In the last Langstaff Letter, I gave a brief overview of the Jesus Movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s referring to a book ‘God’s Forever Family’ by Larry Eskridge. Here I want to look at 10 things we can learn from the Jesus People Movement that can be relevant to a future move of God amongst young people today, or any move of God that He would bring amongst us now.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT BEGAN IN A MOST UNLIKELY PLACE
The Jesus People Movement, according to Eskridge, began with a converted Bohemian couple, Ted and Elizabeth Wise, who, in the counter culture of the 60’s in San Fransisco, got saved. Initially, they would be taking a trip on LDS on Saturday night and then going to church on Sunday morning.
I wonder what unlikely group of people God may be planning to use to light some fires today. God can and does move in unexpected ways in unexpected places.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT AROSE OUT OF A TIME OF FLUX AND CHANGE IN SOCIETY
The 1950’s and the early 1960’s was a time of relative stability in society even in regard to the youth of that day. But all that changed quickly as the 1960’s became a time of flux and change, that produced in society a counter cultural movement, which is still being felt fifty years later. Social and political crises arose, particularly in the civil rights revolution and then the reaction to the war in Vietnam. Young people began to throw off moral restraint, fueled by a sexual revolution and the advent of the pill. Drugs came on the scene and the whole world changed.
Sometimes we despair at the changes that have occurred more recently, including gay marriage, but let us remember, it is often the midst of flux and change in society that God moves. Let’s expect God to move again.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT DID NOT START AS A REACTION TO THESE CHANGES IN SOCIETY
The Jesus Movement was not a direct reaction to what was happening in the counter culture of that day. Much of it was absorbed into their Christian viewpoint. They did not initially throw away drugs, communal living. Holding all things in common was practiced, which was also fueled by the reading of Acts 2. Over time, this evolved and changed, but initially they were not separate from some of societies ways.
Sometimes we expect people to turn their back on everything they have ever known and try to instantly make them ‘holy.’ I remember a hippie who got saved He was living with his girl friend. He came to his pastor and said that God was ‘talking to him about fornication. What is fornication?’ It was then that things changed and today he is being mightily used of God. God’s grace prevailed where legalism might not have.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT BEGAN AS A GRASS ROOTS MOVEMENT
Whilst ministries like Teen Challenge in New York began with a leader such as David Wilkerson, the Jesus Movement that started on the West Coast was initially a grass root movement, as God began to get a hold of young people in the counter culture. Initially, some of them ‘saw no reason to sever their connections with their friends in the Bohemian fast developing hippie scene in San Francisco.’
It began with people who often had no real training or experience in teaching others in a Christian community, which brings us to the next point.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT INITIALLY LACKED MATURE LEADERSHIP
It is obvious, as you read Eskridge’s book, that the movement suffered from the lack of mature leadership, particularly in the early days. Partly because pastors and leaders did not know how to relate to this new thing. Later people, like Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, got involved. But even he did not want to get involved to start with and it was his wife who first showed interest in the hippies at nearby Huntington Beach. Still later, some of them moved into the shepherding movement led by the Fort Lauderdale Five (Charles Simpson, Bob Mumford, Ern Baxter, Derek Prince and Don Basham), which also brought controversy into the Body of Christ.
Contrast that with other movements, like the Wesleyan Revival and the way John Wesley was able to bring structure into the movement through the equivalent of small group ministry. This brought accountability and growth.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT TOOK THE BIBLE SERIOUSLY ALBEIT LITERALLY
The new street Christians took the Bible seriously, including a ‘literalistic interpretation of Scripture’ that led them into a heavy emphasis on Pentecostal and charismatic phenomena.’ They expected what they read in scripture about the early church to be happening in this present day and age. It was the intensity of their beliefs that set them apart from the church people of that day. In many ways they were radical about what they believed and sought to live.
Today, as the Bible is increasingly under attack, we need to get back to the solid foundation of the Word of God. At a time when many Christians don’t read the Bible regularly, we need to become Bible reading Christians again.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT EMPHASIZED ESCHATOLOGY AND THE RETURN OF JESUS
The belief for many was that they were living in the last days, that the condition of the world was rapidly deteriorating and there was a certain pessimism about the direction they were headed. ‘Thus, a study of Bible prophecy and an emphasis on coming judgement came to preoccupy the Jesus People and figured strongly in their evangelistic message.’ This was referenced by ‘Hal Lindsey’s breezy best selling analysis of Bible prophecy The Late Great Planet Earth. The book achieved remarkable penetration within the ranks of the Jesus Movement.’ This was also reflected in music with songs like Larry Normans ‘I Wish We’d All Been Ready.’ In turn, Calvary Chapel’s Chuck Smith ‘regularly turned to the prophetic to snare audience interest.’
Maybe today we need to look again at eschatology and, in spite of the variety of eschatological viewpoints, at least remind people the Jesus is coming and it may be sooner than we think.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT EMPHASIZED COMMUNITY
One of the distinctive characteristics of the Jesus Movement was communal living. ‘While most Jesus People did not live in community, the ubiquity of communal houses and communes within the movement was so radically at odds with normal Christian life-styles that it definitely set it apart as something different’ as they sought to live out the book of Acts.
Communal living has not ever been a lasting characteristic for most believers, none the less the emphasis on a closer relationship between believers is something needed today.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT BEGAN WHAT BECAME CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN MUSIC
‘From the beginning, music was an integral part of the Jesus People Movement’s message and appeal.’ One has to remember that initially evangelicals had been at the forefront of the critics during the emergence of rock and roll in the 1950’s. Even Billy Graham, in 1960, declared, ‘If I were 17 today, I’d stay as far away from it as I could.’ Obviously, he changed his position and later had groups like D.C. Talk and Michael W. Smith sing at his youth nights in his crusades. Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel had a profound effect on shaping Jesus music. People attracted there included Chuck Girard and the group Love Song. From those early days, you had the beginnings of what is called today ‘Contemporary Christian Music.’
We need to remember that music has always played a major part in any new move of God.
THE JESUS MOVEMENT LEFT A LASTING LEGACY
Larry Eskridge argues, ‘that the Jesus People Movement is one of the most significant American religious phenomena of the post war period.’ Undoubtedly, one of the major parts of that legacy is Contemporary Christian Music. Eskridge notes, ‘The rise of these new styles of evangelical music, easily accessible to anyone familiar with the larger popular culture, bespeaks another way in which the Jesus People Movement has impacted American evangelicalism; the rise of the seeker-sensitive megachurch. Two of the prototypes for the megachurch model – the original Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois – both trace their roots (albeit very differently) to the days of the Jesus People Movement. Both have become influential models and planters of similarly styled churches. The casual, come-as-you-are informality and attachment to up-tempo contemporary music and pop culture that are the staple of this dynamic new ecclesiastical form are a direct result of the Jesus People Movement. Yet the largest impact of the Jesus Revolution was greater than the sum of its parts. Tens of thousands of youth from outside evangelical ranks found the Jesus Movement to be a congenial entry point into the larger American evangelical subculture. More important, millions of evangelical youth were able to negotiate a truce between the demands of their own religious heritage and allure of secular youth culture.’
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
To summarize, God can and does moves in new and unexpected ways including:
In the most unlikely places/unlikely people
In the midst of social change
Within society, not separate from it
Beginning with a grassroots movement
Needing mature leadership
With an emphasis on the Word of God
With a reminder that He is coming back
That cultivates relationship amongst believers
With a new song and music
That leaves an ongoing legacy.