Monday, January 02, 2006

My best (stolen) idea so far this year

I will get to the topic of prayer shortly, but in the meantime I want to hit on a post from a blog I checked out recently. In a humorous style the author suggested a new TV reality show- Extreme Church Makeover. Tear down a traditional church that is behind the times and replace it with something a little more 21st century. Something more in tune with the times. This is surely the way to do church in this era of Christians who seek to be relevant to their generation.

I like to read church history, and specifically the history of the past 100 years or so here in America. It is interesting that the ideas of people who believe God is doing a new thing with new wineskins have always been in conflict with those who believe that the old wineskins hold the vino very well, thank you, and we don't need to change them. And the new wineskins that people think are so necessary always become the old wineskins that a new generation wants to do away with. It's cyclical. New movements come, new movements go, and the people on either side of an impending change in style always look askance at the guy across the aisle, when in fact they don't have to, this too shall pass or at least be assimilated.

For example, look at the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in the early 1900's. The holy rollers came on the scene in waves, and boy were the established churches aggravated. Excessive emotion was being brought into the church, emotion not befitting the "house of Gawd" (adopt the proper pseudo-reverential tone here). These Pentecostals, as they were dubbed, were driven out and forced to establish their own fellowships. Eventually groups like the Assemblies of God sprang up, never intending to become a denomination, but after 30 years travelling down that road anyway. 100 years later the AOG is part of the establishment and new groups are trying to breath life into it. A movement that brought much needed life to the faith of many, and was thought of as a threat, did not remain so.

Just relax, folks. This too shall pass.

Jump ahead to the 1940's. We'll look at two movements in this period. The healing revival centered around travelling evangelists with enourmous dueling tents, all trying to outdraw the other guy. Jack Coe. A.A. Allen. William Branham. Gordon Lindsey. For a really great book on this time read "All Things Are Possible" by David Edwin Harrell. These evangelists haven't been looked on kindly with the passing of time, and in some cases for good reason; but in their day they wre trying to emphasize a forgotten truth, that of the healing of the body. They were looked on as a threat, as extravagant showmen, but in the end only a couple had a legacy that survived the time period. William Branham's followers circled the wagons and developed a cult-like following for the man; Gordon Lindsey established Christ For The Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas, a respected Bible college. What was new became establishment.

Billy Graham, the chaplain of America. Friend of presidents and world leaders, elder statesman of American Protestantism. Back in the 1940's he was controversial. When he worked for Youth For Christ he and his companions dared to wear suits with "loud" ties. They used trumpets and other such "modern" instrumentation in their rallies. His explanation? See if this sounds familiar- "we're trying to reach the youth of America in ways that relate to their culture." Hmm. Relevant before it became a magazine; emergent before the term became a buzzword. No one would accuse Youth For Christ of being radical today- they are part of the "old, outdated" church culture that people are railing against. What was new is now established.

The next wave of Pentecostalism hit in the 1950's and 60's when people in mainline denominations began to experience speaking in tongues. Instead of joining established Pentecostal fellowships they chose to stay within their Episcopal, Lutheran, etc. churches. They faced a lot of opposition from people who didn't want their religion sprinkled with too much outlandish behavior. Dennis Bennett received a lot of press when he was chased out of his Episcopla pastorate in Los Angeles in 1960. These people, for the most part, took their experience as a way to re-examine how the Christian faith could be more vital to them and by extension the rest of the world.
Another wave came in 1967, this one crashing into the starboard side of the Barque of Peter. In February of that year a group of college students from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh went on retreat, with most of them receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. These students spread their joy and revived faith to other college campuses- Notre Dame, Michigan State, the University of Michigan, etc. The more traditional minded Catholics saw them as a threat to the established order; they saw themselves on the cusp of a wave carrying their beloved Church to new heights of glory. 40 years later you don't hear a whole lot about the Catholic Charismatic movement. They have accomplished their goal of not being a movement apart from the church but reviving the life of the church and staying a part of it.

The new is now the old.

