Praise and Worship for the Modern Age vs Church Growth
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New Wine

John Wimber, who gained worldwide attention as the leader of the Vineyard Movement, began his musical career as the piano player for The Righteous Brothers. Following that, he attended a Quaker church inYorba Lindawhere he led hundreds to the Lord. Eventually, in 1974, Wimber became the Founding Director of the Department of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary. Even as that was occurring, he started up a HouseChurch that began to embrace some of the beliefs of the Charismatic movement. This resulted in a split with the Quaker church that his home group belonged to.

Wimber’s HouseChurch, now known as the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, became so large that he joined up with the Calvary Chapel denomination. Calvary rose up in part because Chuck Smith turned away from the manipulative growth and money raising techniques pursued by his former denomination. Because he saw God’s true church as the sum total all believers rather than the Institutionalized Church itself, Smith focused on the spiritual needs of people rather than the success of the organization. As a result, the Calvary Chapel denomination took strong stands against man induced growth strategies. Instead there was an emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work through traditional evangelism as the manner in which to witness true growth. In spite of this deep denominational conviction, Wimber was caught up in the church growth theories that he and Peter Wagner had propagated at Fuller Theological Seminary. Eventually he broke away from Calvary Chapel over a dispute involving the authority of Scripture as it related to the display of signs and wonders in the church. After that incident Wimber ultimately rose up to become a leading proponent of Church Growth in the late 20th century.

Wimber promoted the doctrine of Kingdom Theology, which concludes that it is the church’s responsibility to set up a Millenium here on earth. Kingdom Theology sees church growth occurring as a result of the church literally taking over society in a manner similar to the era when the Popes ruled kings during the Dark Ages. In addition, while proclaiming that experience takes precedence over the Bible, Wimber promoted a brand of ecumenicalism that de-emphasized doctrine for the sake of bringing all Christian denominations together under one tent. This predisposition has become a common theme among many Charismatics today.

Wimber promoted evangelism through the display of miracles. He labeled his growth strategy “Signs and Wonders and Church Growth,” while traveling throughout America and in various parts of the world holding seminars to instruct parishioners and pastors how to take hold of the supernatural world. As it turned out Wimber’s “evangelistic” growth proposal had little to do with saving souls and a lot to do with the church assuming authority over culture.

The Vineyard Movement emphasized church planting, which is a concept that has swept through the Evangelical Church as well. Wimber contended that “church planting is the best form of evangelism” as thousands of Vineyards were established across the USA and internationally. Partially as a result of Wimber’s teaching in that regard, church planting has become one of the most popular buzz words in the Church Growth Movement today.

Much to Wimber’s credit, the Vineyard movement has produced some of the most profound, inspiring and beautiful praise music to come out of the contemporary music scene. Wimber himself was an excellent songwriter and composed several songs that played an integral role in the rise of praise and worship music in the church. In addition Wimber took strong stands against the Word of Faith movement and the classic Pentecostal and Charismatic teachings that contend that the gift of tongues is the only evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Instead he emphasized that the gift of tongues was only one of the many spiritual gifts taught in the Bible. This new outlook, that Wagner coined “The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit,” tore down a major theological stumbling block that had previously inhibited some mainstream Evangelicals from becoming involved in “signs and wonders.” Likewise because they saw themselves as the “Third Wave,” Wimber along with the leaders of the Vineyard Movement have repeatedly rejected the Charismatic label.

No doubt Wimber’s greatest gift to the body of Christ was the home church or “cell group.” This concept of small groups meeting in homes represented a welcome return to the practices of the Early Church and has done a lot to keep many congregations personal. It has also allowed large churches to remain small so that the megachurch actually can work.

A key tenant in Wimber’s teachings was that our relationship with God should be founded on intimacy rather than religious habit and discipline. He also emphasized “authenticity” and doing nothing for “religious effect.” Hence his teaching focused on personal experiences within the context of a church service that was casual, informal and led by the Holy Sprit. And the song lineup always needed to be flexible to allow the Holy Spirit to move. Therefore, according to Wimber, worship does not include scripted prayers or liturgy.

