The Jesus Revolution movie ended by saying that much of the Jesus Movement happened outside of and independent of churches. That was my experience and the experience of multitudes in my generation.
In early 1970 some students from Asbury University came and spoke at a small college in a small town in West Tennessee (University of Tennessee Martin) and spread revival to a weekly “Dorm Devotion” meeting there. A few weeks later I visited one of those meetings and found a room full of people visibly thrilled about Jesus.
What I heard students say and what I saw on their faces that night immediately changed me from within. I have never been the same. It still moves me to tears when I tell people about how Jesus showed Himself to me in an instant that night.
Those students quickly became family as together we celebrated our love for Jesus. We met weekly to sing songs, pray, hear testimonies, share Scriptures, encourage one another and enjoy Jesus’ presence working among us.
We continually hung out with each other during the week sharing our excitement about what Jesus was showing us and the amazing way He was working in our lives. We felt a deep bond that went far beyond theology or church affiliation. When we would run into each other in various places on campus, we often held hands and had spontaneous prayer meetings. We wanted to tell everybody everywhere about the living Jesus and even though most of us weren’t hippies, we were all known as Jesus Freaks.
During my years there I didn’t go to church much. When I did attend a sermon-based church service it was always a spiritual letdown from my daily and weekly experiences with my fellow campus Jesus-lovers.
We saw churches as mission fields where we could show up and tell people that Jesus is real and truly alive and present. We formed a choir and were occasionally invited to sing and testify in churches. We went on long weekends in churches called “Lay Witness Missions” where we took turns sharing our stories about how the living Jesus was working in our lives and saw many church people weep and repent and be transformed by the risen Jesus.
I was ruined by my Jesus Revolution college years. Since then, I’ve never been satisfied with a few songs and a sermon. I want to hear God’s people share how the living Jesus is working in and through them! I want to let Jesus take charge when we meet together so we can be led by the Spirit instead of by a pastor or a program. Is that too much to ask?
In the Jesus Revolution movie, Chuck Smith (the official church pastor) tells Lonnie Frisbee (the hippie co-pastor) that the church meetings need to be kept under control. Lonnie says that no one should try to control the Spirit. Then Chuck eventually forces Lonnie (who God had used to fill the church with hippies) to leave because he was obeying the Spirit and praying for and proclaiming miracles. (Lonnie later helped start the Vineyard Movement/churches, along with John Wimber, which was more open to the leading and gifts of the Spirit. However, it still maintained the one-man sermon and senior pastor model of church.)
After I graduated in 1974, I went to Southern California for a year because I wanted to continue to experience the Jesus Revolution. I went to seminary at Melodyland, a huge charismatic church and small seminary. I also went numerous times to the Saturday night concerts at Calvary Chapel. By that time both places had already drifted away from the Spirit-led spontaneity of the outta church Jesus Revolution into a more formal and religious approach to Christianity. There I realized that it takes hard work to hold on to your “first love” for Jesus.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” –Jesus, speaking in Revelation 2:4-5.
Over the years, I’ve seen much “first love” from the Jesus Revolution shift into formalism, religion, and institutionalism. I’ve even been forced to leave churches because I prayed for and proclaimed miracles. I pray that this present and coming Jesus Revolution is not so quickly muffled and muzzled by churches and religious organizations but remains free to let the living Jesus be the active, literal and ongoing Head of what He is now pouring out in the earth. (The 2023 Asbury Outpouring did a wonderful job of letting Jesus lead and keeping the focus on Him instead of on human leaders.)
Go see the movie, Jesus Revolution, and observe the way Jesus showed up with glory, healing, and deliverance in non-religious people’s lives. Then notice the shift toward institutionalism in the second half of the movie. Ask Jesus to show Himself to you and to keep you passionately following Him (instead of an organization or a pastor) for the rest of your life!
A few more thoughts:
- It’s hard to be led by the Spirit if you’re caught in the cages of institutional religion.
- If you mention your pastor’s name in conversations about church more than you do the name of Jesus, you need to reverse the order.
- I’d rather be thrilled about Jesus than chilled by church!
- Remove the Sunday morning gag order. Let church attendees tell the congregation what God is doing in their life.