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Jesus Revolution: that was then, this is now.
The movie "Jesus Revolution" was surprisingly successful in the box office. So how do we reflect on this movie & what God did w/ the hippies? Read Wes' latest article and watch/listen to our podcast!
I recently watched the Jesus revolution movie that has swept across the charismatic nations the past few months. Admittedly I was skeptical… but, as someone who has grown up and serves in the Vineyard movement, a movement that sprung forth from this move of God, I couldn’t help but be curious about the movie and also a little excited to see it. Seeing how well the people who were there during this time responded only added to my excitement.
I am someone who grew up in the wake of the movement. I attended a Vineyard church in South Africa in the 90’s and by that time, the Jesus people revival had begun dying down but I was none the wiser. Ever since then, our movement has been grappling with our identity of who we are now that we aren’t in that same period of time anymore. I have been to enough conferences where there’s been a loud cry of God to “do it again”. There’s been a strong yearning amongst the generation that experienced this time for God to send His Spirit the same way He did in the 70’s. Admittedly I’ve at times been annoyed with this request. For one reason, I never experienced it. Second, and most importantly, it meant that God was not moving now and therefore we “lacked” God’s presence in some way. It took me to watch the Jesus Revolution to understand more fully why there’s been such a yearning for God to move in the same way.
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After watching the movie I was left with the strangest feeling. One where I almost felt like I was there and experienced it too… even though I obviously didn’t. The people behind the movie did a fantastic job conveying a realistic picture of what was happening during that time, and this has been verified by nearly everyone I’ve spoken to who was there. Particularly the beach scene, where thousands of people show up to get baptized at the ocean in California. As far as I know, that hadn’t happened before.
The movie mainly followed the characters of Greg Laurie, Lonnie Frisbee and Chuck Smith… and their respective relationships. It showed how Lonnie was a catalyst for this move of God… simply because Lonnie went knocking on doors asking to let him and his people (hippies) in and also how pivotal Chuck Smith was in eventually opening up space in his church for Lonnie and his friends.
There was many theological themes teased throughout the movie and I obviously can’t cover them all during this post, but there are three I’m hoping to focus on; the missional, sacramental and worship centered.
Worship and Mission:
When I was listening to a podcast released by The Vineyard where Caleb Maskell interviewed the Gulliksens’, Mike Turrigiano and Chuck Girard who were all part of the Jesus people movement. During the interview, Chuck mentioned that during that time they had a saying that they would have one hand stretched out to Jesus and another to a friend inviting them along. It was so simple yet so profound.
I’ve read a lot of books on the missional relationship of our worship and nothing, and I mean nothing, comes close to summarizing the relationship as well and succinctly as that line. For the Jesus people movement, worship was not a private experience, but a deeply public one. One where anyone and all were invited. Actually it was done so that anyone was welcomed. It’s where the phrase come as you are comes from because anyone could come exactly as they were. Luckily the movement hadn’t read the Benedict Option and wasn’t not interested in being closed off nor strategizing how to put their own oxygen masks on first before engaging in the broader culture. That wasn’t even an option nor in the paradigm of how they saw their mission. The biggest problem they had was that it was working and they constantly had to reshape their services to provide space for everyone coming to know Jesus. Winfield Bevins’ notes that in their book, Worship and Mission After Christendom, Alan and Eleanor Kreider say the church needs to both inhale in worship and exhale by going into the world and sharing the good news; making peace; and caring for creation, reconciliation, and the marginalized of society.
I was struck by how there was such a high capacity to integrate aspects of worship and mission that we struggle with today. There was a high view of scripture and one of inviting the Spirit and making space for charismatic experiences. There was both a high view of the pastoral role that Chuck Smith had, and an eagerness to recognize the priesthood of all believers. There was a sacredness to both the gathering of God’s building in a building and a venturing out beyond the walls to baptize people in the ocean. There’s many more tensions that are often felt today that simply didn’t exist. Songs of praise quickly became the primary way in which people worshipped God yet the opening of the Word was highly valued at the same time. People would bring their bibles, open them and take notes. Finally there was also a great balance of following a structure and being led by the Spirit. There was a desire to engage in liturgical practices of prayer songs and listening to the Word and inviting the Spirit to move too. Simon Chan, one of the most important Pentecostal theologians alive today provides a helpful framework for integrating liturgy and the work of the Spirit:
“The liturgy is simply a way of structuring worship that is faithful to what the Spirit is doing in the church: forming it into the body of Christ.” (Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology)
For Chan, Liturgy is not a framework but more of a patterned way of the Spirit moving with the congregations context, culture and time. The liturgy and patterned way it formed people in the Jesus people movement is going to be different to the liturgies we enact today yet it’s still the same Spirit and the goals and intentions are the same of the people of God.
