The Vineyard, the Charismatic Church, and the Cults
Source Deception in the Church
Table of Contents
THE VINEYARD, THE CHARISMATIC CHURCH, AND THE CULTS 2
WHY I WRITE 2
THE WALK 3
THE VINEYARD 9
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 10
THE “BLESSING” COMES TO TORONTO 10
THE CHARISMATIC CHURCH 12
SAVED BY GRACE 13
A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT TORONTO 15
THE 15 POINTS OF WALK TEACHING AND PRACTICE 20
WALK TALK 24
RED FLAGS OF DECEPTION 25
CHARACTERISTICS OF A CULTIC MINDSET 30
SPIRITUAL DRUNKENNESS: LAST CALL FOR THE SOBER TO FLEE 33
RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! 38
WHERE THE RIVER OF GOD FLOWS 39
The Vineyard, the Charismatic Church, and the Cults
Why I Write
Long before becoming a born-again Christian in the fall of 2000, I spent 7 years in a cult calling itself the Church of the Living Word, also known as ‘the Walk’, lead by John Robert Stevens. After the Walk, I went to the Vineyard and spent 9 years there from 1989 up until 1998. When I became a Christian in 2000 I was attending a local Charismatic church.
Soon after becoming a Christian I began to notice many similarities between what we had been taught in the Walk – an outright cult – and what was being taught in the Vineyard and Charismatic movements. As a result I started taking a closer look into the teachings of charismatic leadership. I also noticed that there was prevalent within Charismatic/Vineyard churches a ‘mindset’ which was very similar to the type of mindset I found within the cult. I will discuss this ‘cultic mindset’ in more detail later, but for now suffice it to say that I am not referring to specific doctrines, but in the way rank-and-file members relate to the leadership and accept their teachings with little, if any, serious critical evaluation. This cultic-mindset is rampant in the charismatic church today and has resulted in an appalling lack of discernment in that movement.
Charismatic and Vineyard churches are highly autonomous, so I want to be careful not to paint them all with the same broad brush. It is not my purpose to label them all as cults and many of these churches are attended by sincere Christians. However, Charismatic and Vineyard churches as a group embrace the same basic ideas about how the Holy Spirit is working in the church today, and have endorsed the new ‘third wave’ generation of charismatic apostles and prophets as bona-fide spiritual leaders.
Yet many of the sincere Christians who attend these churches have not made a complete or careful examination of the teachings of these apostles and prophets, nor carefully searched the Scriptures to see if they are true. Many of the major beliefs and premises of these prophets and apostles are very similar to (and in some points identical) the heretical teachings taught by the Walk. Furthermore, within the charismatic movement there are pronounced tendencies that are highly cult-like in the way members relate to spiritual leadership and respond to teaching.
What I hope to accomplish in this article is to address the similarity of teaching and mindset between the cult and Charismatic/Vineyard groups. The similarities are not minor, nor are they confined to peripheral issues. It involves almost all of the core doctrines and major beliefs of the charismatic movement.
For 7 years during the 1970’s and early 80’s I was a member of a cult calling itself “The Church of the Living Word”, also known as “The Walk”. It was founded by a man named John Robert Stevens who, it was believed, was the ‘Apostle’ raised up by God to lead the Christian church into the “fullness of the Kingdom of God” on the earth. He taught a blending of Latter Rain doctrine and occult, with enough of a Christian veneer to fool sincere believers who had a hunger for something more than what their traditional church had to offer.
I was immediately attracted by the sense of ‘spiritual’ energy and divine mission they seemed to possess. They had apostles and prophets, just like in the Bible, and they told us that God was doing a new thing and we were “it”. I spent most of my Walk years from 1977 to 1984 as a member of local cell churches in Ontario and Alberta, with frequent trips to larger Walk centers around the US.
The founder of the Walk, John Robert Stevens (JRS), claimed to be the Apostle to the Kingdom. He believed he was receiving the new revelation from God necessary to lead the church into the New ThingGod was bringing, which was the fullness of the Kingdom of God in the Earth before Christ’s return. The Walk was one of the more radical tributaries that flowed out of the Latter Rain revival of the late 40’s and 50’s. Walk doctrine incorporated the worst of the many heresies that came out of the Latter Rain movement, with some of Steven’s own ideas thrown into the mix.
Stevens had been hugely influenced by William Branham during the Latter Rain movement. Branham believed that he was the angel of the seventh church mentioned in the Book of Revelation. He also believed, among other things, that the Word of God was expressed to us not just in the Bible, but in the Zodiac and Egyptian Pyramids, and his teaching was a blending of the occult, spiritism, and the Bible. Stevens picked up many of his ideas from Branham and other Latter Rain teachers and started his own church in 1950, located in the Los Angeles area.
I knew nothing of Walk history at the time, but when I joined in 1977 it had grown to a large network of about 100 churches spread across North America, with a few small groups in Europe and South Africa.
I soon found out that being in the Walk was going to be a whole lot more fun than traditional church life. Walk people took the doctrine of “salvation by faith alone” into interesting new levels. It didn’t matter a whole lot how you lived as long as “your heart was right” and you believed the right things. I didn’t smoke, drink, or visit bars when I joined the Walk, but that all changed. Many Walk members would often frequent bars and strip clubs, drink excessively and generally whoop it up, and I was soon going along with them. This was considered to be a healthy development for me since I was coming from a “religious” background.
In the Walk, one of the biggest hindrances to true spirituality was to have what we termed a “religious spirit”. Being religious was ‘old order’ and would hinder the ability to receive the new revelation coming from JRS. It was believed that one of the best ways to break a religious spirit was to let it all hang out and indulge your fleshly cravings. Indulging and expressing “the flesh” was considered more honest and “being real”, and therefore closer to God than phony, restrictive, “religious” behavior.
