by Hye Sung
I was 16 when I stumbled into speaking in tongues. I was praying. Some words fell out of my mouth, and I wondered if this was The Gift. But I didn’t know what to do with it, and I wasn’t sure what was supposed to come next.
I tell people that’s how I found the Quakers. Let me explain.
I met with my pastor, who took an “open but cautious” stance on the charismatic gifts. My best Christian friends had mixed responses and no experience. Several of them disapproved of all charismatic phenomena. Nobody I was close to knew much outside of YouTube clips of hotline preachers. But I was desperate to nurture whatever God was doing in me, confident that she was.
I sought out people who were involved in a Filipino charismatic Catholic community. I sought out everyone. Any inkling that somebody was into tongues, and I found a way to talk to them.
A woman at my church heard from her son that I was talking about the Holy Spirit. She affirmed what God was doing in my life and gifted me with a box full of DVDs, CDs, and books from John Wimber, a founder of the neo-charismatic Vineyard denomination. I discovered in John’s words an integrated Evangelical spirituality that valued mysticism and biblical authority; tradition and new wineskins. The way John ministered was not typical of charismatics; it was grounded in deep listening. His theology celebrated God being present and alive but also embraced the eschatological tension of the “not yet.” He was different.
When I moved after high school, I found a Vineyard church. In that church, I learned about listening to the nudges and whispers of God, witnessed healing and received prophetic words, experienced ministry fueled by love, and was even water-baptized. I was only there for a year, and though I am no longer a conservative Evangelical, I believe much of what I learned from the Vineyard led me to Friends.
Which makes sense, considering Vineyard came from Friends.
Vineyard as charismatic Quakers
John Wimber began following Jesus in a programmed Evangelical Quaker church. As Christianity Today put it, John was a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study.” John later pastored in this congregation and led the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth. After several years of pastoring, both John and his wife, Carol, became convinced that there was more to the Spirit’s ministry and began experiencing the charismatic gifts with other Friends. One Vineyard website reveals why and how this led to the birth of a new movement:
“Carol was involved in a small group named ‘Afterglow’ with her friends from the Quaker church. . . . Stories spread through the town of signs and wonders happening in this group. . . . John spent time with the church elders sharing that he felt this was a ‘genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit.’”
After this group of Quakers was released by their yearly meeting, they associated with Calvary Chapel, a network of newly-formed churches that exploded in growth during the Jesus Movement. Later, John’s church came under the authority of a loose-knit association of churches called “Vineyard.” John was entrusted with leadership over that growing church network.
Asked if the early Vineyard could be identified as “charismatic Quaker,” Carol said that it was, even though they hadn’t read George Fox’s Journal. “Reading it later, we wondered what our contemporaries were so upset about! A movement of the Spirit happened in our group – for which generations of Quakers had prayed for years, but had no idea how it would look when it came – and when it did happen, it didn’t really fit with Quaker theology at that time.”
When it comes to Spirit-attentive worship and ministry, the Vineyard manifests Quaker spirituality in a way that is faithful to the Evangelical tradition, but truly mystical and deeply Quaker. Carol connects the revival experienced in the early Vineyard to its roots in Quakerism:
“In the Quaker worship, they have what they call ‘communion.’ It’s a time of silence, but if someone has a song from the Lord or a word or a teaching, they are supposed to speak out then. And every once in awhile someone would sing out some beautiful song or have a little short teaching or a little revelation – though they would not have called it that. So we were no strangers to a move of the Spirit – the later outpouring was merely an increase of what had been already happening.”
What’s so Quaker about the Vineyard Church?
The Vineyard holds that ministry is not the job of the paid clergy alone, but every member of Christ’s body. As John used to put it, “Everybody gets to play.” Worship is a participatory experience, as all can listen and follow the Spirit. Though silence does not often play a role in the Vineyard liturgy, the act of listening to God – waiting upon the Spirit – is vital to Vineyard’s culture of prayer.
Their inclusive, egalitarian ministry has everything to do with their charismatic conviction that the Holy Spirit dwells in all believers. John’s mission was to empower the whole Church to realize this truth: “We are called to demystify the gifts of the Spirit and we are called to put the ministry of the Holy Spirit back into the hand of the church! The ministry of the Holy Spirit is for every man, woman and child in the body of Christ. All the gifts of the Spirit are for all of us!”
This testimony of equality has always been controversial. Christy Wimber, John and Carol’s daughter-in-law, wrote that she’d been criticized for “allowing people to participate in Kingdom work who haven’t been around long enough. . . . They don’t seem qualified yet, but the truth is, they’re already leading if people are following them. And I'm either going to take a risk and bless what I see God doing, or try to shut them down. . . . The early Vineyard was just a bunch of young hippies; the ministry team was all young people. Yet people still got saved, healed, and delivered. God got His work done!”
Carol connected the Vineyard’s convictions on social justice to Quakerism: “A big value among the Quakers is a concern for the poor, and it’s very plain in the scriptures. And we were reading the Bible as though for the first time, asking the Lord to show us what he was really saying in the passages. And the passages about caring for the poor came with great impact. . . . The Gospel is for the poor and the oppressed. The preaching of the gospel among them will be just as effective as it is anywhere else.”
How the Vineyard led me to Friends
I discovered John’s writing on nonviolence in one of his booklets (and later about his pacifism from my friend Micael). As I read more and more, I became more and more aware of the holistic nature of the gospel – how it incorporates justice and liberation for the oppressed.
I began to understand that the gospel required sacrifice.
The emphasis on the Holy Spirit being within, empowering all believers to let “Christ live his life in us,” as Carol put it, was also a revelation that was vital in leading me to Friends. I became convinced over time that the clergy-laity distinction was not biblical because Christ desires to minister through all people. The open-worship of unprogrammed Friends appealed to me for this reason.
Then, as my view of the Bible changed, I could see that the way I think, the values I held had already been realized in the Society of Friends in their theology, in their witness, and in their worship. Friends did not venerate a book, but they knew a person, their inward teacher. They knew the Word of God could not be contained in a book because he is alive. I read the stories of early Friends. And I wanted what they had. I wanted to be in a body that depended on the Spirit like that. I wanted to experience the baptism of fire corporately. I wanted to hear God speak through all of God’s children. I wanted justice. Their willingness to surrender their lives fully to the gospel, living in solidarity with the oppressed, remaining firm in their convictions even when it led them to be jailed and tortured. Their fight for justice was real, and it reminded me of the Jesus I’d fallen in love with.
The Jesus I still love.