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On Vineyard and the Renewal:
(written 2001)

I attended a Vineyard church for a few years until 1994 when I left. There are quite a few things I could say about my Vineyard experience in specific and the Vineyard denomination in general. I could fill up many pages with my own testimonials and direct experiences, as well as the reports of others.  However, I will crunch it all down the best I can on this one page, by not dredging up alot of specific details.

My purpose for writing about the Vineyard is not to amaze or shock, but rather to acknowledge the fact that there are common patterns of both charismatic immaturity and spiritual abuse in this denomination and others like it.  I know that discussing such a thing at all will offend some, but what should be more offensive than discussing such a thing is the fact that there have been many believers who have suffered personal devastation and spiritual difficulty because of Charismatic immaturity and spiritual abuse. What should be more offensive is that there are excuses and cover-ups for this abuse, rather than acknowledgment of it, repentence, and healing.

At one time in my early Christian walk, I had been convinced to let some cover-ups go on. Since then, I can definitely say that this way of dealing with spiritual abuse does not work. Many people would rather "backslide" to become unbelievers again or would rather become anti-Charismatic instead of participating in shams and cover-ups!  But those who are able to retain their Christianity and their acceptance of the gifts of the Spirit choose a different option. They would rather drop out abusive churches or denominations like the Vineyard in favor of real, practical, bonafide love between Christians. They have learned that pie-in-the-sky, verbal-only, 'love' expressed to God and others only goes so far when it comes to being a real Christian. They would rather be accused of being a "prodigal" or any other vile thing a former fellowship or false pastor might accuse them of, instead of call loveless Christianity "Christian," or instead of saying that spiritual abuse or abuse of any kind is somehow acceptable. They cannot sit by wordlessly as the Word of God is violated by all of these things, and are spurned by their convictions to speak up for the sake of others.

As an "old-timer" (20+ years) 'charismatic-type' Christian, I can assure you that spiritual abuse is not normal for Life in Christ, and is not acceptable to the Spirit of Grace. The gifts of the Spirit do not have to be used for sordid gain (if that exists), they do not have to lift up someone up into spiritual pride, and they do not have to live side by side with total Biblical ignorance.

Jesus admonished us to recognize bad fruit; He did not tell us to be blind to it! Spiritual abuse and the immaturity of ego-driven leaders and their equally ego-driven subjects produces bad fruit. You cannotidentify the fruit and then say it doesn't come from the tree, and you can't say the tree has no root. One thing leads to another, and so a bad tree leads to bad fruit!

The patterns of immaturity and abuse are amazingly uniform in certain groups and denominations, but for now I will not go into why that is and how it is.  Instead, I will keep myself to a brief acknowledgment of the "fruit" of what I found to be Vineyard specific, before I go on to impressions or observations that are renewal specific.

First of all, I must say that within a period of seven years or more (and I believe that is long enough to call it a bonafide pattern), I found the abuse patterns I am going to describe to be very predictable. In fact, I can honestly say that in only a short while after leaving the Vineyard, I could recognize certain 'Vineyard' actions or sayings that were dealt to people during the course of their "Vineyard" abuse tribulation. This was no magic on my part to discerning this--It is honestly because the patterns were so predictable and the sayings or accusations, as well as the way those accusations were carried out against the unsuspecting believer, were so uniform! (and by predictable, I do NOT mean the tactics were patterned after a Biblical 'model'!). People would speak to me during their times of distress whom I had no idea were in a Vineyard at all. They would describe to me the same old familiar symptoms and events, and then they would confirm that they were in a Vineyard upon my asking.  Some who have spoken to me about their decisions to leave the Vineyard have been pastors. Some I was involved with during some part of their recovery process.

That may seem like a hard saying, but we all must apply Biblical principles to our lives if we are to ever stop repeating the mistakes of the past, or if we are ever going to avoid the pitfalls our false belief systems create.  Recovery from any abusive System or anti-Biblical unofficial "model" must not only include the acknowledgment that we were victims and taken advantage of or perhaps even lied to, but must also include a self-examination of our own belief system. This is because we must move away from any ethics or compromises that may have attracted us to an abusive pastor or dynamic in the first place, or that may have kept us entrapped for however long we were in it.