My favorite movement in the past 100 years, and one that has had an incredible influence on the church, is the Jesus Movement. It would be hard to pinpoint the beginnings of the thing; the followers at the time, of course, would say that the Holy Spirit started it in the book of Acts, but then, everybody says that. 1966-1967 is as good a time period as any to place the start. It began as a West Coast thing. California in the late 60's provided the start for a lot of new ideas and different lifestyles. Flower children were turning on, tuning in and dropping out, and their parents were looking askance at their choices. Yet there were some hippies who had "turned on" to Jesus Christ and wanted their comrades to see that there was a way out, a destination to their seeking. These hippies told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on.... Time magazine, who had asked whether God was dead earlier in the decade, was now proclaiming that the "Jesus Revolution" was upon us. Young people who had once shared their weed were now sharing the Word, and were looking for new rolling papers to wrap around what they had found. They started Bible studies which grew exponentially. They lived together in sanctified communes. They started playing a kind of music that sounded strange when compared to the pipe organ and piano tunes that most church people were used to, but which resonated within the hearts of their beloved friends that they were trying to snatch out of the fire.
The media frenzy over this movement lasted about five years, and then when the hippie movement died out, so did their interest. The communes closed shop, the Bible studies became churches and even grouped together to form *gasp* denominations (see Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard), and their musical outreach became big business. The Jesus Freaks themselves cut their hair, traded the tie-died shirts for stiff collars and ties, and became a part of the establishment they so railed against. Yet their influence remains.

This isn't the end, of course. Non-denominational churches became denominations; Willow Creek became a rallying point and then a lightning rod; the Vineyard was not as radical as people thought. Seeker sensitive, Toronto Blessing, Hobart Freeman, Witness Lee, laughing revival- all of these and more came and went. My point is twofold. One, the movements that seem "dangerous", "radical" and a threat to the life of the church are rarely that. They just need time to grow and mature. How many of us have said or done things in our immaturity that we wish we could have a do-over on? The people in established churches and ministries sometimes need to take a step back and let these new plants grow. Water them; take out a few weeds on occasion; but don't uproot the plant before it has a chance to grow.

Second, the people on the cusp of change in the church needn't be so quick to give a metaphorical middle finger to what has gone before. What goes around comes around, and the people too quick to jettison the baggage of the church will soon find themselves scrambling for liferafts as the next wave of change hits. Besides, without the pioneering efforts of those in past years, some of the methods we hold so dear to our hearts today would be much harder to implement. Without Larry Norman and Love Song there is no worship band; without Willow Creek there is no Emergent conversation.



Blogger Call Me Ishmael said...

I, too, enjoy church history. But at this point on my blog ( I'm still working my way into the 20th century. Thanks for the enjoyable post.

10:53 AM  
Blogger TIMMY D said...

Hi! My name is Tim DeMoss. I’m a disc jockey from Pennsylvania and am in the process of writing Larry Norman’s biography. While I have a lot of material from interviews, time spent with Larry, and so forth, I believe a great way to tell his story is to invite others (like yourself) to share their stories of Larry as well. I did a “Yahoo” search, and your link was one of those listed, so I wanted to extend the invitation to you to contribute. Personal interactions, concert experiences, how his music affected you and your friends/family, rumors you may have heard, questions you may have—those are all examples of how you might participate.

The details and background are at Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Please also feel free to forward this on to anyone you believe would a) like to submit their thoughts or questions or b) simply be made aware of the biography’s progress and completion.

Thanks very much!


Tim DeMoss

2:42 AM  
Blogger Solomon Patha said...

Hi I am Solomon Patha from Australia, I very much agree what you are saying, this is what I was trying to tell my old Pentecostal Church back in India, All the Churches are growing and only the charismatic churches like ours is not growing they still want to follow the old traditional styles, infact our was very ignorant to buy musical instruments, and you know the old church elders(so called) the pastor needs their approval for everything, ridiculous. I have this great Vision from God to make a revival in the traditional churches to win souls for Christ, it only happens if you draw young people.

Thanks your blog helped me a lot to focus on.

Solomon Patha

10:52 PM  

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