A Book ReviewTitle: Not by Might, Nor by Power
Subtitle: The Great Commission
Author: Lonnie Frisbee, with Roger Sachs
This book review concerns the second book of a three book series that is Lonnie Frisbee's posthumous autobiography, which is titled Not by Might Nor by Power. The third book has not yet been published. I have already reviewed the first book in the series.
The Biggest MysteryThere are many mysteries about this autobiography. The first book took nearly 20 years before it was finally published. And the second book took almost 4 more years before it appeared. Why did it take so long after Lonnie's death in 1993 to begin to publish his autobiography? This is the greatest mystery of all. Roger Sachs is the "ghost writer" — which is an odd thing to say when you consider that Lonnie is the one who has "crossed over the Jordan River." I would love to hear Roger's explanation about why things have been held up for such a long time. For during all these years after Lonnie's departure, the Devil has worked extra hard to dictate the terms and to control the narrative when it comes to anything regarding Lonnie Frisbee. As Lonnie himself said, "Throughout my entire ministry, the enemy has tried to label me" (page 228). Consequently, it's not surprising when it comes to this subject that a lot of people have had their minds already made up. The biggest majority of people, especially the younger generation, will have no idea who Lonnie Frisbee was. Whatever the reason Roger had for the long delay in getting Lonnie's autobiography published, it must be a fascinating one and could be a story of its own.
But no matter, the second book finally did come out in October of this year, better late than never. And I am thankful that I have lived long enough to get to read it. I hope I can make it to the year when I can read the final, third book. However, I was so frustrated over the long delay that I had rushed ahead and preemptively written a kind of "ante-review" about this second book. I will occasionally refer back to my ante-review because I had raised several questions in it. Now that the second book has crossed over from being "never was" to "finally arrived," it does answer, or partly answers, at least some of those questions that I had raised.
Credit to the Ghost WriterFirst of all, I want to commend Roger Sachs and the people who assisted him who are given credit at the end of the book. One difference you will notice in the second book is the better editing. Before anything else, Lonnie was a preacher of the Gospel, and he greatly enjoyed preaching to people. He was not a writer, however, and his preaching style of communication doesn't always translate very well to the written page. The first book had some rough edges to it. Therefore, I thought the editing in the second book did much to improve the clarity without muffling Lonnie's voice in the process. Roger managed to achieve the right balance. Lonnie would have approved of the results, I am sure. No editing job is ever perfect, and while I wasn't out to hunt for errors, I did notice a few mistakes in grammar and vocabulary, but most readers will not spot them.
The other important aspect of the second book was the inclusion of testimonies from people who personally knew or interacted with Lonnie at various stages in his life. Again, I think Roger Sachs managed to find the right balance in what materials and how much were added. The testimonies were very interesting and served to illustrate the points that Lonnie was trying to make about himself and what was happening. The danger was that too much testimony might have caused the book to veer off course and become a vehicle for people who have their own axes to grind, grievances to air, or political agendas to pursue. This has always been a concern of mine, especially after seeing the sorry results of a certain "Bible Story" film documentary about Lonnie. I want to commend Roger Sachs because I think he got things about right. The books are Lonnie's authorized autobiography, his autobiography, and so far Roger has kept it that way.
There is so much interesting material in Lonnie's second book that it would not be possible for me to comment on all of it. I would end up writing a whole book of its own if I tried. Therefore, I have had to limit the topics here to a few salient points that I thought are important and noteworthy. To cover these points, I will be quoting a few snippets from the book to illustrate what I am saying. It would be far better for people to go and read the book for themselves, because I have had to keep the quotations fairly short. Also, I have kept any boldface or italics that were originally in the printed text.
Lonnie's Purpose for His AutobiographyFirst of all, why did Lonnie decide to put together his autobiography? Well, Lonnie himself explicitly states his primary reason in the second book on page 139. After talking extensively about the famous Mother's Day service that occurred on May 11th, 1980, at Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda, Lonnie says this:
You know, the reason I'm writing this book is to reach as many people as I can with the message and reality of Christ. There were around four hundred people present in that gymnasium on Mother's Day 1980, but I am praying that this "labor of love" will reach many, many more of you — and that the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit will fall on you even right now wherever you are, just like He did in Canyon High School way back when. God is not limited by time, space, geography, or anything else, and He is only looking for those of who have a hungry, open heart toward Him. He loves each and every one of us…I think that this short statement concisely summarizes the motive Lonnie had for telling his story. The story was really about the message that he was bearing. Before anything else, he was convinced of the reality of the love and power of Christ. He experienced it, and he wanted it to be shared with as many people as possible. People with an open heart will definitely hear the message he wanted to deliver.
