Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Quaker roots of the Vineyard

I don't think most people within the Vineyard realize how much they owe to Quakerism. John Wimber, who was the Vineyard's leader and visionary, had been a Quaker pastor. When he and his wife Carol began experiencing charismatic spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, it threatened to cause a rift in their Quaker church, which was staunchy opposed to such manifestations. The Wimbers left and started their own church, which eventually became the Vineyard. There are now approximately 1500 Vineyard churches worldwide. When the Wimbers left the Quaker church, they brought many of the values and assumptions of Quakerism with them.

It is interesting to ponder... What if the Quaker leadership had embraced what the Wimbers were experiencing, rather than rejected it? The 70's and 80's might have been a time of world-wide Quaker revival.

John Wimber passed away in 1997. A few years later his wife Carol wrote a book entitled The Way It Was, which is a frank and touching account of their lives.

I recently stumbled upon an interview with Carol Wimber that was published in the Vineyard's magazine Cutting Edge way back in 2002. In it, Carol speaks about the influence of Quakerism upon the Vineyard. Here it is in its entirity:

Cutting Edge - Winter 2002 Vol. 6 #1
The Way It Was: The Roots of Vineyard Worship

An interview with Carol Wimber

Vineyard has long been known for its worship. But now nearly two decades since its founding era, many people no longer appreciate the stories and experiences out of which the Vineyard movement—and its worship—grew. So we thought it would be fitting, in an issue devoted to worship and the arts in the church, to revisit those roots from the very beginning.

John Wimber, of course, was the primary founding leader of the Vineyard. It was his influence which profoundly shaped the theology and practice of Vineyard churches from their earliest days until his death in November 1997. When John—a rock’n’roll musician with the Righteous Brothers—was apprehended by God he was, as Christianity Today magazine described him, a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study.”

In John’s first decade as a Christian, he led hundreds of people to Christ. By 1970 he was leading 11 Bible studies that involved more than 500 people, and was eventually asked to lead the Charles E. Fuller Church Growth Institute. He later became an adjunct instructor at Fuller Theological Seminary where his overflowing classes set all-time attendance records. In 1977, John re-entered full-time pastoral ministry to plant Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda.

As John and his new church sought a greater depth in their relationship with God, that pursuit birthed new, contemporary worship songs which seemed to freshly capture a hunger for intimacy with God. The evangelical congregation also experienced a new empowerment by the Holy Spirit, including a significant renewal of spiritual gifts such as healing and prophecy, with large numbers converting to Christ.

The congregation eventually left Calvary Chapel to join a small group of Vineyard churches. Vineyard was a name chosen by Kenn Gulliksen, a prolific church planter in Los Angeles. As John’s church continued to grow, pastors and leaders from the handful of Vineyard churches began looking to John for direction. And the Vineyard movement was born.

Twenty years later there are more than 850 Vineyard churches worldwide, and Vineyard continues to plant scores of new churches every year. Worship and charismatic gifts in a framework of evangelical theology are still hallmarks of the Vineyard, along with a continuing emphasis on God’s mercy, care for the poor, relational authenticity, and overseas missions.

But what was it like in the early days, when John and Carol Wimber had first gotten saved in a small little Quaker church? Why did worship play such a central part of Vineyard from the beginning? What was it God was doing?

We decided to ask Carol Wimber, who was there from the very beginning, to talk with us about it. With her warm and matter-of-fact manner, this is some of what she told us.

If you were to think back about the early distinctives that made Vineyard what it was, what things come to mind?
Primarily, it was just our understanding of what the Christian life was. In the Quaker church in which John and I were saved, there was no higher call than to be a Christian. The man who led us to the Lord used to talk about the responsibility and the wonder that we walked around with the presence of God dwelling in us.

Also, in that Quaker church there was simplicity, and lack of ambition. The man who led us to the Lord was a welder. The foundation of the church was everyday, simple people. They dressed down, they drove Chevys instead of Cadillacs, even though some of them were quite wealthy.

Anybody felt comfortable and welcome in that church. There was no great gap between the clergy and the laity. We didn’t even use those words in the Quaker church. The big thing was whether we would love people, how we led our lives before them, and whether our faith was real. Also, there was a strong sense that we have a responsibility to let Christ live his life in us—that we have an important part to play in this process—and that eventually living that way would be the most natural thing in the world to do.

