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John Wimber And The Ministry of Healing

1 year ago · By J.D. King · 6 Min Read
#healing  #ministry 

On May 11, 1980—Mother’s Day—John Wimber opened his church to Lonnie Frisbee (1949–1993), “one of the most powerful evangelists . . . during the Jesus movement.”[1] During that 70s era revival, Frisbee was “instrumental in 20,000 conversions to the Christian faith.”[2] Much of this was due to healing and works of power.[3]

After sharing his testimony that evening, Lonnie recounted how the glory of the Lord had come upon Israel. He told those who had gathered that God wanted to do the same thing for them.

Reflecting on what transpired, Wimber remarks, "Lonnie asked the Holy Spirit to come, and the repercussions were incredible. The Spirit of God literally knocked people to the floor and shook them silly. Many people spoke in tongues, prophesied, or had visions."[4]

That evening was a “watershed moment.”[5] Multitudes committed their lives to Jesus because of “the witness of the individuals who were touched that night.”[6] In less than three months, the church had approximately 1,700 conversions.[7]

Eddie Piorek, a beloved early Vineyard pastor, declared, “Hundreds were converted as result of empowered believers taking signs and wonders out into the streets. New churches were birthed, and a worldwide renewal ministry was launched.”[8]

As Wimber and his associates ministered, astounding testimonies were recounted. At the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, hundreds were being “healed every month . . . Many more are healed as we pray for them in hospitals, on the streets, and in homes. The blind see; the lame walk; the deaf hear. Cancer is disappearing.”[9]

While researching the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, sociologist Donald Miller observed the following: “The room seemed a laboratory for healing, where anyone could get into the act—either by being prayed for or by praying for someone else. People were moving freely around the auditorium, and I ventured over to someone who was wailing uncontrollably. A small prayer circle had gathered around her, including a woman on the periphery who had extended her hand toward the person. Wimber was silent now, except to say occasionally, ‘Let the power come. Come Holy Spirit,’ and reinforcing the laboratory notion, he said, ‘Learn by watching, praying, thanking God. It’s okay to look around to see what God is doing.’”[10]

Wimber and his ministry teams often operated in “words of knowledge,”[11] calling out afflictions and physical infirmities that were revealed under the impression of the Holy Spirit.

Physical responses and unusual phenomena punctuated the ministry times. Shaking, falling, and a sense of warmth moved through infirmed bodies.[12] Miller describes what happened as people prayed:

“I observed people shaking, sometimes quite uncontrollably, while they were being prayed for. Their hands might tremble slightly, or their entire bodies might move as if possessed—presumably by what they interpreted to be the Holy Spirit . . . What was remarkable to me was the way that human touch was incorporated into this ritual moment and the fact that healing power was put into the hands of the people—to minister to each other—rather than reserved for those with clerical status.”[13]

Vineyard teams didn’t just minister at home; they also traveled around the world. In time, Wimber gained a “renowned national and international ‘signs and wonders’ ministry that had a profound effect on tens of thousands of charismatics and non-charismatics alike.”[14]

Poloma observed that “from the mid-1980s until his death in 1997, Wimber conducted many well-attended conferences on healing, in both North America and abroad, that taught attendees how to pray for divine healing.”[15]

C. Peter Wagner, a missiologist and seminary professor, served alongside Wimber for many years. Reflecting on the life and influence of his friend, Wagner noted, "John Wimber is one of those rare persons who has been the molder of a generation. The contribution he has made has actually turned the rudder of Christianity and moved it in the direction the Holy Spirit wants it to go in the twenty-first century." [16]

This article was adapted from my book Regeneration: A Complete History of Healing in the Christian Church. We have a special campaign going on now where you can order it at a discount. Click Here


[1] Bill Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), 72. Although an unusually gifted evangelist, Lonnie Frisbee (1949–1993) struggled with homosexuality because of childhood abuse by a family member. Eddie Piorek, a prominent early Vineyard pastor, affirms, “Reports of Lonnie’s sexual struggles surfaced and the Vineyard leaders faced very difficult choices concerning his ministry. Attempts at counseling failed. He was seen less and less around the Vineyard.” Eddie Piorek, Classic Vineyard: Chronicles from the Wimber Years (San Clemente, California: Eddie Piorek, 2017), 35–36. David Di Sabatino, maintains, “It must be stated unequivocally that Frisbee never believed that homosexuality was a natural inclination. Rather, in line with most conservative evangelicals, he always believed that homosexual behavior was the conscious choice of the participant.” David Di Sabatino, “Lonnie Frisbee: A Modern Day Samson,” Appendix II, Bill L. Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), 392. In one of his “sporadic lapses,” Frisbee was inflicted with the aids virus. This has, naturally, brought his legacy into question.