Two Streams in 2nd BookThe second book covers the time frame that extends from about 1977 to 1983, and it primarily concerns two major streams in Lonnie's life, the first, his starting an itinerant overseas ministry in 1978, primarily in South Africa and Europe, and the second, his moving to John Wimber's Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda in 1980. In my ante-review, I raised the following questions:
What was Lonnie's viewpoint regarding his time with Vineyard and John Wimber? What did he think about John Wimber? Lonnie played a pivotal role in Vineyard. What about the famous "Mother's Day service"?Some of these questions are indeed answered in detail in the second book. According to Lonnie, what happened on Mother's Day, 1980, at John Wimber's church was really a continuation and intensification of the kind of ministry that Lonnie had experienced during his time in South Africa in 1978. And that ministry had a big impact but was also attended by controversy. Here is Lonnie's commentary on the matter (page 160):
…I want to mention something something important about meetings like Mother's Day and even the previous meetings in Africa and going forward. The Lord gave me the ability to see in the natural and in the Spirit, to see when the Holy Spirit is dealing with someone or resting on someone's life or imparting something. I believe it is a gift that is available to anyone, and I knew from the get-go that it was something the Lord wanted me to demonstrate and model for the whole Body of Christ. It is not a gimmick to be copied, but a gift to seek and embrace. I think it is combination of several of the spiritual gifts put into one: discernment, words of knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, and miracles all wrapped together. Like with all gifts from God, they are designed for us to become more effective in proclaiming the good news of the gospel of our Lord and Savior.This was Lonnie's view of the gifting that he was given and its ultimate purpose. Now it would not be possible for me to cite all the testimony regarding the events in South Africa and the phenomena that transpired there. There is just too much material to cover in a book review. The reader will have to discover it all for himself. The book not only includes Lonnie's own testimony regarding these things but also that of other people who were there as well. What happened in South Africa was astonishing. The same was also true, and more so, of what later happened at John Wimber's church in Yorba Linda when Lonnie ministered there on Mother's Day, 1980. And because these events were so out of the ordinary, there will be people who will simply not accept that such things can ever happen or that God would ever choose to affect people's lives with such a swift and overwhelming experience of His presence and power. John Wimber found it very difficult to accept what had transpired before his eyes — he was shocked. But whether people accept these things or not, this was what came with Lonnie's ministry. As Lonnie explained it, "God put an anointing on my life in Africa that has never lifted off of me. He put it there for me to give away…" (page 97). And controversy or not, Lonnie was not going to quench it, for this reason and for those I have quoted above. As John Ruttkay once remarked about Lonnie, "…he had less fear of man than anyone I ever met" (page 144).
Another Big MysteryThere is another aspect in Lonnie's autobiography that is a mystery. This concerns Lonnie's ambiguous relationship with Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Several times in his autobiography, Lonnie states his love and admiration for Chuck Smith. He describes Chuck as a "father figure" at a time when he needed one. Yet, in several places in the first and second books, there are recollections which suggest to me that Lonnie's relationship with Chuck was not always fair weather and smooth sailing. There were certain elements of tension. For example, in the first book, Lonnie mentions that Chuck had laid down rules disallowing exorcisms. Lonnie couldn't live with these rules and admits to having broken them on occasion behind Chuck's back. Besides this, Lonnie explains in his first book that he was paid so poorly, during his first tenure at Costa Mesa, that he and his wife Connie were forced to supplement their income with food stamps. Lonnie was honest enough to say that this was a source of hurt for them, but he gave no explanation why his salary was so paltry. I can only speculate that while Lonnie's efforts at the time were bringing in large numbers of young people and hippies to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, most of these people didn't have steady jobs. This would mean that contributions didn't keep pace with the rapid growth. Therefore, Chuck couldn't afford to pay Lonnie an adequate salary at the time.
However, there is also another set of circumstances, mentioned by Lonnie in the second book, that are even more disturbing for the reason that they don't reflect very well on Chuck Smith. While trying to avoid over-quoting passages, I will give a summary of what happened. Sometime in 1977, Lonnie began to believe that he had a calling from God to begin ministering in Africa (page 27):
Suddenly, the power of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit fell on me and filled me from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. The presence of God was so strong that it felt like my hair was on fire!A short time later, pastor Chuck asked Lonnie if he would like to go to Africa. He responded that he would pray about it, but Lonnie took this question from Chuck as a double confirmation of his calling to go overseas. Next, the leaders of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa laid hands on Lonnie and officially commissioned him to begin this new work. However, Lonnie had a surprise waiting for him, which the leadership, and presumably Chuck, didn't bother to tell him at the time. Here is what Lonnie says on pages 28 to 29:
"I am sending you to Africa. You're to quit your job and go to Africa."
Believe me I was excited! However, you can imagine my shock when, on the very next pay period, I reached in my mail slot to get my paycheck, but it wasn't there. I went down to accounting and was just a "little bit" upset.One question I have to ask is why didn't Chuck simply tell Lonnie the operating conditions to begin with? We don't know the answer. If there was some kind of "didactical joke" being played here by Chuck, Lonnie apparently didn't see any humor in it at the time. Anyhow, now that he was off the payroll, after about five months time, nothing new had developed, and Lonnie was beginning to be in dire straits financially. He had to depend on the help of his two roommates, Peter Crawford and Mike McCoy, to pay the bills. At one point, Lonnie went on the radio at KYMS, a local christian radio station, filling in for someone on the Teen Challenge program, and over the air he mentioned his vision regarding Africa. Finally, Lonnie decided that action had to be taken. Lonnie and Peter went down and arranged an itinerary with a travel agency in Costa Mesa, on the promise that in three days they would come up with the money for the airline tickets.
