A Season of New Beginnings
Pastor John Wimber, founding leader of the Vineyard Christian Fellowships, wrote this leadership letter in May 1994 about current moves of the Spirit of God in the Vineyard and in other churches around the world including Australia.
What many people in our churches
are experiencing is NOT revival.
But it is the only thing that becomes revival
In recent months the Holy Spirit has been falling in meetings throughout the Vineyard. This season of visitation began about the same time in Toronto, Canada at the Airport Vineyard and in Anaheim, California, then rippled out across America, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and to other parts of the world by now.
As the leader of the Vineyard, I am often asked, ‘What is this?’ and ‘Is this revival?’
My answer is, in my opinion, not yet. But it is the only thing that becomes revival. We’re seeing the early stages of an outpouring of the Spirit of God. Some have estimated that as many as 80,000 individuals have been significantly touched and revived to date [200,000 by February 1995]. It has not yet evolved into what most church historians define as revival: an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the church and then in the aftermath, through the church into the community resulting in the conversion of thousands.
What is revival? I like John White’s definition: ‘an action of God whereby he pours out his Holy Spirit, initially upon the church, and it comes as an alternative to his judgment which is about to fall on the church and on the secular world’ (John White, ‘Prayer and Renewal’ course, Canadian Theological Seminary, 1 July 1991).
True revival is marked by widespread repentance both within the church, and among unbelievers. Although as many as four thousand have been converted to date (in various Vineyard churches by May 1994) we’ve not yet seen the dynamic of thousands and thousands of people coming to Christ rapidly. Of course, that is our prayer and I thought that it would be helpful to review some basic things concerning revival to get us focused.
During the last approximately 17 years God has poured out his Spirit, beginning in what is now called the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim and extending through us to churches all over the United States, Canada and Europe, as well as to other places in the world.
Beginning some time in September of ’76, Bob Fulton, Carol Wimber, Carl Tuttle, along with others, began assembling at the home of Carl Tuttle’s sister. The agenda was simple: praying, worshipping and seeking the Lord. By the time I came several months later, the Spirit of God was already moving powerfully. There was a great brokenness and responsiveness in the hearts of many. This evolved into what became our church on Mother’s Day in 1977.
Soon God began dealing with me about the work of the Spirit related to healing. I began teaching in this area. Over the next year and a half, God began visiting in various and sundry ways. There were words of knowledge, healing, casting out of demons, and conversions.
Later we saw an intensification of this when Lonnie Frisbee came and ministered. Lonnie had been a Calvary Chapel pastor and evangelist, being used mightily in the Jesus People Movement. After our Sunday morning service on Mother’s Day 1979, I was walking out the door behind Lonnie, and the Lord told me, ‘Ask that young man to give his testimony tonight.’ I hadn’t even met him, though I knew who he was and how the Lord had used him in the past. That night, after he gave his testimony, Lonnie asked the Holy Spirit to come and the repercussions were incredible. The Spirit of God literally knocked people to the floor and shook them silly. Many people spoke in tongues, prophesied or had visions.
Then over the next few months, hundreds and hundreds of people came to Christ as the result of the witness of the individuals who were touched that night, and in the aftermath. The church saw approximately 1,700 converted to Christ in a period of about three months.
This evolved into a series of opportunities, beginning in 1980, to minister around the world. Thus the Vineyard renewal ministry and the Vineyard movement were birthed.
Ebbs and flows
By July of 1993, VCF (Vineyard Christian Fellowship) Anaheim had an ongoing interaction with the Holy Spirit in which we’d had ebbs and flows. There were times when we had a great sense of nearness and times in which there seemed to be a withdrawal to some degree. But there was never a time in which God was not willing to bless, heal, deliver and touch people. It just wasn’t with the same intensity that we’d had early on. Sometimes your family may have fillet mignon for dinner, and sometimes you have leftovers. But you still eat, and you’re thankful for whatever it is you have to eat.
Most of you know about the discovery of my cancer in April of 1993 and the ensuing treatment. In July of 1993, right before the International Vineyard Pastor’s Conference began, the Holy Spirit spoke to Carol, my wife. He told her I was to go to the nations. We understood then it meant going to the church in the nations, as over against going to evangelise the lost of the world. This in my mind meant a ministry of renewal and revival.
Carol responded, ‘Lord, my husband is sleeping 20-22 hours a day. He has no voice. Tomorrow pastors from all over the world are going to be here and he won’t even be able to participate. If this is indeed your will, touch him tonight. Please give him his voice back so that he may minister.’