Just as the 'victims' can learn, repent, and redirect their steps, so can their hard task-masters. It is in fact possible for an entire denomination or church to repent. It is rare, but I've seen it happen.  Still, no one should stay in a dynamic that is both inflexible and maintains its own inflexibility by certain edicts. Such edicts include hidden excommunications and other 'final solution' tactics. You just cannot force people's wills and make them change if they don't want to. And if people are that stubborn, then how stubborn do you think the Systems they put into place will be? Those Systems, after all, are just an extension of their own mindset and their own rebellion against the God of Love and His ways!

There are a variety of little head trips that can be played on a person to be sure they are silenced into passivity and a 'positive-only' spiritual paralysis. One of the first of these head trips is to be told that if you discern something, you should just go pray about it in your closet-- a closet equipped with the super-spiritual idea that your prayers will rectify a situation that could better use practical, workable Christianity. Speaking the truth in love is not an option given, and many intercessors are left with the impression that they can change the whole scheme of things without having to actually confront anyone or suffer rejection like Jesus did. If you are of a mind to take Biblical steps, or even if God Himself told you to while you were in your prayer closet, you are given specific, anemic ways of how to go about this. You are told talk to someone as privately as possible, and only in the manner most likely to save their or your ego, regardless of the situation. When they give you the standard silent treatment and curse or slander you as a result of your Biblical attempt to establish Christian-like communication, you could be told it is inappropriate to carry out any more of Jesus’ instructions of Matt. 18: 15-17.  The irony of this is that while you are advised or pressured into this way of doing things, those who would so instruct you practice Matt. 18:15-17 in reverse against you, violating every scriptural precedent available in teaching and practice.  Once you realize what is really happening, it then becomes a sin to even accidently uncover their deeds of darkness, double-talk, or lies.  Others around you are trained or encouraged by example to shun those with weaknesses or confessions or difficulties of any kind, and this plastic smile of pseudo-charismatic happiness serves to lock down the Ultimate Cover-up.  Since people are so proud of their spiritual gifts, anointing, and denomination, it is easy to inappropriately accuse and reject the innocent while also inviting new people (or, victims) to experience the “love” your group is so famous for.

The preceding paragraph may be considered too brutal by some, or too vague by those salivating for tales of the worst of Charismania, or too brief by those who genuinely need more information.  However, I write it in order to give you the reader an idea that I am not naïve as far as charismatic spiritual abuse. Whether it is under the ‘banner’ of any particular group or denomination is of little consequence, for such banners are idols anyhow.

I know that by this time I may have already lost those poor souls who deny charismatic spiritual abuse, because they have been trained (or, more accurately, brainwashed) to never listen to anyone who has anything but ‘positive’ things to say. I want to make clear though that the Vineyard is not the only ‘troubled’ denomination or group in this day and age of lethargic and feel-good 'Christianity', and there would be others to spring up in its place before and after it. People never get tired of institutions and exclusive clubs.  As I write this though, the Vineyard as a whole is one of those institutions that has a good reputation on the inside, but a bad one on the outside. This is one of the natural results of the defense mechanisms of denial and avoidance as blinders for those who are in closed systems, as well as the ‘no talk’ rule which employs in its arsenal a variety of rejections and intimidations for those who dare to have the courage to speak up.

For those who do share amongst themselves what the Lord has shown them, most ex-Vineyardites generally agree that much if not all of the Vineyard denomination is a “personality cult” which has centered around John Wimber up until his death and perhaps even now. Spiritually, this denomination has left her first love and her god is the god of reputation. Some of us came about these revelations by prayer, discernment, and even personal conviction well before any re-enforcing tribulations, and we have already attempted to speak directly to those qualities and dynamics however the Lord has led us. By now, the prevailing spiritual disease is a well-known and discussed fact by those on the outside.  Leaving is commonly acknowledged as the only way to have fellowship on the basis of truth rather than on the basis of superficiality, falsehood, and hypocrisy.

