World Changers: The 1st Century Church and the Jesus Movement

(Photo courtesy of Christianity Today)

World Changers: The 1st Century Church and the Jesus Movement

By Bonny Lou Dady

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” 

– Matthew 28:19-20

After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, He spent many hours preparing His disciples for their ministry – right up until He ascended up to Heaven! The last message He left them was to teach the people of the world about Him. Not just in Israel, but every part of this whole world. His followers have been doing that ever since.

In the first century, Jesus’ followers spread the message of the Gospel throughout the Hellenized Roman Empire and beyond to East Africa and South Asia! The Christian Apostles and many others traveled extensively and established communities of believers in major cities and regions everywhere they went. Later Christians founded church communities in Northern Africa, Asia Minor, Armenia, Greece, and many other nations. There were over forty established by the year 100 AD. Even in India.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to spread from person to person because the Grace of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection absolutely changes the heart and mind and soul of whoever it touches.  Grace and forgiveness that none of us deserves, but is freely and lovingly given through the sacrificial blood of God Himself – Jesus Christ!  Believers share this treasure through the leading and power of the Holy Spirit of God.

While there have been times throughout human history when it seemed as if the Gospel of Jesus Christ was either forgotten or ignored, God has always kept for Himself believers – called to share His message of salvation with others.  His message is still alive and continues to spread throughout the world! Even in places where it’s illegal and life threatening to become a Christian believer.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the world experienced an unlikely revival among a large group of young people – known as “Hippies.”  This revival began along the west coast of the United States and spread across the country and to Canada and parts of Europe and Central America.  Many of these hippies were part of the sex-drugs-and rock n’ roll culture, disillusioned with their parents’ and grandparents’ lifestyles, attitudes, and religious faith – which they saw as phony and hypocritical. They wanted nothing to do with mainstream religion.  When people like Chuck Smith, Duane Pederson, Jack Sparks, Lonnie Frisbee, and John Higgins began reaching out to these Hippies where they were, accepting them and not condemning them as people; sharing the true gospel of Jesus Christ with them, and showing a Christ-like spirit of love, the miracle happened! Being respected and treated kindly helped them be open to listening. These hippies began to realize they were actually loved by God.  Many prayed for forgiveness and gave their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ!   And were baptized very soon after! One of the methods used for outreach was to go to the beaches and parks and have conversations with the people there.  There were many, many people baptized in the Pacific Ocean!

The new churches of the Jesus Movement were often radically different from most mainstream churches, with a more casual atmosphere and music that reflected the tastes of the younger congregation. Instead of an organ or piano, their gatherings had guitars and drums and a brand new style of Christian music! These new believers and followers of Jesus Christ called themselves the Jesus People. Some in the hippie community who were not believers called them Jesus Freaks – as an insult. But the new believers chose to take on that name also!

There are some similarities between the early church of the 1st century and the Jesus Movement of the 20th century. The number of believers grew – not just because of the preachers and evangelists, but because the people themselves shared the Gospel with their friends, family, and strangers on the street! Being loved and accepted by the God of the universe gave them the desire and courage to share this wonderful message of forgiveness and grace with everyone they met! The Jesus Movement was the largest modern day spiritual revival in American history – and the effects of it are still with us.  Another way they mirrored the early church was the way the Jesus People took care of each other. Like the early church, many of them formed communities – communes in which each person shared their resources with others. Some were farming communes where everyone worked for the good of their congregation. No one went hungry or without basic necessities. Even in churches that didn’t form communes, the believers helped each other, supported missionary outreaches and charities, and ministered to the homeless.

The Jesus Movement also had a major impact on the outreach ministries of some of the more mainstream and established evangelical churches and organizations. Public high schools had christian clubs that met on campus.  Some were even allowed to schedule assemblies with special guest speakers from various christian groups. Groups like Campus Crusade for Christ and Teen Challenge are ones I remember attending at my high school! The assemblies were voluntary and usually during lunch hour or after school.

Soon after the Teen Challenge assembly, I was invited to a “Youth Rally” by a girlfriend who lived next door. I thought it was a party….so I was excited to go! It was a large gathering of teens from several church youth groups in LA County! It was held at a very large church. I wasn’t a believer yet, and was a little uncomfortable about being there. And disappointed it wasn’t a party. But when the special speaker began his message, the Holy Spirit softened my attitude and I listened intently to what he was saying. The speaker was Nicky Cruz. One of the founders of Teen Challenge. He had been a notoriously violent member of one of New York City’s criminal gangs; but was now a born-again believer and follower of Jesus Christ! His story is in the book, “The Cross and the Switchblade,” by David Wilkerson. And I remembered the people who came from Teen Challenge to my high school. When Nicky Cruz gave the altar call that night, I went down to the altar with at least a hundred others and prayed the sinners prayer. God forgave me – and I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ! I  sometimes called myself a Jesus Person too. I may never have been a Hippie, but I am a 64-year-old sinner who is saved by His Grace!

Part of the legacy of the Jesus Movement are the fastest growing denominations in the United States. Churches such as Calvary Chapel, Hope Chapel Churches, and the Vineyard Churches. The Contemporary Christian Music Industry and organizations like Jews for Jesus also have their roots in the Jesus Movement. Churches all over the world have renewed their calling to reach the marginalized. A great many have added guitars and drums to the more traditional organs and pianos in their worship services. Worship music has forever changed.

What started as an outreach to America’s hippie culture has had an incredible impact on the entire world! And all because a few people listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit within them, and stepped out of their comfort zone to befriend and minister to a bunch of lost hippies!