Frisbee, Smith, and Wimber

Chapter 1 9

From Memoirs of a Jesus Freak by Kent Philpott

One of the young men who had been part of The Living Room out- reach with Ted Wise was Lonnie Frisbee. Lonnie was younger than the rest of the group, several years younger than me, and he loved to talk theology and the Bible. Ted and the others were quite philosophically oriented, and I would often complain to them that I could not follow what they were saying. The reply was that they had been influenced by their mind-altering experiences, especially via LSD.1 But I could understand Lonnie and he understood me.

Lonnie was thin and below average height, with longish brown hair and a smattering of facial hair. He looked much like depictions of Jesus seen in art throughout the centuries. His soft, easy manner drew people. He was not a dynamic or loud preacher; he was serious yet conversational. He identified with those who had lived a hard life and were searching for answers.

Lonnie loved to roam the streets of the Haight and witness to the hippies about Jesus. On many occasions, I watched him begin a simple conversation with one hippie, which then turned into a preach- ing event, as people stopped and listened in. On some occasions, the crowd of hippies who gathered around Lonnie resulted in cars stop- ping and blocking streets. It was plain there was something about him—perhaps an anointing, a gift of evangelism, certainly a pas- sion—but whatever it was, many were coming to Christ through his witness and testimony.

I did not know much of Lonnie’s past, but I talked with him about his girl friend, Connie, and his plans to marry. They lived at the House of Acts in Novato with Ted and Liz Wise, Danny and Sandy Sands, and Rick and Megan Sacks. I did not know until years after his death from AIDS that he had ever been involved in homosexuality. He never once talked about it with me nor did anyone at the House of Acts mention it to me. Maybe he thought I would judge and reject him had he told me, or maybe he thought the past would remain the past. It seemed to me that he had a genuine love for Connie and looked forward to having a family.

After awhile, Lonnie expressed a desire to return to his hometown, Costa Mesa. At the Living Room we would talk about this and were divided as to what we thought about it. But Lonnie was determined to return home and start reaching out there. Shortly after his move, he called and asked me to gather up some of the old bunch and travel down to the House of Miracles, the Christian house he had opened in Costa Mesa, in order to interview some Christians with whom he was thinking of joining forces.

David Hoyt, Danny Sands, Rick Sacks, and I drove down to Costa Mesa and met with Chuck Smith and a number of his elders or deacons. Pastor Smith wore a shirt and tie, as did the rest who were with him. They sat on the furniture, while we Jesus freaks sat on the floor. For some period there were questions and answers, and theology was discussed. After Pastor Smith and his folks left, and after much discussion and debate, the four of us advised Lonnie that he should develop a relationship with these more experienced men and cooperate with them. This subsequently turned out to be a significant event in the history of the JPM.

Shortly after Chuck Smith and his leaders left, Lonnie wanted to drive to Huntington Beach to look at a group that had opened a kind of Christian nightclub. It was that very night we encountered David Berg, who soon developed a cult known as The Children of God—a Bible based cult that became a scourge to the Jesus People Movement.

From time to time, Lonnie would call to talk over events, but after a while we lost touch. I knew he became enmeshed with Chuck Smith and his church, Calvary Chapel. Reports of many coming to Christ, with miracles occurring, drifted up north to us.

Only later on did I learn of the trouble Lonnie ran into. I heard from
people who were close to Lonnie at the time, that a kind of jealousy developed, primarily over Lonnie’s notoriety, and an attempt was made to curtail the characteristic independence that Lonnie clung to. Then, after the arrival of John Wimber at Calvary Chapel, in 1970 or 1971, there was an open break, and Lonnie joined with Wimber, who had split off from Pastor Smith. Lonnie connected with Wimber’s new church, The Vineyard, until certain conflicts arose. In my view, Lonnie was essentially “thrown under the bus.”

Now that the Jesus People Movement was ending, human engineering would be employed in order to attract crowds and create excitement and interest. That is what commonly occurs, as the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit diminishes and everything changes. It happened in Marin and the entire Bay Area as well. The power and the miracles actually did not reside in or with us, and they faded little by little, although they did not entirely disappear. As I see things now, I think Lonnie—along with so many others, including me—simply did not understand the difference between “normal” times, when we do all the same things like preach, pray, and plan, but the results are not so dramatic and encouraging. It’s not nearly the same as during the exciting times of awakening and revival. God has His reasons for this, as I will propose in the next chapter.

I have struggled over this somewhat harsh treatment of fellow Christians, but I thought it necessary to tell it like I saw it or the account of Lonnie Frisbee would be incomplete or appear doctored to please others.

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