The accountant said, "Pastor Chuck says you're living by faith now."
What?! I was flabbergasted. Calvary Chapel was sending me out to go to Africa…but they weren't going to pay for it. Chuck was sending me out by faith, without any financial help at all. The huge church that I helped established (practically from scratch) did not support me. I was very frustrated, but still felt called to Africa and determined to go. Thus began another faith journey.
In the meantime, after hearing Lonnie on the radio, an anonymous person felt moved to immediately mail a 25,000 dollar check payable to Lonnie, which later arrived and ended up in the hands of a church secretary back at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Waking up that very morning when the tickets would have to be paid for, Lonnie got a call from the church secretary telling him that someone had donated this huge amount to him. It was "a mind-blowingly generous check!" as Lonnie described it. Not long after this, Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie took a vacation together in Hawaii. Subsequently, Lonnie was asked and agreed to fill Greg's Monday evening preaching slot (even though Lonnie was presumably still off the payroll). Peter Crawford explains what happened next on page 33:
It was a great meeting with awesome music and, of course, Lonnie's anointed stories and preaching. We took an offering, and about three thousand dollars came in.So far so good at this point in the story. Peter and Lonnie would be traveling overseas as a team. They now had the funds to finance the trip. Maranatha Music was the music wing of Calvary Chapel, and at the time it was directed by Chuck Fromm (a nephew of Chuck Smith). It would take care of the technicalities of wiring the funds to Lonnie and Peter as they were needed. All this makes perfect sense because it is not a good idea for travelers going overseas to carry around large amounts of money on them.
In addition, we told everyone that Maranatha Music, a branch of Calvary Chapel, had offered to take care of all the financial dealings for our mission. For a five-dollar or more donation, people would receive a copy of the Maranatha Praise 2 album. We were also told the we could have all the money from those sales for our mission. Over the next few days, another couple thousand dollars came in. All the money, including our twenty-five-thousand-dollar donation was given to Maranatha Music, since the church leaders were responsible for distributing our funds while we were on our trip. So in a matter of just one week, we went from no dollars to around thirty thousand dollars! Just like that — instant provision!
I will have to leave out the intervening details regarding Lonnie's trip overseas, particularly what happened in South Africa. But after having a tremendous time of ministry in South Africa, Lonnie was not at all expecting what happened next, just as they were about to leave and proceed on schedule to the next stage of their trip. This is what Lonnie says on pages 89 to 90:
A major hit was on its way and manifested itself like a fire-breathing dragon at this particular point in our mission. Unfortunately, the main challenge came from people and leaders back home who we loved and trusted, producing the kind of wounds that hurt the most.This part of the story was surprising to me. Lonnie doesn't tell us exactly who was on the other end of the phone that day. It seems more than plausible to me that if there was a problem then Lonnie would have demanded to talk directly to Chuck Smith himself to get it resolved. I strongly suspect here that Lonnie is bending over backwards to be forgiving about this issue and not to name names. I can only guess, but I think my guess here is a pretty good one. As a friend of mine once told me, when it comes to money and church leadership, sometimes "things can get ugly." This apparently was what happened in this situation. Another possibility is that some sort of miscommunication had occurred at the very start and that Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa — and let's be very clear, this means pastor Chuck as well — somehow had gotten the notion that Lonnie had "donated" his funds outright to them for keeps, which they could dispense howsoever they saw fit. On the other hand, Lonnie definitely viewed the funds as something to be held in trust on his behalf, as in an escrow account. Lonnie went out "on faith" and raised his own funds, and indeed God provided. However, Calvary Chapel was now pretending the money was entirely under its ownership and control.
A few days before Peter and I were to fly out of Johannesburg, we called back to California for a draw on our funds. We had almost run out of money. Between Peter and myself, we had less than five hundred dollars left. With half our trip left to go, we still had, thank God, roughly half the funds that we had raised in the bank back home. We were not worried in the least.
When I called, however, I was told, "We are not sending you any more money until you reach Denmark."
"What?!" I yelled into the phone. "We still have Kenya and Israel and part of Europe scheduled before we even get to Denmark, and we're almost out of money! What's the deal? Listen! We raised a little over thirty-thousand dollars for this mission, and you need to send us a draw right now!"
They said, "Sorry, you're not getting anything until you get to Denmark in June."
I flipped out, to no avail. June was over a month away. Believe me, I was so upset and so sorry that I trusted them with our funds."
