See the introduction to this blog category for a background to why I’m taking the time to respond to some of these pages. One of the primary reasons why is because the people I serve as a pastor may take the time to read these pages, and I want to best serve them and help them to think critically and reflective in our connection with the Vineyard Movement.
A few years ago I was walking through a business expo at our local Northern Wisconsin State Fair. As I was collecting information and products from the various business represented (which included a lot of snack tasting!), I saw that a local church had a booth. Being that I’m a pastor and church junkie, I excitedly went over to learn more about their church. The person behind the table just happened to be the pastor. As we started talking, I noticed that all of my questions about their church were answered with something related to their church being a “truly biblical” church. He made it quite clear that all of the other churches in the area weren’t as “biblical” as they were. Their doctrine was the most “biblical,” their leadership was the most “biblical,” and their approach to missions/evangelism/discipleship was also the most “biblical.” I walked away wondering if there were any Christian churches that thought they weren’t “biblical.” As you probably know, using the word “biblical” as an adjective in this sense is kind of silly. Everyone thinks that their theology and praxis is biblical!
We need to keep this in mind when we reflect and evaluate theological ideas. ChristianFallacies.com, like so many other websites, states that it’s purpose “is to glorify God by properly applying Holy Scripture to correct some of the false teachings and false doctrines that are taught in many Christian churches around the world.” Some find these “heresy hunters” and “theology police” a tad annoying, but I don’t think we should dismiss them outright. There is certainly something to be said about apologetics (defending the Christian faith). Yet on their page dedicated to the Vineyard Movement, we find many of the same errors that are found elsewhere.
The author, Pastor Vincent Nicotra, starts by providing a brief “history” and “background” on the Vineyard Movement. Other than a few minor details, Nicotra provides a decent historical summary. However, I’m not sure anyone in Vineyard leadership would “boast” that there are “approximately 600 churches in the United States, and 250 more in other countries.” I think you’d find most leaders humbly acknowledging that the Lord has been very gracious to us in raising up new churches. Plus, there are actually more like 1,500 Vineyard churches I think. I’m assuming that since Nicotra wrote this in 2006, the numbers are obviously going to be different.
Another minor issue I would have is when Nicotra writes that the reason that the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel parted ways was over “differences with Calvary Chapel leaders over issues related to the charismatic gifts, such as tongues, healings, and prophecy.” That was certainly a part of it, but it wasn’t the only issue. According to Bill Jackson’s The Quest for the Radical Middle, it involved charismatic praxis and church growth methodology. Jackson writes,
“… when John Wimber began to promote in the front room what Calvary was only doing in the back room, tension began to mount… it became apparent that some [Calvary Chapel pastors] were upset with John’s new emphasis on the Holy Spirit and his use of church growth principles that seemed to contradict Chuck’s teaching on the sovereignty of God in the expansion of the church.” (p.85-86)
There were/are many similarities between Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard. Both, as far as I can tell, are decidedly Continuationist when it comes to the continuing work of the Holy Spirit through all of the charismata (e.g., tongues, prophecy, healings). Both are evangelical. Yet there are also some differences and distinctions, both related to praxis and doctrine. For example, my involvement in Calvary Chapel worship gatherings has left me with the impression that things related to the controversial charismata are generally discouraged during corporate worship gatherings and are encouraged during small groups or during “after-glow,” a time after the general worship service for the practice of those spiritual gifts. In the Vineyard, these spiritual gifts are encouraged to be practiced more often. However, even these two generalizations need to be qualified because it all depends upon what local congregation you are talking about. I’ve been to a Calvary Chapel in CA that seemed very similar to my experience in Vineyard churches and I’ve been in Vineyards that didn’t seem to encourage or integrate prophecy or praying for healing during the Sunday gathering. Doctrinally, Calvary Chapel is Dispensational. Vineyard is not. In other words, Calvary Chapel makes the pretribulational rapture a distinctive. In the Vineyard, Dispensationalism is not a viewpoint that finds much allegiance. But we can still be friends and labor together!
The real substantial areas that I want to interact with in Nicotra’s criticism is related to the section “What are its Teachings and Practices?” They are as follows:
Questionable Statement #1: As part of the “Third Wave” the Vineyard Movement emphasizes miracles, healings, casting out demons, and prophetic utterances as the things that will cause people to be won to Christ and discipled. This thought was predicated on Wimber’s belief that the gospel was ineffective without the accompaniment of signs and wonders. Therefore, “signs and wonders” are employed with certain church growth methodologies to get the desired results, namely converts. These “Third Wavers” are taught that by performing “signs and wonders” they are reliving the days of the apostles.”
