Jesus people, loving people

The Jesus Fellowship (Jesus Army)

by William Kay, from the Encyclopedia of New Religions

The Jesus Fellowship (also known as the Jesus Army) includes the New Creation Christian Community (NCCC). This community aspect is unusual in present-day Protestantism, and it is this, rather than any doctrinal innovation, that makes the Jesus Fellowship of particular interest.

The Jesus Fellowship originated from the effect of the charismatic renewal on a Baptist chapel in Bugbrooke near Northampton, England, in 1969. In its beginnings the emerging congregation included bikers, drug users and other members of the counterculture and therefore paralleled aspects of the Californian Jesus movement. At the same time it attracted radical Christians and seekers from all types of backgrounds.

From 1973. having been influenced by the story of the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas, the congregation decided to embark on community living. Members purchased a large old house and shared possessions while embracing a simple lifestyle. Nuclear families (husband-wife and any children) were incorporated within the community without losing privacy or identity. Major expansion took place between 1976 and 1979 so that the communal lifestyle of the NCCC is now distributed in approximately 70 properties holding between 6 and 60 residents each. The NCCC comprises approximately a quarter of the Jesus Fellowship and the remaining three-quarters are drawn from connected congregations in all parts of Britain. It represents probably the largest and most long-standing charismatic community in Europe.

Over time a sophisticated and practical set of living patterns have been established. Married couples retain personal space while enjoying communal eating arrangements. Single people may make a commitment to celibacy. Openness to other members along with a willingness to accept help from each other so as to be consecrated to the service of God is expressed in a seven-point covenant pledge, which is also made by many other members of the church.

On commitment to the community (which takes place after a probationary period of between one and three years) members surrender their possessions for collective use but may reclaim them should they subsequently decide to leave. Those who do not wish to live within the community may remain covenant members while living in their own homes and earning money outside the community. In a sense they operate like Christians who attend a particularly close-knit Sunday congregation. There are also a variety of ways in which Christians may belong to the Jesus Fellowship with a looser commitment.

The community has founded a series of Christian businesses employing some 250 people. Profits from the businesses help fund the wider work of the Jesus Fellowship. Community houses are owned by a trust fund ultimately controlled by the members.

After criticism of what were seen as cultic aspects of the Jesus Fellowship in the mid 1980s, deliberate attempts were made to widen and loosen the organization. It still maintains a form of mutual accountability and specifically seeks to safeguard biblically based differentiation of gender roles. It is now again a member of the Evangelical Alliance and has good relationships with a wide range of evangelical and charismatic groups and networks.

The Jesus Army (which has similarities with the early Salvation Army) is the evangelistic expression of the Jesus Fellowship. The Army is noted for vibrant street evangelism, concern for marginalized and homeless people, for its vigorous and noisy praise and worship, its publication Streetpaper and its linkage with more than 40 other independent Christian churches in the Multiply Network. Rootless people who respond to the Jesus Army’s communication of the gospel may find the Jesus Fellowship’s community care especially attractive.

The Jesus Fellowship can be seen as part of the same wave of the Holy Spirit that brought the New Church movement (a charismatic house church movement beginning in the 1970s) into existence in Britain. It shares many characteristics of New Church doctrine and practice, including believers’ baptism, belief in the Bible as the Word of God and an acceptance of charismatic gifts. It hosts national events and seminars and has a strong website presence.

Copyright acknowledged. Source: C. Partridge (ed), Encyclopedia of New Religions, a Guide (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 2004).

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