Once Lonnie reached Denmark, "we immediately called back home to get a draw on our funds, and after more drama and delay, we did receive around three thousand dollars." Even at this point, Costa Mesa was continuing to drag its feet on this issue. And I would advise the reader to see the rest of Lonnie's own words on page 97, because we can still hear the exasperation in his voice. It's the only time in the book that Lonnie ever uses the word "rebuke":
God help us in the Church in this realm of integrity, control issues, and honesty in finances.…We in the Christian Church need to rise above the selfish defaults of our human nature and truly start reflecting Christ. This is especially a rebuke to the leaders in the Body of Christ. You can dish it, but can you take it? Listen: Jesus owns everything, but He give it all up for you and me!However, it would take Lonnie over two more years, along with the personal intervention of John Wimber, to finally convince Chuck Smith to release the remainder of the funds that Lonnie had raised for his overseas missions work. This is what Lonnie says on pages 175 to 176:
…I was still getting invited to minister and share in churches here at home, including many Calvary Chapels. I knew there were hard feelings now between Vineyard and Calvary, which was really sad, and I wasn't trying to make it worse. I loved and still love them both! How could I not love them if I wanted to say tune with the Holy Spirit? I have been hurt by the Church and leaders really bad many times — but I try with all my heart to lay those things at the foot of the cross and move forward. That process can definitely be a "trial of faith" and very hard sometimes. Nevertheless, Jesus always rescues me and heals me…eventually. So at the time, if I happened to be invited anywhere, I simply prayed about it, and if I got a green light from the Lord, I would go wherever He led. Believe me, I was not trying to get even for any mistreatment that I might have felt. Besides, John Wimber called Chuck Smith and demanded that they return the mission funds to me that I had raised for our Africa mission in 1978, which they finally did. Praise God!The missionary funds were eventually relinquished and returned to Lonnie. But why was Lonnie subjected to this shabby treatment to begin with? We may never know the answer. It is one of those mysteries in Lonnie's autobiography.
Journey to Yorba LindaWhat is clear, however, is that Lonnie was taught by Christ to forgive. And indeed there must have been something to forgive. Nevertheless, with this issue as background context, we can better understand why, after having returned from overseas in 1978, Lonnie found that all his bridges back to Costa Mesa had been completely burned. He would never be on staff there again. After all, Chuck wasn't about to rehire someone with whom there was an ongoing dispute involving serious money. Having been singed by this bad experience, Lonnie decided to set up his own corporation, World Outreach Ministries, with the volunteer help of Brent Higginson and other supporters, to handle his own finances and fund-raising. This allowed Lonnie to continued his overseas ministering in 1979. I think he still needed to find some other church as a home base, now that going back to Costa Mesa was not possible. This is why he took an interest in Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda, pastored by John Wimber, whom he had met a few times before.
When he was invited by John to minister at CC Yorba Linda on that decisive Mother's Day evening, Lonnie's original plan was to be on his very best behavior. He very much wanted to be accepted there. This is how Lonnie describes his thoughts and his conversation with his friend John Ruttkay, as they were leaving after having dinner at the Wimber's home (page 126):
They collectively told me, "Lonnie, we know you've been coming around, and so if you feel led, we want to cut you loose! God is opening to open some doors for you here. Let's pick a time for you to share your testimony and see where God takes us."It turned out that the revival that started in South Africa had followed Lonnie all the way back to Yorba Linda, California. The Lord was going to have things His way. The rest is history, as they say.
They were all laughing, but I kept thinking to myself, "Lonnie, you need this gig, and you're absolutely going to be on your best behavior from everything you've ever learned in the Church. You're not going to screw this thing up!" I desperately wanted a healthy home church, a place I was welcome and could be part of the team. It was all I wanted, really!
As we walked out the gate from John and Carol Wimber's home, John Ruttkay told me, "Lonnie, they want to cut you loose, but they don't have a clue what they're asking for!"
"Listen, John, I am going to behave and take it slow. Let's just keep praying. I need this!"
We eventually picked Sunday evening services on May 11th, Mother's Day, for me to share. I was determined to be on my best behavior, to tone it down, to pay it safe…but God Almighty had something else in mind!
History and Lonnie's ApologyIndeed, Lonnie's autobiography provides many details that you cannot find in any of the "official histories," either of Calvary Chapel or Vineyard USA. Much has already been written about pastor Chuck Smith and his wide influence, and John Wimber was himself another major figure, who was just as significant as Chuck, in my opinion. And two important books have been written about John Wimber: these are The Quest for the Radical Middle by Bill Jackson, and The Way It Was by John Wimber's widow, Carol Wimber. I especially recommend reading them together. Though Lonnie had played a very pivotal role in both Chuck's and John's churches, that role has been increasingly downplayed over the years until it has been reduced to an insignificant footnote, if Lonnie is ever mentioned at all. His name has been erased over time, as in a process of damnatio memoriae, an example of which I have given in my article "Blurred History". And if you go to Vineyard's official history, Lonnie is missing entirely, although he had played a very active part in Vineyard's early growth. This brings us to one of the secondary reasons that motivated Lonnie to produce his autobiography (page 158):
I believe that I brought a move of God and an anointing back from Africa to the States and was able to help John Wimber take it around the world. If you detect a tinge of regret, I apologize. I don't want to get ahead of the chronology of events, and I definitely don't want to take anything away from the glorious work of the Holy Spirit that changed so many lives and churches worldwide. However, as my life story continues, you might come to understand my disappointment to have been COMPLETELY written out of the history of the Jesus People Movement and then this new Vineyard Movement. Leaders had their reasons, some of which I have already alluded to and some that I will further disclose as the Lord leads.In other words, Lonnie simply wanted to set the record straight about what happened. It is very sad that it has taken this many years for Lonnie's voice to be heard, as it were from the grave. In the postscript at the end of the second book, Roger Sachs has said that the upcoming third book (Set Free) "will be the most controversial of the series." I think I can already guess some of the reasons for this, for it's not much of a secret who the "leaders" were, which Lonnie has mentioned above. After placing these on a pedestal, some people may not like it being pointed out that the leaders were also fallible, sometimes made big mistakes, or buckled under pressure. And I suspect there will be other surprises as well. Regarding the upcoming third book, all I can say to Roger Sachs is that even if it ruffles somebody's feathers, he owes it to his friend Lonnie to let him finish telling his story. Fiat justitia ruat caelum.
