The cartoon above makes me bite my lips real hard. The cartoonist caught just what some people think about the trend in some churches to turn the worship service into a coffee shop atmosphere with some talking. While the term “seeker sensitive” is not as much of a buzz-word as it used to be, the concept is still around.
But, there is a root that goes all the way back to the Jesus People of the 1970’s. The Jesus People were the parallel cultural reaction to the “hippies.” In both cases, there was a legitimate and merited rejection of the cookie cutter mentality of the 1950’s. They were not the only groups that pointed out the nominalism and cookie cutter attitude of the 1950’s. For instance, in 1956 the book “Peyton Place,” a book which tore into small town hypocrisy in the North, was released. In 1968, the country song “Harper Valley PTA” was released, pointing out hypocrisy in the South. George Orwell’s book “1984” points to a post-nuclear world in which the prevalent security and Cold War culture of the 1950’s is severely criticized.
Both the hippies and the Jesus People challenged the prevalent culture by dressing in ways that challenged the culture and behaving in ways that shocked prevalent culture. In the case of the hippies, events such as those chronicled in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” was one example. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were chronicled as they made their way around the country in their brightly painted bus, using LSD and generally shocking people. The Beatles write the song “Magical Mystery Tour” about that type of trip:
Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (And that’s an invitation), roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (To make a reservation), roll up for the mystery tour
The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away
Waiting to take you away.
The Jesus People were something different, however. I am fully convinced that this was a true movement of the Holy Spirit. To this day, I still believe that God could not get into the churches of that time. After all, as chronicled by Martin Luther King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” many of the churches either openly supported both the segregation and miscegenation laws, or were cowed into total silence. Their stand was so antithetical to Christianity that God decided to raise praised to himself from even among the stones. Many youth with a “stone” heart, many a youth who was rejecting the culture and acting out by taking drugs and joining other religions, had their heart touched by the Holy Spirit and a revival broke out.
As with many a move of the Holy Spirit, people with free-will took that move one way or the other. To the good, many churches were renewed, many people were touched for God, many people became life-long Christians. Twenty years after the beginning of the Jesus People movement, a group of those people entered the Antiochian Archdiocese, changing the face of Orthodoxy in America. That very move of the Holy Spirit in the 1960’s has today resulted in an openness to converts that was simply not present in American Orthodoxy of the early 1960’s.
On the other hand, it is also true that some have slowly taken the Jesus People movement in a different direction. For them, the message of what they experienced was misheard. Over the decades since then, the message that they took from it is that the Church must be a counter-cultural entity, meaning that it must always be doing things that are on the “cutting-edge” of culture. Any “rules” about what should happen in a worship service were slowly relaxed, and then dismissed. Nowadays, one can indeed find churches like those mocked in the comic above, where one comes in with their coffee, sits on a couch, has a sermon/discussion, etc. When multiple tattoos were still cutting-edge, many in these churches jumped into tattoos, piercings, etc. [Note: my purpose is not to criticize tattoos and piercings.] What I am trying to point out is that Christian slowly became defined as one who is always adopting the latest cutting-edge cultural trend and bringing it into the Church.
I look back with both nostalgia and horror. I was part of the events back then. I have a deep nostalgia for singers such as Keith Greene, who truly called us to live out what it means to follow Jesus. I have a deep nostalgia for a faith tinged with wonder and discovery, and strong church growth. At the same time, I look back with horror over some of the other events from back then and how they led us into some of the craziness we see today in the cutting-edge congregations. And, yet, I would welcome another move of the Holy Spirit, a move so strong that Orthodoxy is again touched with the wonder that Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory expressed when he welcomed home the Evangelicals who flocked in back in the late 1980’s and continuing on for many years after that.