By Oscar Merlo
Director of the Center for Holy Spirit Today. Biola University.
In what ways did the JPM influenced Latin America Christianity. I offer two insights based on research, and from my experience traveling for the last 15 years, throughout Latin America. During this time, I have visited over 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
1st, The JPM focus on young people influenced Latin America Christianity to re-focus their evangelistic strategies on the new generations.
The JPM generation roused through an “Eve of Destruction,” as Barry McGuire has interpreted. Social scientist affirms that in the US and in Latin America, many young people were disappointed with the Christian religion and pursued a free-spirited lifestyle. This is also the story of Latin America, with its own particularities, but is also a very similar story.
During the decades of the 60’s, Christianity in Latin America grew through Traditional Main Line denominations, and by ways of Pentecostals and Renewal movements that lead the way until present day. During these decades, the church was also losing the next generations. Young people in the 60’s from Buenos Aires, to Caracas, to Tegucigalpa, Bogota, San Juan, Ciudad de Mexico, Los Angeles, Miami, El Bronx, and in many other cities, rejected traditional values of their parents and preferred to live life without restrictions.
During the last 60’s Latin America experienced its own “Eve of Destruction”. At times, today, this eve feels like reoccurring nightmare. Throughout these decades, the region Political instability increased with the Cuban missile crisis, the expand of military dictatorships, and the Latin American debt crisis of the 70’s & 80’s.
Amidst these global turmoil, large numbers of youth were being called to intimacy with Jesus Christ. Decades later, both in the US and in Latin America, these young people became the leaders of the next generation of the Christian advance. Today, they are the key players and pastors leading the resurgence of Latin America and US Hispanic Evangecalism.
Focusing on the young people, had a profound impact in the religious landscape of the Americas in the 21st century. Today, according to Pew Research over 19% of a 550+ million of Latin America and 19% of 63+ million Hispanics in the US, identified themselves as Evangelicos. This numbers are projected to double by 2050. However, a projected decline will take place after this era placing the new generations on two different categories which are influenced by a postsecular/postChristian culture in Latin America. Young generations will fall either on these two status, non-religious or done with religious.
The JPM, influenced Christianity beyond their numbers. It is difficult to estimate how many people have been reached through the movement. We don’t have empirical data to show the numbers. Nonetheless, the qualitative recollections, books, church records, photographs and oral accounts (more in the Jesus-people-movement website we created) projected there were thousands involved.
So, the first insight is to recognize that these young people’s influence in each region, was far beyond their numbers. Larry Eskridge contends that the JPM “shaped the development and direction of the larger American evangelical subculture.” I propose, “50 years later, the visible influence of the JPM on the subculture is now thrusting Latin America evangelicalism to influence the rest of culture as Iglesia que Reforman (churches that reform).
Therefore, with boldness and in the power of the Holy Spirit the church here and in Latin America must continue its agency of being a catalyst for young people to become co-creators of culture, as Andy Crouch argues in Culture Making. And it must continue to send young people into public and private spheres as agents of evangelism as Orlando Costas contents, and as transformational agents equally argued by Abraham Kuyper in Lectures on Calvinism, and echoed by Richard Niebuhr in Christ and Culture and Richard Mouw in He Shines in All That’s Fair.
2nd, The JP Music influenced El Culto (Church liturgy) and worship styles in Latin America and US Hispanic Latino/a churches: Churches in Latin America during the 60’s, were singing the hymns introduced by the missionaries from the Christian reform traditions. The development of Coritos was also taking place at the same time. These are folklore songs compose by autóctono peoples. In western terms, they are Spanish Spirituals Psalms sang as a form to sustain congregational life.
The JP music, especially the influence of Maranatha and Integrity Music was felt in Latin America. Many songs were unofficially translated and sang at youth meeting and camps. Withing a couple of years the uprooting of Albanza Christiana Contemporanea (Contemporary Church Music) took place.
This influenced reached young people like Sergio Moreno who in 1971 formed the group “La Tierra Prometida”. Another young artis Eliezer Espinoza, de Puerto Rico formed a Christian salsa group in NY. At the same time in Mexico, Martha y María Bonilla, and José Trejo created the Mariachi Cristiano genre. In the 80’s key young figures in Latin America like Marcos Witt, Manuel Bonilla, Chuy Olivares, Vico C, and others took the lead in producing the first “Alabanza Cristiana/Rap/Reggeton Albums”.
The JPMusic and Alabanza Contemporanea attracted the youth who began flooding the churches. The bands introduced new contemporary worship, replacing the hymnal books, crafting a new liturgical order that became a key element in church liturgy format today.
Groups like The Salt Company, Honey tree, 2nd Chapter of Acts, and Love Song were use powerfully by the Holy Spirit to influence key worship leaders in Latin America.
In Latin America, Marcos Witt, Marcos Barrientos, Elim, Juan Carlos Alvarado, Inspiracion, Tony Perez, Eric Porta and many other Christian worship bands produced in the US, Mexico, Guatemala and Argentina Christian music that would revolutionize El Culto in Latin America. The flourishing of the JP-Music worked in favor of the renaissance of the Alabanza Contemporanea in the continents of the Americas.
Agreeable or not, and amidst the tension that this creates, the adaptability by leaders like Chuck Smith, John Wimber helped leaders in other parts of the world like Sergio Solorzano, Idillo Pardillo, Carlos Anaconda, Luis Palau, Juan Carlos Ortis and many others, to provide a fresh spiritual thrust that began to renew the traditional church liturgy across denominations and independent churches.
Thus, the second insight is that contemporary styles of worship are always generationally driven, and regardless of social location, liturgy adapts to this dynamic and vice versa. The truth is, that it will take all kinds of new worship styles anchored in Scripture, shaped by the unchanging truths of the gospel to evangelize the new generations through the Power and Love of the Holy Spirit.