The truth of the matter is not everyone in the leadership in the Calvary Chapel movement was happy about the revival that God had brought back from South Africa with Lonnie to Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda — a revival which also began to spread to other CC churches as well, for Lonnie still had some friends among various CC pastors outside of Costa Mesa, who would invite him to minister at their churches. But the revival that was happening did not fit the paradigm accepted in Costa Mesa. A crisis would would soon be triggered, and Lonnie began to face a barrage of criticism and accusations directed at him — accusations which continue to this very day. This brings us to another secondary reason that Lonnie had for writing his autobiography. He could not stay silent forever when a genuine move of God's Spirit among people was being maligned. He had to say something in his defense (page 143):
However, not all Calvary Chapels ended up agreeing that what happened that night was from God. News spread like wildfire. There was a huge split of opinions. Other churches and individuals also weighed in on the controversy. People said it was pure emotionalism and accused me by saying "Lonnie Frisbee uses mass hypnosis and crowd manipulation. No way could it be an anointing or an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit of God!" Many took the accusations several steps further and said, "It was the devil." The problem with that theory was that all the young people who were knocked to the floor said they had received the most powerful encounters with God of their lives. These kids had no grid for what happened to them. They came out of the experience in love with Jesus, on fire for God and the gospel, and were immediately blasted into His service full of energy and motivation. I don't think the devil is behind that kind of a response! Do you? We are to judge a tree by its fruit.Besides Lonnie's testimony, Roger Sachs also included the testimonies of other people who were there and who were affected. You can read them for yourself. The experience of God's presence had been so overwhelming and so intense that some people, for example, were knocked to the floor. People were speaking in tongues — which was something that pastor Chuck had always found distasteful, a phenomenon to be relegated to a backroom, out of sight, if allowed at all. But what broke the paradigm was the sheer scale of what was happening, out in the open; so many people were being affected simultaneously, like a rapidly spreading fire or a strong wind blowing across a field of ripe wheat. Large numbers were being baptized in the Spirit in a very visible and spectacular way. But what Lonnie is pointing out here is the central importance of what occurred afterwards once people got up off the floor. What were the results? The Lord Jesus had been similarly accused by the leadership of His time, when He did miracles and healed on the Sabbath day, something that broke the accepted paradigm. And Lonnie here uses the very same argument that the Lord Jesus in the scriptures had used to refute the accusations that were being made against Himself. The problem was that the leadership in Costa Mesa was concerned about appearances, the smoke that surrounded the fire. What was happening was not decorous. But how people experience God's power can have different outward manifestations, and we are never going to completely understand it all. The leaves shake when the wind blows. If people get knocked to the floor, so what? As Lonnie explained above, you discern the tree by looking at the fruit — that is what is important. And you can bank on this: The Devil is not in the business of leading people to love God more and to preach Jesus Christ.
John Wimber was at first dismayed and angered by what happened in the Mother's Day service. He was, in his words, "fit to be tied." But in the aftermath, he was eventually won over, first by divine confirmation that came in the form of a unexpected phone call from pastor Tom Stipe, and secondly by John's own research into the history of past revivals and the sort of phenomena that came with them. And if these weren't enough, more confirmation came during the meeting that happened in the Wagner House a short time afterwards, which Wimber had called "to bring some clarity and consensus to the craziness of the Mother's Day meeting." John Ruttkay was an eyewitness at this meeting, which had about seventy people attending, and I wish I could quote the entirety of Ruttkay's account (pages 144 to 146) because it had a certain amount of humor in it. At this meeting, Lonnie got up, kicked off his flip-flops, burped into the microphone, and then started talking. As it went on, Ruttkay began to think that more and more this meeting was turning into a disaster. He noticed the person next to him, who looked "like a nuclear physicist," was impatiently "tapping his foot on the floor as hard as he could." Sweat was beading up and trickling down John Wimber's face. After Lonnie had finished his talk, this is how Ruttkay described what happened next:
…So John Wimber got up and said, "I think what Lonnie's trying to say…" and he tried to connect the dots about what Lonnie was saying, attempting to put some kind of theological context to the thing.So it came about that Lonnie now had another church home and was brought on staff by John Wimber at Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda. He was given a modest salary. This would begin the next phase that is covered in the second book of Lonnie's autobiography, the years 1980 to 1983. As Lonnie describes it, "The next three years or so were some of the most exciting and rewarding years of my life" (page 146), and "I absolutely loved my exciting new relationship with John Wimber and his church family" (page 159). Lonnie was "super impressed with John Wimber and definitely excited to be a part of the team" (page 157). Wimber had granted Lonnie a ministry role and considerable freedom, certainly more freedom than what he had back in Costa Mesa. Lonnie adds that "John was using me as a point man for bringing the gifts of God to the people, and I loved it" (page 175). Lonnie also continued his itinerant ministry overseas, especially in South Africa and Europe. His World Outreach Ministries corporation was eventually turned over to John Wimber, its name being changed to Vineyard Ministries International (page 157). Though many people had initially walked out of CC Yorba Linda, offended because of the Mother's Day revival, Wimber's church would double in size within two or three months. Yet you will find little if any mention in the official histories of Lonnie's catalytic role in Vineyard's early growth. He has been erased.
