Monday, November 19, 2007

In Remembrance: John Wimber

It's been ten years since John Wimber died. Sam Storms, who knew John personally, writes a thoughtful remembrance. I never knew John personally, but was deeply impacted by his writings.

Wimber was a firm advocate of "the radical middle" between charismatics and evangelicals. While many of the things that would occur in a Vineyard context under John's leadership would be clearly described as "charismatic" by even the most casual observer, John also held strongly to the evangelical emphasis on Scripture, and also grounded everything in a hands-on, "doin' the stuff" authenticity of touching peoples' lives.

Many will recall that John was vehemently against hype and showmanship which characterized (and still does) most charismatic ministry; John was all about being low-key and "normal", even when praying for healing. We often heard the word "authentic" in Vineyard circles long before it became part of the new lexicon of buzzwords for the emerging/missional church.

John stressed ministry to the poor very strongly; if there was any observation/criticism that I had in my early days as a Vineyard pastor, it was that too few Vineyards actually followed Wimber's teaching and example; few had any ministry to the poor, and too many opted to emphasize the spectacular and developed a culture of hype.

One of the things I always appreciated about Wimber was his analogy of not "trimming the bush" too quickly; John would allow the "bush" to grow for a season, not jumping to immediate conclusions about different streams or emphases, but allowing it a chance to produce some fruit. Then, if things appeared to be getting out of sync with Vineyard beliefs and practices, he would "trim the bush" (think: Toronto Blessing).

At times, this would land Wimber and the Vineyard into hot water (think Kansas City Prophets), but I respected and still respect Wimber for trying to remain open and teachable, although also still willing to take action when necessary. And, in reference to the KC Prophets, Wimber would later state that it was a mistake to embrace some of their teachings, and that it had gotten the Vineyard off-track.

Wimber's "Vineyard Genetic Code" was simply:
  • Clear, accurate, Biblical teaching
  • Contemporary worship in the freedom of the Holy Spirit
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation
  • An active small group ministry
  • Ministry to the poor, widows, orphans and those who are broken
  • Physical healing with an emphasis on signs and wonders as seen in the book of Acts
  • A commitment to missions and church planting at home and world missions abroad
  • Unity with the whole body of Christ with a healthy relationship with other local churches
  • Evangelistic outreach
  • Equipping believers in areas such as: discipleship, ministry, family, finances, and serving.
Wimber's books, most notably Power Evangelism and Power Healing, are powerful statements of the necessity of the present power and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the growth and expansion of the Church. I'd recommend giving them another read, or picking them up if you've never read them before.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Miscreants & Misfits

Not so long ago, I had someone come up to me, with the question of how I would "envision apostolic ministry in the 21st century" on their mind. As I've been part of the Vineyard shoal in the larger charismatic pond for the better part of two decades, it's not a question I take lightly. At the same time, it can also be a "run screaming into the woods" type of question, as well.

Although, I must confess that I'm somewhat surprised at the assumption most people seem to make about apostolic ministry – namely, that it involves a pretty powerful anointing coupled with a position of respect, authority, and people submitting to you.

I can't help but think of St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 4 regarding how he was treated by people – and if anyone could confidently assert his/her genuine standing as an Apostle (which I don't believe 99% of those currently trying to posture themselves as modern-day apostles have any claim to), it would have to be the man formerly known as Saul of Tarsus.
"But sometimes I think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor's parade, condemned to die... Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed." (1 Corinthians 4:9a, 10 NLT)
In this passage, where Paul is belabouring the point that elevating one human being over another is a sign of spiritual immaturity and "worldliness", Paul makes it look like being an apostle in the biblical sense is that last “position” anyone would want to aspire to.

I remember someone breathlessly asking a friend of mine, "You and Robby are totally like icebreakers, breaking new territory for the Kingdom! What does that feel like?"

After a moment's pause, my friend responded, "It FEELS like we're strapped TO the icebreaker, getting our faces mashed into the ice over and over again."
"Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world's garbage, like everybody's trash — right up to the present moment." (1 Corinthians 4:11-13 NLT)
Let's see what we’ve got so far…
  • hungry and thirsty
  • not enough clothing
  • enduring beatings
  • homeless
  • working hard at manual labour
  • cursed
  • abused
  • slandered
  • treated like garbage…
The New International Version ends this passage with the phrase "we are the scum of the earth..."; why anyone thinks that being "apostolic" means power and prestige is completely beyond me.So, when asked how I would "envision apostolic ministry in the 21st century", maybe it was a Holy Spirit moment of inspiration behind the immediate answer that came to mind:
"Remember St. Francis of Assisi? Picture St. Francis, walking barefoot in the snow, followed by a small band of brothers, also walking barefoot in the snow, on their way to serve the poor in some village. That's how I would 'envision' apostolic ministry in the 21st century."
We went on to have a great talk, late into the night, about re-envisioning the five-fold ministries (not "offices") of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher through the lenses of a Servant Motif à la Philippians 2:5-11 and John 13:1-17.

Who knows? He may yet become another miscreant with an apostolic bent, but hopefully he'll never equate it with an ivory tower and a cushy job description!