New wave

Part 2 of a 4-part series

Continuing through to the end of the week, we are going to be putting the Catch in historical context, corresponding to how God has led us (John & Marti) from the beginning of our lives until now. This is because we believe we are on the cusp of a major shift in attention by the Holy Spirit related to the church and the world, and we want you to understand and appreciate its significance, share in our excitement, and be ready for what’s coming.

th-3In June of 1972, a five-day event was held in Dallas, Texas, that came to be known as “The Christian Woodstock.” Estimated crowds of 100,000 or more young Christians converged on the city for daily seminars and nightly gatherings in the Cotton Bowl, culminating in a large outdoor concert featuring many of the new Christian rock bands in an open field, and attended by an estimated crowd of 80,000. The event was organized by Campus Crusade for Christ, and officially called Explo ’72.

It was the beginning of a new era for the church and for Christians in general, and what I look upon as the end of the Jesus movement. I think of it as the end of a movement because it was highly-organized and promoted all over the country, and attended by people who were for the most part already Christians. Up until this time, events were poorly-organized, hastily thrown together and attracted large numbers of curious non-Christians. It was a street movement with the goal of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ and had a real sense of being Holy-Spirit-inspired. No one could take any credit for what was going on.

The new era, however, was highly-organized, commercialized and well-marketed. Immediately following this event (and some commentators think because of it), Christian music exploded at a rapid pace as record companies sprang up, utilizing Christian radio as a centralizing force. Christian radio became a sort of non-denominational headquarters for promoting everything that was culturally Christian. By 1973, non-Christians stopped coming; they pretty much left us to ourselves. Consequently, it wasn’t Jesus music anymore; it was now “contemporary Christian music.”

The young people of the Jesus movement were becoming young parents wishing to raise their kids in a safe Christian environment, and a multi-billion dollar contemporary Christian industry was more than willing to serve them, offering Christian music, Christian jewelry and Christian books covering everything from personality temperaments to the end times. Out of the Jesus movement, a subculture was born, providing conformity, and a safe place to hide in an ever-threatening world.

Now we can see what was dangerous about this; then it was too new and exciting to notice anything wrong. What could be wrong with large numbers of Christians coming together to worship God? What could be wrong with Christian music, Christian radio, Christian schools, Christian aerobics, and pretty much Christian anything that the culture at large enjoyed? In other words, what could be wrong with an alternative Christian subculture?

I can think of a few things:

  • Isolationism
  • Separatism
  • Judgmentalism
  • A new sense of power in numbers
  • A new sense of cultural power

Even way back as far as Explo ’72, one local newspaper reporter who attended explained what he experienced there as “militant Christianity.”

Uh-oh.

I think I can see where this thing is headed. What happened to the gospel? What happened to “Welcome Back?” When did open arms to the world turn to folded arms of a culture war? What happened to the Gospel of Welcome?

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11 Responses to New wave

  1. David says:

    Fascinating perspective from someone who spanned this era of church history in America. Interestingly, even as a “Christian kid” in the midwest, I recall with fondness the “inclusiveness” I felt of the early “Jesus Movement”, when saying I was a Christian didn’t immediately part the waters of the culture around me.

  2. Carole in Midland says:

    What a sad commentary on our evolution… but it explains a lot for me – why at Bible college I was considered a rebel from the get-go who needed to be reigned in (for the way I dressed and where I hung out for the most part);why I’m not comfortable in many mainstream churches now and even why “new” church movements that cater to a particular demographic somehow don’t seem “right” either. It is human (and animal) nature for like creatures to create herds, (in our case, “communities”) – but I don’t think that is entirely God’s nature. Christ died (and rose) for ALL of us (whether we like it or not). If He doesn’t exclude anyone from the opportunity to come to Him, how can we, who claim to follow Him, pick and choose who is worthy of the Gospel?

  3. I love remembering those days. In Indiana we had a coffee and pizza shop that went from having a reputation of a place where druggies and “hippies” hung out to a Christian coffee shop. I loved the early years when people were coming to Christ at all hours and most of our churches were scared when one of the “freaks” walked into their doors. I am much younger than you, John 🙂 so in my teens most of it had become the aftermath of 1972.
    A few years ago some Christians in our town started a “Christian Coffee Shop” for high school age kids and they were charging 2.50 for coffee. They even kicked some kids out if they weren’t the right age.
    It failed.

    • jwfisch says:

      They obviously didn’t hear about the guy who was going to start a Christian coffeehouse until he discovered there was already a coffeehouse down the street where lots of people hang out and perhaps he should just go there!

  4. Marc says:

    What happened? The same thing that happened over and over to new breezes of the Spirit from the very beginning. It died out and became organized, a shadow of its former self. It starts fresh, disorganized, but fresh, and attractive. Then, it’s not enough. It hardens into something tangible, Unlike what began, which can be described by Jesus’ words in John 3:8

    John 3:8
    Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
    8 The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

    We want something solid, and that’s what it becomes. Even the Pharisees started out as a revival, something good, but by Jesus’ time, it hardened into something the original Pharisees would not have recognized.

    You spoke of it before in a parable you wrote called “The Adventures of Reefer.” Something well worth referring back to.

    • jwfisch says:

      Thanks for the reference!

      • Marc says:

        John,
        It is like this parable Jamie Buckingham told one time of a lifesaving station that went out and rescued people who were shipwrecked on the rocks. It was more tragic when they found out the ships were chartered by the big Inland Club, a group that had been a lifesaving station before the hurricanes forced it inland to safer ground.

        Those rescued were grateful to the Lifesavers, and asked them to teach them how to save lives. Eventually, the lifesaving station became a plush clubhouse which became less and less involved in saving lives. The last two paragraphs of the story I give complete, as we need to remember the tragedy, so as not to repeat it, if we can:

        “At the next meeting the Band divided. One group pulled out, insisting their primary purpose was to save lives, not just mantain the lighthouse and keep the bulb burning. They agreed among themselves to go down the coast and start their own lifesaving station. THey had done it before, they could do it again.

        As the years went by, I understand, the new station slowly went through the same changes that occured in the old. A huge lighthouse was built with clubrooms, bowling alleys, bingo parlor and paneled study for the Lifesavers. The committed ones finally pulled out and started another station down the coast. Now they tell me, if you visit that coast you will find a number of lighthouses along the shore–all calling themselves Lifesaving Stations.

        Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

    • jwfisch says:

      Can only let it move you through the water.

  5. Thanks Marc. That’s a great parable

  6. Markus says:

    This here is not the most recent Catch, but I had to think of the local Jesus Freaks in my hometown. I went to check out their church, went time and time again, and what I did NOT see was horrible! The Church was either closed, or there were just 2(!) regulars there. They told me about how they were disappointed by the fact that the church community had voted to pretty much abandon itself for the sake of smaller and more private meetings. Hello? Isn’t a Church supposed to be something that can be found by everyone who bothers to look for it? I wanted to find a community, but all I found were two disgruntled regulars who felt helpless about this mess. Rarely have I seen something so utterly disappointing.

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