So in the topsy-turvy world of the Walk, carnality and sinful indulgence was an accepted route to spirituality. Many of those regarded to be the most spiritually mature were also often the wildest drinkers and party goers. But it was generally agreed that this was perfectly fine, because they were considered spiritually strong enough to handle it.
The Walk was very insular and elitist in the extreme. As far as we were concerned, the Walk was it. We were the embodiment of what God was doing in the earth today, moving towards becoming the manifestation of Christ in the earth with all His power and glory, which would enable us to usher in the new era of Christ’s Kingdom. Anyone who was in tune with God would see this and join our movement. Those who did not see things our way just didn’t have the revelation.
Steven’s would have nothing to do with other denominations and we did not associate at all with other Christian groups. In our view, there was little to be gained by associating with other Christian groups anyway, since we were the ones who had “the revelation”, and if there was more to be given, God would give it to us. We were on God’s cutting edge, leading the way for the “new thing” God was doing in our generation. This elitism, the sense of being on God’s cutting edge, was what attracted most of us to the Walk. We loved the sense of being a part of God’s inner circle.
Violent Intercession and Prophecy Junkies
Our services typically compromised of sitting around in a group listening to the latest tape from Anaheim. We all became prophecy junkies and lived from week to week in eager anticipation of the latest “word.” There was little teaching from the Bible. The pastor/leader was the guy who switched on the tape machine or regurgitated the latest apostolic revelation. After listening to the latest “word” from the Apostle, we would begin to engage the enemy in spiritual warfare through a form of prayer known as “violent intercession”.
Spiritual “violence” was one of the very basic premises behind the Walk, taken from the King James translation of Matthew 11:12. This teaching, generally referred to as “Taking the Kingdom by Violence”, was the concept that the Kingdom would only belong to those who wanted it badly enough to attain a sufficient level of spiritual intensity. (Violence did not mean physical force, but a spiritual intensity.) Only those intense enough would “break through” in the spiritual realm and release the spiritual power necessary to make the word a reality. Intensity of prayer, or “violent intercession”, is what made it happen. This violent intercession was a big part of Walk church meetings. We believed that intensity and forcefulness behind our prayers was required to be effective, so we all worked very hard at building up our intensity by shouting, stomping our feet, and punctuating our demands with slashing hand action (like a sword).
We would typically begin to “intercede” by standing around in a circle after listening to the latest tape. Intercession would often begin by rebuking complacency in God’s people and appropriating the promises with shouts of faith. We would rebuke the Devil and the host of evil beings arrayed against us in the heavenlies.
‘Violent’ intercession comprised of shouting favorite “catch phrases” at God or the Devil. Some typical catch phrases often shouted repeatedly during intercession were:
“We loose the word tonight, Lord!” (With foot stomping.)
“We rebuke all passivity tonight!” (Rapid hand motions slice the air in emphasis.)
“We cast down the enemy and all his lies.”
“We speak the Apostles release today, Lord!”
“We won’t rest until we have the fullness of your Kingdom Lord.”
The intensity of our prayers and faith would “loose the word”. “Loosing the word” was setting its creative power free, and was another major premise of the Walk.
Great emphasis was placed in becoming the “word” through the intensity of our intercession. Attaining greater levels of spirituality depended upon our intensity. We believed we could speak the ‘word’ into existence, and appropriate the reality through prayer and positive confession. “Speaking” a word, such as ‘peace’ or ‘faith’, would impart it. Prayer commonly involved making ‘prophetic declarations’. As we prayed, we would lean forward, rapidly rocking back and forth and stomping the ground with our feet. Prophetic declarations were punctuated with rapid hand action, chopping and slicing through the air. We seldom ever sat or kneeled in prayer, as that made it more difficult to be intense.
The focus of our prayers would be to appropriate for ourselves the latest “truth” revealed by the Apostle and to speak it into being. We would also pray for the Apostle Stevens to have the “Kingdom breakthrough” we were all believing for. It was believed that once we pushed him through to the Kingdom through our intense intercession, he would be able to bring the rest of us into the Kingdom.
The Walk was very militant in tone. The songs, prayers and teachings all had a military air. A lot of Walk teaching revolved around the whole concept of a spiritual army ‘taking the Kingdom by force’, which resulted in prayers that were not about submission to God or seeking His will, but in casting down demonic powers and strongholds in high places. We were very demanding and insistent of our rights as sons of God. Praying in the Walk had little to do with humbly seeking God for His will and submitting to it as most Christians properly understand prayer. No, not us – we demanded the promises! Of course, we believed that it was all according to God’s will as revealed by the Apostle. We were intense prophets, God’s spiritual warriors excitedly taking the Kingdom by storm, not humble servants!
Getting the Revelation
In the Walk, we often talked of “getting the revelation” or “revelation knowledge”. This was a mystical insight that gave us access to spiritual truths, as opposed to informing the intellect through the study of God’s Word. ‘Getting the revelation’ was knowledge of the truth gained through a mystical experience or insight. This method of gaining the truth was considered much more spiritual, and therefore far superior, to mere Bible study. The knowledge of truth was received by direct spiritual insight or impartation, of which the apostle Stevens was the channel. We were expected to accept what Stevens said as direct from God, without criticism. Our own spiritual capacity to receive the truth would confirm it. No need to carefully check the Bible.
