Thru direct mail and radio advertising (on my local NPR station) a church here in town has been campaigning to make me curious about them. I’m a very secular fellow. But I happens to know a lot about abusive cults and so my first question was is this one of those large abusive cult churchs that spring up from time to time. Like, for example, the Boston Church of Christ.
The Internet can be a big help with questions like that. The large older abusive churchs are easy to identify because some of their survivors will post descriptions on the net. Vineyard probably isn’t one of those. But it sure has attracted a lot of analysis and commentary from folks who are interested in mapping out various church theological positions and those who are working to understand the evolution of American Protestantism. Much of that is pretty stern stuff.
For example “Vineyard emphasizes public healing, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), demon depossession, and prophecy.” and the following passage from here.
One obstacle the Vineyard Movement has recently faced deals with the disfellowship of the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (also known as Toronto Blessing ). Over 300,000 people have visited the Toronto branch to experience for themselves the outbreak of “holy laughter.” Holy laughter is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. John Wimber and the Association of Vineyard Churches recognize holy laughter as an important part of their ministry. However, when the Toronto Vineyard started incorporating animal noises as part of the holy laughter experience, Wimber decided that they had gone too far. In 1994, the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church was kicked out of the Vineyard Movement. It was a difficult decision for Wimber to make considering the popularity of this charismatic event and due to the fact that the Vineyard Movement was in such a relatively early stage of development.
Wimber, along with C. Peter Wagner, was one of the founders to what is sometimes called the third wave. These three waves are Pentacostals (1902), the Charasmatics (1960s), and what is sometimes now called the New Aposstolic Reformation(1990s). These guys had a product to sell, a course on how to make your church grow faster. The key advise was to include more “Signs and Wonders” e.g. the glossolalia, demon depossession, and such. Wimber’s innovation was to add a lot of music. He had at one time been a keyboardest for the Rightous brothers.
So one thread here is the charasmatic or evangelical church growth movement. For example the Alpha program who’s signage you see hanging outside lots of churches is a direct decendent of the work of these two guys. The ads on NPR and the direct mailings reflect the increasing sophistication of modern marketing techniques in use by church growth experts such as these.
It isn’t clear to me exactly how much Wagner is still tied into the Vineyard moement. I wish I knew because I find him to be a scary character. He’s very, ah, pragmatic:
“… we ought to see clearly that the end DOES justify the means. What else possible could justify the means? If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method. If, on the other hand, my method is not accomplishing the goal, how can I be justified in continuing to use it?” (C. Peter Wagner, “Your Church Can Grow – Seven Vital Signs Of A Healthy Church”, 1976, pg. 137. – emphasis in original)
He’s really concerned about demons:
Peter Wagner in a symposium on power evangelism at Fuller Seminary affirmed: “Satan delegates high-ranking members of the hierarchy of evil spirits to control nations, regions, cities, tribes, people groups, neighborhoods and other significant social networks of human beings throughout the world. Their major assignment is to prevent God from being glorified in their territory, which they do through directing the activity of lower-ranking demons.” (John D. Robb, “Strategic Praying for Frontier Missions,” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Study Guide, 1997 Edition, Pasadena: William Carey Library,1997), p.1-8.)
You might think this is kind of odd and marginal until you recall
General Jerry Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the following story:
Of a strange, dark mark on a photograph he took of Mogadishu, Somalia, during the Black Hawk Down operation of which he was a part: “Ladies and gentleman, this is your enemy. It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy.”
Life was simpler when I didn’t have to understand these currents in American culture. I prefered a simpler secular view of the world.