First, I think it’s safe to say that the Vineyard Movement emphasizes miracles, healings, casting out demons, and prophecy no more than the Bible does. Again, one cannot read the Bible and walk away with the assumption that “signs and wonders” aren’t a significant feature of being a follower of Jesus and gospel proclamation. This is explicitly clear in the Gospels (cf. Matt. 12:28; Luke 10:1-9; John 14:12; etc.), Acts (Acts 3:1-10; 5:12; 8:4-13; etc.), and the Epistles (Gal. 3:5; 1 Thess. 1:4-5; Rom. 15:8-10; etc.).
Second, I would strongly like to read a source and it’s context that clarifies that John Wimber believed the “gospel was ineffective without the accompaniment of signs and wonders.” I’m inclined to suggest that Wimber did not believe that the gospel was powerless without “signs and wonders.” In fact, John Wimber wrote,
“By power evangelism I mean a presentation of the gospel that is rational, but that also transcends the rational (though it is in no way ‘irrational’ or anti–rational). The explanation of the gospel — the clear proclamation of the finished work of Christ on the cross — comes with a demonstration of God’s power through signs and wonders. Power evangelism is a spontaneous, Spirit–inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Power evangelism is preceded and undergirded by demonstrations of God’s presence, and frequently results in groups of people being saved. Signs and wonders do not save; only Jesus and substitutionary work on the cross saves. Through these supernatural encounters people experience the presence and power of God. Usually this takes the norm of words of knowledge…healing, prophecy, and deliverance from evil spirits… Before exploring power evangelism further, however, a healthy word of clarification and caution is needed. The Bible does not teach that evangelism apart from signs and wonders is invalid, or that the addition of signs and wonders somehow changes the gospel message. The heart and soul of evangelism is proclamation of the gospel.” (Power Evangelism, pp.78-79).
Furthermore, the actual Vineyard Statement of Faith makes a helpful explanation on the power of the gospel under section nine, “The Power of the Gospel Over the Kingdom of Darkness,” which states:
“WE BELIEVE that the whole world is under the domination of Satan and that all people are sinners by nature and choice. All people therefore are under God’s just judgment. Through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus and the Kingdom of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, God regenerates, justifies, adopts and sanctifies through Jesus by the Spirit all who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. By this they are released from Satan’s domain and enter into God’s kingdom reign.”
Questionable Statement #2: “Personal experience rather than Scripture seems to be what drives the movements worship. Congregants are told not to allow their minds to quench the Spirit, but to be open to allowing the Spirit to speak directly to their hearts. Consequently, observers of the services have witnessed congregants barking like dogs as well as making other animal noises such as roaring lions, weeping and dancing uncontrollably, shaking, jumping up and down (pogoing), and falling on the floor in group convulsions. In other words, chaos is normative in their services.”
As I noted previous (here), the Vineyard Movement expressly states that Scripture is the final authority for matters of “faith and practice” (see the Statement of Faith).This can be confirmed in John Wimber’s Power Points (pp. 38, 41), Jack Deere’s “The Vineyard’s Response to The Briefing” (Vineyard Position Paper #2), and Wayne Grudem’s “The Vineyard’s Response to The Standard” (Vineyard Position Paper #3).
Furthermore, I would like to know whether Nicotra is suggesting that our minds can’t get in the way of the Holy Spirit! Not only can our minds, but our emotions can too!
Another problem with this statement is that it ignores significant facts related to the Vineyard Movement, it’s association with Toronto, and previous statements regarding “manifestations.” In Jackson’s The Quest for the Radical Middle, he summarizes the conclusions of the Association of Vineyard Church’s “Board Report: Summary of the Current Renewal and the Phenomena Surrounding It,” which was related to Toronto and the “manifestations,” with the following:
“We should never promote manifestations in any way, but focus on the main and plain issues of Scripture such as the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, evangelism and church planting. We are after long-term fruit, not experiences. If God has truly touched a person, he or she should go home talking about Jesus, not about falling or shaking. The result of true renewal will be seen in new passion for Jesus, and the words and works of the kingdom.” (pp. 314-315).