That’s exactly what he did the next morning. I woke up able to speak and with just barely enough energy to go and participate in the conference. It was a very blessed event for me as well as for those that love me in the Vineyard.
By October of 1993 God had spoken 27 times confirming that I should go to the nations. Seventeen times he spoke in the same context and said that this would be a ‘season of new beginnings’. The Lord was saying, ‘I’m going to start it all over again. I’m going to pour out my Spirit in your midst like I did in the beginning…
I felt like Abraham might have felt when he was waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises. The New Testament credits Abraham with not wavering in his faith. He had faith that God was going to do it, but I’m sure Abraham and Sarah had a few moments when they wondered how it was going to come together. (That’s how Ishmael came about.) Anyway, I was looking at my age – 59, going on 90. I was coming through an incredibly tough year with the cancer. The church had endured the season of adversity coming through it with a new sturdiness and strength. I saw a new strength in our movement. I knew God was moving.
But I looked at myself, and thought, I’m out of energy. In my spirit I was just murmuring, ‘Oh God, oh God’. And at that point (mid January) the Lord gave me a word. I heard myself say: Shall I have this pleasure in my old age? The very words that Sarah laughingly said to herself when she overheard the Lord say she was going to have a son from her 90-year-old womb by her 100-year-old husband (Gen. 18:10). This was a word of life from the Lord, and it touched me deeply.
I had brought this message of new beginnings to our AVC (Association of Vineyard Churches) National Board and Council meeting in November of 1993 at Palm Springs. Then the Lord confirmed this word in the hearts and minds of our national leadership. They laid hands on Bob Fulton and me and they blessed us to go, and stir up the church.
At the same meeting John Arnott (from Ontario, Canada) learned how the Holy Spirit had recently powerfully renewed and refreshed Randy Clark (VCF St. Louis) in a meeting conducted by Rodney Howard-Browne in Tulsa, Oklahoma. How the Lord got Randy to Tulsa for a meeting conducted by a South African Pentecostal is a story in itself. Nevertheless, Randy began seeing similar outpourings of the Spirit in his home church and elsewhere as he had occasion to minister. It was as if the ‘times of refreshing’ had begun.
So John Arnott, knowing that a season of new beginnings in the Vineyard was near at hand, and hearing about Randy Clark’s transformed ministry, invited Randy to come to Toronto to minister in his church, as well as to those folks from the surrounding area that would like to attend.
This occurred on 20 January, 1994. Four days of meetings turned into five months [now over a year] of almost nightly meetings in numerous locations in Ontario. It has since poured out through those who have visited there into similar renewal meetings all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and even Europe.
Meanwhile at the Anaheim Vineyard beginning on Sunday, 5 December, 1993, the Holy Spirit told me to stir up the gifts of the Spirit that our people may have a greater hunger for the Giver, Jesus. Throughout the month of December and early January, we set aside nights for that with an ever increasing sense of the Lord’s presence and willingness to bless.
On the afternoon of Sunday, 16 January, 1994, the Holy Spirit gave me the word ‘Pentecost’. I spent the rest of the afternoon asking the Lord what he meant by it. No answer. At that evening’s church service, the Lord gave me a vision of young people in a certain set and order. During the ministry time, from the pulpit I asked the young people to come forward. They did and the Lord came, consuming them in a beautiful and powerful way. It began a significant increase of the outflowing of power at Anaheim that has continued until this writing.
In interaction with leaders and workers across both the United States and Canada, I have encouraged the Arnotts, as well as Randy Clark and others that have been touched by the Spirit and are being used to share with others, to refer to this present visitation of the Spirit in our churches as a ‘refreshing’ or ‘renewal’ rather than a revival. I have no problem with the notion that people are being revived. I just have a problem with our using a term that most evangelicals at least reserve for that phase of revival that is an outpouring, not only on the church but through the church and into the community. The result is the salvation of thousands.
What about the phenomena?
Nearly everything we’ve seen (falling, weeping, laughing, shaking) has been seen before, not only in our own memory, but in revivals all over the world. One of my colleagues on the AVC staff, Steve Holt, has compiled an extremely helpful summary of Jonathan Edwards’ thoughts on the place of physical manifestations and phenomena in the midst of revival.
