House Church Talk - Jesus Freaks

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Fri Mar 26 15:04:35 EST 2004

P. Andrew Sandlin | The church and her prophets need each other

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, 
let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever 
saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses His life for my sake will 
find it."

Mat thew 16:24-25 

It's easy criticize the excesses of both the Jesus Movement and the 
Charismatic Movement of the late 60s and early 70's, but many thousands 
converted in these movements (I have met quite a few) persist even today 
as strong Christians, often tempered by subsequent study of the Bible and 
orthodox theology and contact with institutional Christianity. The 
Charismatic Movement was attempting to recover, however naively at times, 
the tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit in the 20th century church. The 
Jesus Movement redirected attention to the very central Person of our 
Faith Who had been obscured in both liberal and conservative 
Christianity. These movements criticizing the institutional church were 
both radical and prophetic.

Amid the radical individualism of the postmodern world, we hear renewed 
calls for institutional Christianity and its exalted view of the visible 
Church as the incarnation of Christ on earth (a hoary and venerated 
position of the Latin Church ); a highly structured and ritualized 
liturgy in harmony with certain prominent sectors of the church catholic; 
and an exaltation of medieval Christianity, its ecclesiocentric vision, 
and its Christian culture. This trend, in many ways a healthy reaction to 
our individualistic culture, offers one version of Christianity and 
cannot claim hegemony, as, indeed, no other version can. At major (but 
surely not all) points this expression wishes to maintain continuity with 
Christian history, just as it wishes (at points) to deviate from Biblical 
Christianity. No one version of Christianity can claim that it alone 
represents the true Faith; for this reason we need to be attuned to all 
sectors of the Church.

The Radicals and the Prophets

A frequent blind or at least neglected side in a highly institutionalized 
Christianity is its assessment of radical and prophetic elements, 
individuals and ministries that say and do holy things uncomfortable to 
institutionalists. Jesus Himself was the most notorious example of this 
phenomenon, as were His early disciples, as well as Noah, Elijah and the 
other Old Testament prophets. To remove the radical and prophetic 
elements of the Bible is to deracinate it. But valid institutions are in 
the Bible, too - the "objective" community of Old Testament Israel and 
New Testament churches; and it is worth noting that the Lord not once 
commanded separation from these institutions, even in their most apostate 
condition. On the other hand, He reprimanded these communities for not 
listening to the "radicals" and prophets He raised up to say truthful but 
uncomfortable things (Mt. 23:29-35). Prophets need institutions to keep 
them accountable, and institutions need prophets to keep them zealous. 
The institutions should not excommunicate her prophets, and the prophets 
should not separate from their institutions. 

The primitive church was a radical and prophetic "eschatological 
community," looking for the imminent end of the age and the return of the 
Lord. When the Lord did not return, this fervor cooled. The Latin father 
Augustine later accounted for this delay by constructing a Christian 
philosophy of history, something the primitive church could scarcely have 
conceived. Augustine laid the foundations of the medieval world by 
equating the institutional church with the Kingdom of God. While the 
Bible itself will not sustain this simplistic formulation, we can credit 
Augustine with faithfully highlighting the institutional dimension of the 
Faith. A balanced Faith will preserve both of these elements - 
Augustine's institutionalism and the primitive church's radicalism.

Jesus Freaks Wanted

Among the radicals and prophets we need today are "Jesus Freaks," 
Christians committed to their Lord in a white-hot passion that burns away 
almost all dross and rebukes and awakens the church to its spiritual 
torpor. These Christians will be always zealous, frequently odd, and 
sometimes erratic - and the church must not live without them. In recent 
times we think of musicians Keith Green and U2's Bono, authors Francis 
Schaeffer and Gene Edwards, pastors A. W. Tozer and John Stott, 
theologians Abraham Kuyper and John Frame, and evangelists Leonard 
Ravenhill and John Armstrong, who fit this category. They break many of 
the established categories and "business as usual" to awaken the church 
to her main obligation - love for and fidelity to the Person of Christ. 
Like His own parents in Jerusalem (Lk. 2:43-44), it's easy to miss Jesus 
in the bustle of religiosity. Religiosity is one of the great enemies of 
Jesus, and we should not be surprised that Jesus reserved His severest 
denunciation for the most religious individuals of His age (Mt. 23). In 
reaction to the (secular) radical individualism of our age we dare not 
squelch those (godly) radical individuals without whose courageous 
testimony the Church will drift (again) into a pious, ritualistic 

Let's have holy enthusiasts - young people who play loud steel guitars 
and sing off-beat songs and indict "The Establishment," ecclesiastical as 
well as civil, for its hypocrisy; theologians who slay sacred traditional 
cows in pointing us back to Jesus unmasked from cultural accretions; 
pastors who lead their churches away from a comfortable conservatism to a 
city-shaking faith pulling down Satanic strongholds; missionaries who do 
not merely plant churches and stay put but who also penetrate entire 
societies with a conquering gospel. 

Change in both church and culture will spring from radicals like John 
Wesley, who never left the Anglican Church but whose relevant faith, if 
not always accurate theology, reshaped the consciousness of a nation. We 
cannot expect that a Christian culture will follow merely a careful, 
scholarly restructuring of civil law. We need Jesus freaks, zealots for 
the Lamb who will surrender anything, go anywhere, rebuke anyone, to 
press the claims of Jesus. This is not a message that institutional 
Christianity is eager to accept, but it is one without which it cannot 
long survive as a driving, godly force.

But may the radical and prophets always love the Church, love her members 
even in their depravity, as Jeremiah loved and longed for the apostates 
to whom he prophesied. May the radicals never leave the church in 
disgust, but pray and grieve over her - until justice spawns victory.



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