I left the Vineyard church movement after being involved for over 20 years due to concerns over unbiblical teachings and practices that did not align with scripture.
In this blog post, I will share my story of being part of the Vineyard, the origins and beliefs of the movement, the dangerous Toronto Blessing revival that led the church astray, and how the Lord graciously opened my eyes to recognize the errors and repent.
My Time in the Vineyard Church
How I Got Involved?
I first got connected with the Vineyard Church after recently moving to Canada with my Canadian wife. A new Vineyard church opened up within walking distance of my home in Scarborough. I started attending and soon got to know the pastor. Over time, he asked me to join their leadership team as an associate pastor if the church continued growing.
Vineyard Beliefs and Ministry
John Wimber founded the Vineyard movement in the 1980s, which was devoted to seeking out the biblical miracles and signs mentioned in the book of Acts. The goal was to demonstrate healings, miracles, and other spiritual gifts alongside gospel proclamation to influence people towards Christ. While Vineyard held to evangelical theology, they also embraced present-day supernatural works of the Spirit. Our Scarborough Vineyard congregation functioned like many smaller charismatic churches, with contemporary worship and an emphasis on God’s supernatural power.
Early Red Flags
Even early on, I had some concerns about our heavy emphasis on signs and wonders over our focus on the gospel. While miracles can point people to Jesus, the priority should be salvation through repentance and faith. As an associate pastor, I warned against overusing spiritual manifestations lest they become a distraction. While reflecting now, my caution didn’t go far enough as I continued to accept the movement’s teachings.
When Things Went Off the Rails: Enter the Toronto Blessing
The Birth of a “Revival”
In January 1994, Vineyard pastor John Arnott invited South African preacher Rodney Howard-Browne to speak at his Toronto Airport Vineyard Church. Howard-Browne was at the forefront of the chaotic “holy laughter” revivals sweeping charismatic churches. Over the next few months, Vineyard leaders celebrated the new manifestations as an outpouring of the Toronto Blessing revival. Hundreds, and eventually millions, of people flocked to Toronto to receive it.
My Firsthand Experience
I attended some of the first Toronto Blessing meetings held that January. While beginning subtly, extreme manifestations emerged soon after, including spontaneous laughter, falling over, shaking, animal noises, drunk-like behavior, and more. As a young leader, I assumed it was God moving, though had nagging unease over some practices. I ended up participating in the laughter, falling, and other phenomena during those early revival services.
Over the next year, I actively preached this Toronto Blessing revival in our church despite growing concerns over missing biblical fruit like salvation. When I asked leaders about it, they claimed God was using it to first heal people before evangelizing the world. While wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt, the excuses contradicted Scripture and did not ring true.
Breaking Free from Deception
A Spiritual Encounter Changes Everything
A specific spiritual encounter I had while “receiving prayer” during one revival meeting became the turning point. Inwardly, I sensed an invasive, mocking spirit that caused me to stumble back to my seat. I immediately knew this was demonic counterfeiting at work, not God’s presence. After seeking the Lord in His Word upon arriving home, I began realizing our grave errors as a movement. This prompted me to start asking questions and reexamining Vineyard practices according to Scripture.
Other Factors in My Exit
In addition to demonstrably false teachings and activities linked to the Toronto Blessing, Vineyard’s growing doctrinal liberalism stirred my interest. Aside from permitting questionable charismatic chaos in the name of revival, our leaders shifted towards egalitarian positions regarding female leadership. This contradicted God’s word that only qualified men should serve as senior pastors. Despite sharing my concerns, Vineyard Heads willfully progressed down an unbiblical trajectory, showing no signs of repentance.
With Vineyard’s twin failures of holding fast to the Bible’s instructions on revival and gender roles, I reached a point where my conscience prevented further participation. This culminated in me delivering a letter of resignation to my regional leader and departing Vineyard for good shortly after.
Reflections on My Time in the Movement
Why I Was Deceived
While earnestly attempting to serve Christ as a young pastor at Vineyard, I lacked the spiritual maturity and biblical grounding to properly weigh our practices against Scripture. My extra-biblical experiences and trust in church authorities over God’s Word led me into deception. May this serve as a warning sign to all Christians concerning the danger of not staying rooted in scripture as one’s ultimate authority.
The Aftermath of Leaving
After publishing my story online, I received hundreds of messages from affected Christians all over the globe. It became evident that Toronto Blessing teachings infiltrated churches worldwide, leaving massive carnage through false conversion, damaged faith, and confusion regarding the Holy Spirit’s work. This further confirmed the gravely fallen state of the Vineyard church and similar movements.
Despite my past failings in shepherding God’s people toward truth, the Lord graciously saved me from deception and later opened doors for public ministry. This included media interviews where I repented and warned against hyper-charismatic deception that reached millions in Brazil struggling with this false anointing and unbiblical manifestations in their congregations. Praise God for His mercy, and use my testimony to firmly defend His word against the mystical ascetic practices creeping into the church.
Closing Thoughts From My Journey
I share my story to remind all believers to rely completely on scripture to assess spiritual teachings, not personal revelations or supernatural experiences which can mislead. The Vineyard church may have meant well in wanting God’s power on display to reach the lost. However, bypassing the Bible to adopt extra-biblical ideas opens the door to seducing spirits.
My journey shows that if you leave your first love relationship with Jesus and his unchanging truth, the consequences prove quite dangerous indeed. Let us pray for and lightly exhort such believers rather than attack them directly.
I hope my witness provides insight and vigilance for testing all leaders and movements against God’s Word to align with Christ alone.
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