Movements Come and Go, the Church Remains

I just finished Greg Thornbury’s outstanding biography of Larry Norman, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?, which I highly recommend.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock
Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock
Amazon Kindle Edition; Thornbury, Gregory Alan (Author); English (Publication Language); 284 Pages - 03/20/2018 (Publication Date) - Convergent Books (Publisher)

If you have any interest in the history of Christian music, are puzzled as to how the Newsboys are still in existence 52 years after their inception, or wonder why most Christian music sounds pretty much the same, read the book.

As I read it, I couldn’t help but reflect on how so-called “revolutionary” movements come and go within the church, but always seem to burn out after awhile.

Larry was on the front edge of both the Jesus Movement and Christian rock.

He wanted to create something big. Culture shaking. Revolutionary. Something that would rattle the Christian landscape and achieve massive and unique things for God.

Larry felt like the church was full of hypocrites and a total failure, and so he wanted to spearhead something unique and new and big for God. A sort of, Jesus without all the trappings of the church, movement. Something “real” and “radical” that would achieve things for God that the church couldn’t. He thought of himself as a true Christian revolutionary, somewhat in the vein of Martin Luther (although he didn’t use that particular reference).

And while the Jesus Movement was certainly an amazing work of God (not Larry) that transformed thousands of lives (including my dad’s), ultimately it just kind of faded away.

I’ve seen a few movements come and go in my life as well. Both the Emergent Church and the Neo-Calvinism movements appeared around the same time, occupying most of my college years and a few years after.

Rob Bell was supposedly this new breed of pastor who didn’t preach so much as converse with his audience in artistic, story-driven ways. He wore cool glasses and wrote books that featured an odd amount of white space between the paragraphs.

Guys like Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, D.A. Carson, Al Mohler, and Tullian Tchividjian gathered huge crowds as they preached old doctrines in new and engaging ways. Mars Hill (Driscoll’s, not Bell’s) appeared to be some sort new, edgy, punk rock, yet also orthodox Christianity that could be a model for other churches to follow. The kind of place where the worship leader might smoke cigarettes and everyone was cool with it.

I was never a fan of the Emergent movement, but I did dig what was happening in the Reformed world. Being young, restless, and Reformed (to quote Collin Hansen) was cool and it felt like I was part of something much bigger happening in Christendom. It felt like God was on the move. It also felt like we had discovered something new, which in hindsight is utterly ridiculous, but that’s a characteristic of every movement.

For the most part, both those movements have seen their heyday and passed. To be clear, there are loads of men and women still faithfully preaching and writing the same things (both good and bad), but it’s happening in the local church or, in Rob Bell’s case, on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

This is why I’ll take the local church over “movements” any day. Yes, God does unique things in history where he refreshes and revives his people. He sends revivals and awakenings. But in order for movements to keep moving, they have to keep pushing the boundaries, which often leads to problems.

Faithful ministry isn’t about pushing boundaries, for the most part. It’s about proclaiming the same gospel truths, again and again.

And ultimately, the manifold, saving, redeeming wisdom of God is displayed in the church.

Movements tend to be made up of people who are similar in age, preferences, etc. It’s not particularly difficult to get a group people riled up about a particular cause. With social media, it’s easier than ever.

Not so the church. In the church, God gloriously gathers people from all walks of life, unites them in Christ, and builds them together into a temple for himself.

There are a variety of movements happening now in the church, many of which are good. But I’m increasingly becoming a local guy. I’ve seen too many “revolutionary” things quickly spring up and just as quickly fade away. I’ve seen some of the leaders of these movements fall either into egregious sin or heresy.

I’ve also seen how true, lasting change happens primarily (not exclusively) in the context of the local church.

So yes, I’ll pray for revival and fresh moves of God. But the church is here to stay, and I’ll stay with it.

Hey, I'm Stephen Altrogge. I'm a dad and published author. I've written for The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, ERLC, Church Leaders, Crosswalk, and many more outlets. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook .

18 thoughts on “Movements Come and Go, the Church Remains”

  1. Never heard of Bob Bell, but I saw Larry Norman in Berlin in 1981. I would have followed him–or the God he preached–anywhere, any day. Larry sang wonderfully, but he was a great speaker too, and that day was magic. You could feel God’s presence all around. Thanks for this article; I didn’t know there were any bios out there about LN.

  2. I love this. Movements do come and go, probably because they are man made. We should remain faithful to God and His Word through it all. Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes! Faithful to God, no matter where movements lead. And honestly, many movements do start out as a sincere desire to return to God’s word. But once you get there you can’t keep pushing the envelope.

  3. Yep, I totally agree Stephen. I was saved many moons ago by reading the Word of God and understanding the forgiveness of our Savior…without a movement…and in spite of not having everything all my doctrine ducks in a row. He was seeking me and plucked me while on the path to destruction. God does that, plain and simple. He doesn’t need us and our “talents”, we need Him!

  4. I wonder if the T4G, Crosswalk (missions), and TGC are movements. I have the sense that they are not. But if not, how are they different?

  5. Stephen, I’m not following what your trying to say. It’s seems like your are creating a false binary, that movements are bad and the churches is good and you have to choose between the two. Don’t movements come out of churches and lead people to churches. Some churches are started by movements and are still in existence. My church was started by a movement 40 years ago and 30 plus other churches sprung out of it and they all still exist.

  6. Hi

    I agree and don’t agree with this article. While movements come and go, they are a HUGE part of influencing the church to remain relevant and fresh. Yes, anything that has man in it is bound to fall into heresy without consistent accountability and check INCLUDING the local church. But when God wants to being about a fresh revelation that the church is too stiff to accept due to rigid and long term structures, He pours that revelation into discontent souls who push past the constraints of church politicking and rigidity and by His Spirit birth that revelation to the refreshing of His people who are part of the church already.

    Your article is very one sided and paints movements as manmade ambitions. The church is a gathering of the saints not just some building and hierarchy of structure. That is good and will last forever but when the church is too deaf to hear Him and too blind to see what He is doing, He will raise a movement to wake us up! One cannot function without the other, right back from the days of Martin Luther. The Reformation was a movement and if it didn’t happen you wouldn’t be here today with tons of freedom to put pen to paper and right exactly what you want to!


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