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.
The first negative article that comes up in google when you search “Vineyard Movement” (as of 08-06-13) is found at GotQuestions.org. This website self-proclaims that it “seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by providing biblical, applicable, and timely answers to spiritually related questions through an internet presence.” It’s a great site in many ways and provides some very good resources. Unfortunately, it’s page on the Vineyard Movement is quite misleading, misinformed, and incorrect in a number of ways.
Readers of their site may or may not be aware of the fact that, like all theological resources, GotQuestions.org has some foundational theological views that shape how it answers questions. It’s misleading for anyone to say that they just take the Bible and use it to answer questions without any theological biases. Everyone is involved in interpretation on some level. The page on the Vineyard Movement doesn’t inform readers that the theological views that are represented on the website are written from a Dispensational perspective. Thus, their answers are written from the perspective that tends to either deny or downplay things that Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wave advocates believe. Everyone knows that if you ask a Baptist about infant baptism, you are going to get a Baptist answer, right? Well if you ask a non-charismatic about charismatic theology, you are going to get a non-charismatic answer. In other words, if you believe that the the gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, and casting out demons are still available and happening within the Church today, you are probably going to have a different perspective than is found on GotQuestions.org.
My intention here is to actually interact with the substance of the article. I will also, as much as possible, provide documented refutation from Vineyard sources. I’ll do this by providing the quote in question and then giving respond and reflection. I actually want to help other Vineyard folks take note of how we can better communicate our views too. We haven’t always spoken as clearly and carefully as theological engagement requires. At any rate, here we go…
Questionable Statement #1: “There are certain aspects of the Vineyard Movement’s teachings that are suspect, if not entirely non-biblical. Members of the Vineyard Movement often rely on “experience with God” rather than following the Bible as the standard for faith and practice. Because of this, they teach that if what they do “works” pragmatically, then it must be from God.”
Unfortunately, there is no reference to support such a statement. However, there are several ways in which we can respond to this objection to the Vineyard.
While I can’t speak for every person who currently attends or has attended Vineyard churches, I can point readers to the actual doctrinal position that the Vineyard has. The official Vineyard Statement of Faith has this to say about how we determine our “standard for faith and practice”:
“We believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the human authors of Holy Scripture so that the Bible is without error in the original manuscripts. We receive the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments as our final, absolute authority, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”
As you can plainly read, the actual documents that clarify the Vineyard position on how Vineyard people discern “faith and practice” are different than what GotQuestions.com actually states. Hopefully the author will either reconcile this or provide some evidence to support the suggestion that the Vineyard Movement has a low view of Scripture.
If the Vineyard Statement of Faith isn’t enough, let’s consider the writings of several of the leading Vineyard thinkers and actual Vineyard position papers:
“Scripture will never deceive us, never lead us astray. It is wholly trustworthy and wholly reliable. It contains no mistakes and is incapable of error. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), so his word will not mislead us… some people believe mystical experience or private revelation to be equal to or superior to Scripture. This is dangerous, because “truth” that is determined by an inner revelation lies outside the scope of objective restraints… Personal experience and private revelation need the checks and guidance that only the Bible can provide.” – John Wimber, Power Points, p. 38, 41
“… we believe that the Scriptures are the primary way that God speaks to his children. We believe in the verbal, inerrant, plenary inspiration of the word of God. We believe that when the Holy Spirit illumines the heart of man, the Scriptures are sufficient to lead man into salvation and godly living (2 Tim. 3:15-17).” – Jack Deere, “The Vineyard’s Response to The Briefing” (Vineyard Position Paper #2), p. 24
“The Vineyard magazine, Equipping the Saints, has had many articles warning people never to exalt experience over Scripture, whether in the gift of prophecy, or in guidance, or in worship, or in using any other spiritual gift.” – Wayne Grudem, “The Vineyard’s Response to The Standard” (Vineyard Position Paper #3), p. 10
As you can clearly see, in the official Vineyard statements, our final authority for “faith and practice” is Scripture, not subjective experiences.