I want to start off by saying that I’m focusing on the sacrament of baptism here as from I’ve read, heard and seen, communion was not as central to the movement as baptism was. Although I’m happy to be corrected on this. However, there was a scene in the movie where Greg Laurie decides to get baptized for the first time and it also coincided with his first decision to become a follower of Jesus. There were thousands of people on the beach, his then girlfriend, now wife Cathy just got baptized and at this point Greg knew Lonnie somewhat and Lonnie had introduced Jesus to him to a degree. Greg makes the decision to enter the water and is baptized by Lonnie who says he is forgiven of his sins and is made new.
As people have noted how accurate this scene was, it’s hard not see the Spirits’ unique involvement in this event that is taking place where the mystery of the gospel is birthed in people’s hearts for the first time as they decide to be baptized. I don’t want to quote him, but I remember listening to Fr John Behr noting how the Gospel has this constant metaphor of birthing life into people. For a lot of people, their story of following Jesus for the first time was one of a journey that involved struggling and wrestling with their identity, the world around them and their meaning in life. In this journey they don’t figure things out as much as they accept the invitation of the gospel of Jesus being birthed in their lives and being forever changed and this often happened during baptisms. The Spirit inviting people to die to their old selves and be made new to life in Christ through the act of water baptism. The Spirit was and is present in baptisms. Hallelujah.
With all this then, what can we take away as the church today in North America in 2023? I’ve sat with this question for a long time. If there was one thing we could learn from the Jesus people movement and the way God moved with them and bring it with us into the future what would it be? For me I think it’s actually the radical communal nature of the movement that was centered on the Love of God and others. It’s almost as if Jesus was onto something when he said the greatest command was to love God and others. One thing I couldn’t help but notice in the Vineyard podcast was how Mike, the Gulliksen’s and Chuck all constantly repeated how the entire movement was filled with such a strong sense of love for one another and God. Again and again they spoke on how sweet the love was for everyone.
In a recent talk by the preeminent South African psychologist Dr Mark Stonestreet, he noted that the biggest change he’s seen in his three decades of clinical practice of seeing clients is how more isolated people have become and for him it’s one of the biggest problems facing humanity today. He made the observation that if we want to carry out our mandate of wholeness in today’s culture we could learn from the Jesus people movement because “they understood connecting with people and providing a healing community”. He noted that when the Vineyard movement started, the world was actually a very divided and separated place and that the movement helped transform the world because it set to connect people rather than continue to divide it.
I couldn’t agree more.
I don’t think you’ll find a single person living in America who thinks we’re a very united country right now. We are in desperate need of a move of God that dismantles walls and barriers to people connecting and living out their lives in a healing community in their journey to wholeness centered on God’s love. As the church we need to take risks in our neighborhoods and communities to provide creative ways of connecting ALL people EVERYWHERE. I once heard theologian Dr Willie Jennings say he thought the car was one of the biggest failures of the church in the past 100 years. He meant that the church never once questioned or spoke out about how the car was destructive to building communities. He said the car has directly led to people becoming less connected and more private and that the church needs to be in the business of connecting people and building communities. The church needs to start taking risks again in following the Spirit into uncharted places that we don’t have a vision for but God does.
Fittingly I feel like we should end with a quote from John Wimber on community:
“A loving community is a powerful tool and witness to the world. From the Book of Acts, we get a glimpse of the effectiveness of this corporate witness (2:44; 4:32). The messianic community of the King broke into first century life and was a foretaste of the banquet table to come. Surely the lavish love for one another expressed by the early church was a sign and a wonder to unbelievers that was as powerful as the healing of crooked legs!” (John Wimber, The Value of Small Groups)
Watch our latest podcast on the topic (or listen to audio here):
About the Author
Wesley McLachlan was born and raised in South Africa before moving to the United States to complete his Masters in Theology. He has served as an associate pastor in a Vineyard church and is currently working as a hospice chaplain in Vancouver Washington where he, his wife Irene, and daughter Amelia attend Vancouver Vineyard Church.