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Contemporary Church Movements

Part One

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As we begin our lecture on Contemporary Church Movements let’s begin by defining the word “movement”. A “movement” (in this sense of the word) is “the act or process of effecting a transition from one point to another in the existence of life of a church”.

Throughout the course of Christian church history there have been many of these movements. Most of them coming from a non-heretical initiation found there concentrations in the following four categories.


1)      Theological movements generally take up sides on the conservative / literalist view of interpreting scriptures, to a moderate or sometimes called a liberal view  of interpreting scriptures. Example: Creation was accomplished in 7 literal twenty four hour days, instead of just saying from a more open theological position that God may have created all that is in seven periods of time that could be seven million years by our standard. Other theological movements have been based in eschatological predictions, or in the nature of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit or the concept of Trinitarianism.


2)      Doctrinal movements have been over Catholic / Protestant controversies such as the understanding of the Eucharist, the authority of the church, salvation by faith alone, or all doctrine being defined only from scripture, two of Luther’s flash points by which the church was split in the 16th century. In Protestant circles, doctrinal debate that causes movements to spring forth generally has its roots in either Calvinism or in Wesleyanism. Those major source debates generally focus on such things as eternal security of the believer, predestination verses freewill and progressive sanctification versus positional sanctification alone. 


3)      Emphasis or Purpose in various churches will often cause a movement to arise. These may bring such topics as global missions, church planting, discipleship or age or gender specific ministries. Most of these movements rarely survive through a generation.


4)      Style or Technique can also cause a movement to arise. These triggers may be the way in which a group of people pattern their worship liturgy (often a situation in more formal churches), the style of music used in worship services, or even the manner in which things like preaching, teaching or counseling are conducted within groups of Christian practice.  


These movements can have varying levels of positive or negative effects on the local church or the church at large (universal) Positive movements in the history of the Christian church have always been initiated by the Holy Spirit’s empowerment in a submissive group of Christians. Ironically the leader of such a group may be a very charismatic personality, but when examined closely, never seeks any personal credit for the movement. 

On the other hand, negative movements in the history of the Christian Church have been almost always been initiated by people with good intentions acting on their own strength. When there is a charismatic leader at the forefront of such a movement, the attention of the movement is as much or more on him (or her) than it is the theology, doctrine, emphasis or stylistic issue of the movement. When left uncorrected, negative movements usually breed cults and cultic activities.  

As we continue, let’s take a contemporary look at three major movements that have occurred in the last 50-60 years in the universal church. The first one was what we will call the “Pseudo-Revivalist-Era” movement. It is called this in the aftermath, because many theologians and church leaders question if it was indeed a genuine outbreak of evangelistic revival in north America. Such a growing conclusion does not in any way deny that there many who were saved and transformed by the messages that were proclaimed during the movements existence, it simply calls the dynamic influence of it into a more proper perspective. Such a conclusion also insinuates that many who claimed to have had a spiritual awakening were simply not totally accurate or honest in their accounts.    

This movement traces its beginnings back to 1949 when Billy Graham preached his first major revival in Los Angeles, California. Later he preached a 12 week revival in London, England and a 16 week revival in New York City. Looking back nearly sixty years, it seems hard to believe such an event could take place in any one of those three cities.

In the midst of this surge of evangelistic revivals, Rev. Graham co-founded Youth for Christ with a close friend named Charles Templeton. Templeton later left the movement and the Christian church. The leadership of youth for Christ was later entrusted to the late Bill Bright.

This movement placed a strong emphasis on “soul winning” (conversions to the Christian faith). The movement’s techniques were quickly duplicated with great fervor, especially in conservative Baptist churches, which eventually allowed many of their weekly worship services to take on the form of a crusade revival (as they were often referred to).

This movement became highly organized and was very interested in displaying the  numbers of converts they had realized. Unfortunately, it also created an avenue for the charlatans and highly skilled imitators to make large sums of money counterfeiting the sermons and emotionally based techniques to get the potential converts to “walk the aisle” (often called an “altar call”) to the front of the huge stage, sign their name on the dotted line and repeat the sinner’s prayer.   


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