There was often much talk and teaching about the necessity of bypassing the mind in order to ‘receive’ the truth. Those who were properly open to God would receive the divine illumination to know the truth of what the Apostle said. We were to have a mystical inner sense that told us what was true. Those who didn’t believe just didn’t have the necessary spiritual ability to receive, and therefore couldn’t “know”.
Possessing the inner mystical ability to “get the revelation” permeated the Walk and it’s teaching, and believing that you had it was essential to joining the Walk. This is a hyper-spiritual way of thinking that becomes very self-authenticating. It provides an almost impermeable defense from any form of criticism, because anyone who questioned us or our teaching just didn’t have the ‘revelation’ and thus could be safely ignored. They were obviously low-wattage Christians, below us on the spiritual scale of things, and we were above quibbling with them. No rational argument from scripture impacted us, because we had moved beyond scripture and entered into the realm of direct knowledge from God. The only scriptures we were interested in were those that seemed to support our beliefs. No one in the Walk ever questioned what Steven’s said, and anyone who did soon left. They were known as “blow-outs” that couldn’t handle the revelation.
Revelation knowledge was in fact what the Walk was all about. God was doing a new thing in the earth, preparing an army that would “break through” into the Kingdom and usher in the reign of Christ in the earth. The Apostle Stevens was the anointed man of God to lead the charge. New revelation was needed for the “new thing”, so God was also raising up prophets and apostles along with Stevens to speak the new, living word of God. A few isolated scripture verses were heavily spiritualized to support this.
Little Christ’s in the Earth
Stevens taught that the Bible text was a dead letter, and it was only alive as it lived in us and the Apostles. The “word made manifest” was common Walk talk. The “Living Word” was revelation knowledge spoken through the Apostle. The word of God was “Living” because living vessels spoke it and it wasn’t just “dead” text in a book. We believed that we could “become the word” as the word became manifest in us. By this, Stevens literally meant that we could become “the Word made flesh” just as Christ was, and become “little Christ’s” in the earth today.
The spoken word was, in practice if not in doctrine, placed on a par with scripture. In fact, most of us in the Walk ignored our Bibles. I seldom ever opened its pages. Why would I? We were getting God’s latest, hottest word straight off the press.
According to Stevens, he never knew when he might receive a sudden, divine impartation of new wisdom. He was receiving such a steady flow of new revelation from the Lord that he often had a small entourage of assistants following him around with tape recorders so that none of his prophetic utterances would be missed.
Stevens often talked about the Devil. He seemed to talk about what the devil was doing as much as what God was doing. Apparently Stevens was so vital to God’s endtime plan, and moving in such a high level of prophetic impartation, that the devil was always after him and giving Stevens a hard time. Stevens always gave the impression that he was in constant life and death spiritual battles with the enemy,and we were always encouraged to pray for him. In fact, praying for him and listening to his tapes was the main focus of our meetings and of the Walk in general.
We often made pilgrimages to the bigger Walk churches in Sepulveda and South Gate, and several other cities around the U.S. The Walk had a large complex in Iowa, just outside of Washington, called Shiloh. This was our major conference center and school of the prophets. It was a huge wooden structure surrounded by corn fields. I spent a couple of summers there, attending conferences and picking corn. Shiloh soon earned a bad reputation with the locals due to the drinking habits of our church members, who liked to patronize the local bars and drink excessively. Many of the local establishments became “off limits” to Walk members because of our drunken behavior.
However, drinking was very popular in the Walk and seen by many as an effective antidote to a ‘religious spirit’. We were always on the guard against religious spirits cropping up in ourselves and others. Religiosity was considered at least as bad, or even worse than, sin. It was often taught that it was better to just sin and be honest, rather than run the risk of being religious.
Once a man joined our group who used to attend a local Pentecostal church. It was the general consensus that this new member had a religious spirit. We were very worried for him, but much to our relief he soon discovered that he liked the taste of beer and took up drinking. We considered that this was a good thing as it was a sign that the religious spirit that had him in bondage was being broken.
Stevens died in the early 1980’s and his widow, Marilyn, took over leadership of the Walk. I left the Walk in 1984. The last time I had any direct contact with former friends in that group was years later, and they were still praying for Stevens to be raised from the dead.
It is not within the scope or purpose of this article to write a complete history of the Walk and it’s doctrines, but I wanted to give you a summary of it’s major teachings, characteristics and mindset, because the same beliefs that Stevens taught in the Walk are surfacing in the Vineyard/Charismatic prophetic movement today. I have included a summary of the major Walk doctrines in a subsequent chapter.
The Walk embodied a hyper-spiritual way of thinking that fosters spiritual pride, making the affected Christian susceptible to all kinds of unbiblical, elitist beliefs. The Walk conditioned it’s adherents to view all the rest of Christianity as a type of religious ‘Babylon’: in spiritual darkness, unable to receive the revelation we had, and therefore abandoned by God. The Walk was it. I remember well a comment Stevens made once that sums up this cultic conditioning very well. He said it in a very off-the-cuff manner, but it expressed the prevalent Walk attitude. “Once you’ve been in the Walk, it ruins you for anything else. You won’t ever be able to return to Babylon.” (Babylon being any church other than the Walk.)
Hyper-spiritual thinking turns a Christian into a spiritual surfer, always wanting to ride a new wave and looking to catch the next big move of God. Such Christians are seldom satisfied with the plain message of the Bible and reaching the lost so that others can be saved. They are more interested in discovering deeper truths or discussing some novel insight. One of the greatest dangers behind this type of thinking is to cause Christians to forget that our main job here on earth is to preach the gospel and teach the basic Word of God so that others can be brought into the faith of Christ. Instead, it sets Christians on a quest for ever higher spiritual experience, raising up great spiritual armies and engaging in high level cosmic warfare.
