The film ‘Jesus Revolution’ has been wildly popular. Read these true accounts of how the Jesus Movement impacted Australia during that heady era.
The following is an excerpt from Kurt Mahlburg and Warwick Marsh’s latest book, Great Southland Revival: Tracing the Spirit’s Flame from Acts to Australia. Buy the book here.
The Sixties, Secularism and the Spirit
From the 1960s on, like so many Western nations, Australia underwent rapid change. The great battering ram of secularism had been swinging for centuries and had finally breached the citadel that was Christendom.
Westerners now saw the natural world as the result of blind forces, and belief in God as optional. Humanity had displaced the divine at the centre of life. The rush of technological progress and the Sexual Revolution had forged a new creed out of materialism and pleasure-seeking. In short, the revivals of the past had given way to a sweeping ‘counter-revival’ which unleashed a deluge of drug-taking, promiscuity, crime, paganism and family breakdown.
Still, God did not abandon His people. Momentous awakenings were setting the majority world alight. In Australia, revivals were far more localised, and they occurred in the midst of a scorched-earth secularism. But the work of the Spirit in this era was creative, surprising and energetic.
Traditional churches previously suspicious of revival suddenly found themselves in the midst of it. Boundaries between many denominations became blurred. New movements and alliances were formed: new wineskins to hold new wine.
The Sunbury Pop Festival and Jacob’s Ladder
On the other side of the world, the counterculture was finding a Christian expression in the ‘Jesus Movement’. Beginning in the late 1960s on America’s West Coast, the movement came to full flower in the early 1970s and was immortalised as ‘The Jesus Revolution’ on the cover of Time Magazine in June 1971. Its adherents—known as ‘Jesus freaks’—were doubly anti-establishment, challenging both secular and mainstream Christian mores.
The Jesus Movement was strongly influenced by the Charismatic Movement that preceded it. It emphasised the gifts of the Spirit, evangelism to younger generations, the recovery of a social conscience, and an Acts-style restoration of the church. Though the movement only lasted a decade, thousands of its converts have since gone on to lead churches and para-church organisations, and its informal worship style has had a lasting influence on the broader evangelical church and the Christian music industry.
Jesus freaks were present at Australia’s answer to Woodstock: the Sunbury Pop Festival, held on the outskirts of Melbourne. There, on the Australia Day long weekend in 1972, among 40,000 long-haired youth was a rabble of Christians conducting baptisms in a creek. Their leader was John Smith (1942–2019), founder of the God’s Squad Motor Cycle Club, who would become a leading light in Australia’s Jesus Movement.
Jesus freaks were also found among the Lutherans in Adelaide. Above a Christian bookshop in the city was a coffee lounge known as Jacob’s Ladder. Beginning in 1970, Jacob’s Ladder saw many saved from a background of drugs, outlaw bikie gangs and crime. By the end of the decade, it had grown into a missional church that met for Spirit-led worship, reached society’s down-and-outs, ruffled institutional feathers, and discipled a generation of Lutheran leaders.
Warwick’s Experience of the Jesus Movement
My (Warwick’s) peak experience of the Jesus Movement was in January 1972, when I took part in a YWAM Summer of Service at the Lighthouse Church coffee shop in Wollongong. By day, we shared about Jesus on the beaches and the streets. By night, we welcomed all-comers at our coffee shop. It was a humble venue, with bare timber floors, no music or lights, and only International Roast powdered coffee on offer! But the coffee was free and the gospel was preached to all who would listen.
And listen they did. Dozens and dozens came to Christ each week—“by flocks”, as Jonathan Edwards famously described it in his day. We could not keep up with what God was doing. People would knock on the coffee shop door in the middle of the day and tell us, “I don’t why I have come here.” We would respond, “We don’t know why either, but do you want to turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” They invariably answered in the affirmative and were touched by the power of God in extraordinary ways. After praying with us, many people immediately recited reams of Scripture, spoke in tongues, or were delivered of demons. I had never seen anything like it, either before or since.
Looking back 50 years later, I now understand that what took place was a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit. The same kind of events were happening all over the world at approximately the same time, especially among the ‘hippie’ counterculture of the day. It is often true that a revival is only understood as such with the benefit of hindsight.
Buy Great Southland Revival: Tracing the Spirit’s Flame from Acts to Australia here.
Image via Unsplash.