It was not long before real trouble struck the Jesus People Movement.

A steady stream of “prophets” started appearing, from Sung

Young Moon to David Moses Berg to Jim Jones and more. These

were the big names, the big groups; and there were others.

Kathryn Kuhlman

Kathryn Kuhlman was a lovely, elderly lady in Oakland, who had

a healing ministry popular with the local Jesus freaks. She was sweet

and kind and impossible to disparage, but from a pastoral point of

view, she presented difficulties. Kuhlman was a healer of the old fashioned

kind, and when healing of the body is involved, people flock to

whatever remedy is being touted. Some of the Marin kids in the Bible

studies were driving over to be part of the Kuhlman services. In time,

I made the trip, too.

She had rented out what must have been an old-fashioned movie

theater, and before the scheduled start time, she would walk between

the curtains, peer out at the audience and ask, “Have you been waiting

for me?” The audience would roar back, “Yes.”

Ms. Kuhlman spoke softly, preaching the standard evangelical/

pentecostal line but without much biblical content, and soon, lines

of people hoping to be healed appeared on both sides of the stage.

One by one, they walked or were wheeled to the center of the stage to

receive Kathryn’s healing touch and prayer. Helpers discarded wheel

1 From my point of view, the year was 1970 when the trouble started. The

JPM was still in full flower, but opposing forces had moved in and were winning

victories. I estimate that the awakening that was the JPM ground to a halt in 1972,

though it may have lasted longer in some places.

chairs and pairs of crutches, as loud shrieks of praise echoed off the

walls of the cavernous building. One afternoon as I left for home after

a healing service, I saw people throwing wheel chairs and other stuff

onto a pile of like things outside the back door of the theater.

Kathryn was so warm and loving that one did not want to disappoint

her. If she claimed a healing, then there was a healing. No one

dared to publicly embarrass her. I had studied enough psychology

to know about the placebo effect, and as time wore on I was fairly

sure I was seeing this played out. We were glad to see people healed,

but when the healings wore off, which they most often did, pastoral

chores resulted.

Healing is wonderful, and I have seen people healed, been healed

myself, and watched as my son Vernon was healed on at least two

occasions, but healing began to be a distraction from the core activity

of the Jesus People, which was evangelism. What was occurring without

our full realization was that distractions, if not distortions, were

sweeping into the JPM.

Investigative journalists eventually descended on Kathryn, and

her whole endeavor was discredited. Kathryn slowly receded from

the public gaze; gawk might be a better word. She was a dear old lady

and much loved, and she represented a throwback to the old Pentecostal

holy roller healers I witnessed in Portland as a kid.

Other Questionable Persons

Another “evangelist” who came well before Kuhlman was William

Branham. His only trouble was that an angel, named Emma or maybe

Emily, stood beside him and actually conducted the healing ministry.

Branham admitted to it, and despite the fact that he was killed in an

automobile accident while drunk, a kind of cult grew up around him,

claiming he had been the Messiah or a forerunner of the Messiah. (I

ran into little groups dedicated to him at San Quentin Prison.)

It seemed as though one thing after another was insisting on

attention. Individuals and groups, it occurs to me now, saw what was

going on and jumped onto the bandwagon. David Berg’s The Family

fits this description. Victor Paul Wierwille and his Way International

also fit here. But the healers and the positive-thinking faith people

were whom we encountered most of all.

Through arrangements made by a dear lady in Atlanta named

Cora Vance, I was invited to appear on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club for

an interview. In the small, sterile waiting room before my turn, I found

myself talking with a guy in a light blue leisure suit. His interview with

Robertson was scheduled just before mine, and he asked me what my

“shtick” was. I did not know what he meant, so he explained that he

was known for making legs grow. He said he could do it without fail

and insisted on giving me a demonstration. Sure enough, he declared

that one of my legs was shorter than the other and, boom, he made

them both the same length. I just smiled and hoped he would soon be

called onto the stage.

Prophets and Other Problems

In my view, the most dangerous of all were those who styled themselves

as prophets. It was heady to know a prophet and, of course, to

later be known as a prophet oneself. When we heard the words of

the prophets and prophetesses, we yelled out exclamations such as,

“Wow! Praise God! Hallelujah!” Once a “prophet” is accepted into a

fellowship or church, however, trouble begins to emerge.

My sense of it is that those self-styled prophets had learned from

others how to go about “prophesying” yet sincerely thought their

pronouncements were from the Lord. While praying for a person

who was hoping to receive a word of knowledge or revelation, the

prophet would receive impressions and announce them: “God is calling

you to China.” “You are to marry your boyfriend and stop living in

sin.” “You are being used by God to provide finances for this church,

and you must sell your house and hand over the money to the elders.”