Questionable Statement #2: “the Vineyard Movement promotes various practices that have more in common with the occult and the New Age movement than with biblical Christianity. Some Vineyard Movement churches have been known to include “inner healings,” contact with familiar spirits, aura readings, and psychological programs.”
Having attended Vineyard churches throughout most of my life, I am confused by this. I have never heard a Vineyard leader or seen Vineyard churches ever attempt to introduce the occult or New Age practices. In fact, in 1988 the Vineyard magazine Equipping the Saints was on “Confronting the New Age” and the primary focus was on demonstrating the differences between Christianity and New Age thinking.
I have, however, heard Vineyard leaders encourage people to seek healing in a holistic manner, both physical and spiritual. That means that Vineyards aren’t just concerned with physical healing but believe that the Lord also can provide spiritual healing, including emotional and mental. So what exactly is wrong with “inner healing”? Are we to understand that GotQuestions.org actually doesn’t believe that God can heal people emotionally or spiritually? Are they unaware of the way that way in which Peter quotes Isaiah 53:5 in 1 Pet. 2:24?
Furthermore, “psychological programs” are not necessarily anti-biblical. That’s a common belief that some Christians have, but there are many Christian psychologists who would suggest otherwise.
So we are left wondering what actual examples or references would suggest that the Vineyard Movement promotes these questionable practices. In my 22 years of experience, I haven’t seen any.
Questionable Statement #3: “The Vineyard Movement tends to promote certain spiritual gifts such as healing, casting out demons, and binding Satan as the more desired gifts. In contrast, Paul’s imperative is to stop desiring the “showy” gifts and learn the more excellent way, the way of love. Love, as Paul explains, is not “puffed up,” envying, boastful or proud. It is not self-seeking. Yet the Vineyard Movement promotes exactly these things, encouraging Christians to think of themselves as greater than others by virtue of the sign gifts they believe they possess.”
This concern is very important for the Church to consider. Unfortunately, the author’s lack of actually reading Vineyard literature or attending a Vineyard church suggests to me that he or she is guilty of associating the Vineyard Movement with the worst examples found with the more “charismatic” expressions of our faith. First of all, I don’t know of any Vineyard leaders that state that “casting out demons” is a spiritual gift. Is this a confusion with the “ability to distinguish between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10), I’m not sure. Second of all, the Vineyard intentionally tries to downplay being “showy.” This is what attracts a Continuationists like myself to it. Rather than embracing all of the abuses and excesses that are found in some of other groups, the Vineyard seeks to focus on the “main and the plain” and point people to Jesus, period.
Thirdly, I’m concerned that this answer actually isn’t as biblical as it attempts to be. While Paul most certainly does suggest that love is the primary quality that should be found in the expression of the spiritual gifts, he also gave the following commands (the Greek is in the imperative):
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Cor. 14:1)
“So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (1 Cor. 14:39)
The criticism above creates a false dichotomy. One can pursue spiritual gifts and do it and minister them lovingly.
Lastly, the statement that “the Vineyard Movement promotes exactly these things, encouraging Christians to think of themselves as greater than others by virtue of the sign gifts they believe they possess” is so incorrect I don’t know where to begin. Unlike what I experienced within some Pentecostal denominations, I’ve never walked away from a Vineyard gathering or teaching under the impression that certain people were greater than others. That’s so patently false I’m inclined to almost wonder if the person who wrote this article actually did any research at all.
When we turn to the actual writings of Vineyard leaders, we find the exact opposite of what GotQuestions.org suggests. I encourage readers to consult Naturally Supernatural, Empowered Evangelicals, and Doing Church for representative works that indicate what the Vineyard actually believes regarding this subject. Furthermore, I think many Vineyard pastors would fully agree with how Grudem carefully treats the subject of spiritual gifts in his widely used Systematic Theology.
This very issue is one of the significant differences between Third Wave evangelicals and other Pentecostal/Charismatic groups. After reading GotQuestions.org’s page on the Third Wave, I’m convinced they clearly have no real scholarly understanding of key differences. Rather than read their page, check out Sam Storms’ essay in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today. Even the essays from opposing views in that book are more appropriate than the page we are looking at here.
