Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lonnie Frisbee

I just received a new DVD in the post:

It's a fascinating and tragic documentary about the life of Lonnie Frisbee. Lonnie was one of the key figures of the 'Jesus Movement' amongst the hippie counter-culture in '60s West Coast USA. He also played a key part in the early days of both the Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard movements.

I am intrigued by his story for several reasons :
i) He seems to have been a catalyst in a genuine move of God amongst a sub-culture who were completely outside the church. Lonnie claims to have received his calling when he was on acid in the desert. He originally had some strange ideas which mixed up Jesus stuff with UFOs and other mysticism but upon meeting other Christian hippies became more orthodox in his views and went on to baptise hundreds in the pacific ocean.

ii) I'm interested in the place of experience in conversion and the Christian life, and what happens when this becomes a main focus.

iii) His place in the Vineyard movement which has been a big part of my life. In the Vineyard, the way they do ministry is to pray 'Come, Holy Spirit' and then wait and see what happens. (this has continued into New Wine etc). Now, 'Come, Holy Spirit' is an ancient prayer of the church, but as far as I can make out, its modern use in this way of ministry goes back to Lonnie. When he prayed this on Mother's Day 1980 in John Wimber's church, people fell about, shook and began to speak in tongues. Wimber cites this occasion as being instrumental in his ministry and the growth of the Vineyard movement.

iv) Lonnie was homosexual in orientation. Although he apparently always claimed that homosexual behaviour was sinful, he evidently did have homosexual affairs at times in his life, though there is debate to what extent. When this was discovered, he was removed from public ministry in the Vineyard. He felt extremely bitter towards John Wimber about this and perhaps never really recovered. He eventually died of AIDS in 1993.

The sub-text of the film is that both the Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard movements have written Lonnie out of their history, due to his homosexuality. In the Vineyard, I'm not sure this is completely true. Although he is referred to just as 'a young man' in John Wimber's Power Evangelism book he appears on the Vineyard USA website and he is mentioned extensively in Carol Wimber's biography of John.

Now some people may just think that Lonnie was just a fraud from the start, like a hypnotist or something, but I don't think this makes sense of the testimonies of the fruit of his ministry. For my money I think he's a classic example of how God uses broken and messed up people. Like I say, a fascinating and tragic story.


sds said...

Hi Jon,

I hope things are well with you?

Facinating guy from what you say - I shall find out more about his life.

I can almost imagine that his, would it be ok to say, lack of togetherness in the way we imagine it for most people was part of how God was able to use him in such an instrumental way.

It's a key question for me over many years of how we find ways as people of God of not simply accommodating those who don't fit into our normal ways of being, but valuing as key members of who we are and in discovering who we can become. I've found my faith and understanding of Jesus has grown whenever I've given my time to those who struggle to fit in our churches (and when I've been someone who struggles).

Anyway - I will love to find out more about him. I have the biography, as yet unread, and will start there...


Jon said...

Hi Steve,

good to hear from you. We are doing well down here in Bristol.

I'm sure you're right. If God didn't use broken people then we'd all be in trouble.

I agree that how to value those who don't fit the 'norm' is a key question for our churches. Having said that, I'm not sure 'inclusivity' is an absolute virtue which overides all other questions of how to be the people we are called to be.

I'm pretty sure I couldn't have handled the situation any better than Wimber who had responsibility not only for his own church, but for a movement. Still a very sad story.

When you say biography, do you have one of Lonnie Frisbee, or do you mean the John Wimber one by Carol?

Where is your blog these days?



Steve Sparrow (Interfaith N said...

Hi Jon,

No blog now.

I mean the Wimber biog - which I have lying around waiting to be read.

I think the question of inclusiveness and how that relates to maintaining identity is on of the hardest to work out in practice. I certainly wasn't intending any criticism of Wimber of Vineyard. I like soemthing Adrian Plass wrote about walking the narrowest path possible ourselves, and flinging our arms as wide as possible. That does'nt translate easily into leadership issues though.

One thing that seems to be in my mind a lot recently is a phrase somebody once posted in response to a post on inclusivness. 'Whenever we draw a line in the sand to separate ourselves from someone else, Jesus is probably on the other side!'

I think I'm sounding a bit preachy, - which is unintended. Mostly I wanted to say hello.

I grew up in Bristol - lovely place .


Steve Gee said...

Hey Jon,

I come across this film a while back, in fact I did try and get a copy ;o( how did you get yours?

I did also email the maker to simply say that I don't believe all of his thesis to be correct - I've been around the Vineyard movement here in the UK for 12 or 13 yrs. And it always been clear to me that the young man that said "come Holy Spirit" on mothers day was Lonnie! He never came back to me... never mind!

Jon said...

Hi Steve,

I ordered mine from David Di Sabatino's website

Paid by Paypal, was quite reasonable when the currency conversion had been done (about £11.50 including postage) and it arrived fairly quickly.

I agree with you that he has made too much of Lonnie being written out of Vineyard's history.

He gives his response to this criticism on the faq -

take care,

Steve Sjogren said...


I was friends with Lonnie in the early 80's - had been aware of his legendary status for years before developing a friendship with him. I have been a Vineyard pastor from ancient times as Vineyard history goes. I was with him, Wimber and a handful of the original Vineyard pastors just after the Mother's Day 'Come Holy Spirit' event.

All that to say - DiSabbatino's allegation that Lonnie was a homosexual is flatly false. There are many who were around during this period who can attest to this statement. More accurately, Lonnie fell into bi-sexual behavior on several occasions over a extended time. Lonnie was very frank, open about all of this. He was repentant about it as well. Many thousands heard him explain what he had fallen into - as well as publicly repent. To describe what Lonnie did and call it a homosexual lifestyle is utterly inaccurate.

There are no doubt numerous people who would like to generalize Lonnie's behavior into a different description than was accurate. Again, the key word here is 'Agenda.' Perhaps a second word is 'Sensationalism.'

The film DiSabbatino has put out has stimulated discussion that is long overdue, but elements of it are examples of one-sided editing with an agenda. The slanted editing present in this documentary is not difficult to detect in numerous interviews captured in the filming.

More needs to be written, posted, clarified about Lonnie. But for Pete's sake, let's do an accurate job from this point forward.


Anonymous said...

I was part of the Jesus movement and got saved at Calvary Chapel. I then married a man who was part of the Christian music scene. 12 years later I found out he liked little girls. As in 8 year old little girls. Would you say he "fell into pedophiliac behavior"? You christians have a habit of justifying any behavior because it can be "forgiven". I plain got tired of all the lies and aberrant behaviors I saw.
I find "the world" I so long avoided to be a much more pleasant place to make a home.

Jon said...

Hi Steve, thanks for your comment, which I have only just noticed. All the more valuable for being a first hand account. I found the film fascinating, but you are right there does seem to be an agenda there.

Jon said...

anonymous. Sorry to hear of your tragic story.

Anonymous said...


I also am completely fascinated by Lonnie Frisbee's life, I have been studying him for the past three months.

It's my hope that the church of Jesus Christ (mine included) will one day soon become a place where sexual strugglers can be set free. People like myself!

God bless!

- Bruce