I left the Walk and joined the Vineyard movement in the late 80’s. The Vineyard is a Charismatic church growth movement characterized by a casual, relaxed atmosphere and an upbeat, modern style of worship music. The Vineyard is at the forefront of a much larger Charismatic revival, lead by the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF), Peter Wagner, Rick Joyner and the new wave of prophets and apostles rising to prominence. The first thing I noticed about the Vineyard was its music and laid-back preaching style. The music was great and the worship went on for extended periods, the dress was casual and it had a coffee bar at the back. I was to remain in the Vineyard for the next 9 years.
I soon discovered there was a reason for the laid back preaching style in the Vineyard: The Vineyard was very laid-back about what it believed. In contrast to the Walk, the Vineyard was very wishy-washy about what it believed and adopted an easy-going approach to the truth. There was lots of warm and fuzzy preaching on God’s love, personal fulfillment, setting and reaching goals, and dreaming big dreams for life. I used to be in sales in the business world, and recognized most of it as repackaged business management-speak and sales motivational teaching that had more to do with Norman Vincent Peal than the Bible.
The Vineyard was very pragmatic in its approach to church growth. We were often developing new ways to reach the community through various out-reach programs, such as door-to-door food give-aways, free barbeques, or pop give-aways on street corners. These things are not wrong in themselves, of course, but for all our good works, there was little Gospel content in what we did. We put a lot of thought into how to reach the community, but little consideration into the content of the message we were reaching them with. Most of our growth came from attracting existing Christians to our church with our popular music and coffee-club atmosphere.
The Vineyard also took a pragmatic approach to truth: whatever worked was OK. What Bible teaching there was usually came in the form of “keys” or “steps” to reaching some personal or group goal, such as realizing your full potential. Lots of teaching centered on the mechanics of various “how-to” methodologies, such as ‘how-to journal’ as a method to hear God. How-to pray for the sick. How-to reach the community. How-to minister and receive inner-healing. How-to discover your spiritual ‘gift mix’. How-to interpret dreams, and so on.
Often, preaching was little more than subjective ramblings about what the speaker “felt” God was currently saying or doing. And always about how much God loved us and how some wonderful new thing was on the horizon. Always couched in very spiritual terms, but it was typically the leader’s opinions of what God was saying at the moment and seldom was there much, if any, Biblical exposition.
In one such very typical service, the entire teaching consisted of gleanings from a secular book on business success that had been written by a Mormon. In another very typical service I recall, the sermon consisted of jokes the Pastor read from a Christian joke book. The only occasions that I can recall in which the pastor actually expounded on the Bible at any length (apart from cherry-picking the occasional, isolated proof text), was when the church started running into the red, and a sermon on tithing was dusted off.
Night of the Living Dead
Even before the ‘Blessing’ hit the Toronto Airport Vineyard in 1994 we were seeing bizarre manifestations in the Vineyard. In the early 90’s, just before 1994 when the ‘laughing revival’ broke out, there was a Vineyard conference in Kitchener that I still think of as “the night of the living dead”. In this conference, when the altar call was given, a large crowd lurched to the front, probably half the auditorium, and started dancing, twisting, gyrating, and hopping at the front as a “blessing” was prayed over them. Vast numbers of people lurched, crawled, staggered and limped around like a mass of grotesque horror flick zombie’s. The room was filled with all manner of freakish, bizarre and even obscene behavior. One girl was on her back in front of the stage, making orgasmic, thrashing and gyrating motions that could only be described as sexual activity.
The Vineyard leaders accepted all this as the moving of the Spirit. The prevailing attitude of the leadership and members was that this was God moving. According to standard Vineyard thinking, the Holy Spirit can do a deep inner work without the mind being informed or knowing what is going on, or without any further knowledge of truth. It was generally acknowledged that some of the bizarre behavior may be demonic in origin, but most of it was the work of the Holy Spirit or the human response to the power of the Holy Spirit at work within. It was believed that the Spirit often worked best and deepest if it could bypass the intellect, and there was no need for the mind to be informed. So we weren’t too concerned because we believed that God was doing a deeper work in them and we simply prayed that God would bless them even more.
The “Blessing” Comes to Toronto
In the Vineyard, adhering to true doctrine was not as important as just being open to whatever the ‘spirit’ wanted to do. For any leader, it was more important to be lead by the spirit, and as long as a ministry seemed to move in that, and could get results (make “stuff” happen, which in our circles meant healings and manifestations) h/she was assumed to be a man or woman of God regardless of the content of their teaching. Whatever they said was accepted as a message from God.
As a result of this mindset, a speaker could say almost anything from a Vineyard pulpit as long as they came packaged with the right charismatic personality and spiritual gifts. In the Vineyard, one of the gravest sins that could be committed was to get too firm on beliefs, since that was considered unloving and divisive. Since questioning a teaching was perceived to be divisive and critical, we seldom ever seriously questioned what was taught or took seriously the Biblical warning to test all teachings and prophetic “words”.
Discernment devolved to the level of feelings, intuitive insight and subjective impressions in which no one could know anything for sure, but certain people (usually the ‘prophetic’ types in our midst) were generally trusted to have the right discernment on issues. This attitude fostered a lack of real discernment among Vineyard leaders which opened the doors wide to a large influx of false teachers and false prophets in the early Nineties. I believe it was this lack of discernment, largely due to Biblical illiteracy, that paved the way for the arrival of the Toronto “Blessing” in 1994.
