Reclaim the love at the heart of the Jesus Movement


By Melissa Nordell —

The Jesus People Movement was a Holy Spirit inferno that began with a spark in Orange County, California in 1965 and grew exponentially like embers blowing in the wind across America and around the world. It transformed Orange County, and as it journeyed afar it rapidly brought 20 million people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, with converts who were saved during that time still bringing the Good News and discipleship to souls even today.

The Movement caused a dramatic change in Christian music as there was no contemporary Christian music before that time, nor Christian contemporary radio. In churches, guitars, drums, and keyboards provided a more contemporary form of worship. Jews for Jesus began. Christian television was launched. We learned the church could meet outside, with baptisms happening in the ocean.

Barriers were broken down as those who had been previously uninvited entered the church. Many new churches and denominations started at this time, and many new missionaries went around the world (including women on their own), fervent to see the lost saved.

But what sparked and progressed such a movement of God during a raging political climate like the 60’s and 70’s?

This “Age of Aquarius” was an era of great stress and trepidation, not just an era of fashion and rock bands. There were fears about the Vietnam War and the creeping threat of communism. Every day the nightly news reported the number of casualties that had occurred in the Vietnam war and how many were missing until people were numb to its reality.

The United States was divided with one side for the war and the other against. Young men were being drafted — with many defecting to Canada — and some claiming exemption as conscientious objectors. Soldiers returned from the war suffering from PTSD, some with limbs missing, some burned, some former POWs, and others affected by Agent Orange. And if that was not enough, many soldiers were met with disdain, and some spat upon.

Anti-war protests occurred in many cities, mostly in schools and colleges.

At this tumultuous time, young people dropped out of society, turned to drugs and rampant sex, believing they could die tomorrow. It was called The Age of Aquarius with slogans such as “Peace and Love” and “Make Love, Not War” prevailing. These youth were not accepted in the mainstream Church which had no relevance for them even though they were searching.

During the 60’s, peaceful racial inequality protests were led by leaders such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while others led violent protests.

I was brought up in a denominational church about 25 miles north of the start of the Jesus People Movement. The fire that sparked in Costa Mesa brought such enthusiasm to local young people that they eagerly shared their new-found love of knowing Jesus as Savior to everyone around. Our youth group was eager to see what it was all about as the news spread fast. A loving and committed couple at our church decided to take a group of us down to where the movement was birthed, where church was exciting, and many lives were being saved.

There we caught the fire! We learned that Jesus was real, alive, and that He loves us unsparingly. Church there was tremendous with concerts on the grass outside while some played volleyball and others chatted joyfully about our marvelous Savior, picnicking on blankets. There were beach baptisms in Corona Del Mar, evangelism on the piers, Sunday mornings deep in the Word of God, and wonderful worship that truly exalted God and brought us into His Presence like we never felt before.

The Movement originally began after Kay Smith, wife of Pastor Chuck Smith, while on outings to Laguna Beach, CA, saw youth who had dropped out of society sleeping on the streets and in the canyons, many on drugs especially marijuana and LSD. Her heart was moved with compassion. These youth were called “hippies” and Chuck wanted nothing to do with them – at first. After Kay’s urging and prayers, Chuck agreed to reach out and demonstrate Jesus’ love to them – and that is how the movement began.

I remember the talk in different churches from varying people across America that the “long hairs” were not invited in their churches. If a male had hair that went slightly over his collar, he was not allowed in the church and was sometimes met with mocking and anger. But Chuck and Kay Smith welcomed all people to know Jesus and His saving love no matter how they dressed or what they looked like, while other leaders were afraid. Through this Movement, the Church was made relevant to all through God’s love…so God blessed it.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13: 34-35, NKJV)

In Chuck’s own words, I heard him say that the Lord told him to “concentrate on Jesus’ love” throughout the life of his church. People tried to get him to emphasize other things, but he was obedient to the instructions from the Lord as long as he lived. Genuine love was the reason for the movement, what attracted people to the Lord, what caused it to spread like wildfire, and why more than 20 million have been saved.

I can still picture today, sitting in a pew one Sunday, a woman directly in front of me with diamonds and gold jewelry, a fancy Sunday hat and expensive suit sitting next to a young man with hair way past his shoulders wearing a shirt with flowers and no shoes; both showing agape love and unity that Jesus told us to have. Some came and sat on the grass, riding their bikes or walking to church, barefoot and listening to the sermon broadcast live outside.

