The California Conference on Holiness: Kudos and Cautions

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Last week fifty eight people from Bethlehem went to a conference in Anaheim, California called “Holiness Unto the Lord.” It was sponsored by Vineyard Ministries International. The Vineyard movement, led by John Wimber, is characterized by 1) openness to all spiritual gifts for all God’s people, 2) an expectation of supernatural power in the form of special guidance or healing in the ministry of compassion and evangelism, and 3) vital corporate worship. It is different from traditional Pentecostal and Charismatic renewal in 1) minimizing the place of tongues, 2) stressing power evangelism, 3) being rooted in reformed theology, and 4) treating all the gifts as available to all Christians as the need for them arises. The best introduction to the Movement is Power Encounters by Kevin Springer and John Wimber.

I saw at least ten things at this conference that I thank God for and want as part of my life:

  1. The utter necessity of humility in all that is genuine. “God appreciates what He initiates.”
  2. Pressing on to intimacy with Jesus—beyond ministry, and beyond study.
  3. The priority of corporate worship as the source and goal of ministry power.
  4. The confession of sin and the need for a holy life.
  5. The call to base all of life and thought on Scripture.
  6. Openness to God’s presence today in the form of supernatural demonstrations of power.
  7. Recognition of the sovereignty of God in determining if and when any healing or miracle might happen.
  8. Emphasis that extended time in prayer is essential to a life of holiness and power.
  9. An outward focus on evangelism, missions and church planting rather than just a private experience of spiritual chills and thrills.
  10. A spiritual passion—taking things of the Spirit seriously and letting things like television and sports and hobbies etc. fall way to the background of what is exciting in life.

And I saw three things that concern me and that I want to avoid.

  1. The use of “prophetic utterances” (revelatory words from God) in a large worship setting with no provision for testing them (according to 1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 and 1 John 4:1), but instead an encouragement to affirm them immediately with praises without questioning. This not only gives too much authority to the prophecy but also gives too much prominence to the prophet. I sense that it also contributes to the neglect of the proper use of Scripture. Which leads to my second concern.
  2. Misleading ways of handling Scripture. a) I detected throughout the plenary sessions and workshops and writings a tendency to base points on allegorization rather than on clear biblical teachings. For example, one speaker built his message around “the altar, the tent and the well” to teach on sacrifice, sojourning and intimacy. What this does is to create a vagueness that allows numerous references to contemporary movements which may in fact not have a foothold in actual biblical teaching. b) In addition to this there was the problem of using prophetic utterances to provide the clue for interpreting texts. c) And finally there was the apparent use of signs and wonders as the seal of truthfulness instead of the Berean approach of testing all things by Scripture (Acts 17:11).
  3. Weakness in the holiness teaching itself. Little effort was given to careful exposition of the key biblical passages on holiness or righteousness of life. The difference between our standing as holy in Christ (already) and our need to pursue holiness which we do not have (yet) was not clear. The role of “striving” was not clarified. The threats of Scripture to the unholy were neglected. The title of the conference “Holiness Unto the Lord” was not explained.

I believe God is at work in the Vineyard Movement—as in hundreds of other movements today. Oh, that we may be on the Move with God in Minneapolis!

Pastor John