Early in January of 1994, I heard that revival had broken out in the Toronto Vineyard and we went up to check it out. Our Vineyard was within an hours drive. Many friends from our Vineyard church also went up that night. We entered the meeting room and I was stunned by the bizarre scene that opened up before us. It was pandemonium everywhere. The large room was crowded with people shaking, bobbing, running on the spot and flapping their arms.
I didn’t get the “Blessing” that night, but many of my friends did. I walked up to one friend, a worship leader from our church, who was running frantically on the spot and flapping his hands. I asked him what he thought was happening and how he felt. He had no explanation, only a smile, and he couldn’t stop the running or hand flapping.
I attended several Toronto meetings. Although the leaders would often say that the manifestations where not what it was all about, that’s what they mostly talked about and they held them up as the proof of God’s moving in our midst. It was obvious that the manifestations were the big drawing card. After an extended time of worship, there would be a testimony time in which the leader would interview people up front about what they felt God was doing within them.
Manifestations often started during worship, but became very pronounced during testimony time, and the leaders would go with “whatever God was doing in our midst” and allow almost anything to happen. Often there was no time left for preaching. But that was never an issue, because we were not going up to hear the Word. Soon, the thing was to double over making gasping or mooing noises. From that time on, there was a lot of “mmmooooooing”, “wwhhooooing” and “ooooooing” in Vineyard meetings.
One Vineyard service I remember at a church north of Toronto was very typical. It was more like a drunken party than a church service. The chairs had been cleared away so that the middle was open. The congregation stood around and danced to loud rock “worship” music. Many at the front were falling over each other. As they touched each other, they would get “blessed” and double over, collapsing in a heap, arm in arm. Communion was served as a women danced through the crowd with a tray serving glasses of grape juice to other dancers on the floor. We were there until after 10:30 at night, and still the worship and dancing continued and no one preached. I stood in the back, not dancing.
At this time, and for several years, I was decidedly pro-Toronto Blessing, as the renewal came to be known. I didn’t understand what was going on, but decided that if that’s how God wanted to move, then that was fine by me. Who was I to question God? It never occurred to me to open my Bible and test what was going on against the Word. The mystical education I received in the Walk set me up perfectly to accept the Toronto Blessing without question.
I had been taught in the Walk to accept that God could do things that did not line up with the written Word. Now, in the Vineyard we had Prophets who were getting a steady stream of messages from God who could interpret what was going on for us, even though we did not know what the Bible taught on such matters.
So I went with it, and criticized the critics for being closed to what the Spirit was doing. I considered that those “old order Pharisees” just couldn’t handle it when God wanted to do something fresh in another group like ours. They just didn’t understand what God was doing in our midst. If they’d just open up their hearts to the Spirit, then they would understand that this was really God. But they couldn’t do that because they were “religious” and narrow minded. This pretty much summed up my attitude and the prevalent attitude of the pro-Toronto crowd.
In the Walk we were used to accusations from other church groups of being a cult, and we all learned how to deal with that without letting it get to us. Didn’t Ishmael always persecute the true Isaac? Didn’t the old order always misunderstand the new thing God does? Were not the true prophets persecuted? So when other Christian groups began to question the Toronto Blessing and raise many serious and legitimate theological concerns, I already had the necessary psychological defenses in place to dismiss them out of hand – without ever stopping to think for even a moment that they just may have a point!
The Charismatic Church
During the mid to late 90’s, I was involved in a new Vineyard church plant in our community. However, by 1998 the church plant fizzled and I began attending a local Charismatic church. But I still considered myself to be a part of the Vineyard and continued to move socially in Vineyard circles for a few more years.
The 2 years that followed were the worst of my life. Looking back on it now, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, because the Lord used it to finally bring me to Himself in real surrender and conversion. Faithful are His afflictions.
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
I was in the deep black pit of despair and saw no way out. A small software company I had started with a friend a few years earlier was in deep trouble. A large business deal I had made with a big distributor turned sour and threatened to bankrupt me, and I became embroiled in a lengthy and expensive lawsuit. My marriage was in trouble and was heading for the rocks. I struggled on until finally, in the summer of 2000 I hit bottom, financially, emotionally and spiritually. My business was a failure. I was out of work and saddled with a huge debt. The lawsuit continued to grind on with no end in sight. I owed more money than I ever hoped to pay off, and began to look into bankruptcy proceedings.
Late one night in September of 2000, I was laying awake in bed worrying about my debt, the lawsuit, my marriage and how everything in my life had gone terribly wrong. I didn’t know where to turn. I thought I was a good Christian and couldn’t understand why my life was falling apart.
As I laid there reviewing my life, I began to realize that even though I considered myself a good person and I believed in God in an intellectual way, Jesus was not the Lord of my life. I was still in control of my life and I was not living for Him. I had never given Him my life and entrusted myself completely to Him, and I was afraid of what He might do if I did. I had never given up my will and desires. I did not believe that His way really was better than mine. That night I saw my unbelief and lack of trust in Christ for the sin that it was.
Saved by Grace
At around 2 AM I got up and went downstairs to the living room so I wouldn’t wake my wife, and got on my knees and began to pray and call out to God. I began by confessing all my sins that I was aware of and repenting of them, asking Him to forgive me and help me to change. I confessed especially my sin of unbelief and rebellion by not trusting Him to direct my life. I repented of my fear of what He may do with my life, and I handed my life fully over to Him, asking Him to come and be the Lord of my life and take charge completely.
I don’t remember what words I used exactly, but this in a nutshell was how I prayed. The key was surrendering control of my life over to His Lordship. I confessed that I was still a sinner because I was in control and essentially doing things my way. I repented of this, and surrendered my will and ambitions over to Christ and committed myself to doing what He wanted, no matter what. I asked for His help to do this as I knew I couldn’t live the Christian life without His strength. I prayed like this for a long while, and then went back to bed.
