Lonnie Frisbee and The Vineyard

After leaving Calvary Chapel, Lonnie Frisbee joined the then fledgling Vineyard movement.

[S]pringing from under the authority of the Calvary Chapel church was the establishment of the Vineyard church through the leadership of Kenn Gulliksen. Gulliksen had been chosen and ordained by Chuck Smith to start another Calvary Chapel church as a sister church to the original church in Costa Mesa. However, in 1973 Gulliksen began to orient his ministry towards a more charismatic outline bringing him into direct confrontation with Smith who was wary of an overemphasis on spiritual manifestations. Gulliksen decided that it would be best to leave the Calvary Chapel fold and start out on his own.

Beginning in the home of Chuck Girard (lead singer of the rock group Love Song), Gulliksen started a weekly bible study. Eventually, that bible study grew into a large number of participants fostering the establishment of other weekly bible studies throughout the Southern California region. Within a year, Gulliksen had twelve to thirteen simultaneous (and well attended) bible studies in place. Realizing that they had the beginnings of a small church, the group leaders decided that they would hold Sunday meetings. Initially, because they didn’t have a church building, they met on the beach at Santa Monica for an entire year, having church “as the waves crashed in the background.”

Taking the name ‘Vineyard Christian Fellowship,’ the group soon numbered a thousand. Gulliksen continued developing local congregations until there were five thriving Vineyard fellowships throughout Southern California all loosely connected under the ‘Vineyard’ title.

On Mothers’ Day 1978, hippie evangelist Lonnie Frisbee was hesitantly invited to preach at the Yorba Linda Calvary Chapel by Pastor John Wimber. Having been “flitting to and fro throughout the body of Christ” since his departure from Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel, Frisbee had reinforced his beliefs that the operation and manifestation of spiritual gifts were a necessity in the life of every believer. Author John White offers the following narrative that followed the closing of that momentous service:

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. . . the young man [Frisbee] invited younger members of the congregation who wished to live their lives under the power of the Holy Spirit to come forward. . . .The congregation was predominantly youthful and a large number responded. The speaker waited until they stood before him on the floor of the gymnasium. . . . Then he prayed a brief and simple prayer, confessing the Church’s failure to give place to the Holy Spirit. He concluded his prayer with the words, ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’ What followed was electrifying. . . the young people fell on the floor, some crying out noisily. One young man seemed to be flung forward in such a way that his mouth was jammed over the microphone. Since he was speaking in tongues, his ‘jibberish’ screeched through the public address system. Pendemonium errupted. The young preacher became agitated, shouting excitedly, ‘More, Lord. More!’ At one point, raising his hand he shouted, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The people his hand faced fell untidily around the bleachers.

Afterwards, a number of believers reported a “trickle of miraculous healings that eventually became a flood.”83 Amazed at what was transpiring before his eyes, Wimber talked about the phenomenon with Smith who remained steadfast on downplaying the emphasis on experience:

About this time, Wimber’s ministry became more focused on ‘signs and wonders’ than Smith’s. Wimber dropped the name ‘Calvary Chapel’ and approached Gullikson [sic] about his church becoming a ‘Vineyard.’ Gulliksen not only agreed but turned the entire Vineyard movement over to Wimber.

Under the aggressive leadership of Wimber, the Vineyard movement has rapidly expanded. Wimber’s main congregation, located in Anaheim, grew to over 5,000 members by 1983 and has established over 300 churches throughout the United States and Canada. Along with the Calvary Chapel organization, the Vineyard is one of the most prominent institutions to emerge from the Jesus People Movement.

Source: The History of the Jesus Movement, David Di Sabatino, thesis finished during the 1993-94 semester year at McMaster Divinity College (McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)

But his Vineyard stay was short. It’s unclear how long Wimber, who died in 1997, had been on to Frisbee’s secret. Chuck Smith Jr. says he was having lunch with Wimber one day when he asked how the pastor reconciled working with a known homosexual like Frisbee. Wimber asked how the younger Smith knew this. Smith said he’d received a call from a pastor who’d just heard a young man confess to having been in a six-month relationship with Frisbee. Wimber called Smith the next day to say he’d confronted Frisbee, who openly admitted to the affair and agreed to leave. But there are indications Wimber was already having Frisbee tailed before the lunch with Smith.

Source: The First Jesus Freak, Orange County Weekly, Mar. 4-10, 2005

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First published (or major update) on Wednesday, December 7, 2005.
Last updated on September 30, 2008.

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