In those early days of our faith, John quit the music business. I was just a housewife. Nothing felt more important than that we walked with Jesus. Therefore, it affected what we did when we were alone—how we paid our taxes, the way we did business. All the little things. There was a very, very strong sense in all of us that how we lived was before God was everything.

But that approach to discipleship led to other things you weren’t expecting.
Yes. A movement of the Spirit happened in our group—for which generations of Quakers had prayed for years, but had no idea how it would look when it came—and when it did happen, it didn’t really fit with Quaker theology at that time. Of course, if it had happened three hundred years before, in George Fox’s day, it would have been fine!

How did that movement of the Spirit come about?
It started out with a huge hunger for God. Whenever you tell a story about revival, it sounds like there was nothing going on before. But there was. There had been an increased hunger in us for God and for his Word, and also an increased desire to worship. In the Quaker worship, they have what they call “communion.” It’s a time of silence, but if someone has a song from the Lord or a word or a teaching, they are supposed to speak out then. And every once in awhile someone would sing out some beautiful song or have a little short teaching or a little revelation—though they would not have called it that. So we were no strangers to a move of the Spirit—the later outpouring was merely an increase of what had been already happening.

Around that time John had started teaching at Fuller Seminary and was studying churches worldwide, and seeing these kinds of things happening elsewhere. That was kind of an eye-opener for us, to realize that our little Quaker church was not the center of the earth!

Also, when John was first saved, he was walking along an irrigation ditch in an orange grove one day praying, and started praying in tongues. That was a terrible thing to have happen in our lives, at that time. We had seen this divide several other Quaker churches, so we were very wary of it. John just suppressed it and decided it was just a strange, psychological thing that had happened. Then, seven years later, it happened to me! In my sleep. If I had been awake, it would not have happened, but God filled me with the Holy Spirit and I woke up in the middle of the night speaking in tongues. Right at that time, I was teaching a women’s Bible study and John’s work at Fuller was giving him a much broader view of what is of God and what is not, and how you tell the difference. And it all just gave us an increased hunger for God, and in all of our friends, too.

It was, however, causing a big stir in the church, so the head of the Quaker Yearly Meeting in California asked John and I to come and talk to him. He said he understood that we were at the core of this thing that was happening. We said yes, we were. He said, “What’s going to happen in the future?” John was at that time considered the expert on what happens in churches, and he was asking John as an “expert.” He wanted to know, “Will you be able to shut it down?” John said, “Well honestly, I don’t think you can stop this. This is the real thing.” Then the man said, “Well, how do we keep the status quo, then?” and John replied, “I guess you would have to ask us to leave.” And the man sighed and said, “Oh, for the fire without the tongues!”

When we returned we wrote a letter asking them to release a group of us in the church from our membership to do what God was calling us to—which they did, with their blessing. It felt like we were free now to follow hard after God.
With that, we decided since we had the chance to do this any way we wanted, we wanted to see what the Lord would do if we didn’t restrict him. We wanted to not be afraid of Jesus; we wanted to let him have his way with us. We thought, “Well, we don’t have to sing just two hymns and then on to a sermon; let’s just worship our hearts out.” So we used to worship for over an hour before the sermon, and at the end, sometimes longer! We’d bring the children in their pajamas, and they’d just fall asleep. Once all the restraints were removed, we found was that we wanted was to just worship.
How did some of the other things begin happening?

We were having a Bible study with that initial group. John started with the Gospel of Matthew, and every time we came to something where Jesus was healing somebody, he’d teach about it, and then he’d say, “All right, let’s see what the Lord will do.” And sure enough, God would do what the verses had talked about. When we got to Acts and read about God filling them with the Holy Spirit, he said, “Well, let’s just ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit, too.” No hype, no heavy prayers, no nothing. It was more like, “Let’s just relax here and see what God will do.” Before we knew it people were shaking and speaking in tongues.

All of you were really formed by Quakerism a lot more than people realize, weren’t you?
Oh my, yes. The only difference is that we went all the way back to George Fox!

To the earlier, more charismatic Quakers?
Yes, though we had never read Fox’s Journal. Reading it later, we wondered what our contemporaries were so upset about!

