Thursday, February 9, 2023

With a Brand New Song

 Part 4 in my series on the Jesus Revolution (not the movie but what happened in the early 1970's. But I do have tickets to see the movie!  Sorry for all the ads on the links.


Of the three primary themes I've suggested that punctuated the Jesus Movement, perhaps none has had a longer impact on the church than the music.  It is generally accepted that today's Contemporary Christian Music started with those new converts who wanted to sing to God about their love for Him.  They had no idea what they started!


My first introduction to the music part of the revolution actually began not in California, but in a little Baptist church in Alexandria, Virginia.  A young college aged guy in the church - a talented singer - put together a little combo of bass guitar, organ and piano and somehow got the pastor (who was also his girlfriend's dad) to let them come to an evening service and play and sing. This must have been about 1969.  


Nothing but traditional hymns out of the hymnal had been sung in that church prior.  Sure, we learned some good ol' camp choruses (that had been around for decades), but nothing really new.  Until that night when we heard "Amazing Grace" sung to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun"!  I loved it.  But I don't remember that group singing at church again...  More than a few people apparently were offended! But something was happening in embryonic form and happening across the nation.


In the late '60's a long-haired rock and roller who had grown up in church then found some success in secular rock music decided it was time to change gears and sing about his faith in Christ. He boldly asked the question in one of his songs, "Why should the devil have all the good music?" And said, "Jesus is the Rock and He rolled my blues away."  Larry Norman became the pied-piper of singing about Jesus with the music these hippies and young people knew.  And it not only drew crowds, but the kids listened to the Gospel as it was sung and preached by these "rock and roll preachers". 

There in Orange County, especially at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa young people with guitars were writing and singing, forming bands and playing wherever they got the chance. And in those days there was no commercialism.  The Second Chapter of Acts, a trio of two sisters and little brother - who wrote some of the last generation's best known music (I'll bet you've heard "The Easter Song") began to travel and in their 15 or so years of doing so only charged a dollar per person to pay for the venues, depending on love offerings to meet their needs and get them to the next gig.

One mark of these groups and singers was that they placed themselves under pastoral leadership in the local church.  With rare exception they weren't renegades and mavericks. 


I learned about the myriad of musical groups coming out of nearby Calvary Chapel when I was at the home of some friends (1971) and they pulled out "The Everlasting Jesus Music Concert" (also known as Maranatha 1) and put it on the stereo.  I was hooked.  The new Christian music wasn't being sung at our church, but all of us in the youth group were into it. Soon I began showing up at Teen Challenge on the Circle in Orange where on Monday nights different groups played their songs.  Soon the band stand at Hart Park was opened to these Christian bands one night a week - and I was often there.  All free. All so they could share their faith in Jesus.

One night a group from our church were out going around neighborhoods inviting people to come to church and maybe get a chance to share the Gospel.  We got near one house and could hear music coming from the garage (that was open).  Found out it was one of the new bands called "The Way", playing at band member John Wickham's house.  John was a student at Orange High where I went.  (He's got a son named Phil. Maybe you've heard of him.) When their album came out, I was sure to get it, along with those by Love Song and The Children of the Day, whose anthem "For Those Tears I Died" was soon being sung by church youth groups across the country.  

The music spread across the nation.  Bands like Petra in Indiana, Resurrection Band in Milwaukee and an already successful guitarist named Phil Keaggy in Ohio were singing about Jesus.  In 1972-73, back in Virginia I heard a band called The Sons of Thunder a couple of times.  And the California groups began touring everywhere.  Marantha! Music began producing albums of praise songs, some of which you can find in the Southern Baptist Hymnal!

Of course, the music wasn't without controversy.  Most evangelical/fundamentalist churches stayed away from it - some even declaring it was devil music.  Electric guitars and drums, you know. It's interesting to hear those musicians tell their stories of showing up to sing and play only to be told that unless they cut their hair they could not.  Newness is frightening to many.  That was true in Jesus' day - He was certainly doing some "new things" and it's still true today.  I could easily start preaching here, but I'll refrain! But gradually over time what began in coffee houses, Bible studies and some churches has caught on to those who have the ears to hear.


I still have a bunch of those old albums.  Since I don't have a phonograph I resort to a play list on Spotify to hear them or find them on Youtube.  When I retired from pastoring a wonderful church in the Spring of 2021 Gail and I were given tickets to a Phil Keaggy concert.  I've been fortunate to not only hear so many of these artists but to meet many.  


There are far too many artists from those days to mention here.  But back in the late '90's a producer got the idea to bring a bunch of them together at a retreat and record them singing and sharing their stories.  If you're really interested in the beginnings of modern Christian music you should watch "First Love". It's a two part video and takes a while to watch in its entirety, but is so good at telling the origins of the music that changed the church and reached a generation.  And the music is great!




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