The Vineyard is an association of some 120 or more churches linked to the Vineyard Christian fellowship in Anaheim, California, pastored by John Wimber. They are a charismatic group of churches which emphasize their conviction that God wants to perform “signs and wonders” through the church today. Because we have received numerous requests for information about The Vineyard, we are issuing this statement.
It is our conclusion, after several months of extensive research and dialogue, that The Vineyard is a dynamic and fruitful church which preached the historic gospel of Christ and contributes valuably to the body of Christ in many ways. However, we are unable to give The Vineyard an unqualified endorsement, for reasons which shall be stated shortly.
On the positive side, the Vineyard has much to commend it. Their doctrine is quite sound in almost all areas, including the essential doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, and so forth. There is a strong and healthy emphasis on worship, a seriousness about evangelism and discipleship, a sensitivity to people’s spiritual and emotional needs today, a boldness in their expression of faith in God’s power, and an awareness of the body of Christ outside the circle of their own churches. Obviously, a church with all these things going for it is a sound Christian church.
There are, however, some negative things which must be said. For one thing, while there is much teaching in The Vineyard on certain practical matters (marriage and family life, gifts of the Spirit, deliverance, etc.), there appears to be little emphasis on teaching the Bible per se. This lack stands in contrast to the very strong Bible teaching at Calvary Chapel, a church with which The Vineyard was once associated. Moreover, many Vineyard leaders hold to the view that the Bible is infallible in matters of faith and practice, but is not “inerrant” (without error) in all matters of scientific and historical fact. Although this view does not of itself disqualify The Vineyard leaders as evangelicals, it is not a teaching which CRI would endorse. Our conviction is that the Bible is inerrant in all that it says. There is no evidence, however, that the leader’s view of Scripture has led to any erroneous teachings, although it is consistent with their lack of emphasis on Bible teaching.
While Bible teaching is not emphasized enough, the role of experience in the Christian life appears to be somewhat over-emphasized. People in The Vineyard frequently seem to be willing to allow their spiritual experiences to be self-authenticating. They seem too willing to assume that whatever transpires in their midst is from God That is not to say that the leaders do not attempt to show that their experiences are spiritual, but that experience far too often is their starting point.
John Wimber, the pastor of The Vineyard Christian Fellowship, at one time held to the extreme dispensationalist view that the spiritual gifts of healing was meant only for the first-century Christian church. When he saw clear evidence that God heals Christians today, he was forced to reevaluate his theology. Such reevaluation prompted by experience can be healthy, since our understanding of Scripture sometimes is deficient. However, in the case of The Vineyard, the evidence so far suggests that this approach has become the rule, rather than the exception, in seeking an understanding of God’s Word. Out position at CRI is that we must first determine what the Bible teaches, and then judge our experience by the fixed standard of the written Word of God. The Vineyard’s approach is to use the Bible as a means of confirming what they perceive God to be doing. Again, we admit that God can act first, with our understanding coming second; but when this is a consistent practice rather than an exceptional circumstance, experience then threatens to become the real standard.
One apparent symptom of this experience orientation is the fact that certain phenomena have convinced The Vineyard’s leaders (in spite of a lack of solid scriptural support) that Christians can be demonized and may need to have demons “expulsed” or cast out from them. We do not discount the possibility that a Christian can be oppressed by demonic forces as a result of unrepentant sin. However, the New Testament never suggests that a Christian can be “demonized,” or that deliverance from demons is a common means of Christian healing. Rather, spiritual problems in the life of the believer are to be handled through repentance, confession, and walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 7:8-10; John 1:7-10; Galatians 5:16-25). While The
Vineyard is far more cautious and constrained in the practice of deliverance than many other fellowships which stress deliverance from demons, we still see the teaching that Christians can have demons to be, at least, distracting and potentially destructive.
Another disturbing aspect of The Vineyard’s ministry is their lack of any written statement of faith. because Vineyard members come from a variety of denominational backgrounds, the leadership has avoided setting strong doctrinal standards. This de-emphasis of doctrine is also consistent with the leadership of John Wimber and Bob Fulton (pastor of The Vineyard in Yorba Linda, California), whose backgrounds theologically include association with the Quakers, who typically stress the inner experience of God and minimize the need for doctrinal expressions of one’s understanding of God. While we are called to an inward experience of God, we must not neglect doctrine either. The Vineyard would do well to set at least minimum doctrinal standards for its members through a written statement of basic beliefs.
In conclusion, while The Vineyard is a vibrant, sound Christian church, our concern is that Bible teaching and doctrine are de-emphasized, while experience plays too large a role in determining their understanding of God’s Word. At present, we do not regard them as aberrational, nor do we expect them to become such; however, given their emphasis on experience and their “experimental” nature, the potential for drifting away from sound doctrine is there. Our prayer is that God will continue to bless their ministry at the same time leading them to greater faithfulness in the teaching of sound Bible doctrine.