What were some other distinctives to Vineyard that developed as you went along?
One thing that developed right away was that we noticed that the songs and hymns which stirred us most were ones that broke into the first person: Do You Know Jesus, My Lord and My Savior? The chorus was, “O, sweet wonder, O sweet wonder, O I adore you, O I adore you.” We were singing directly to Jesus. Those were the songs that made us want to weep, sensing an intimacy with God. We thought, “We’ve got the rest of our lives. Let’s just talk to him, sing to him.”

Then the Lord gave us a scripture that really formed what we would do in our group meetings. The verse was out of 1 Chronicles 16:8-11, where David had brought the ark of the covenant to the tent. We took this as God’s instructions to us: “O give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him, speak of all his wonders. Glory in his holy name. Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. Seek the Lord and his strength. See his face continually.” And that’s what we tried to do in worship. It was a simple thing. That group Bible study eventually did turn into a church. Not that anything changed much, except we did our first under-the-water baptism. But our simple understanding of those marching orders really didn’t change, even when the healings started happening.

Have you seen things shift or change at all over the years with worship in the Vineyard?
In the beginning, we understood that worship wasn’t “for” anything except for the Lord. Sometimes I get the feeling that we’ve shifted a bit to, “We worship in order for this to happen.” Whatever “this” is—a great move of the Spirit, perhaps. Well, that’s the opposite of what we were doing in the early days. We were worshipping simply because God is worthy of worship. The wonderful things that happened were as a result of his presence. But we didn’t worship so that his presence would come.

In some mechanical kind of way?

Right. Or where the big thing becomes, “When is the Spirit going to move?” That wasn’t why we were meeting together. We were meeting together out of love for God. It was odd to us that suddenly in the middle of John teaching a course at Fuller for seasoned missionaries (“MC 511: Signs, Wonders & Church Growth”), the course becomes world-famous and we become the great “healers.” That wasn’t what we were doing. That’s something God did when he showed up. But we got this reputation. So many churches became Vineyards at that time and that was their idea of what a Vineyard was. But that is not what we set about to do. John used to say, “I do what I do. I preach the gospel. I lay hands on the sick. God will heal them or he won’t. I just do what I do, and he does what he does. Shame on me if I don’t do what I do, but he’s responsible for what he does or doesn’t do. We’re just following directions. There’s only one ministry in the world, and that’s the ministry of Jesus.”

John was a simple man in his heart about the way things went. I remember when we had first become Christians and John packed up all of his musical scores and arrangements—his whole life work—and took them to the dump. That was a beautiful thing. He was never going to look at music again. He had laid it down. But then the Holy Spirit started giving him these beautiful songs, which he’d sing, once, twice, and that was it. I used to hear him get up sometimes in the middle of the night and go to the piano and sing these beautiful, beautiful songs, sing them to the Lord, and he never wrote them down or sang them again.

So worship wasn’t ever for anything else than just for the Lord. I think if there was a “secret” to the beginning Vineyard, it was that we were all just living our lives before God, with no sense that the Vineyard was going to be big or that we were going to be “experts” on anything. It was all kind of laughable. We were so aware that we were not the ones who had prayed for revival; we didn’t even know what revival was! It was all those people before us who had prayed. So consequently, we had the sense that what God had poured out on us didn’t belong just to us. It belonged to the whole church. It was like someone gave us a 747 full of stuff and said, “Take this and pass it around.”

What was the relationship between worship and the concern for the poor? Did that come later?
Well, remember, a big value among the Quakers is a concern for the poor, and it’s very plain in the scriptures. And we were reading the Bible as though for the first time, asking the Lord to show us what he was really saying in the passages. And the passages about caring for the poor came with great impact. At the same time, John was visiting a church somewhere in the South, in a very poor area, and this old evangelist with no voice left anymore and who could barely read or write was calling the people back to their first call, which was the call to the poor. But he was calling John for the first time, even though John was supposed to be there as the “expert” from Fuller! John was overwhelmed with the reality of our responsibility. The Gospel is for the poor and the oppressed. The preaching of the gospel among them will be just as effective as it is anywhere else. To John, to be a Christian was to give to the poor. It was just part of it. John died believing that once we separate ministry to the poor from the rest of the Christian life and our life as a church, we’re dead in the water.

