For 2 hours yesterday evening I sat in Currambine cinema with tear-filled eyes watching the story of Jesus Revolution unfold. I was reflecting this morning on why it is that a movie like that could evoke such emotion. I grew up in that era, but I was completely unaware of the Jesus freaks and the revolution that was happening in California – because it sure wasn’t happening in Belfast. Our church was stiff, staunch and unlikely to ever be invaded by local conservative neighbours let alone a tribe of counter culture hippies.
(Spoiler alert – only a few bits of the movie – but just a heads up!)
I’m not sure how young I was when I realised that church had to change – that we simply were not speaking the same language as the people in our local neighbourhoods. I’m guessing I was around 18, just starting to figure things out, but still steeped in religious traditions that affect me even today. This morning in church Ed used the concept of ‘pursuing holiness’, an idea I am in full agreement with – but the mental images that so often come to mind are still of harsh older men frowning on new ideas (like allowing into membership people who drank alcohol) or on younger people who were new to church life and wanted to play drums during worship. For some reason ‘holiness’ was spoken of in austere tones and it came with stern warnings and creased brows. I still need to substitute ‘Christlikeness‘ for holiness to make sure I focus on the right things – love, joy, peace, goodness etc – not wearing a tie to communion on a Sunday morning.
I sense some of my tears are for a church that still loves its own traditions and practices more than the people around who find them alienating and confusing. I remember hearing a pastor speaking to first time visitor to church:
Pastor: ‘How did you find it then?’
Visitor: ‘Oh ok – I didn’t mind the karaoke, but what was with the Nazi salutes?’
We exist in a whole different culture sometimes – which doesn’t mean we need to stop worshiping freely or allowing aspects of identity to jar with culture, but we need to be aware of it. Some ‘jarring’ is good – we are supposed to be different – but some jarring also is the kind that simply sends people away.
I have found myself always wanting to communicate the message of Jesus in a way that is both true and appropriate to the people who are hearing the message. If they can’t make sense of our message then maybe it’s not that they need to bone up on scripture a bit more. Rather it’s we who need to learn how to communicate more effectively. The onus is always on us.
Back to the movie – I loved the moment where in response to the claim that barefoot hippies were making the church carpet dirty, Chuck Smith met them at the entrance with a basin of water and lovingly washed their feet. I loved that he stepped back and gave space to Lonnie Frisbee thru whom the Spirit was clearly moving and I loved that this conservative man was willing to put aside
his own preferences so that God’s Spirit would not be quenched or squashed. I shed tears as the existing members used their giving as leverage and as they left in disgust because of what their church had become. I almost cheered aloud during the scene where the elders stood to leave and two made their way out while the other moved across the aisle and took up a seat among these new people who were flooding his church.
I felt like it was also a warning to those of us who may think we have got church to a place where it is relevant and connecting, that maybe it works for us and our friends, but that God may yet want to upend the ship and challenge us to completely re-think this whole thing all over again.
What would missionaries do if they landed in Perth this week? That is the question I find myself coming back to day after day. And I wonder what kind of a church would emerge from good missionary work…
As I watched the story unfold I reflected on some of my own younger days and the craziness of church back at Lesmurdie Baptist, when as youth pastor I said ‘yes’ to virtually every crazy idea our youth leadership team came up with – and there were plenty. I applaud the grace of those older people in that church who didn’t get all of what was going on, but did see enough of the Spirit of God at work to believe that they could not only give permission – but actually support us. The youth ministry years at LBC were as close to ‘revival’ as I think I have ever come. There was a sense of the Spirit of God at work.
If I were critical of the time (and I do look back with a fair amount of critique) it is to ask ‘where are they now?’ There was a popular youth ministry book back in the day by the title of Fruit That Will Last (by John Dickson I think…) and while we spoke of that as the goal, I know plenty of fruit went bad pretty quickly and simply didn’t last – which is why every time I come across a face from our youth ministry days and they are still faithfully following Jesus I cheer (inwardly cause I’m an introvert) because this is what I dreamt of.
Perhaps the same question could be asked of the Jesus movement of the 60’s and 70’s. ‘Where are they now?’ And I imagine the answer would be a normal distribution curve of healthy disciples right thru to those for whom faith was a passing fad. It was sad to see the conflict between Frisbee and Smith, that led to their parting ways and I am yet to decide if it was helpful or not that Frisbee’s struggle with same sex attraction was left unspoken. I have always found it amazing that God could use someone so powerfully who was living such a conflicted life.
I know some speak of ‘revival’ as what we need, but I wonder they mean by that… because I don’t think we are going to see our churches flooded with people coming back to the faith they had forgotten. I sense we have moved so far from Christendom that any awakening will most likely be unlike anything we have seen before. It will catch us off guard, we will be suspicious, but hopefully if it is genuine we will give space for God to do what he wants to do. I know this 58 year old long term God botherer hopes not to ever stand in the way of something outrageous that God may want to do. I would much rather be a part of a messy move of God than a spectator to a dying religious institution.