The Vineyard Movement and the former Toronto Airport Vineyard Church parted ways because there was some significant differences related to “manifestations.” Thus, Nicotra’s point about “barking like dogs as well as making other animal noises such as roaring lions” is moot. This is a classic “guilt by association” fallacy.
Yet I want to challenge the underlying assumption that the Holy Spirit can’t bring about weeping or dancing uncontrollably, shaking, or falling. Are we to assume that Nicotra doesn’t believe people could be convicted by the Spirit to the point of weeping? Or that only King David is allowed to dance? Or that shaking and falling before God are not supported by Scripture? Really? How about providing any substantial supporting textual evidence for such an idea? I believe it would be very difficult to make that case. On top of that, throughout the history of the church, we find many examples of these very manifestations! Just consider the ministries of folks like Jonathan Edwards, the Wesley brothers, and George Whitefield. There were serious emotional manifestations during the preaching of these giants of our faith.
Emotions are not the enemy of Christian orthodoxy. Emotionalism is also not the benchmark for revival. I would hope for a bit more care in treating the subject of emotions when we talk about the work of the Holy Spirit. Ken Wilson’s chapter, “Mind and Emotion: Room for Both,” in Empowered Evangelicals is a much better assesment of issues related to the mind and emotion than Nicotra’s criticism here.
Questionable Statement #3: “In addition to this fundamental flaw, Vineyard’s theology is errant in several other areas, the most serious of these being their teaching on the person and work of Christ. They teach that although Jesus was fully divine, He completely set aside His divinity during His time on earth and performed His miracles as a human through the power of the Holy Spirit. This leads them to believe that man can perform miracles, works, and have knowledge as Jesus did.”
This is what I’d call pulling a theological fast one. To be honest (and fair?) to Vineyard pastors, I think a great deal of them wouldn’t even know a lot of the technical issues related to the Kenosis Theory. However, this is a serious charge to make against a Christian organization because at it’s heart is a very serious heresy.
So what are we to make of this assessment by Nicotra? Well, for starters, I reject it! As a Vineyard pastor, I can say without hesitation that I do not hold to the Kenosis Theory! Jesus did not set aside his divinity during his time on earth! According to my exegesis of Philippians 2:5-7, the apostle Paul simply indicates that Jesus “laid aside” his heavenly role, status, and privileges rather than his divine attributes.
So while this charge might sound “scary” and serious, it’s really pretty silly. I’d ask Nicotra to provide a single reference from an official Vineyard document that makes this Christological mistake. You won’t find it in the Vineyard Statement of Faith, nor in any of the writings that I’m familiar with.
When Vineyard leaders discuss Jesus’ ministry, we do look at Scripture and see that even though Jesus was 100% fully God, he ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 4:1, 14, 18-19; etc.). Are we not to imitate Christ and seek to live and walk in the power and presence of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:25)?
Lastly, when Nicotra suggests that the Vineyard movement teaches that we believe we can have “knowledge as Jesus did,” I want to, again, ask for a reference. Jesus was (and is) entirely unique in history. Jesus is God. We are not. We will never have the same knowledge as Jesus does because his knowledge is infinite. Ours is finite. You will not find a single Vineyard leader suggesting that we can be on the same “playing field” as Jesus in every way possible. This is a patent misrepresentation of the Vineyard.
However, as I’ve already shown, the Vineyard does believe that we are to continue the works that Jesus did because he’s given us the Holy Spirit to empower us! Nicotra is going to have to seriously provide some substantial biblical evidence to support the idea that we aren’t called to continue Jesus’ ministry.
Questionable Statement #4: “While they may not admit it, Vineyard also teaches a form of Dominion theology. They believe that Christ’s first coming restored dominion over every area of life. Therefore, it is the church’s obligation to redeem not only individuals, but every area of society in order to usher in God’s Kingdom. They suppose that certain characteristics of the Millennial Kingdom are in place today, therefore, believers should manifest all the power that Christ had while He was here.”
First, I’m not sure what to say about someone writing “while they may not admit it,” especially when they go on to provide absolutely no evidence to back up their assertion. In the scholarly world, this is not well respected, received, or even given the time of day. Thankfully, you are getting theological reflection in the cheap seats, so we’ll interact with such a suggestion.