Now if you have survived what I have said thus far about spiritual abuse in the Vineyard, I will temper that by stating that there are dear brothers and sisters in Christ who are therein whom we should not loose sight of.  For the sake of these "little ones" I refuse to assume that all believers in a denomination or group are involved in or aware of the abuse their leaders or other members of their fellowships are perpetuating. Besides, I find it unfair to heap upon any one denomination the burden of every anti-Christ spirit and guilt one might assign. Certainly there are a myriad of cults and errors, and it is the most horrendous spiritual pride and blindness to assign every unclean thing to the scapegoat of your own sectarianistic liking, and then make that your pious campaign against all evil.

In closing, I will give my very brief testimony regarding the Vineyard and 'renewal' in the Vineyard in order to establish a few little-known facts as a first-hand witness.  Although I have many thoughts on what I have seen and known, I will hold some of these to myself for now because much of what I have learned is not only for the Vineyard- concerned audience, of which this page is for. I am also not spending time delineating other people’s observations or testimonies that are similar to my own, because there is no need for confirmation of like testimony over and over again. In fact, I am not giving the horrible details at all of any spiritual abuse deployed--even my own. I am merely making mention of the facts that actions were done toward certain ends, when it came to renewal.

First of all, I will state emphatically that Vineyard spiritual abuse was well established and long-standing prior to the ‘renewal’. I believe this spiritual abuse increased after the renewal only because those who were "stirred up in the gifts" (2 Tim. 1:6) challenged and provoked the forces behind that abuse. Many times, these people whose spiritual gifts were stirred up, were completely unaware of the fact that they were so provocative to any System of abuse.

In spite of any spiritual awakening or a personal ‘revival’ that occurred in the hearts of many, these 'revivals' were oft times quickly silenced by those who made themselves the guardians of the status-quo. Intent as they were on opposing any who might be mature enough or Spirit-filled enough to speak the truth in love, or to study and understand the Bible like never before, or to minister in spiritual gifts without thought of anyone's dictatorship or 'management' as it is called, these immature goats and donkeys cast out or suppressed even the hope of true revival, because, being as disobedient as they were to God's Spirit, it could not come through them.  Afterwards, they kept the false and man-made revival they wanted so badly because it came through them or theirs and they could lay claim to it, package it, take credit for it, and even sell it in different ways. They were turned over to strong delusion. Since they couldn’t discern, they also embraced the false prophets who tickled their ears rather than the true.

That’s the short version of what I've known and learned of in the Vineyard.  Frankly, I'm thankful for the gained knowledge regarding spiritual abuse, for the wisdom to leave, and for my life in Him afterwards. Now that I've done the overview, it is time for some more academic renewal-related details.

It was my observation that early on, in response to accusations about renewal meetings being of the 'New Age,' there was a tragic de-emphasizing of the question of the demonic. Perhaps this is why the phrase 'manifestations of the Spirit' began to be misapplied in the first place. Qualifying every 'manifestation' as being either of God or the flesh reacting to God's presence, was very myopic. The category that was left wide open and unaddressed was that of demons reacting to God's presence, or demonic manifestations. This is more than just a valid consideration. After all Jesus Himself, filled with the Holy Spirit, provoked demonic reactions. So how is it then that the presence of the Holy Spirit in any revival or renewal would not? And no matter what instigated demonic activity, it should have been acknowledged and addressed.

The fruits of this succession of events were as follows: 1) avoidance of the 'demonic' question 2) adding some provocative or questionable definitions for 'manifestations of the Spirit', and 3) teaching as though everything we see 'has to be' from God's Spirit. This, in addition to the underlying incidences of spiritual abuse against many Christians for a variety of excuses, produced predictably sour fruit.  None of this could stand up to either the Word of God or the criticism generated by violating the "fast and loose" applications of the Word of God, and such criticism was well-deserved. (If heeded at all with humility, "checks" from within or without of the organization could have produced a much needed change, but that is neither here nor there)  

