Hello from Juba, S Sudan…This episode introduces John Wimber to the story of the development of discipleship goals at HTB.

If you’ve grown up with Soul Survivor, New Wine, HTB or Vineyard, done Alpha or even just enjoyed extended singing of charismatic choruses the chances are you have been substantially influenced by John Wimber even if you haven’t come across him. I’m writing from Juba, South Sudan and realised last night that his influence has even stretched here as I recounted stories of New Wine and Soul Survivor with an Archbishop who attended them (as had the head of the University).

In many ways this was one of the most exciting periods in HTB’s history with young professionals like Nicky Gumbel profoundly impacted for the gospel (more on that in a later episode).

The Wimber (‘Third’) Wave

Background

John Wimber’s influence on the Church of England began not long after the closure of the Fountain Trust in 1980 which, as we saw last week, possibly marked a waning in the Renewal movement. Steven states that ‘neither Anglican charismatics or Restorationists could have predicted at the beginning of the 1980s that the Charismatic Movement was about to take a fresh turn.’[1]

David Watson’s annual encounters with Wimber while teaching at Fuller Seminary led to Watson recommending Wimber to Collins. Millar then visited Wimber’s base at Anaheim Vineyard in 1981. As will be seen these connections are seismic in their importance in understanding the emergence of HTB as a movement within the Church of England today.[2] Millar and Watson were quickly kindred spirits with the Californian pastor and both men were electrified by the possibilities of power evangelism which Wimber seemed to model and practice.[3]

Millar and Wimber took to each other ‘like long lost brothers’ and Wimber infused the team at HTB with firstly, a quest for intimacy with the Holy Spirit through some simple worship songs (building on some of their earlier experiences of this with the ‘worship of the kitchen movement’ and Chuck Smith); secondly, a radical challenge to church planting; thirdly, a direct experience of the Holy Spirit at work in healing and prophetic ways; and fourthly, ‘Kingdom Theology.’[4] John Irvine, a curate at the time, remembers him as someone who was just so normal and down to earth and fun to be with. A meeting would happen with scores of people wanting prayer ministry and Wimber would walk off to the nearest burger house to feed himself leaving his young team to complete the ‘spiritual’ work (modelling that the Christian life included both supernatural and natural needs).

Wimber’s impact on those who had already encountered Renewal can be summarised through David Watson’s story. In 1976 Watson published I Believe in Evangelism where ‘he was not really expecting miracles’, yet in 1981, after beginning a friendship with Wimber (that Wimber himself considered ‘fore-ordained’), he wrote Discipleship where he clearly argues that ‘signs and wonders are still available to those who believe.’[5] Wimber’s first large scale conference in the UK was held in Westminster Central Hall in October 1984 which the organiser Douglas Bain described as a ‘major turning point for large sections of the charismatic church.’[6] There were follow up conferences ‘Equipping the Saints for Evangelism in the Power of the Spirit’ in Sheffield, Harrogate, Brighton (twice) and Wembley (twice) over the next two years. Peter Wagner, Wimber’s colleague at Fuller, coined the phrase ‘the Third Wave’ to differentiate this era from the Renewal of the late 1950s/1960s and the Pentecostal Movement before that. This ‘Third Wave’ was characterised by being filled or empowered with the Spirit (rather than ‘baptised’ in deference to Stott’s exegesis) with the aim of releasing all Christians for ‘power healing’ and ‘power evangelism’.[7]

By 1986 his latest visit to the UK would be heralded as ‘New Power for “Bankrupt” Britain’ by the Anglicans for Renewal magazine.[8] Theologians and sociologists gave him a mixed reception. Cartledge is helpful in mapping both the revolutionary significance of Wimber’s visits and the opposition they caused.[9] Hunt is ambivalent in his assessment of Wimber’s ministry and considers it ranged from the ‘constructive and laudably sublime’ to the ‘truly ridiculous’.[10] But despite his critique he agrees that prior to Wimber’s visits the charismatic renewal movement had not just spread out, but also thinned out and thus sees Wimber’s 1983 visit as the beginnings of a theological, pastoral and tactical revolution in many British charismatic churches.[11]

You can see a short taste of Wimber’s ministry here

Values, Teaching and Methodology

Bishop David Pytches, a missionary bishop who had returned from a revival experience in Chile to run the suburban parish of St Andrews Chorleywood, was a key apologist and gatekeeper for Wimber’s ministry in the UK. He interpreted Wimber to an Evangelical Anglican audience as someone following John Stott, Jim Packer and Michael Green in his evangelical theology whilst also influenced by charismatics such as Michael Harper, David Watson and Tom Smail.[12]