[2] David Di Sabatino, “Lonnie Frisbee: A Modern Day Samson,” Appendix II, Bill L. Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), 387.

[3] Wimber’s congregation was a part of the Calvary Chapel movement until 1982 when differences over healing and the gifts of the Spirit led to a separation. Bill Jackson stated, “When John Wimber began to promote in the front room what Calvary was only doing in the back room, tension began to mount. Wimber’s church was looking less and less like a Calvary congregation.” Bill L. Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), 85.

[4] John Wimber, Vineyard Reflections (May–June 1993), 2–3.

[5] David Di Sabatino, “Lonnie Frisbee: A Modern Day Samson,” Appendix II, Bill L. Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), 390.

[6] John Wimber, Vineyard Reflections (May–June 1993), 2–3.

[7] See John Wimber, Vineyard Reflections (May–June 1993), 2–3.

[8] Eddie Piorek, Classic Vineyard: Chronicles from the Wimber Years (San Clemente, California: Eddie Piorek, 2017), 101.

[9] John Wimber, Power Evangelism (San Francisco: Harper One, 1985), 2. In spite of Wimber’s great success, he was very honest about what was transpiring. He pointed out, “I have laid hands on people who were blind, and they now see. I also have laid hands on a larger number of blind who do not see and who got no particular benefit, evidently, from my prayers. We’re not in heaven now. All sorrow, all sickness isn’t over. But if we don’t proclaim this activity now, we won’t see any blind healed.” John Wimber, “The Holy Spirit: God at Work,” Christianity Today (March 19, 1990), 28.

[10] Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Berkley: University of California Press, 1997), 104.

[11] Reflecting on the “words of knowledge” at the Anaheim Vineyard, Donald Miller writes, “Among the physical problems mentioned were back injuries, neck pain, breathing problems, headaches, abdominal pain, reproductive problems, and leg pain. In addition, people cited specific ‘spiritual’ problems that were healed, ranging from lack of trust in God to ‘abuse' experienced in other churches and ‘demonic’ attack.” Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), 105–106.

[12] Tom Smail notes that when Wimber and the Vineyard ministry teams prayed for healing, “the impartation of this gift sometimes was indicated by tingling sensations and warmth in the hands and arms. These occasions were intense and dramatic and yet, paradoxically, at the same time, restrained.” Tom Smail, “The Cross and the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Renewal,” The Love of Power or the Power of Love, eds. Tom Smail, Andrew Walker, and Nigel Wright (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1994), 38.

[13] Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Berkley: University of California Press, 1997), 45–46.

[14] C. Peter Wagner, “Wimber, John,” The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, revised and expanded edition, eds. Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Maas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1199–1200.

[15] Margaret Poloma, “Divine Healing, Religious Revivals, and Contemporary Pentecostalism: A North American Perspective,” The Spirit in the World: Emerging Pentecostal Theologies in Global Contexts, edited by Veli-Matti Karkkainen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 26. In one of the conferences, “Reported long-term healings of afflictions . . . included a hernia; sensitive teeth; hip pain; another hip injury and leg problem; a twisted ankle; a spine injury; injuries from a car crash; improvement in hearing, with no further need for a hearing aid; and so forth.” Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 484–485.

[16] C. Peter Wagner quoted in Joe Maxwell, with Heather Johnson and John Geary, “Vineyard: Vineyard Founder Wimber Dies,” Christianity Today 42:1 (January 12, 1998). Bill Jackson wrote, “God called John to take his willingness to be made a fool, his evangelical theology, his enduring ability to laugh at himself and set others at ease, and his naturally supernatural style to bring renewal to the church around the world.” Bill L. Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), 360.


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