One of the significant distinctives about the Vineyard Movement is in it’s absolute and outright denial of holding to Dominion Theology. While one could easily point out that Nicotra doesn’t seem to even have a proper understanding of the different types of Dominion Theology (cf. the differences in Christian Reconstructionism or Kingdom Now Theology), it’s very obvious that Nicotra is unaware of the Vineyard emphasis on “already” and “not yet.” For example, Bill Jackson notes that John Wimber’s integration of George Ladd’s theology of the Kingdom of God “gave him a basis for exaplaining why not all people were healed and why there was still suffering in the world. He began to see that the Bible provided a theology of power and a theology of pain” (The Quest for the Radical Middle, p. 55). Derek Morphew, a noted Vineyard theologian and scholar, makes it explicitly clear that the Vineyard does not embrace “Dominion Theology” in his Breakthrough, especially the chapter “‘Already-Not Yet’ People.” He writes that,
“The New Testament teaches that there is both ‘kingdom now’ and kingdom ‘not yet’. Our Christian experience takes place within this tension. The Christian is a glorious contradiction. We are simultaneously triumphant and groaning.” (p. 166).
Lastly, Alexander Venter writes:
“The ‘tension’ of the Kingdom reminds us that sometimes people are healed (the ‘already’) and sometimes people are not healed (the ‘not yet’). We do not have an extreme ‘faith view’ or ‘Kingdom now view’, that says everyone we pray for must be healed now, and if not, it is a lack of faith, or a result of sin in one’s life.” (Doing Church, Kindle Locations 620-622).
Only someone who has never actually read any Vineyard material could make a statement that the Vineyard is connected with “Dominion Theology” (or Kingdom Now Theology). Furthermore, I think Nicotra may want to acknowledge that within the Vineyard, you’ll probably find both Historic Premillennialists and Amillennialists, so issues related to the Millennium will depend upon whom or which Vineyard church you are referring. However, section 12 of the Vineyard Statement of Faith clarifies our viewpoint on this issue:
“WE BELIEVE that God’s kingdom has come in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, that it continues to come in the ministry of the Spirit through the Church, and that it will be consummated in the glorious, visible and triumphant appearing of Christ – His return to the earth as King. After Christ returns to reign, He will bring about the final defeat of Satan and all of his minions and works, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment and the eternal blessing of the righteous and eternal conscious punishment of the wicked. Finally, God will be all in all and His kingdom, His rule and reign, will be fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth, recreated by His mighty power, in which righteousness dwells and in which He will forever be worshipped.”
As far as I’m concerned, Nicotra needs to correct this misrepresentation immediately. The Vineyard is both “already” and “not yet.” We are both “now” and “later.”
Questionable Statement #5: “The Vineyard churches hold some positions which separate them from traditional Charismatics and Pentecostals. The first of these differences lies in their beliefs regarding the baptism of the Spirit. Unlike the other two groups which teach a Spirit baptism subsequent to conversion, the Vineyard believes that baptism of the Spirit takes place at conversion. However, they do believe that a person can be filled multiple times. As far as speaking in tongues, the Vineyard also differs somewhat from Charismatics and Pentecostals, in that it downplays the importance of speaking in tongues. Even though it is practiced by many within their ranks, it is neither expected, nor encouraged.”
Okay, this is another one of those, “actually, I pretty much agree with this statement.” Thank you, Nicotra, for noting significant differences between the Vineyard, a Third Wave group, and classic Pentecostals and some Charismatics. We do believe all Christians have been baptized in the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and that the Spirit empowers people many times throughout the Christian life (Eph. 5:18).
That being said, I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that speaking in tongues isn’t encouraged in the Vineyard. Perhaps it would be more helpful to state that within the Vineyard, all of the Holy Spirit’s sovereign empowerment of the spiritual gifts is encouraged, expected, and experienced. We just want to emphasize the “sovereign” thing a bit and make sure that people know that the Spirit decides who gets what gifts and when. We are just told to desire the gifts (1 Cor. 14:1). I would encourage people to pray for spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues. I would discourage people to feel like they haven’t “arrived” if they don’t get the gift of tongues or prophecy or see people get healed.
In closing, I’m thankful for the opportunity to correct some misconceptions and to clarify a few issues. I again ask that those who are going to provide criticisms or concerns do so with some supporting evidence so that (1) we can find out if assertions are actually true and (2) make corrections where corrections need to be made. The Vineyard is not perfect. We have a lot to learn and are relatively young. We just want to be represented fairly!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.