But there was a distinctive to Wimber’s teaching which was derived from George Ladd’s Kingdom Theology. This argued that Western Christianity had been squeezed into a mechanistic and rationalistic worldview, but that Jesus came to bring a Kingdom that was supernatural whereby the ‘age to come’ would ‘invade’ this present age, bringing healing, wholeness and heaven. As Jesus brought teaching in word and deed and trained his disciples to do so, so too the church must ‘demonstrate these signs of the Kingdom’ and operate in the power ministries of healing and evangelism.[13]

One of Wimber’s many adages was that ‘for everything you do you need a theology, a model and a practice,’[14] and his success in embedding this theology so deeply into the UK charismatic church was due to his ability to simply model and enable others to practice what he was teaching. As Bishop Stephen Sykes puts it, Wimber ‘needs to be taken more seriously than is apparent in theological circles’, due to his widespread influence and reception.[15]

David Pytches was also key in bringing Wimber’s ministry to the fore in UK, birthing both New Wine and Soul Survivor.

Don Williams, a theologian operating within the Vineyard movement, gives a useful summary. He sees Wimber not as a modernist and therefore not a fundamentalist either. He argues that despite many modernist techniques used in his leadership ‘rationalism had not indoctrinated him’ and that he was more like a pre-modernist than a postmodern. Hence, he was at home in the age that dominated the church and the West before the Enlightenment, inspired by the likes of the miracle performing St Cuthbert. This meant he was able to position the ‘Vineyard’ to bring a spiritual reality to the ‘emerging antimodern ethos of the emerging postmodern age’.[16]

For Williams, Vineyard under Wimber was strongly evangelical theologically, but ‘surprisingly open’, and influenced particularly by five movements in history. He described Vineyard as centre-set with Christ at the centre holding the whole together, as opposed to bounded-set churches where more formal theology, liturgical or ecclesiology might provide the coherence, (as in historic Anglican Evangelicalism). 

The Vineyard Statement of Faith draws on these five movements spanning church history: 1) the Patristic Period – which gives it a Trinitarian orthodoxy; 2) the Reformation – underlining the sufficiency of Christ alone, and the final authority for the written Word of God ‘separating the Vineyard from neoorthodoxy and liberal evangelicalism’; 3) the eighteenth-century awakening – emphasizing new birth, conversion, regeneration and a life of holiness ‘personal sanctification’; 4) the modern missionary movement – driving back the kingdom of Satan by evangelization; 5) the biblical theology movement – essentially George Ladd’s Kingdom Theology that was taught at Fuller Seminary.[17]

Building on this Williams has summarized Wimber’s values as:[18]

1) Evangelistically Driven, 2) Word Driven, 3) Spirit-driven, 4) Prophetically driven, 5) Compassionately driven, 6) Theologically driven, 7) Pragmatically driven, 8) Ecclesiastically driven, 9) Missionally driven and 10) Devotionally driven. The most obvious reflection is that those values are very driven, but he is also able to evidence their efficacy in the Vineyard movement as late as 2005, claiming for example that two out of three churches extended ‘altar calls for salvation’, half the pastors ‘led someone to the Lord’ a few times a year; two-thirds of pastors report that half or more of their 30-45 minute sermons were devoted to biblical exposition; 98% of pastors reported praying in tongues, and 90% of pastors receive or give prophetic revelation more than once a year. In compassion ministries he evidences that Vineyard churches served a million meals each year and that this ministry fuels prayer ministry for healing. 95% of pastors report having seen physical healing in response to prayer and 40% report seeing healing a few times a year. He also concluded that in 2005 Vineyard pastors retained an evangelical normative theology reporting that 98% agreed Christ is the only way to salvation, and that the devil really exists, and 90% agreed or strongly agreed that the bible was ‘inerrant, literally accurate’.

Williams’ understanding of Wimber’s theology was that as a ‘pragmatic American’ Wimber wanted a ‘working theology’, and Ladd’s Kingdom Theology provided him with that. He allowed both for a present expectation of deliverance from evil, and a future aspect that explained why not all were saved or healed. This led him to abandon ‘the triumphalism of much Pentecostal teaching (and its roots in Wesleyan holiness)’, as he ‘realized faith could never force God’s hand’. A key part of his understanding of his signature espoused theologies of ‘power evangelism’ and ‘power healing’ built on John 5:19 as a paradigm, where Jesus ‘could only do what he saw the Father doing.’ He saw his role as joining in, or blessing, what the Father was already doing. In Williams’ view ‘this distinguished his view from an Arminian view of ministry and made him more Calvinistic. It also prepared him for his own bouts with severe illness.’ 

