Jesus people, loving people

Rock onward christian soldiers

[Source: Daily Mirror Published: Tuesday, 5 March, 1991]

Born-again youngsters find happiness belting out their love for Jesus.

The rock group explodes Into action and 600 worshippers jump to their feet in an eruption of happiness.

Arms stretching heavenwards, feet tapping, they sway together, exuberant in their song of praise. They belt out "I believe in Jesus. I believe He is the son of God."

Many are in their late teens or early twenties. All are casually dressed. 'Some are young parents with their children.

Disillusioned by the selfish, grabbing philosophy of the Eighties, they are seeking happiness and fulfilment, just like the bom-again Christians of pop and showbusiness.

Whitney Houston, Donna Summer. Bono, M C Hammer, Ricky Ross and sports stars Mike Tyson and Carl Lewis have all rediscovered their faith.

The new young Christian soldiers, many of whom come from broken homes or have been in trouble with the law, hope they, too, will be able to find happiness and contentment.

For more than an hour they sing their hearts out until the atmosphere among the Jesus Fellowship becomes electric.

Then, standing in front of a huge banner proclaiming Love, Power and Sacrifice, their leader Noel Stanton tells them: "We are part of a revolution that is taking place in this land. A revolution of love, of joy, of justice.

"Do you feel good about that, yeah? Do you feel powerful, energised, fulfilled, yeah?

"Some of you have been on drugs, Jesus will save you. Some of you have been into rank raw Satanism. You will be saved."

The air is tense and vibrant. Men and women, moan and mutter.

A woman in her thirties sobs and begins to jerk convulsively as church elders pray over her. "Helping her fight fight the demons," explains one. Others pass out where they stand.

There are more informal thumping songs at the end of the prayer session in Northampton. Released from the tension, the believers lift the roof with their voices, eyes closed, faces stretched in ecstasy.

The Jesus Fellowship is a small and sometimes controversial part of the evangelical movement, but their services are similar to hundreds taking place across Britain every week.

While more traditional forms of religion are in decline, the new churches – noisy, informal, passionate – go from strength to strength.

Evangelism is the only growing form of Christianity in Britain.

The House Church Movement began In the Seventies in a spontaneous outburst of small groups worshipping In their own homes.

In the past 10 years their numbers have grown by 144 per cent and they have moved into community halls, working men's clubs, and sports centres.

They sing modern songs and, like all evangelicals, believe in salvation by faith, personal conversion and the authority of the Bible.

They are attracted by the sense of comradeship and clear identity that membership of a small church bestows.

The average age of the Relevation Church at Chichester in Sussex is 25. One third of the congregation is under 19.

The Church began with 17 people meeting together eight years ago. Now they have more than 350 members and four congregations.

Church leader Roger Ellis explained: "Many young people are turning away from the grabbing, selfish, 'me' philosophy of the Eighties.

"They are also disillusioned with wishy washy faith offered by the traditional Sunday service.

"With us they find a Christianity that is relevant to their everyday lives.

"Sometimes youngsters with nose rings and spiky hair are not welcomed in tradition churches. They do not feel comfortable. We welcome anyone. We don't say to youngsters: 'Get your hair cut, take your earrings out, get a Cliff Richard smile'.

"We say it is the heart that Is important."

Frankie McGaughey, 19, had already served 11 months for burglary and was on the run with an 18-month suspended sentence hanging over him when he met two members of the Jesus Army, part of the Jesus Fellowship.

"The world was doing my head in. I was a tearaway, a thug. Prison didn't change me, it only made me worse. I changed when I decided to follow Jesus," he said.

"I gave up crime and drinking. It's beautiful what Jesus can do. My mum can't believe the change in me. I am happy and fulfilled."

Much of the new Christian soldiers' work is done out in the community.

The Ichthus Fellowship in South London runs courses for the long-term unemployed, a launderette and coffee bar on a difficult housing estate, and pregnancy and debt counselling units.

It has even bought an old pub as a meeting point for youngsters.

Four years ago the first March for Jesus attracted 16,000.

Last year more than 200,000 showed the flag across the country. This year 250,000 are expected. At the first Spring Harvest meeting of evangelicals in 1978 just 2,700 attended. This year there will be 90,000. They are the New Christians.

Most of that growth comes from the so-called Charismatic Evangelicals who believe in faith healing, miracles, prophesy and casting out demons.

Half a million will be found spread across all churches by the year 2000, it is forecast.

Dr George Carey, the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Is an evangelical with charismatic leanings.

More than 50 per cent of those training to be-come Anglican vicars call themselves evangelicals.

But many mainstream evangelical circles are suspicious of the "Signs and Wonders Brigade" and of the emotions created at large gatherings which generate what critics call the "I'll be a cabbage for Jesus" mentality.

The Reverend Michael Saward, canon elect at St Paul's cathedral and himself an evangelical, said: "There is nothing sinister about a crowd getting excited but an excited crowd is a vulnerable one.

"It's the manipulation of the gullible.

"Some feel you cannot have a religious meeting until they have got everyone hotted up.

"When people are in an exhilarated state they are very suggestive." Mr Saward is concerned about the authoritarian style of leadership in many of the new churches.

"I am not opposed to the principle of lively worship, but I am worried about some of the more extreme forms that have come over from the United States.

"There are a handful who want healings and exorcisms before breakfast."

Spontaneous and passionate In worship, the new Christians hold conservative views.

They are against abortion and have a literal view of the Devil and his works.

But whether they bring Holy terror or salvation, the new Christians are indeed on the march.

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