John Wimber (1934-1997), pastor, founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. John Wimber was born and raised in Kirksville, Missouri. A talented singer and keyboard player, Wimber became a full-time musician after a stint in the Army and was for a time the pianist and manager for the Righteous Brothers pop duo. In 1963 Wimber underwent a conversion experience and enrolled at Azusa Pacific College where he majored in Biblical Studies. Upon graduation Wimber was “recorded” (ordained) within the California Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers) and took a position as co-pastor with the Yorba Linda Friends Church.
In 1974 Wimber joined with Fuller Seminary missiologist C. Peter Wagner in creating the Charles E. Fuller Institute, a church growth organization. While with the Fuller Institute, Wimber became fascinated by reports from the Two/Thirds World recounting the impact of healings and other divine signs and wonders. Through his own study and the influence of theologian George Eldon Ladd, Wimber became convinced that the demonstration of the power of the Gospel through miracles always served to validate the preaching of the Word.
In the mid-1970s a fellowship group at Wimber’s church became increasingly dominated by charismatic worship. In 1977 the group was asked to leave and, in association with Chuck Smith‘s Calvary Chapel, opened the Anaheim Vineyard Fellowship. Growth was anemic but healing services began to produce miraculous results. A Mother’s Day, 1978 guest appearance by evangelist Lonnie Frisbee triggered a huge outpouring of charismatic phenomena and the church quickly grew to over 1,500 members.
The impact of the Anaheim revival began to spread to a number of other Calvary Chapel congregations, causing disruption within the Calvary Chapel “family’ of churches, as Smith downplayed charismatic behavior that Wimber’s Vineyard revival was spotlighting. In 1982 a meeting was held and the decision made that Wimber’s group of about forty churches would go its own way with Smith’s blessing.
Over the next few years Vineyard Churches in Toronto and elsewhere would be the epicenters of more controversy over new charismatic manifestations such as “Holy Laughter.” While Wimber initially took a “wait and see” attitude about the revival he eventually moved to rein in the phenomenon. Wimber died of a brain hemorrhage in 1997, but only after having overseen the growth of the Vineyard Fellowship into the most dynamic new force within North American Pentecostalism.
For further reading see Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (California, 1997); Carol Wimber, John Wimber: The Way It Was (Stodder & Houghton, 1999).