One of the most well-known Vineyard churches in the world has announced its withdrawal from the movement. In a statement, the leaders of Anaheim Vineyard said, "We did not take this decision...quickly or lightly, but reverently in the fear of the Lord." The announcement has been heavily criticised by Vineyard USA who described the move as "deeply grievous and unfortunate" and an act of "extreme betrayal". Costa Mitchell, who has been involved in the network for decades and has personal relationships with many of the people affected, explains why Anaheim's decision has caused such widespread upset.
The mother church of the Vineyard movement has not left the building, it has left with the building!
In doing so its leaders, Alan and Kathryn Scott, together with their Board of Trustees, have deeply hurt a worldwide family.
Their decision to remove Anaheim Vineyard from the movement has been reached without conversation or consultation with their church members or their staff (which includes some members of the extended Wimber family). The movement leadership were only informed of the decision at the last moment, and since then attempts to broker on the record meetings between Vineyard USA and Anaheim have failed.
What is the big deal with all this? After all, it's not uncommon for churches to change denomination. Indeed, the very church of which we are speaking started out as part of the Calvary Chapel movement, and left it to become the Yorba Linda (now Anaheim) Vineyard.
Why it matters
Vineyard Anaheim was planted by John and Carol Wimber, who led the Vineyard from the beginning. Their ministry from Anaheim in the 1970s gave rise to a movement of thousands of churches in dozens of countries, and has impacted many Christians (including from other denominations) with its unique ministry style and passion for intimate worship, the teaching of the Kingdom of God and the equipping of every believer.
If the Scotts wanted to leave this historic church - for whatever reason - they could. It wouldn’t be out of the question for Vineyard USA to “send” them (meaning they could be given funds to set up a new independent church). But to take the existing 'mother' church away from its own movement is another matter. The building is itself a key asset; a place which symbolises the safety, the peace and joy of ministry received and equipped for; a place of teaching, salvation, worship and love, acceptance and forgiveness - a place that holds the memory of a leader who has touched millions and changed the course of Church history.
This is personal to me. Anaheim Vineyard is where my wife and I found and were embraced by a family, including the Wimbers all, the Fultons, and their children and grandchildren. My heart, like the many hearts around the world who share the heritage, is broken for that family.
So, although many will say “it’s just a building!” - it’s not. It’s a heart and soul. It’s a family home. Sacred memories wrapped in warm, blessed emotions. And so its sudden removal is like a home invasion, where the effect is not material loss so much as the post-traumatic shock that goes with invasion, the loss of your safe place.
But much, much more than this shock, is the sad, sick feeling arising from the betrayal of the very values of the kingdom of God that brought us to this movement in the first place. Values like the dignity and worth of the individual; the priority of relationships; the respecting of every member as an adult, free to be, to think for themselves and to be heard and seen; value for the equipping of every person to exercise spiritual gifts, and a church where “everyone gets to play”. This is what it means to be a Vineyard person, and by definition, a Vineyard leader. This trust has not been protected. It has been betrayed.
Don't go it alone
The leaders of what was, until last Sunday, the Anaheim Vineyard, have cited the mantra of irresponsible charismatics as justification for their decision (in summary, "The Spirit told us to do it." Read their full statement here).
In their statement, the church says following the Spirit has meant listening to, among other things, "counsel". One wonders where this counsel has come from, given the leaders have left out several key groups of people from their decision making.
I learned many years ago that, if I sin, I should confess and seek forgiveness within the circle of those affected by my sin. Similarly, I believe that discernment of the will of God should be confirmed in the hearts and souls of those affected by the decision we are seeking to make. If the repercussions of my decision will affect my spouse, I should not make the decision alone. If a decision on a pastoral matter affects a group wider than a couple, the wider group should be included. This decision has huge consequences for Vineyard USA. Why weren't they informed earlier?
Discernment of the will of God should be confirmed in the hearts of those affected by the decision we are seeking to make
The Hippie mantra “You do your thing, I’ll do mine” glorified individualism. But the New Testament begs to differ. Something like 95 per cent of the time the pronoun “you” is used in the New Testament it is plural - akin to the American expression “Y’all” (you all). Colossians 3:15, a key verse about discernment, says, “Let the peace of Christ arbitrate...” - the word is taken from the gladiatorial games, and refers to the function of the umpire "…in your hearts, [the peace] to which you are called in the one body.” I am asking the leaders of the now renegade (I use the word advisedly) church that used to be the Anaheim Vineyard: “Which body is that?” To whom do you owe a period of reflection, of discernment, of expression and of confirmation by a corporate sense of the peace of Christ? Does it include the Wimber and Fulton families, who, far from peace, face devastation, pain, trauma and depression? (The God of hope will no doubt heal their hearts, but I mention their state in the context of “letting Christ’s peace arbitrate…") Is it the body of Anaheim Vineyard, whose opinion was never asked, and of which so many are equally traumatised? Is it the wider body of the Vineyard movement in the USA or globally? Or even the worldwide body of Christ, so many of whom share in the pain of our betrayal?
The leaders and the trustees of Anaheim have broken a trust they had promised to protect. The Vineyard will move on to fulfill its purpose in God. Jesus will build his Church, and this sad scar will, by his grace, be turned into a badge of honour. Our prayer is that his grace will defend those who are unwitting victims of that broken trust.