And Lonnie was in the back listening with his foot behind him up on the wall and his arms crossed, just listening to Wimber. Then he yelled out in the middle of the thing, "That's not what I am saying at all! What I'm saying is everybody here needs to get touched by the Holy Spirit, and you need to start to surrender to Jesus on a higher level!"
I thought, "Okay, we're not even zero now. We're now in the negative bracket! Oh man, we're in trouble!"
But the next thing I knew, a wave of the glory of God just came into the Wagner House over us. The man next to me, the nuclear physicist guy, got knocked to the ground and started rolling under my feet. I mean, I didn't even know what a "holy roller" was until then, but this guy became one before my eyes. So he was on the ground rolling, and the presence of God had come in on us like a thundercloud! Boom! It was incredible! People were laughing and crying and speaking in tongues. Lonnie yelled out super loud, "Now that's what I'm talking about!"
While in the absolute euphoria of the presence and power of God all over me and everyone else, I totally agreed with Lonnie. How could you not agree? God Himself decided to back up Lonnie with a mighty demonstration of what Lonnie was trying to say! We all need to get in touch with the Holy Spirit and go deeper!
…That is kind of how we did things. It started to progress very quickly. Lonnie was getting invited all over the place. He would visit a lot of other Calvary Chapels and other churches as well, and the presence of God would come wherever we went! So what Lonnie and I did, since he took me to everything, was just go in and share with people and say, "Hey listen, the Lord's been moving, and we're coming from some serious momentum," and then Boom! The presence of God would come down, usually touching the leaders first because, more often than not, they were the ones who were spiritually bankrupt. God was literally filling their accounts to overflowing.
…I got to see him use that gift in churches all over Southern California at this time. We saw the Lord move very, very powerfully everywhere we went!
Then the Inquisition BeganThe proper response to a move by the Spirit of God is to embrace it — even if you don't understand it all. This requires a certain step of faith. The Holy Spirit is not always a "gentleman." He is first of all the Lord God Almighty, who gives the gifts according to His will. And He is not over-concerned about preserving our respectability or obeying our standards of decorum or staying strictly within the boundaries of our human understanding. Sometimes He breaks our established paradigms. His aim is to bring glory to Jesus Christ, who has ascended to the Father and who will return in power and glory. But not all CC pastors were willing to take that step, and as I said earlier, many were not happy about the revival and the widening influence that Lonnie's ministry was starting to have, especially as more and more news got back to Costa Mesa about what was spreading. There was alarm that the "Calvary Chapel" brand name would be tainted, and that people entering a CC church would not find things in accordance with their expectations. "Someone would come in wanting to get a hamburger and would end up being given tacos instead," as one CC leader reportedly said about the matter.
God is not the author of schisms. I will be up front here about my opinion concerning the sad episode, which Lonnie very truthfully records on pages 146 to 148, in the section entitled "Messy." I regard it as probably being the sorriest mistake that pastor Chuck Smith ever made. However, all of this has been erased from the official histories. As I recollect, Carol Wimber, in her memoir of John Wimber, tried to put the best spin on the matter she could, and being forgiving, she underplayed what happened as much as possible. But it was obvious to me, reading her account, that the Wimbers were rather hurt by being forced to leave. On the other hand, Lonnie is more straightforward in describing things. Pastor Chuck Smith did not like the revival that was happening — it broke his paradigm of expectations — and he made it very clear to everyone that things were going to be either Chuck's way or the highway. To put it bluntly, pastor John Wimber and Lonnie Frisbee and CC Yorba Linda, and anyone else who sided with them, were being kicked out of the CC movement, and an "official explanation" was cooked up for public consumption to explain why. After first describing the initial, positive aftermath of the Mother's Day revival, Lonnie immediately goes on to give an account of what happened next, which I think is very important to know:
…Then to everyone's joy, the young people started bringing their friends, leading them to Christ, praying for the sick, and casting out demons. Within two or three months, the church practically doubled. …It was wonderful and exciting and powerful.I have to disagree a little bit with Lonnie here: God was not to blame for this schism, although in His grace He found ways to work around it. Unfortunately, being human, church leadership sometimes tries to justify its actions by conjuring up false dichotomies in order to confuse and cover up an issue, and this is precisely what Chuck Smith did here. On the contrary, God is only going one direction, and there is therefore no contradiction in His Kingdom between teaching the scriptures, worship, evangelism, church planting, and demonstrating the reality of Christ's resurrection through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit — healing the sick and casting out demons and prophecy and, yes, speaking in new tongues. God's Kingdom is universal and encompasses all these.