This is a #CriticismFail.
Questionable Statement #4: “Vineyard Movement adherents also practice what is called “power evangelism,” which they claim is the gospel presented to the unbeliever with an added twist: a demonstration of God’s presence by “signs and wonders” through healings and other miracles.”
Actually, this isn’t a questionable statement. On this one, we’re guilty as charged. We do believe that the proclamation of the gospel often occurs through word, deed, and sign. But this is no different than the apostle Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, Paul told the Thessalonians that his gospel “came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” He also indicated that his character and lifestyle was “proved” among them. This same “model” is found in Romans 15:18-20.
But before Paul, another person set the stage for seeing gospel “preaching” to include both proclamation and demonstration… Jesus. Just read through the book of Luke and you’ll see it all over the place (cf. Luke 8:1; 9:1-2, 11; etc.). One is hard pressed to try and suggest that the NT method of missional praxis did not include both word and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, including healing and demonic deliverance. I’m surprised that’s even still a debate since that issue was settled so long ago in NT scholarship.
That being said, I think that there has been confusion over the issue of whether or not “signs and wonders” must occur. My feeling on that is that they do not, though we should be open to the Spirit’s leading in those situations as he sovereignly empowers people as he wills (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11).
Questionable Statement #5: “The Vineyard Movement increasingly emphasizes the miraculous gifts of the Spirit and de-emphasizes the need to use the gifts of the Spirit as the Bible instructs.”
As with the previous criticisms, there are no references or sources to support this assertion. If, as has already been demonstrated, the Vineyard Movement holds that Scripture is the final authority, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Vineyard churches would agree that the Bible is the primary source of instruction on the use of spiritual gifts. In all my experience with the Vineyard, I’ve never heard the Bible de-emphasized; rather, I’ve actually heard leaders use Scripture to guide people’s doctrine and praxis!
I would like to see some supporting evidence for this statement. Whenever I have heard a Vineyard leader speak on spiritual gifts, Scripture has been the foundation. And since many Third Wave advocates would point to Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today or Carson’s Showing the Spirit as providing serious biblical and theological reflection on how the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are to function, it’s safe to say that this criticism is, like many of the others, untrue.
Questionable Statement #6: “The Vineyard Movement, in its goal to “allow the Spirit to move in ways we do not expect,” has allowed doctrines and practices to infiltrate its ranks to which the Holy Spirit is diametrically opposed.”
I’m unaware of any Christian organization that would state that it does not have the goal of allowing the Holy Spirit to move in ways that are unexpected. Are we to assume that GotQuestions.org does not allow the Spirit to move, based on this criticism?
Unfortunately, we are again left wondering just exactly what “doctrines and practices” have infiltrated our ranks. There is no evidence or explanation. Or are we to understand that being a Continuationist itself is what the Holy Spirit is diametrically opposed?
I think it’s important to mention here that one of the reasons why the Vineyard Movement distanced itself from the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (now called Catch the Fire Toronto) was over this issue. Related to the manifestations that were associated with the “Toronto Blessing,” the Vineyard leadership concluded that,
“We should never promote manifestations in any way, but focus on the main and the 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 falling or shaking. The result of true renewal will be seen in new passion for Jesus, and the words and works of the kingdom.” (Bill Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle, p. 314-15)
As you can read above, the focus should be on the “main and the plain issues of Scripture.”
In closing, I’m thankful that GotQuestions.org goes on to state that “the Vineyard Movement should not be considered a cult.” Yet the criticisms are so misleading, misinformed, and incorrect that it’s hard to take seriously. I hope that they will take the time to either provide some supporting evidence or make a retraction. At the very minimum they could allow readers to know that they take a completely different interpretive position regarding certain issues related to spiritual gifts than Pentecostals, Charismatics, and those who identify with the Third Wave.
Update (03/2014): I’m very encouraged to see that GotQuestions.org has made some huge improvements on their page covering the Vineyard. You’ll notice the absence of many of the objections that I responded to above. They should be commended!