This theology led to the manifestation of many signs and wonders during Vineyard church services. As these supernatural events began to materialize in his church, Wimber took some theological turns that led his followers into uncharted land. As a result of this, according to some Cessationalist Christians, the early Vineyard movement began to take on a makeup that more closely resembled the New Age movement than orthodox Christianity.

Since Wimber failed to subjugate his interpretation of the “signs and wonders” that he witnessed to the test of Scripture, many of the spiritual events that occurred in his churches were more cultic than Christian in nature. In particular, the group involved itself in pagan worship practices including the use of musical mantras to enter into the supernatural world, quests after hidden knowledge, visualizations, New Age healing practices centered around seeking out auras or hot spots and the like, a preoccupation with the occult including the belief in the demonization of Christians and on and on. Hence, though the emphasis of the early Vineyard movement was to subjugate society to the authority of the church, the techniques utilized by Wimber were generally the same demonstration of pagan New Age ‘60s mysticism that the world had already submerged itself in. Wimber’s efforts, therefore, simply represented an attempt by the church to grow by assimilating the religion of the surrounding culture rather than influencing it.

Albert Dager’s Vengeance is Ours is a well-documented book on the rise of the occult in the church. With regard to the Church Growth Movement among Charismatics such as Wimber he penned: “At leadership conferences pastors and teachers are instructed in the latest methods on church growth though the utilizing of proven methodologies: 1) spiritual warfare against evil territorial spirits; 2) psychological testing for gifts among young congregants; 3) covenants requiring congregants to follow their pastor’s vision; 5) formula prayer (Larry and Lea and Dick Eastman are the leaders in this area); and other approaches related to church ministry and administration.

“Armed with that knowledge, the pastors take what they’ve learned and implement it in their congregations in order to teach the people how to take dominion over their cities, how to institute proper worship and praise in order to move God and to receive power, how to work miracles, signs and wonders, how to bind the spirits allegedly controlling the four directions – North, South, East and West – and other dominion-oriented exercises.”

Eventually the Vineyard leadership noticed that very few were getting saved as a result of their signs and wonders approach to Church Growth. In addition, the Vineyard elders became concerned about various supernatural events that arose among their congregations. They came to realize the fact that Vineyard parishioners had become enamoured with the self-gratifying experience of the extraordinary rather than the desire to see signs and wonders emerge as an evangelistic tool. Therefore, the denomination ultimately directed their attention to a more conservative approach regarding the manifestation of signs and wonders while contending that such demonstrations must have some meaningful biblical significance attached to them.

Likewise, Vineyard pastors all over the country turned back to emphasizing instruction in God’s Word and the traditional altar call as a methodology of evangelism. One example was Rick Olmstead, pastor of the Vineyard in Fort Collins, Co. After shepherding his flock for many years, Olmstead discovered that many of his parishioners did not even know the Gospel. Therefore, he began to preach the Gospel from the pulpit. Many were saved in church service after service as a result, and Olmstead’s church grew to over 3,000 as it witnessed hundreds of baptisms a year. This manifestation of God’s power through the proclamation of His Word influenced other Vineyards as well as a more traditional approach regarding church growth fought its way to the forefront.

In spite of this dramatic shift back towards the center, Wimber’s influence in the Church Growth Movement has remained profound. Indeed, many in the church have come under the influence of the brand of charismatic Church Growth that he propagated for so many years. And as his students have followed the course of taking on the ways of society in order to dominate it, they have followed the same route that lead the church of the Middle Ages to adopt paganism even as it related to the society that it sought to control.

Stay tuned for more!

The preceeding blog is an exerpt from Don Wigton’s book “Holy Wars.” Click here to purchase: http://www.authorhouse.com/BookStore/BookDetail.aspx?Book=267348

For free praise music, charts and study helps go to the Wigtune Praise and Worship Sitehttp//www.praisesong.net

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