Guest post by Christopher W. Bogosh
A few months ago an announcement was given during our Sunday School class. The leader reported: “An upcoming tent revival is scheduled at a particular church in our community. We need volunteers to help. They are going to have one of those large tents, you know, hmm, like one of those tents they have at a circus.” We all started to laugh. One of the ladies quipped: “I hope it doesn’t turn into a circus.” The leader went on: “It is going to be a ‘Crusade for Christ’ and we need people for special music, counseling, prayer teams, ushers, set up, and take down. Please sign up if you are able to help.” I thought to myself a circus is a good analogy. The circus comes to town but revivals don’t.
God is sovereign—he plans revivals. Churches may plan conferences, plays, musicals, tent meetings, and other special events, but a revival is something that God plans. This was true during the days of Josiah, Ezra, Peter, Paul, Luther, Calvin, Whitfield, Edwards, and others, and it is just as true in our day and age. It is important to note that the revival that surrounded each of these figures was not planned. They were not on a “Crusade for Christ” (after the atrocities committed under this banner we should be ashamed to use it); they were faithful in day to day life doing what God called and gifted them to do. But, most importantly, they believed in the absolute sovereignty of God. They confessed with the Psalmist: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). This raises the issue of doctrine. In order for true revival to occur, one must understand that God is sovereign.
The major difference between the First Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening was this very point. In the Second Great Awakening, a shift occurred in theology. God was no longer sovereign. Evangelists traveled from place to place to advertized meetings. A day was set, music was selected, counselors were identified, ushers were prepared, tents were lifted, and chairs were set up. Then the meeting started. First, music was played to stir the emotions, and then the speaker delivered a persuasive message to move the people to action. Finally, the people were invited to the “altar” to make a decision for Christ. Charles Finney, the icon of the Second Great Awakening, developed this program of psychological coercion. The god of the Second Great Awakening was radically different from the one of the First. This god was not sovereign, rather he was a weakling who arrived at the appointed day, and who waited for a person’s emotionally charged decision. This is not a proper understanding of God, and this is one of the distinguishing marks of the tent revival meeting mentioned above.
The god of the tent revival is impotent. Perhaps if local churches would focus on God’s sovereignty, rather than the next program, big-time event, or tactic to manipulate him, revival would come! God is looking for people to pursue their lives and callings faithfully, and for them to use the regular means he has appointed. He wants us to participate in weekly worship that preaches the word faithfully, administers the sacraments correctly, and exercises discipline accordingly. He wants us to invite non-Christians to these services. These are the means that God appointed; we would do well to embrace them, and we would do even better if we stayed away from the novelties. “The Circus is Coming to Town” but revival is not. This will certainly be an emotionally stimulating event, but it will be no different than, say, a “Christian” circus. When the tents are lowered and the evangelist leaves town so will the excitement. Many of the people will go home moved by the moment, but they will be self-deceived (cf. Matthew 12:43-45). They have learned about a god who arrives at a specific date that people set, and who bases his action to save upon the emotionally charged decisions of people—they have learned about a god that is impotent and this is not the true God of true revival.Christopher W. Bogosh is director of Good Samaritan Books and the author of several titles including The Physiology of Hope: How People Persevere in the Face of Death.