The Jesus People

Herschel Patton
Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee

The Magazine section of the Nashville Tennessean for April 18 and 25 contained two articles on the "Jesus Movement" involving a group meeting and living at the 23rd Psalm House in Nashville, Tennessee. There is a "commune" living at this place, with two leaders, called elders. Many others gather with them for services at various times, mostly students from Belmont, David Lipscomb, and other schools in the city.

These so-called "Jesus People" are, for the most part, made of former hippies, dope addicts, social misfits, and rebels of "the establishment."

Services usually consist of unison prayers (mostly "Oh, Jesus, We Love Thee, Sweet Jesus, etc."), foot-stomping, hand-clapping, guitar picking, tambourine slapping, music and singing, and testimonials by various ones of their former addictions, exasperations, and desperation. In some meetings, there are addresses delivered by one or both elders, and at some special meetings (for the commune) the elders censure severely members of the commune for various evils. Discipline is very strict and severe.

The "Jesus People" like to think of themselves as having broken with the popular, formal, organized churches, which to them is nothing but hypocrisy, and returned to simple, old-fashioned Christianity. They claim to have been saved by Jesus; to believe the Bible (every word of it), and go "all out" in living and acting according to the Bible. Some claim a former connection with the church of Christ. They like to speak of Pat Boone's break and becoming as one of them.

Not Scriptural

The phenomena of this group is certainly not a return to old-fashioned Christianity, for failures to immulate or reproduce in this respect are very obvious, even though they may have latched onto a few features or characteristics (as can be said of any religious group which gives them some "Bible quoting" teaching power. They do not teach the plan of salvation as announced by Jesus (Matt. 28:18-19; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47) and preached by the apostles (Acts 2:38), but believe in a miraculous salvation by grace in answer to prayer. They can read of no such conversions in the Bible, but by mental hallucinations and emotional estehesia they convince themselves that Jesus spoke, appeared or the Holy Spirit came and they were saved-like as had never happened to them before. With this evidence M who needs Scripture? One Jewish boy tried earnestly, with tears, in one of their services to "get it." Others joined in prayer on his behalf, but he never "saw Jesus," much to his and others present disappointment. Maybe, at another time, they will be able to get this boy so emotionally charged or hypnotized that he will "see Jesus," which they claim is so willing and anxious to save all who will "just ask"!

They disdain church buildings with hard back pews, filled with what they regard as neatly dressed, formal and hypocritical religionists. So, they, like the Lord and his early disciples, dress poorly, live simply, and gather in a rented or donated house. They do not regard themselves as a part of "organized" religion. "Commune living," they say, is exemplified in the Scriptures. But where? This is not what "having all things common" in Acts 2:44 and 4:32 means. I challenge anyone to find in the Scriptures an example of the "commune" that is found at the 23rd Psalm House in Nashville. While church buildings with hard back pews may be repugnant to the "Jesus People," they still admit and make use of, A PLACE for teaching and worshipping. Their type PLACE of meeting may be more comparable to those used by Jesus and His disciples and the early saints, but only because of certain conditions. The early disciples gathered in houses and obscure places because of the hostility on non-Christian people and powers, and their poverty. Where disciples gather, and the type building, is determined by the command of the Lord to gather or assemble, what is to be done when assembled and what is available or obtainable in view of their ability and prevailing circumstances. The location and type of building used is no "mark" of the Lord's people, unless it very obviously conveys an attitude of show and pride, in which case a NON-Christian spirit is indicated.

It is true that the Scriptures teach Christians to dress themselves decently and modestly and to avoid dressing for show, or to attract attention (I Peter 3:3-4; 1 Tim. 2:9-10). These verses do not forbid the wearing of gold or jewels-period, but are contrasting verses showing one thing is more important than the other. The slovenly dress, long hair, beards, etc. of the hippy is the very thing condemned in these passages, only in reverse. It is the opposite extreme that is manifested, but has the same effect-attract attention--show.


There are two elders who oversee the Commune in Nashville, both nineteen years of age. Churches (not communes) that we read about in the New Testament were overseen by a plurality of elders-bishops (Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Titus 1:5), who were older men (as the term suggests) with specific qualifications (I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1: 6-9). Each church also had a plurality of deacons, special servant, with certain qualifications (I Tim. 3:8-13) to execute things to be done under the over-sight of the elders (Phil. 1: 1; Acts 6: 2-4). Those serving in these capacities were selected by, and from, the local group or congregation (Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5). Each congregation or church was independent-completely autonomous-with no organic link with other congregations (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Both "elders" at the commune in Nashville are only that in name (not by age or qualifications), and both seem not to have been selected and appointed by those in Nashville, but appointed and sent by the "Ministry House" of the Atlanta Jesus People. So, about the only Bible feature regarding the oversight of the 23rd Psalm House in Nashville is the use of the terms "elder and "deacon."

