Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Revivals were common then...

Billy Sunday
While perusing a blog the other day, I was struck by the phrase "revivals were common then..." The feel was like saying, "Mountain lions were common in the Smokies then.." or "Steam locomotives were common then..."

Consider me a bit struck by the nostalgia of the thing - "Revivals were common then." Rather sad.

Sure, I know churches still have revivals these days. I'd even bet that somewhere some church has a spring and a fall revival just like they did 100 years ago. But I'd guess there are more SBC churches that do not have a revival in a given year than there are those that do. Someone probably has stats on this. I am ready to be enlightened.

The typical revival is indeed somewhat of a routine church event. Have one. Folks enjoy it. Maybe a few decision. Church and community are rarely if ever changed. Things quickly go back to normal. 

I've hosted my share and have enjoyed most of them but not all. There was the evangelist whose detailed instructions about money came early and often. There was the sports evangelist who was nifty in his niche but inadequate with the Gospel. There were several pastors whom I invited, bigger churches and bigger names, whose idea seemed to me to get it over with, pick up the check, and get back home. There was the singer, big name and big bucks, who had big speakers but made a small impression. There have been clowns, athletes, megapastors, micropastors, vocational preaching evangelists, vocational singing evangelists, affinity specialists (fishing, racing, hunting, etc.).

Vocational preaching (or, as they call themselves "God called harvest evangelists" which make me want to look around for sickles and balers) evangelists lament their lack of use. Pastors don't wish to fool with the full time evangelists these days. I cannot say I had great experiences with them myself. Seemed that too many were either in the entertainment business or in the business of business. Guess I had the wrong ones, I will be told.

These days, are we doing more events than formal revivals? If so, I'm not sure we are any better off.

Second Amendment Rallies, you say? Gun giveaways? Seems like the, uh, target market for that is limited to people who look, talk, and think like us...and vote like us. Hardly reaching the world, unless our small world is the only world we have interest in.

We generate baptisms through spontaneous baptism services. When folks show up, grab 'em and dunk 'em and sort it all out later. That's a mild cheap shot. I know of a couple of pastors who do these whom I respect. But it seems to me that this is the commoditization of the sacred ordinance of baptism which cannot be good in the long haul.

Yes...revivals were common then. I would liked to have been to a service where Billy Sunday preached, or Dwight L. Moody. Mordecai Ham would have been interesting. 

But that was then and this is now. What comes later, who knows? But past experience and general trends has me a bit wary of what to expect. 

Maybe we need the Lord to take back over this business. We've messed it up pretty good.


Unknown said...

While serving in my first church staff position many years ago, our church had a week-long Revival for which the pastor had enlisted the service of a certain well-known vocational evangelist. I sat in rapt awe on the opening Sunday of those meetings as this man preached, sans notes, for 45 minutes with nary a misspoken phrase. I was still at that place in my preaching experience that I required 20 pages of notes to preach a 10-minute sermon, and I commented to my pastor about how great it was that this fellow could preach with such eloquence without anything on the podium but his Bible.

Replied the pastor: "You could do the same thing if you preached the same sermon every Sunday morning for the past 15 years."

-Louis J.

Anonymous said...

The institutionalism of revival. Please. Go. Away.
Faster. Please.

dr. james willingham said...

In my first church I had an elderly member who had attended a service by Train to St. Louis to hear D.L. Moody preach back in the 1800s. I also had a friend whose mother (he and she told me about it) was converted under Billy Sunday. Another friend had Billy Sunday preach in his pulpit one Sunday morning in Brooklyn during Sunday's great New York Crusade in 1917. Even more interesting, a friend of mine was a descendant of a family (a mother and her two sons) who had been converted under Ev. George Whitefield. Another friend was converted under Mordecai Fowler Ham. He went forward, because the invitation was for those who did not want to commit the sin against the Holy Ghost. While standing there my friend was saved, realizing how the whole truth of salvation consisted of Sovereign Grace. He went on to found a church and became known as the man who burned the Bible. What he did was burn a page of the RSV where the term almah was rendered as young woman instead of virgin. On the Internet and in some histories he has been portrayed as your typical red neck. Truth is that he was from Baltimore and a graduate of Wake Forest College who left the SBC over liberalism. He was also an Amillenialist, not your run-of-the-mill independent fundamentalist. He was also calm and dispassionate in his preaching, trusting to the power of the word to do the work.

Two more stories about revivals, and I will cease. My professor of Christian Doctrine at St. Louis Baptist College in the Fall of '59 told about a revival that occurred in his home county in Arkansas back in the 1800s, when he was a child. It was so powerful that the whole county did not have a single criminal case to come before the county grand jury foe 10 years.

The other case involves my ordaining pastor who preached a revival in a country church in Georgia (not far from Augusta) in which he had 200 professions of faith. Funny part about the whole deal is that he was a supralapsarian hyper-Calvinist. I preached there about 40 some years later, and a deacon at the FBC of Augusta who had been converted in that revival came to Homecoming, the beginning of the revival I was preaching, and told me about his experience.

Ev. Rolfe Barnard said God would probably not doing anything until things were deader than a doornail. I fear he might be right. If so, we will all probably be in a concentration camp, where we can really fellowship on the way to the extermination centers.

William Thornton said...

Fascinating, Doc.

Stephen Fox said...

Glad I dropped by today, my second comment on a blog post, the other on Pat Conroy's blog. Thornton, his latest The Death of Santini is a must read for you if no other reason the chapter on Rome Ga.
I agree, Doc Willingham's memories, for once, entirely fascinating.
With a collaborator I have written a great scene in a film script with a "Holy Fool" mimicking the slide to home plate of Billy Sunday. Set in NW Ga in the 70's......Bard Colleges Luc Sante has an interesting take on hardscrabble religion and water baptism. I think I have shared the link with Thornton before. Marshall Frady himself woulda been taken!