I don’t recall feeling anything in particular while I was praying, but I soon noticed that a change took place inside me that surprised me. I became spiritually alive in a way that I had never experienced before. I had a new inner life and strength, freedom from many sins that had plagued me, and a real inner peace that I had never known. I also found a new power to resist and overcome sin. I was by no means perfect, but I had a new strength and power over sin which I previously didn’t have. Worldly interests faded and I lost interest in the usual entertainment with which I used to occupy my free time. It now seemed to me to be such a colossal waste of time, and even sinful. Instead, I much preferred to spend my free time in prayer, studying the Scriptures, or with my family and other good tasks which pleased the Lord. But probably the most significant change was a great inner peace which I had never before known. Christians through the ages have referred to this change as regeneration, conversion, the new birth, or being born-again.
One of the first things I noticed after my conversion was that I had a new love for His Word and a passion for the truth. I hadn’t read the Bible for years because I never got very much out of it, but immediately after my prayer of commitment to Christ, I found a new love and pleasure in the Word. His Book came to life for me in a way that I had never experienced before, and I began to spend hours reading it.
Also, I began to pray and soon made a habit of getting up early each morning so I could pray before going to work. One of the first things the Lord taught me after my conversion was the importance of spending time alone with Him everyday to maintain and grow in the life of His Spirit. This is how we grow deeper in Him so that we can continually receive His life and not dry up. It is the only way to grow in personal knowledge of Him.
One of the most delightful aspects of repentance and coming to faith in Christ is the spiritual reality that begins on a personal level with the Savior. Life changes from the inside, and it is truly a new life. One of the several changes that took place for me, and I believe for anyone truly regenerate, is a new love for God’s Word. I had a new hunger for the Word, and I could not get enough of God’s truth. I started to devour the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. And this is when my trouble with the charismatic church started.
Soon after my conversion I became appalled at the backslidden condition of the church and horrified over its spiritual squalor. For months I was in an agony over the state of the church. The preaching in the Charismatic church I was attending at the time of my conversion was mostly hype, froth and vacuous enthusiasm with little substance. It reminded me of the motivational seminars I used to attend while in business. Yet the people all thought it was wonderful and wanted more. It was a nightmare.
Neither did I understand why most of the people were spiritually dry or even depressed. There was a revolving door at the altar as the people continually went forward for a ‘fresh touch’ to pick them up out of their spiritual slump week after week. I soon realized that most of them knew little about daily quiet time alone with Christ and as a result did not have a very good connection Him. They were trying to get what life they could second hand from others. And I was appalled that the church leaders seemed blind to this situation, and were not teaching the people the crucial importance of getting alone with God every day to pray and read the Bible.
A generation ago, in born-again circles daily quiet time alone with God was considered basic to the Christian life, and neglecting time alone with Him was a sign of back-sliding. This is no longer the case. Today, the church in general is so backslidden and lukewarm, that those who are in the habit of turning of their TV sets and making real time for God each day look like flaming radicals. During a breakfast meeting one morning a few months after my conversion, I told the Pastor of our Charismatic church about my new found joys in quiet time and the new life in Christ I found in it. He only had this word of warning for me: “Don’t turn into a hermit”.
My outward circumstance didn’t change for a long time, and in some ways even got worse, but I felt a Peace that defied explanation. I knew that everything was in God’s hands and I wasn’t worried or anxious. I knew I was where He wanted me to be and that He would take care of me and see me through. However, it was still a long time before there were any visible changes in my external circumstances. The debts were still there and the legal battle continued. Then, about 8 months after my conversion, I lost my job and entered a period of very erratic employment. But I can honestly say that His peace carried me through it all, and I felt perfectly at rest in Him. I did not feel much anxiety over it. I knew He was in control and that if He was allowing these things, then He had a very good reason for it whether I understood or not. All along, God was more concerned with teaching me something rather than simply snapping His fingers to make everything better. Eventually He did rescue me, more wonderfully than I could have imagined, but only after I had learned the lessons He had for me.
A Few Questions about Toronto
Up until my conversion I was still very pro-Toronto Revival, even though I had some questions and had not done a thorough search of the scriptures. I was still of the opinion that we shouldn’t run the risk of going against God by asking questions. But it wasn’t long after my own renewal in Christ that I started to have some serious questions about the Toronto Blessing (TB). There were too many stark contrasts between what I was seeing in the Word and what these TB people were experiencing. I didn’t think that everyone had to experience God the same way I did, but there were too many differences that seemed to be of such a fundamental nature as revealed in the Word that I started to question whether it was really the same spirit at work.
One question I couldn’t wrap my head around was – why did Christians have to receive the Spirit from another person? Christians, supposedly already born-again and having the Spirit, were continually going to Toronto Blessing renewal conferences to receive a further blessing (‘fresh touch’) from the hands of someone who had “it”. Then, once someone had the TB, they could in turn pass it on to others.
This requirement seemed to me to be at odds with the Word and nature of the Holy Spirit, as well as my own experience. Was not the way into the Holy of Holies made for all of us in Christ? To enter in, all we had to do was retire to our private prayer closet. Why did all these Christians need some “Holy Ghost Bartender” to dispense a blessing? Didn’t Jesus say that “Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures have said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:38) We shouldn’t need anyone to touch us in order to receive from God. All we have to do was get alone with Him.