 

Impact on HTB

Wimber’s impact on HTB is also hard to overstate and effects each of the categories of ‘Theology, Model and Practice’. His pneumatology and realised eschatology had a particular impact, and Hunt argues these are enshrined in the Alpha course.[19] He gave a model whereby ambitious clerics could church plant beyond the confines of the Church of England parochial system. Millar took a group of church members to Wimber’s ‘International Pastor’s Conference’ in California annually from 1982-1985.[20] Part of the ‘revolution Wimber brought’, according to Hunt, was in developing homogenous unit principles of church growth (people join churches where there are other people like them), which became enshrined in small homogenous ‘cell’ mid-week discipleship groups.[21] But what, perhaps accidentally, had the biggest impact on theology and discipleship goals in the long term were the new worship practices Wimber helped introduce.

Steven gives a generally helpful (if pointed) description of Wimber’s worship-teaching-ministry methodology which became enshrined into the way HTB and church plants still largely operate. It began with 20 minutes of ‘musically seamless’ sung worship developing from ‘soft rock to items with an emotionally intense ballad melody.’ Worship developed twin themes of responding to the immanence of God in loving adoration and submitting to God’s sovereignty reflected by the prevalence of ‘You’ and ‘Lord’ in the songs.[22] The middle teaching section focused on a rejection of a western materialist mechanical worldview and a proclamation of the Kingdom of God that needed to be expressed in word and deed with disciples actively continuing the Kingdom ministry of Jesus, driving out evil and bringing wholeness and healing. It then culminated in ‘ministry time’ where the announced Kingdom of God is put into practice, ‘overthrowing the controlling power of Satan’ through the prayer ‘Come Holy Spirit’ and the physical, emotional and spiritual responses to that in the congregation.[23]

For many people this brought a whole new freedom to worship, a direct encounter with the Spirit and an expectation that he would do so much more than they could previously have imagined. And it was fun!

One reason Wimber’s influence was so disturbing to the status quo was because this ‘non-liturgical’ worship pattern was introduced by many, including Millar at HTB, into the main services. Renewal had already played a part in taking Evangelical Anglicans away from the ‘Protestant’ anchorage in the Book of Common Prayer as new patterns of worship and liturgies had been devised and simple choruses written. Wimber offered a solution to the problems some of the younger team were perceiving with Anglican liturgy. The Alternative Service Book, while freer that the Book of Common Prayer was still very structured. He offered a format where you just scrapped it. A block of worship followed by extensive encouraging, anecdotal Bible teaching and then a time of ministry was all that was needed to ‘do the stuff’.


[1] Steven, 2002, 25

[2] Cf Mark J. Cartledge. Encountering the Spirit: The Charismatic Tradition. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2007.

[3] Saunders, 1992, 207.

[4] See below for description 

[5] See Saunders and Samson, 1992, 205, 209; also Heard, James. Inside Alpha: Explorations in Evangelism. United States: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010, 8

[6] ARMLink, 35 (Winter 1988/89), 12; see also Steven Worship in the Spirit, 26

[7] See Steven, Worship in the Spirit, 26

[8] Anglicans for Renewal, 27 (Winter 1986) 32. 

[9] op cit.

[10] Hunt 2001, 25

[11] Hunt 2001, 18

[12] Pytches, David Living at the edge, 256-58; 

[13] Wimber’s main explorations of this are found in: Power Evangelism: Sings and Wonders Today, and Power Healing and The Dynamics of Spiritual Growth. See Robert Warren, In the Crucible: The Testing and Growth of A Local Church, 206 for a four part summary of this teaching, and Steven, Worship in the Spirit, 27

[14] Interview, Millar, 17.7.15 Sandy Millar Remembering John Wimber https://www.vineyardchurches.org.uk/resources/remembering-john-wimber/ [accessed 6.1.21]  ‘John’s strength was that he provided the theology. I use it all over world now, if it is not too pretentious to say. If there is anything new in the church, he used to say, you will need a theology for it, a model for it and a practice for it. That is to say, you need to do it. He provided a theology for the song ‘Isn’t He beautiful, Beautiful, Isn’t He?”  Otherwise we would have thought it was wet.’ See also Williams 2005, 167-179

[15] Sykes, 2006, 106.

[16] Don Williams, Theological Perspectives on the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, in Roozen and Nieman (eds) Church Identity and Change Eerdmans 2005, 167. For an alternative take on Wimber see 

[17] Ibid 180-181

[18] Williams, in Roozen and Nieman (eds) Church Identity and Change Eerdmans 2005, 167-179.

[19] Hunt, 2004, 145-158 for full debate on this. 

[20] 28 church members at one time. Interview Millar

[21] Hunt, 2004, ____  In this Hunt is partially wrong in that Millar had been leading such a group at HTB since the start of his curacy in 1976, which had led to many conversions including Caroline Welby. It was the mid-sized pastorate groups that were Wimber’s distinct sociological contribution.  Millar notes that Wimber ‘provided a model to which we could move if we wanted to’.  

[22] Following Percy, 1996, 73-8

[23] Steven, 2002, 28 See also Percy, Words 18