During the first Great Awakening in America, Edwards was right in the middle of it all. Not only was he a thoughtful participant, and observer, but he applied his keen theological mind to the ‘problem’ of religious enthusiasms, which were the object of much scorn and criticism among the religious establishment. Edwards’ perspective on revival can be very helpful to us as we evaluate some of the manifestations of the Spirit that we see in our meetings. Edwards saw them too, and he developed a very wise counsel regarding it.
Edwards attempted to answer the question, ‘How do we judge whether these phenomena are from God or the Devil? Edwards’ logic is lucid and spiritual, but after 250 years, some of his language is a challenge. The following are his main points in outline from. For further details on the writings of Jonathan Edwards, I refer you to his Complete Works.
1. We do not judge by a part: the way it began, the instruments emphasised, the means used, the methods that have been taken. We judge by the effects upon the people (Isa. 40:13, 14; Jn. 3:8; Isa. 2:17). Edwards reminds us that God often uses the most foolish things to confound the wise.
2. We should judge by the whole of Scripture, not our own personal rules and measures, nor some portion of Scripture. Furthermore, Edwards enjoins us not to judge phenomena negatively just because we have not personally had such an experience.
3. We should distinguish the good from the bad, and not judge the whole by the parts. Summation: We can become so paranoid of extremism that we actually sin by grieving the Holy Spirit and stopping his work. To accomplish his work, God seems more willing at times to tolerate extreme behaviour (that is not clearly sinful) than we are.
4. We should judge by the fruit of the work in general. Edwards could justify in his own mind the extravagance of some in the revival because of the revival’s impact in New England. The Bible was more greatly esteemed; multitudes had been brought to conviction of truth and certainty of the gospel; and the Indians were more open to the gospel than ever before.
5. We should judge by the fruit of the work in particular instances. Edwards wrote of many examples of people who had been transported into the glories of the heavenlies for hours at a time. Great rejoicing, transports (visions and dreams), and trembling have produced an increase in humility, holiness, and purity. Answered prayers became the norm.
6. We should judge by the glory of the work. Edwards passionately called for the church to be seized by the rapture, glory, and enthusiasm of God. In his view, the Great Awakening (with all its various manifestations) was exceedingly glorious in the extraordinary degrees of light, love, and spiritual joy that God had bestowed on great multitudes.
Restoration and Revival
There’s a time of restoration coming. There’s a time of revival coming. There’s an outpouring of the Spirit that’s preparing the hearts and lives of men and women across our country, and around the world. We saw it recently in New Zealand, and in Australia. The Lord poured out his Spirit mightily. We’ve seen it in the Anaheim Vineyard. We’ve seen it across the country. It’s happening wherever there’s receptivity.
Remember, as long as people keep hearing about this, and as long as people keep coming, the Spirit will be poured out. The laughter will bubble forth. So don’t be afraid of it. It indicates the ongoing truth of God’s word. It’s another verification that God is among us. It’s another standard if you will, being lifted up and exalted unto the Lord. It’s his work. It’s not craziness. It’s not people acting weird (Not that they don’t look crazy and seem strange). But it’s appropriate. The Lord is being exalted by his own means. Remember, the Lord says, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ (Isa. 55:8). And God just goes about doing things differently than you or I would.
What do the phenomena mean?
Our theology and experience of revival must be tempered by our understanding of sanctification. Sanctification is the necessary counterpart to justification, or the forgiveness of sins.
I view sanctification as that work of the Holy Spirit that takes place both as ‘a one-time act, valid for all time, imputing and imparting holiness, and as an ongoing, progressive work’ (New Dictionary of Theology, p. 615). In the sense that it’s ongoing, we co-operate with the Holy Spirit.
All Christians need to be cleansed, and dedicated to the service of God (Rom. 12:1-2) and thereby make practical our prayer, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth (and in my life) as it is in heaven.’
Let us not allow ourselves to equate the experience of various manifestations of the Spirit with sanctification. Such experiences may accompany, accent, or provide a milestone on the journey of sanctification, but they are not necessarily the agents of sanctification.
In summary, I believe that this could readily become the revival we’ve all longed for and prayed for. I do not believe that it has reached its full stature yet, but I believe it may be around the corner. People have asked me what I think the next step may be. I’ve said that I know that at some point in time we must give a call to full-scale repentance undergirded by deep and heartfelt contrition. Changed lives and the fruit of true repentance will result.
(c) Vineyard Reflections, May/June 1994. Used with permission.
© Renewal Journal #5: Signs and Wonders, 1995, 2nd edition 2011
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