Then the inquisition began. Chuck Smith called for a leadership meeting of the Calvary Chapel pastors to discuss the controversies surrounding all that was going on. Over the next year or so, I attended a couple of these sessions, and as much as I love Chuck, it was not pretty. At the end of the day, the official Calvary Chapel consensus was that John Wimber would take his church out on its own or under another umbrella. The split was to be explained as a matter of church direction, personality, and emphasis. The Calvary Chapel faithful were to continue to focus mainly on Bible teaching and church planting. John Wimber and his congregation were obviously more focused on the gifts of the Spirit and worship. So that was that! Chuck Smith made it crystal clear that we were no longer a Calvary Chapel. He said, "We are going a different direction than where John's going, so today everybody's going to make a decision whether they're going with him or they're going with me."
Guys were weeping in that room! You know, by that time we were all nearly fifteen years into the movement and had solidly embraced Calvary Chapel everything: teaching, doctrine, strategies, relationships. Following John Wimber meant disconnecting from that and stepping into something that no one knew exactly what was going on or where it would lead. Chuck was drawing a line in the sand, and it was decision time. Unfortunately, it was said by some that Lonnie Frisbee got John Wimber and his church kicked out of Calvary Chapel, but I like to blame God on that one!
Lonnie goes into detail about the aftermath in his second book. I cannot cover all of it, so I can only quickly summarize. Ken Gulliksen, who had once been at Costa Mesa, had left years earlier to begin his own independent church planting work in Los Angeles county. Ken had a very active and interesting ministry, and it would be worthy of a book of its own. By May 1980, Ken had already established six churches, which bore the "Vineyard" name. This is how Lonnie describes, on page 148, what happened in a meeting that came very shortly after Chuck's "line in the sand" proclamation:
John Ruttkay and I went over to John's house right after that dramatic meeting, and there was a houseful of people and church leaders present discussing options. I think Blaine Cook and Jack Simms and the rest of the leaders were there. I remember my old friend Kenn Gulliksen was playing the piano, and at one point, which became a historic moment in church history, I heard him stop playing and say to John, "Why don't you come under our umbrella in the Vineyard? I would be willing to turn the leadership of these churches over to you. You are more of a leader than I am, and I recognize that. Pray about it."Later on, in a meeting at Morro Bay, which occurred something in late 1980 or early 1981, and which Lonnie also attended, John Wimber announced his intention to take up Gulliksen's offer. Here is how Kenny Morgan described John's announcement on page 164:
Finally, John Wimber got up and said, "Well, folks, the real reason we're having this worship meeting is that I'm changing the name on the bus. I'm no longer a Calvary. I'm a Vineyard, and I'm starting this movement. God wants His church back, so we're giving the church back to God. He wants people empowered. Those of you who want to come along and become a Vineyard, come with me."So within a short period of time, dozens of Calvary Chapels became Vineyards. Yes, the schism resulted in hard feelings, as Lonnie mentions in a quotation I have already given above from pages 175 to 176. It's hard to know who absorbed whom in this conglomeration between Gulliksen's churches, Yorba Linda, and the other CC churches that also joined with them and adopted the new name. The rest is history, as the old saying goes. John Wimber went on and became the towering figure in the Vineyard movement, and he subsequently molded much of its character and organization. John would have his own story of trials and tribulations, and Carol Wimber's memoir about his life was very touching to read. And as John Ruttkay described things, "The Vineyard was just skyrocketing up, becoming the trendsetter, becoming the go-to place in the Body of Christ for people to hear what the Spirit of God was really saying. John was one of the most in-demand speakers in the world" (pages 227 to 228). However, Lonnie would only be with Vineyard until early 1984.
Half the people were overjoyed, and half the people were really upset. And that's how the Vineyard Movement was publicly birthed and announced right there.
Allegations and Confessions
Upon coming to the end of an eventful ministry tour in South Africa in 1982, Lonnie and two of his friends encountered an "old prophetic man," who "had kind of a weird eye," who "looked way Old Testament", and who had some prophecies for them. After taking them outdoors to a park, this prophet first looked at Lonnie and said, "Brother, it's over for you in this movement. You're out." So Lonnie was forewarned about what was coming. He already had been the target of accusations and criticism before, but things were going to get worse, much worse. Lonnie begins to talk about this issue, beginning on pages 228 and those following, and in these pages, Lonnie deals with the other major reason for publishing his autobiography. I think it is especially important here that Lonnie be allowed to speak in his own words:
When I (Lonnie) returned to California from South Africa in 1982, all kinds of things began to happen. I was very familiar with spiritual warfare, especially when you attempt to serve God, but I was not prepared for the intensity of a totally new onslaught. It was not just one thing, but a series of things. For starters, there were accusations about my sexuality and rumors that I was gay. Throughout my entire ministry, the enemy has tried to label me. I will address that accusation now, but will also explore the whole subject of homosexuality in the final volume of my life story.I apologize to Lonnie and Roger Sachs if I have quoted too much from their book. I wish I could have quoted all of it. But I felt that it was important that Lonnie be allowed to speak about this issue using his own words. In my earlier ante-review, I had raised this question:
If you have read the first part of my story, then you know that I was molested by a pedophile as an eight-year-old child, which extremely traumatized me. When I told my parents, they didn't believe me, and this person continued to have access to my life, threatened me, and continued to molest me as a little child for several more years. I will filled with shame, terror, guilt, and self-loathing. I look back and see how the enemy put a mark on me that other pedophiles could see. One of my art teachers molested me and tried to convince me that it was normal, just alternative. A dance instructor did the same when I was on Casey Kasem's popular TV dance show, Shebang, as a fifteen-year-old.
