in the New Testament is temptation resisted by a process of commanding demons to loose their hold or leave a Christian’s mind or body. Satan is resisted by being denied success in the temptation. Or if he mounts an attack of depressive suggestions, he is resisted as the believer strives to keep hold of the comfort and promises of God’s Word” (Masters, p. 92).
– Wimber and his team of traveling faith-healers once conducted a “healing meeting” in Leeds, England, which happened to be attended by five doctors who were born-again Christians. To summarize the doctors’ general observations, one of them stated that there was not any evidence whatsoever of any true physical healing that occurred at that evening’s “very expert performance” (which included “many minutes of assorted shakings, tremblings, smilings, fallings, swayings and utterings” as so-called evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit’s healing power), but instead all the evidence pointed to “all the textbook characteristics of the induction of hypnosis.” In their joint statement, the five Christian doctors said:
“Hypnotic trance with suggestion is a powerful psychological tool. It has many uses. Psychosomatic disorders and physical symptoms related to neurosis [sin] are very likely in the short-term to respond to this treatment. Relief of pain as in dental extraction or childbirth is relatively commonplace with hypnosis. In Wimber’s team meeting we saw no change that suggested any healing of organic, physical disease. Given the concern of many attendees to be of use to their neighbors, some very helpful suggestions were undoubtedly made during the numerous trance states. (Emphasis added.)
“The hypnotic state, though conscious, is not what Scripture means by self-control, the mind of Christ in us, or mind renewal. To describe these trances, their visible or audible features, or any healings experienced as [are] the perfectly legitimate result of hypnosis — to describe them as the plain work of the Holy Spirit is a deception. To encourage techniques which produce hypnosis and hysteria and to teach that one is learning how to exercise kingdom rule over demons, disease, and nature is false; it is misrepresentation.” (All quotes from Masters, p. 213.)
Professor Verna Wright, M.D., Rheumatology, concluded that the great dangers of Wimber’s “miraculous healing teaching” are: (1) “it discredits the person of Christ because of the very obvious failures, when we claim to serve a Savior Who never fails”; (2) “it undermines the Word, because it elevates a new form of ‘revelation’ — so-called words of knowledge or prophecy”; (3) “it deceives Christians and breeds a race of gullible believers, taken in by virtually anything”; (4) “it increases the agony of suffering”; (5) “it removes Christian comfort”; and (6) “it diminishes Christian testimony.” (Cited in Masters, p. 227)
– As an example of a practice rejected by the church for centuries, but engaged in by Wimber and the Vineyard movement, is the use of relics (human remains and objects thought to have supernatural miracle powers by virtue of their being connected with a Saint; the relic may be the whole or a part of a Saint’s body, or something a Saint has touched). The use of relics of the dead is an utterly pagan concept with no Scriptural justification whatsoever; rather it is associated with necromancy. (Masters)
– Wimber was on Renovaré’s “Board of Reference” — Renovaré is an international, New Age, ecumenical organization that emanates from the religious traditions of Quakerism, whose message is that today’s Church is missing out on some wonderful spiritual experiences that can only be found by studying and practicing the “meditative” and “contemplative” lifestyle “of early Christianity.” In actuality, Renovaré espouses the use of the early pagan traditions of guided imagery and visualization, astral projection, “Zen” prayer techniques for meditation (i.e., Buddhism), and Jungian psychology (i.e., a blend of Eastern mysticism and Roman Catholic mystical spiritual tradition, which nicely fits the New Age model), all as means of obtaining “personal spiritual renewal” in the lives of believers. (For a more detailed analysis of Renovaré and the teachings of its co-directors, psychologist Richard Foster and William Vaswig, see Media Spotlight’s Special Report of March, 1992: “Renovaré: Taking Leave of One’s Senses.”)
– Wimber listed raising of the dead as one of the basic elements of the healing ministry (Power Healing, pp. 38, 62), and agreed with C. Peter Wagner’s assessment of the phenomena for today: “I, too, now believe that dead people are literally being raised in the world today. As soon as I say that, some ask if I believe it is ‘normative.’ I doubt if it would be normative in any local situation, but it probably is normative in terms of the universal body of Christ. Even though it is an extremely uncommon event, I would not be surprised if it were happening several times a year” (The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, p. 112).
– Wimber always placed himself and his ministry above criticism; “… he equates those who measure a practice or ministry by Scripture with the unbelieving scribes. This effectively insulates his teaching and practice from Scriptural critique. He is equating his ministry with non-recognition of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit … Wimber is hiding behind a facade of true adherence to the moving of the Spirit of God in order to insulate his theology and practices from those who would unravel the facade with God’s Word. At the same time, he equates anyone that would challenge that facade with those who did not recognize Jesus’ authority and work. This is a cult mentality that does not address the real issue: whether or not these practices and ideas are biblical” (MS, p. 23-24).