Who originally came up with this way of doing things? I do not know, but I did hear and witness for myself, first-hand, the saying and doing of such things by Vineyard 'renewal' speakers and apologetics and leaders, well before the Toronto/Vineyard split, while attending Vineyard renewal functions.  I admit my experience may be considered limited and not necessarily representative of the official Vineyard stand at the time.  At the same time, I would like to say it probably was the unofficial Vineyard stand, by rational deduction and observation alone.  My observations as to these renewal practices were uniform across all of the Vineyard-sponsored renewal meetings I attended, including a few that were in many different locations. Furthermore, the overall avoidance of the subject of 'manifestations' being possibly demonic in nature continued in other forums too: For instance, the New Wine e-mail list that was definitely controlled by Vineyardites. (As a side note, although it was once claimed that the Vineyard churches were not tightly controlled and thus were not a denomination, countless reports have poured in over the years to the contrary.)

In some of the meetings that were sponsored by the Vineyard yet used the training manuals from the Melbourne Tabernacle church of Florida (the same one that has since endured a huge scandal regarding adultery), the ‘trainees’ were actually forbidden to cast out a demon or prophesy any corrective prophecy exposing sin without “prior approval” of the “leadership”. This is against the Scripture (1 Corinth 12:11), and it was very noticeable that these two gifts were considered dangerous enough to reign in and be extra cautious over, and yet there was otherwise an 'anything goes' attitude.

Knowing that in these particular meetings they were basically asking us believers not to function in the gifts that utilized the discernment of the Spirit, I was indeed quite alarmed.  In fact, some spin-off meetings later requested NO prophesying as well as other additional controlling rules. That doesn’t mean people did not ‘break the rules’ at times with the permission of those they prayed over, but of course this does not solve the over-all problem of excessive control of the discernment gifts. In any case, many 'renewal meetings' quickly died off as a result of such over-control.

When I questioned if there was a difference between this training and Toronto's, I was told by other believers that Toronto did not have such stipulations upon these discernment gifts during their renewal training. And unless I fail my reading and comprehension test, Toronto later took the most pastoral and proactive approach I had seen yet in all Vineyard forums regarding deliverance needs in renewal. I am referring especially to the "Spread the Fire" issue, Vol. 1, the same one that reportedly "was the last straw" in offending John Wimber enough to expel them from his organization. Surely if the "exotic manifestations" [as the Association of Vineyard Churches (AVC) called them] were suspect, addressing the demonic by teaching about deliverance and inviting a deliverance minister to their meetings would seem a good place to start, wouldn't it?

My purpose is not to take all the heat off of Toronto for its choices. My point is that, from where I sit here in America, mixed messages within the Vineyard did exist well before TAV (Toronto Airport Vineyard, as it was called then) was expelled from AVC. It was therefore a deception to treat TAV as if it were the source of unscriptural messages and practices alone. In other words, I am quite certain after reading the volumes of messages and information about the subject, that Toronto was a scapegoat for Vineyard embarrassment -- an embarrassment that Vineyard may have created in the first place, since the denomination practiced the same or similar things throughout most of its churches.

Furthermore, and as one final notation, it was my observation that the worst of exposés over the Internet of unScriptural quotes taken from Toronto meetings, were gathered during the time that TAV was still connected to AVC. And again, shortly after the time when Toronto “reconciled” with Vineyard (I read some of the private messages regarding this), reports of the strangest of quotes began to surface again, and again the Vineyard speakers invited to Toronto were the ones quoted.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that vilifying Toronto was a way for the Vineyard denomination to avoid examining its own problems. Indeed, many within the Vineyard seemed to truly believe that once Toronto was "gotten rid of," they would once again be comprised of the perfectly functional fellowships they were before. However, the problem is that they never were the picture of health that they thought they were from the beginning (no hype,... no manipulation). Far from it. Reports of severe problems have continued to this very day (the last one received is at the bottom of our Mail to Author page).

-Teri Lee Earl
See also: "A Little Leaven - Revisited" -- An article about the renewal with many footnotes, by same author
To HarvestNET 'Prophet (un)School' To Revival page

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