Did you know that there were more Christians worshiping God this past Sunday in Ghana, Africa, than in Scotland? Did you know that there were more Christians worshiping God in China than in all of Western Europe?
Jesus Movements are happening in the world today. We don’t always see as many signs of it in the West, but God’s work is flourishing across the planet. And this is to be expected— after all, in Acts 1:8 Jesus Christ promised the Holy Spirit, who would initiate explosive movements of God:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I’ve spent a good portion of my life studying the expansion of God’s kingdom, and how God works in extraordinary ways to accom-plish His purposes. In particular, I’ve looked at an often overlooked revival that took place in the United States just a few decades ago—church historians call it the Jesus Movement. Here are some things I’ve learned from it:
A Jesus Movement is a Holy Spirit movement. People cannot just get together and form a gospel movement. That’s the way a lot of people think—get a big group of people together, have them sign a document, give a press release, and call it a movement of God.
But if we’re going to see a genuine movement of God, it must be a movement of the Holy Spirit, like in the book of Acts. Jesus didn’t say, “You will receive power when you get your act together,” or, “You will receive power when you get your worship going strong.” What He did say is that we will receive power when something outside of us becomes a part of us and gets inside us.
The Holy Spirit is still working powerfully in the world today. Divine entropy does not exist—the Holy Spirit’s power has not been winding down over time. We find again and again in the book of Acts that reference is made to the disciples being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter was filled. Paul was filled. The disciples were all filled. And when this happened, they shared the gospel, lives were changed, and the church moved forward.
Jonathan Edwards, brilliant theologian and pastor at the epicenter of the First Great Awakening, said that one of the distinguishing marks of revival is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no spiritual awakening without the power of the Holy Spirit.
This was true during the Jesus Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, I recently interviewed John Bessanyo, who was the pastor at First Baptist Church of Houston the year they baptized almost 1,700 teenagers. (No church they knew had ever baptized a thousand people before.) He boldly told his church, “I would rather see hippies sitting on the floor worshiping Jesus at my church than sitting on a park bench smoking pot.” All these years later, Pastor Bessanyo describes very simply what happened: “It was a movement of the Holy Spirit.”
Only the Holy Spirit could take a drug addict named Ted Wise in San Francisco, the mecca of the drug culture, and use him to spark a movement toward Jesus, among hippies and drug users, that spread across the nation.
Only the Spirit of God could take a young pastor named Chuck Smith in California, who thought hippies should take a bath, and so change his attitude that he ended up baptizing hundreds of them in the ocean. His first Calvary Chapel then grew from 200 to 2,000 in about six months.
Only the Holy Spirit’s activity could explain Explo ’72, as Bill Bright called college students together to learn to share the gospel, and 80,000 young people gathered for a week!
Only the Holy Spirit could influence Life magazine, the biggest magazine in America at that time, to make one of their 1972 covers portray a guy wearing a t-shirt that said “One Way” as he pointed toward heaven.
Only the Holy Spirit could motivate 180,000 young people to gather on an unfinished expressway in north Dallas to worship God for an entire day.
Like the first Jesus Revolution in Acts, it was obvious that God was at work. Supernatural things were clearly taking place. That’s why those God uses to bring revival are not the strongest, but those most dependent on the Holy Spirit.
A Jesus Movement is a movement about Jesus. That seems obvious. But there are a lot of Christian movements today that aren’t about Jesus. Jesus said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me” (nkjv).
Not witnesses to a movement or to something in history; not even witnesses to the Word of God, but witnesses “to Me.”
According to the largest contemporary study on the history of youth and religion in America,* overwhelming numbers of teenagers in our churches are learning a brand of Christianity that is really nothing more than “moralistic therapeutic deism.”
Moralistic: The Bible is taught as an example to imitate. For instance, “David beat Goliath, so you can beat your enemies.” But that’s not the point of that story. That account is about God being a great Redeemer; David happened to be His tool. Yes, morality does result when the gospel changes us, but that’s the effect, not the main point.
Therapeutic: The Bible is framed as truths to make us feel better about ourselves instead of about Christ and His glorious gospel.
Deistic: The Bible is presented as truths about God rather than an invitation to relationship with God. A lot of young people today don’t believe God really cares about their individual, daily life.
In contrast, the two sayings of the Jesus Movement were “One way, through Jesus” and “Jesus is coming back, you’d better be ready.”
Oh, that we would lift up Jesus! I fear that we don’t talk about Jesus to lost people because we don’t talk about Jesus with each other!
What if you and I made it an intentional goal during the next thirty days to infuse Jesus into every meaningful conversation? That’s really what they did during the Jesus Movement. They talked about Jesus. Most of them didn’t have a theological background or training; they just knew that Jesus had changed their life, and they told everyone about Him.
A Jesus Movement is about the mission of God. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.” Then He gave us His plan: “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
That’s why we should care about another Jesus revolution in our day. We don’t want to see revival for the sake of revival; we want to see revival because more people will know God.
I’m giving my life to that, and I hope you are too.
*Explained in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, copyright © 2005, Oxford University Press. Also found at www.youthandreligion.org.
**This article was originally published in Revive Magazine. Read the rest of the magazine here.