We shouldn’t need to work ourselves up, get hyped or pumped at a conference by great music in order to receive. According to the New Testament, we no longer need “anointed” worship leaders to usher in the presence of God. Didn’t the Bible say that we no longer had to go to a certain location to enter His presence and that He was with us in our prayer closet? Why then this mad stampede to Toronto to get “it”? These “Toronto” people talked as if they didn’t know how to meet God at all apart from getting zapped at a conference. Whatever it was, it seemed to require all kinds of just the right externals to make it happen: it required the right music, “anointed” worship leaders, charismatic speakers and receptive crowds in order for “it” to happen. It all made me wonder exactly what “it” was that they were getting.
Another thing that struck me as contrary to the Word was that the TB was being passed on to others indiscriminately. It was anyone’s for the asking, no strings attached. The TB leaders were praying for everyone who lined up along the tapped line to receive the Holy Spirit. The only requirement seemed to be the desire to have it. There was no call to holiness, confession of sin and repentance. Again, this seemed to contradict the Bible in many ways.
TB people were often told not to pray, as it hindered their ability to receive the “blessing”. Instead, they were often counseled to remain silent and just be open to receive.  This made no sense to me at all. How could praying ever hinder the Holy Spirit?
Also, why the drunken behavior and loss of control that totally contradicted everything the Word had to say about the Spirit of God? I had spent weeks in a very manifest, tangible sense of His presence after my conversion and I came away from the experience with a greater understanding and renewed love for the great truths of the Bible. Never once did I lose control or feel “drunk”. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of clarity and sobriety, of truth and wisdom, Who comes to give us greater knowledge of Christ through an increased understanding of His Word. But these revival drunks were descending into a mindless stupor as they staggered around in a fog, falling over each other. The drunks gained no greater love for the Word as a result of their so-called meeting with God. All they wanted was “more, Lord, more”.
This was in total contrast to my own experience of God’s presence, which was marked by great clarity and left me with a greater love for the written Word and a new joy in reading it. I saw old, familiar Bible truths in a new, clear light that made them fresh and amazingly wonderful.
I pondered these and many other questions for a long while. I had a lot of questions and few answers. So much of what I was seeing in Toronto Vineyard and Charismatic circles just didn’t line up with the Word or the nature of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Word.
Although I had been in the Vineyard when John Wimber embraced Paul Cain and the Kansas City Prophets and introduced them into the church, I didn’t know much about them or what they taught. The Vineyard accepted them and I had many friends who held them in high regard, so I assumed they must be all right. But not long after I was converted, I decided it was time to check into the charismatic prophets and teachings for myself.
I decided to start with Rick Joyner’s teaching and messages, since many of my friends held him in high regard and he seemed to be one of the top “Prophets”. I started reading his stuff, with an open mind since I had no real opinions about him either way. In fact, if anything, I started with a bias in favour of Joyner because I had heard nothing but good about him in Vineyard circles and I had no reason as yet to think otherwise. Soon, my research over the weeks and months spread to the many ministries associated with him: Peter Wagner, Bob Jones, Paul Cain and the Kansas City prophets. For ease of use, I’ll refer to this group as the Third Wave.
As I looked into the teachings of the Charismatic leaders and prophets, I was startled to find out that they believed the same things we believed in the cult. Also, the overall tone and flavor of their prophesying and prophetic lingo was familiar. It sounded too much like the Walk, and I got a bad dose of déjà vu as I realized that the prophets and leaders of the Vineyard and Charismatic movements were teaching the same things we believed in the Walk.
I began making a list of the similarities between the Walk and the Third Wave, a list which eventually reached over 50 items. I later developed these points into a list of ‘Red Flag’ symptoms of deception.There were far too many heretical teachings in common to be coincidental, so I started looking into historical roots. As a result of this research I learned that they shared the same Latter Rain roots. The same Latter Rain doctrines and teachers which had influenced John Robert Stevens had also influenced Paul Cain, the Kansas City Prophets, and many others who influenced the Vineyard. But this time it was not on the fringes of Christianity like the Walk, but leading the prophetic revival sweeping the Vineyard/Charismatic church.
Another question still nagged at me: Was the Laughing Revival a real move of the Holy Spirit or not? So one night in December of 2001 I sat down with my Bible and concordance. I decided the best place to start was with spiritual drunkenness, since this was one of the most prominent manifestations touted by revival leaders as a sign of the Holy Spirit. I read through all the scriptures that talked about drunkenness, cross referencing any related words that came up, such as “staggering”.
I was surprised at how much the Bible had to say on spiritual drunkenness, and just as shocked at how overwhelmingly negative it was. The Bible teaching on drunkenness, spiritual or otherwise, is notable in its overwhelming condemnation of it. In no place does the Bible ever suggest that “spiritual drunkenness” is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but quite to the contrary, is a sign of spiritual delusion and blindness. Drunken behavior is universally condemned as sinful, and therefore could not be the work of the Holy Spirit. There may be some gray areas in the Bible, but this is not one of them.
Learning to Be Berean
I remember the Vineyard revival leaders telling us not to be afraid of being deceived. In fact, we were often told that we should be more afraid of missing out on what God is doing than in being deceived. According to them, God wouldn’t let us be deceived. But now I understood why Jesus and Paul so often expressed concern that we be not deceived. As I studied the Bible, I began to see in the Word how and why deception happens. In a nutshell, it is often due to Biblical illiteracy.
Many Christians are misled because they lack a ‘Berean’ like diligence to “examine the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bible calls them “more noble” for this diligent regard for the Word. Paul welcomed this Berean spirit. I wonder why the so-called apostles and prophets today don’t appreciate it. Today they call it ‘religious’, fault finding, critical, divisive, and warn such people that they risk being judged by God. Revival leaders seldom miss an opportunity to mock what they regard as a ‘religious spirit’, which in their view is anyone who is less than enthusiastic about their movement.