I admit that as a young teenager I willingly explored my sexuality a few times, but I rejected that world. It was the early sixties, and besides, I was girl crazy and a hopeless romantic. On top of that, we were were in the midst of the drugs, free sex, and rock-n-roll generation. I became a nudist vegetarian with a very active sex life. I participated in multiple orgies and had a series of girlfriends and "puppy love" relationships. Being somewhat of a teenage star on Shebang opened me up to a whole world of promiscuity and the party life.
When I went to the art academy in San Francisco and lived in the Haight-Ashbury, I saw the militant gay movement get birthed, along with several other movements that swept across our nation. During that time, I was supernaturally led back to Christ and wholeheartedly dropped my net, left college and everything else behind, and followed Jesus. I'm not saying that as a young eighteen-year-old Jesus Freak I never smoked another joint, never dropped another tab of acid, or never stumbled sexually, but I am saying that God lovingly cleaned up my life and showed me a more rewarding and powerful way to live. Jesus met me in such wonderful, real ways that He captured my heart, and I am forever His! I serve Him because I want to, not because I have to.
I met and married my wife Connie while I was still a teenager and loved her with all my heart. I still love her, even after an adulterous affair destroyed our marriage years later. I told that story already. But after that, I suddenly became a single Christian, still in my twenties, who God had given great favor and visibility in the ministry. Believe me, I did not feel called to celibacy and really wanted to remarry and have a family. I was engaged twice over the next eight years to two wonderful Christian gals who I still love dearly, but it wasn't in the cards for us. The ministry kept me traveling the whole world on a super fast-paced trajectory. The enemy kept after me, but the truth is, I was daily serving God with all my heart.
… As far as the allegations that I am a homosexual, I will emphatically say right here, up front that I have never lived the gay lifestyle. At the same time, I have a ton of compassion for people who have been drawn into that world. They are some of the most interesting, creative, and gifted people. It's a huge and controversial subject, but I have my personal experience and have witnessed many others who have walked down that road. I have also seen much of the fruit of a life "coming out of the closet." It's usually not a pretty picture once you get past the thin veneer covering the brokenness of a very hurting person. I also have the revelation from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that homosexuality is a counterfeit. Don't believe the lie of a third sex, you know: male, female, and homosexual.
Does Lonnie say anything about the times when he lapsed into homosexual behavior? What was his viewpoint on this matter? In the first book, Lonnie didn't hesitate to talk honestly about how he was sexually molested as a child by a teenage babysitter on repeated occasions, but he only vaguely hinted at how that horrible experience effected the rest of his life. It would be interesting to find out what Lonnie, using his own words, has to say about this issue. It could clear up a lot of misunderstandings.It appears that Lonnie has answered my questions, but in a way that is not how I originally anticipated. He promises that the upcoming third book will deal with this subject in more detail. But Lonnie makes it more than clear ahead of time that he is denying the central allegation* that has been made against himself — an allegation that would be used to remove Lonnie from the ministry at Vineyard. Such an emphatic denial was not what I had been expecting. What Lonnie has said here does not fit in very well with the ideology of contemporary identity politics, and his denial appears to contradict the predominant thesis about Lonnie's life. Nevertheless, Lonnie makes it very plain that the one he belongs to is Christ, and that Christ is the one who provides his identity.
ConclusionI have to applaud Roger Sachs who put together the materials that Lonnie Frisbee had provided for him to create this autobiography. Reading it has brought me in contact with a personality who was vivid and fascinating. Sometimes I wondered how such a person could ever have existed. But he did. The second book covered much, and I have read it about six times now. I have gone back and reread the first book as well. There are other issues that I would have liked to have mentioned, but I have decided to hold off until I have had a chance to see the third book, subtitled Set Free. I hope that Roger Sachs will publish the third book soon, and that I live long enough to read it. Please, Roger, hurry up!
Finally, I would like to end this book review with Debbie LaMunyon's perceptive description, on page 202, of Lonnie's personality. She was the "girl in the green sweater" at the Mother's Day service:
He did not flow in the pride thing I see plaguing so many people. …Lonnie had this simplicity and childlikeness that was very appealing. He knew he was a broken vessel, but Lonnie trusted the Lord wholeheartedly.I regret that I never met him.
Note the picture at the top. It's cropped from a somewhat larger picture that has been displayed all over the Internet. A common misconception is that this picture was taken at the famous Mother's Day service. In fact, this picture originated from Linda Fletcher who has said it was taken from a service during a trip to England. If you study the picture carefully, it appears to be the interior of a church. As I recollect, the Mother's Day service was held in high school gymnasium, and there is no report that pictures were ever taken at the service.
* It should be noted that Lonnie also makes the same vehement denial on page 94 of the book. This is where he discusses an incident in Nairobi where a tour guide attempted to rob him.