As for the values of the Vineyard, it’s not like we came into this thing, all those years ago, with a blueprint in our mind. But John wasn’t afraid to let the bush grow and see what it was before he trimmed it and shaped it—which was hard for those of us that get nervous! But if John hadn’t done it that way, we would have shut the Lord out years ago, for the sake of limiting things to what we understood. It wasn’t like John understood everything and would explain it to us, of course; he didn’t know any more than the rest of us! But he had this kind of calmness and peace and confidence that we don’t need to understand everything. We don’t need to get a teaching down about everything. The Lord knows. And he’ll tell us when it’s necessary.

Were you or John concerned that, as the Vineyard grew, that it would leave behind the heart of things that were part of its early days?
John used to always say that an outpouring has about a twenty-year lifespan. Then things will get too much in cement and we’ll start building monuments to ourselves. He said, “I don’t expect us to be any different. But the Lord is faithful, and he’ll pour out his Spirit again and again. Now it may not be here, but let’s all be watching and listening, and as soon as that happens, let’s go where he is!” If he was disappointed or alarmed, it wasn’t in the same way as it would be for those of us who don’t know that much about the whole church. He had a great respect and regard for the whole Church and believed that the Lord’s hands are on the whole thing. He loved all the Church; he really did. He knew it was possible for a movement to sustain for hundreds of years. Look at the Moravians. But he didn’t have any huge concern that we had to protect anything. He really didn’t think it was that important. He figured our grandchildren would find where the Lord was pouring himself out if the presence of Jesus wasn’t around here anymore.
I think he expected things to change, but he was content to let God do what he’s going to do. You don’t have to understand everything. If you are living your life before Jesus, then his approval is all you need.

Were you ever concerned about the style of worship changing from one generation to the next?
No, as long as it retains the core. John was not a traditionalist. He felt that worship, when it’s coming out of an outpouring of the Spirit, will always be currently applicable to the population. So John wouldn’t fuss about that. Most of our first worship leaders weren’t even musicians. He was more concerned that they follow what my son Chris always used to say to the worship leaders who recorded for VMG: “Lead the people to the throne of God, and then get the hell out of the way.”

There was always that danger that the musicians would get so into things musically that they would leave the people “outside the tent,” so to speak. If there was anything that bothered John, it was that. If songs became so complicated that the ordinary guitar player in a small group or a small church wouldn’t be able to learn it, he would say, “Keep it simple.” Every once in awhile, during some complicated song the worship leader would be trying to play, he’d turn to [Vineyard worship leader] Eddie Espinosa and say, “Whatever happened to Change My Heart, O God?” He was about simplicity in worship, and keeping it focused on Jesus.

From your vantage point now, where would you want to see the Vineyard go now?
I would just like to see people fall in love with Jesus again, or still, or deeper. I think that’s all there is to it. I don’t care how that manifests itself in their churches; if they’re in love with Jesus he’s going to give them something good. I just want the Vineyard to love and follow Jesus. It started that way, and I want it to end that way.

If we are loving Jesus more and more, and we are totally his, and he’s got free reign, then everything that’s supposed to happen in our lives will happen. We don’t need to get all concerned about finding the will of God. As John used to say, “The way in is the way on.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! What a rich post! Thanks so much!

Susan J.

5:03 AM  
Blogger John Potter said...

Great post. Thanks for the history. The big take away from this story is how people seek an authentic relationship with the Lord.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Nancy Thomas said...

Thank you for this post. It fills in some of the gaps in the story of Wimber and the Quakers. My husband and I had some contact with Wimber in the 1990s. He used to refer to the times when the Holy Spirit fell on a group as "the Quaker blessing."

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Hal Thomas said...

Thanks Johan, this history fills in some important blanks for us. Hal Thomas

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Brian Goodwin said...

Only one thing I would add, is that it was really Kenn Gulliksen who started the Vineyard, but when John Wimber left Calvary Chapel, it was John who clearly had more of a leadership calling on his life, so it was easy for Kenn to hand it over to him. Yes, it has more of the flavor of what John's idea of ministry would be, but Vineyard was around when John Wimber's church became one.

2:49 PM  

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