Judging teaching is not judging the person. We are not to judge the person, as far as judging their hearts, motives or sincerity. We cannot know those things, but it is a Biblical injunction to judge their teaching and reject those who bring false doctrine. We are to test all prophecies (I John 4:1, 1 Cor. 14:29), test the apostles (Rev. 2:2) and evaluate all teaching (2 John 9-11), to list but a few verses. We are to test all of them, and ignore the false ones all together.
This article is not about heresy hunting. We have the God given duty and responsibility to challenge error and in love warn those caught up in it. God holds us responsible if we don’t.
There is no doubt that the Walk was a cult. Cult experts are agreed on that and the same cultic tendencies and ideas we had in the Walk are being embraced by Vineyard and Charismatic circles: end-time elitism, Apostolic restoration, mysticism, exaltation of the prophetic and revelatory word, mindless acquiescence to prophetic leadership and directives, marginalization of Scripture, to name but a few.
‘Bereans’ who check teachings against the Word are no longer called ‘noble’, but labeled Jezebels, fault finders, and accusers of the brethren. Christians are becoming Biblical illiterates and as a result easy prey for anything that comes along that looks spiritual. They have lost their love for the written Word and are out for an experience. This lack of discernment, especially among Vineyard leaders, is one of the single biggest reasons false prophets and teachers have gained such easy access into the church to spread their heresy. Lack of discernment in the church turns it into a buffet for demonic spirits to feast upon.
Many church goers today are religious consumers who sit passively through the preaching, accepting what is said with little critical thought – much like watching TV. Truth isn’t as important as great worship music and the right religious feeling. As a result, today a prophet or teacher can say almost anything and get away with it as long as they say it with a bright smile, sound ‘loving’, and appear to have the right kind of personality. Getting too sticky about the truth is considered divisive and unloving.
The Vineyard went along with what John Wimber said because it was he who said it and they had placed their confidence in him as a man of God. Few of us, including myself, ever checked our Bibles carefully beyond the proof text given. This is devotion to a person over the objective truth of the Bible, and is the essence of a cultic mindset. We see this in churches whenever people passively accept what is being taught without checking the scriptures: the primary criteria being that the speaker displays all the charismatic trappings of someone moving in the Spirit. No one wants to believe that the smiling, loving, charismatic figure on the platform is preaching heresy and might be a false prophet.
The 15 Points of Walk Teaching and Practice
The following 15 points define the major teachings of the Walk. This is not an attempt to create an exhaustive description of all Walk theology. For a more complete look into Walk theology and history, please see the unpublished manuscript on the Walk by the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. As a former member of the Walk for over 7 years, I can attest that this report by the SCP is a very accurate and fair description of that cult.
I have placed an asterisk (*) beside each point of Walk teaching that has an equivalent in the charismatic/prophetic movement. The exact terminology may differ, but the ideas are essentially the same.
End-Time Elitism (Elijah Company). (*)
In the Walk it was known as the “Manchild Company”. Over the years this doctrine has also been known as “The Manifested Sons of God” (MSOG). This was one of the major heresies to come out of the Latter Rain, and has been picked up and repackaged over the years by various charismatic and prophetic groups. They will be an elite class of spiritual warriors with the power and anointing to lead the church to where it should be, establish the Kingdom of God and even inaugurate Christ’s reign on earth. It can take on a wide range of flavours and meanings, from a super-anointing on a spiritually empowered elite to “little Christ’s” – manifestations of Christ incarnate. The Joel’s Army (Gideon’s Army, Elijah Company) talk in charismatic prophetic circles is essentially the same idea.
This was one of the major premises behind the Walk, and Stevens taught a very extreme flavour of this concept. His followers could become the Word of God made flesh in the same sense Christ was. This was essentially the meaning behind the term “Living Word” as used in the name of his church: physical expressions of the Word like Christ. They could become ‘little Christs’ who will have the power of God surpassing anything ever seen before in the church. Many even saw this as possibly representing a spiritual second coming of Christ in the group before He returns physically.
Kingdom Now/Dominion Theology. (*)
Often coined “Kingdom Breakthrough”. The victorious church, lead by the spiritual elite (The Manchild Company) will establish the Kingdom of God on Earth before Christ physically returns. “Breaking through” into the Kingdom was in fact what the Walk was all about. The Walk’s entire reason for existence was to push Stevens into the Kingdom, mostly through the prayer of “violent intercession”. Once in the Kingdom, Stevens would bring the rest of the Walk in, by “imparting” it to his followers. Sort of a push/pull approach. The Walk would push Stevens in, and then Stevens would pull the rest in. Stevens was often likened to the point of the spear, with the Walk as the shaft, that would be thrust into the Kingdom level and achieve “Kingdom breakthrough”.
“Violence” was common Walk verbiage for the level of spiritual intensity required to achieve Kingdom breakthrough. The Kingdom was a new spiritual level that the church needed to attain, and only those who were intense enough could breakthrough into it. This required very intense prayer known as ‘violent intercession’. Passivity – lacking the necessary spiritual intensity – was seen as one of the greatest threats to the success of the Walk. Stevens and Walk leaders would often rant against passivity. It was a grave offense to be passive, and members were always being exhorted to rise up into greater levels of intensity, otherwise we ran the risk of failing to achieve Kingdom breakthrough. Passivity was overcome within us by entering into intense, violent prayer, which involved stamping our feet, shouting, slicing the air with excited hand gestures and other hysterical behavior. Wild shouts such as: “We rebuke all passivity today!” was a common feature of corporate prayer.