Revival: Big Top Experience
Before we get into whether or not God will heal the land we call America (or your home country if it is not America), it might help to look at some of the revival “techniques” God is said to have used not only in times past, but apparently, in a current fashion. It’s helpful to understand if what we have seen is from God, people, or the devil. I’m sure I won’t be able to answer that question to everyone’s satisfaction, but I will try. The rest is up to you, because ultimately, you are responsible for what you believe.
I think anyone who has looked at any aspect of religious revivalism in America understands that emotions have played a part in things. The problem with just making that statement is that it makes it appear as though God is opposed to emotions. This is clearly not the case as evidenced by the fact that Jesus got angry and He even cried. There were times He felt tremendous empathy on the people who gathered to hear Him speak, so much so, that He fed them on numerous occasions.
Emotions, in and of themselves, are not bad things at all. The problem is when we allow emotions to dictate our decision-making faculties. When we make choices based on how we feel about something rather than the truth of God’s Word. Let me also clearly state that some decisions we make are based on feeling and in those cases, there is nothing wrong with that, because they boil down to preferences.
For instance, I like steak and I like it medium-rare. If someone put a steak in front of me that was well done, I wouldn’t eat it. I already know I do not like steak cooked like that. To me, it tastes terrible. Am I wrong? Not for me, I’m not, though someone else might tend to get nauseous thinking of someone eating steak that is “blood-red” inside. That’s their preference. This has nothing to do with absolute truth at all. Some people like chocolate and others like vanilla. Some like this style of music or that, this color or that. Often these preferences are based on how a person feels about it.
There is nothing in Scripture that says I cannot like a nice shade of pastel green for a shirt I’m wearing. That color may simply look better on me than other colors.
At the same time, when it comes to the things of God, there are many areas where truth is truth and error is error and it makes absolutely no difference how I feel about it. This is part of the current debate with same-sex unions. Much of it today comes down to emotional virtue, not God’s truth. I will also say that God does not hold me responsible for how the Supreme Court rules on a particular issue.
With respect to religious revivalism, it has an interesting history. There are things that can only be categorized as excessive and unseemly. Yet, in spite of the unseemly nature of many of the antics of people involved in religious revivals, they are often viewed as legitimate for one reason: people get excited about God. They seem to move closer to God and take Him and their relationship with Him more serious.
The problem with that though is in the direction that these emotion-filled antics can lead a person. Beyond this, how does that excitement translate to a genuine, consistent, continually increasing love for God and for the way in which He wants us to live? People who are emotionally high cannot stay like that. It is impossible. We are not built like that. Being “high” like that uses a great amount of energy and eventually, our bodies will begin to shut things off in order to save and even restore energy that’s been used.
It’s no different from falling in love with someone. Everything seems lighter than air. You can go without sleep, without food, because all you need is that other person. Eventually though, this emotional high wanes and reality closes in. This doesn’t have to mean that you are no longer in love with the person. It simply means that you are now at a different point in your relationship with them, one that should be based on commitment in spite of a lack of emotional highs.
WELCOME TO THE BIG SHOW
In many ways, the many tent revival shows that occurred throughout America in the early days of the 1900s, might be classified as little more than circuses. Let’s face it, people did not have much to choose from by way of entertainment in those days. No TV, barely radio. Movie theaters didn’t really get going until the mid-to-late 1930s. Not everyone could afford them because much of the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression.
Tent revival meetings – as crass as this may sound – offered entertainment very inexpensively for the average American; often free. Yes, I know the way that sounds and I’m not trying to negate or minimize anything that God may have done during those meetings. The problem though is that many of the evangelists during that time were over-the-top entertainers.
Remember, most of these tent evangelists did not have sound systems. They used a “sounding board” suspended directly above them. It literally bounced the sound of their voice into the crowd that sometimes reached into the hundreds if not several thousands, depending how big the tent was. This was no different from Jesus getting into the boat and pushing off from the shore then preaching the crowd. He understood that the water between Him and the crowd would act to bounce His voice so that the people all the way in back of the crowd would be able to hear Him.
Without a sound system, evangelists also had to use techniques that captured the attention of the crowd apart from their voices. To that end, some of them employed other techniques like the ones Billy Sunday used. As an ex-baseball player, he would “slide” into home, and do other things that caused people to enjoy what they were seeing and hearing. It kept them engaged, in other words. People who are not engaged, will not react.
We continue to see a side of this in much of Christian “programming” on TV. It appears to be done as a means of making viewers want to become active participants, but in the end, it’s still a sideshow or a circus, except it’s no longer in a tent, but in a huge building or stadium. Take the time to watch Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff, or another “faith healer” in action. They yell, they stomp, they do everything with a great flourish. It’s all designed to get and keep a person’s attention.
But many Christians, when they think of revival think rather in terms of simply recommitting themselves to God and His purposes. Is there anything wrong with that? No more than it is to renew wedding vows formally or by yourself, between you and your spouse.
But the question we really need to begin to look at is whether or not God wants revival for His people in order to also “revive” a particular land (like America). This really is key to our discussion because depending upon how you answer that question, will make the difference in how you understand revival. Is God in the business of “healing” or “saving” lands/nations or is He interested in saving people? If you answered that He is more interested in saving people, then the next question is whether or not He will save people so that they can change things in society in order that a land or nation might be healed.
When we pray for God to “revive” us, Oh Lord, or quote Revelation 6:20 about Him knocking and us opening the door, or repeating His Words from 2 Chronicles 7:14 (If my people…), what are we doing? Does God have an obligation to act based on those things as we understand them?
We need to look seriously at Scripture to determine what God Himself means by reviving us and whether or not that includes the Land in which we live (meaning, all the people living there who may or may not be saved as well). We’ll be back!