This genuine love spread fast. Excited converts called “Jesus freaks” had fish symbols on their vans and surfboards. Some street names were changed to Bible names there; Christians named their businesses with Bible names; the Christian Yellow Pages were passed everywhere; non-denominational Christian schools were established; and Christian communes were birthed. It was God’s love and peace that people were looking for and what they needed in those crazy times – and what made the movement spread across the country so fast.

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 29-31 NKJV)

In 1969, Hal Lindsey wrote The Late, Great Planet Earth which sold 28 million copies by 1990 and was the best-selling non-fiction book of the entire 1970’s per The New York Times. Hal was not a part of Calvary Chapel and end-times was not talked about much there, but his writing added to the powerful movement. The Body of Christ began to understand end-times theology, song writers wrote songs about the end-times, but love was still the prevailing priority and what brought so many to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Of course, it was not about a certain group of churches or denomination after the Jesus People Movement began in the 60’s. The fire raged quickly to many churches and ministries in other areas. Countless ministries sprang up such as Hope Chapel, Harvest Fellowships and Harvest Crusades, Vineyard churches, Christian communes and Christian biker groups. Many future apostolic leaders were born-again in this movement, with some starting their own churches, including Che Ahn, Greg Laurie, Chuck Pierce, Dick Bernal, Robert Heidler, Chuck Missler, and John Wimber.

It is certainly not that we want to go back to those times; however, it is biblical to “re-dig” the old wells and that which made the times so impactful. We always need to evaluate what was good in a movement and expound on its healthy outcomes.

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. These things I command you, that you love one another.(John 15: 9-14, 17, NKJV)

Jesus tells us that love is an actual commandment and a primary concern on which we should concentrate as believers, not just a suggestion. The Jesus People Movement was the first time that the world began to hear that God is love. We must remember in these times that Jesus continually directs us to act in love – for He is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:7-16, NKJV)

These are strong words from our Lord that we need to remember. Love changes everything and breaks down barriers. Remember Bob Jones’ exhortation: “There is only one question the Lord will ask you when you stand before Him in death, ‘Did you learn to love?”’ Have we as the Body of Christ demonstrated that love lately to the world and those who oppose us?

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.(1 John 4: 20-21, NKJV)

Bob Jones also stated: “All the foundations of God are built on love. If you’ve learned to love, then you have obeyed everything God wants you to do. Love, He is our greatest pleasure. When you are in love with Jesus, He becomes your greatest pleasure.”

The unregenerate (unsaved) mind cannot possibly comprehend the gospel and cannot understand that certain sins are wrong. How can they when their eyes and minds are blinded?

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:3-6, NKJV)

The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, but they can see our love. When we love, barriers and walls are broken down and eyes are opened. It never means compromise, but we must show love in any situation. How can they see Jesus in us if we do not let our light shine in the darkness by loving them?  We must look inwardly and be perfectly honest: why would the unsaved want to be a Christ follower right now?

When there is conflict or disagreement, as Greg Laurie says, “The objective is not to win the argument – it’s to win the soul.” The biggest threat shown to the devil is when we love. Love is the best warfare.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3, NIV)

I believe the greatest revival and reformation in history, with that billion-soul harvest as many prophets have foretold, will only happen when the Church returns to love as its priority. The first Church in the book of Acts knew and practiced this well in an even worse age of adversity, disagreement and persecution.

The “Bride” should be absolutely infatuated with her “Groom” with contagious love and joy that cascades unabashedly to everyone around. We should be so thoroughly in love with Jesus that nothing steals our joy and smiles are on our faces. We should be so excited about the truth of our soon-coming King that no adversity bothers us. This is what the world is looking for.

Love conquers all fears, depletes all anger, brings hope and mends souls. While the world has lost hope, Christians should be there bringing hope and love. Without love, no one will listen to the gospel. Love conquers the biggest obstacles. There is hope for America and the world. Reformation, Transformation, and the billion-soul harvest will come…. when we love.

1 Cor 13:13 (NIV) says: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. The GREATEST of these is love!


Melissa Nordell

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