Belief in the Miraculous

The "elders" claim that God speaks to them directly, telling them things to tell the group; that he speaks miraculously to various ones and they claim to receive the Holy Spirit so that they are enabled to speak in tongues, which is frequently done at their services. In Old Testament times and during the early days of the church in the New Testament, there are examples of God commissioning certain ones directly. But in no case, did this ever happen without the one being spoken to being enabled to perform miracles to confirm their message. Think of Moses, Old Testament prophets, Jesus, Saul (Paul), Peter, and others! The Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to perform miracles to confirm their message Wk. 16:19-20; Jno. 16:7-15; Acts 2:14). Performing miracles of healing and speaking in tongues (which was speaking in languages that they had not learned and not some unintelligible jabber) were "gifts of the Spirit" (I Cor. 12: 1-11) bestowed by the "laying on of the apostle's hands" (Acts 8:14-19) and served the purpose of confirming the word preached Q Cor. 14:22; Eph. 4:11-13). Such miraculous confirmations were never intended to continue beyond the "611" of Eph. 4:12-13, and were to terminate (I Cor. 13: 710).

Today, we have in the Scriptures "the perfect law of liberty,"' God's revealed will, and it is complete and final (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19). Unless these "elders" can raise the dead, restore sight to the blind, make the paralytics whole, or speak in languages they have never learned, we must conclude that their claims of having the Lord speak to them and their speaking in tongues are nothing more than hallucinations. Their claims about the miraculous are actually against what the Bible teaches rather than being a demonstration of Bible truth.

A Partial Acceptance of Bible

It is declared, "we believe in the word of God, straight as it comes, from His book, the Bible," but like other religious groups some Bible teaching is accepted and followed, but just some-not all of it, or all the way with some of it. "The sisters of the house are expected to have their heads covered at meeting," which evidently is a conclusion drawn from I Cor. 11:3-16, but the Tennessean Magazine report contains a picture of two of the sisters in prayer with their heads uncovered (page 11, 4 / 25 / 71). The sisters are said to be "second-rate citizens around the house, a role which they accept willingly, since the Bible clearly states that woman is the weaker vessel." Indeed, the Bible teaches that women are to be in subjection to man (I Cor. 11:3; Gen. 3:16; Eph. 5:22-23; 1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Cor. 14:34-35) which involves their not being permitted to speak or teach in the assembly, over the man, yet, the sisters are permitted to pray, testify, and teach publicly at the 23rd Psalm House in Nashville. If it is believed that the Bible must be followed, then why accept one part of a text but violate another part of it?

The Commune Filled With Evil

One of the elders severely censured various members of the Commune, saying that the Lord spoke to him and told him to say these things. He censured various members for such things as a rebellious attitude, pride, hypocrisy, stupidity, lousy spirit, smartleckness and an unchanged heart. Thus, the Commune has within it the very same vices that "the establishment" is accused of having, and that prompted their rebellion and protest! Really, it is hard to see any difference between the 23rd Psalm House and that against which they have rebelled and protested, except for a few features which are individualistic to the various groups. The same vices are found in each. Each accepts some Scripture and violates other. Each embraces some things in Organization, beliefs and practices which are not from Scripture, but from human wisdom.

The Real Motivation

From what is revealed in these Newspaper articles on the "Jesus People," it seems that their faith and actions are but another form of rebellion and escapism. It is a better form than dope', drink and law violation, since hazards to the physical body and crimes against society are eliminated. Indeed, getting "high" on Jesus, even if it only results in following some of His teaching, is better than getting "high" on dope or protest rallies with violence. The "good" of this group is the type good that comes from such other groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, Salvation Army, Counseling Services, etc. This is why a group of business men, some denomination, or an organization within a denomination, would sponsor and finance a group and place like 23rd Psalm House in Nashville.

One may rejoice that a law breaker, social misfit, or dope addict is turned from these evils, but to conclude and teach that Jesus has really forgiven their sins and that they are truly worshipping Him and doing His will, when the Bible obviously denies this, is something else. Really, it is just a matter of turning from being "high" on something bad to getting "high" on false religion, which is also bad. One is destructive to the flesh and the other to the soul. One is fleshly evil, the other spiritual evil - both of which damns. These "Jesus People" are prodigals who have come to realize they were in the pig pen, but instead of saying "I have sinned against thee (parents) and heaven" and returning to obedience, submission, and true godliness they have simply moved out of the pig pen and joined themselves to another citizen in the "far country" where -their physical lot is improved, yet continue their rebellion and protest.

The so-called "Jesus People" simply represents another denominational body, or the off-shoot of one, and are not a reproduction of New Testament Christianity. The true church of (belonging to) Christ does exist, but only where it found people who have been truly redeemed exemplifying the virtues taught by Christ, and acting in life, worship, and service to God, as individuals and in a collective (group, church) capacity, according to the inspired Scriptures.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 37, pp. 5-7
July 29, 1971