These were typical prophetic words I heard, and some of them came

out of my own mouth. At minimum, I was guilty of giving a platform

to people whom I thought I could trust, whom I thought were genuine

prophets of God, but who eventually proved they were not. It is safe

to say that there was a considerable lack of discernment among the

Jesus People.

Then there were the sexual predators who showed up surprisingly

often. It is too much to go on with descriptions and details, but

I saw it all. There were also thieves, only after money. Cultists hung

about at our meetings, looking for new believers and other vulner

able people, befriending them, chatting them up, and inviting them

to other meetings. I understood then what Jesus said about wolves

attacking the flock. At times, it felt like I was being besieged.

It became increasingly uncomfortable to identify myself as a charismatic.

Yet I had seen what I thought were genuine spiritual gifts,

and I would not let the weird taint the real.

Alongside these difficulties were the disturbing theologies. These

were, in the long run, perhaps more troubling than anything else. I

had personally gotten started in the Christian life embracing Dispensationalism

and had taped on a wall several charts I used to predict

the date of the Rapture.I thought any other viewpoint was complete

liberalistic heresy. We reveled in the thought that, at any moment,

we would be blasted into the air to meet Jesus. We were also getting

ready for the seven years of tribulation—that is, if we got left behind.

We were preparing for a war with the devil and his legions, and those

legions could include anyone, even family, and there was no time to

waste on getting an education, starting a business, or raising a family.

This was not a widespread and commonly held view, but people such

as the Children of God, for example, used this end time scenario to

recruit, motivate, and retain members. It was another kind of high;

it got the endorphins going and put an exciting edge on everything.

The JPM existed alongside the 1960s counterculture revolution,

which was a real revolution sans guns and bombs. The Weathermen,

part of a student activist group centered around the University of California

at Berkeley, the radical anti-war protesters, and others on the

fringe, like the Black Panthers, were taking the law into their own

hands. Rock and Roll had morphed into a different kind of music—acid

2 While I was a pastor at Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, a young man

asked me to prove that there would be a rapture. I said, sure, easy, look here in 1

Thessalonians 4. I looked and looked myself, trying to find proof, but the only way

I could do it was to draw a line between verses 16 and 17 and then invert them. I

saw for the first time that the second coming and the rapture were in fact the very

same event. I was shocked and embarrassed, because I had preached a pre-tribulation

rapture my entire ministry. After a lengthy time of study, humiliation, and

repentance, I had to concede that I had been wrong, but at the same time, I couldn’t

see going over to the “liberal amillenialists.” What I did was announce one Sunday,

from the pulpit, that if anyone could clearly, plainly, show me there was a difference

between the second coming and what we called the rapture, I would give him or her

one thousand dollars. No takers yet.

rock and finally heavy metal—and the relatively mild lusts of young

people were being perverted. Eastern religions and mind altering/

expanding drugs impacted the baby boomers with a vengeance. The

occult arts were out in the open and admired, publicized, applauded,

and approved. Here it was—minds blown out and open, spiritualities

abounding, and power, power, power, at one’s fingertips.

Arrogance Abounded

Arrogance is what I am talking about, and the Jesus People were

also arrogant. I was arrogant, terribly so, and I later had a lot of apologizing

to do. We were Jesus People, we were filled with the Spirit, God

was on our side, and we alone had the “full gospel.”

Another view of our arrogance was that we were not as grace-oriented

as one might expect. The JPM, despite appearances, was really

rather moralistic and legalistic. Yes, salvation was by grace alone, but

unless one repented and believed in Jesus, and even more, had actually

prayed to receive Jesus, then there was no salvation. It was really

that we were in control of salvation and grace was not really grace;

it was, at most, cooperation with God. Jesus died and rose from the

dead, but our job was to repent, believe, and say the sinner’s prayer.

This then carried over into our feelings about ourselves and others. It

was a performance-based gospel we preached, and there was plenty

of room to put ourselves and others down.

Even in our houses, new believers were expected to grow up

quickly, and if they failed to do so, they were often told to leave. The

atmosphere at Church of the Open Door was often the same; people,

including the leaders, were on a short leash. Many of the congregants

were baby Christians, mostly from dysfunctional families and converted

out of all kinds of sin and perversion, just barely rescued from

hell itself—and we were worried about a messy diaper. I carry to

this day a measure of guilt for how I judged people and treated them

rudely when their sin was exposed.

Funny how the truth is right in front of us, yet we fail to grasp

it. The “new birth” is a phrase with a big clue: newborns must grow

up in stages and cannot be expected to be mature adults after a five week

discipleship training course.

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