Malachi Tresler led a breakout session at TGC’s 2019 Arizona Regional Conference titled “The Impact of Revivalism on Contemporary Worship.” He taught from the thesis that revivalism has affected modern worship in two ways: pragmatism and emotionalism. Beginning with the Great Awakening in 1734, Tresler walked through a brief history of the birth of revivalism and how it shaped worship over the years, including how worship services are designed, their expected outcomes, and even our expectations for leadership in them. In response, he encouraged listeners to remember three things regarding worship:
- Worship is a goal in and of itself.
- We need a long view of God’s work.
- We must rely on the Spirit’s power for obedience.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Malachi Tresler: All right. So this breakout session is on revivalism and today’s worship. As way of brief introduction, my name is Malachi Tresler. I’m the pastoral assistant of music at Trinity Bible Church, where Pastor Josh is the senior pastor. I’ve been serving there for about seven years. I grew up Southern Baptist and went to a church called Gateway Fellowship First, a long time, not far from here. That’s sort of my background. And I’m sure that that’s going to cloud and influence my perspective, just sort of give you some idea of my background and my perspective.
So the idea here that I want to talk about is really just how revivalism has had an impact on the way that we worship today. It has impacted our services through two streams. This is kind of my thesis. Through two streams, and this is on your handout there. I think that it’s pragmatism and emotionalism.
I want to say revivalism has shaped our worship services through two streams, that of pragmatism and that of emotionalism. So I’m just sort of walk through that here. There’s space on the back of your sheet for you to take notes. I’m hoping that we’re going to have enough time at the end of this to actually have a bit of interaction. So we can talk about what you think, if you want to push back on anything that I’ve said. You’re welcome to do that.
Here’s what I want to do. I just want to walk through a little bit of American Christian revival history and sort of think about how that’s influenced the way that we’ve worshiped today. And I want to think specifically about Arizona. Arizona is an a mavericky sort of place. Do you agree with that? We’re sort of an independent spirit sort of a place. We’ve got a lot of nondenominational churches, a lot of independent churches, a lot of Bible churches. And I bet most of us have an allergy to tradition. Anything that looks like stodgy, old tradition, we want to sort of push away from, and we like to think of ourselves as very freethinkers.
We’re very liberated from those old stodgy practices of the past, but I want to say that we are impacted by our past. And my concern is that many of them they’re ignorant of the history that has shaped the way that we worship as churches. In fact, I think many of us don’t even think that we have liturgies, but we do. Liturgy is just a word for an order of the church’s worship service. And we all have one, whether we think we do or not. I want to argue that most of us are influenced by revivalism in our liturgies.
So I want to walk through a few key events, some people, their ideas, their theologies. And then I want to think about how we’ve gotten to where we’re at today. And here’s why this is a good idea I believe. We need to learn from history, our history, so that we can avoid the overcorrections that sometimes happen. Those errors that have happened in our past. And also by looking back, we can be encouraged, recognizing how God has been working in our history, our family history, to bring us to where we’re at today. There’s much to be thankful for. And second, by looking back, we can learn to look forward more clearly, to see how to shape our worship so that it’s more biblical, that it’s more faithful, and that it’s more God glorifying.
All right. So let’s begin in 1734, the first Great Awakening. Religious awakenings were not something that were new in America. They had been happening here and there throughout America, but in 1734, there was an unusual frequency of awakenings or revivals. Historians call it that first Great Awakening. And it was at the end of 1734, where Jonathan Edwards was preaching a two part sermon series on justification by faith alone. And the response that Jonathan Edwards got to this sermon series was extraordinary. He wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. They were really just going through the normal preaching of the word that he would have always done, but it had an extraordinary impact.
It affected his church. It affected the town. It affected eventually the whole Connecticut River Valley. And this is how he described the atmosphere in his town. He said this quote, “All seem to be seized with a deep concern about their eternal salvation. All the talk is upon the things of religion and the effect was widespread.”
He says this, “The rich and poor, the high and low, the wise and unwise, young and old were affected by it. There were dozens and eventually hundreds who were brought to a lively sense of the excellency of Jesus Christ and his sufficiency and his willingness to save sinners and to be much weaned in their affections from the world.” In the months that followed in 1735, George Whitfield was converted to Christianity. He would come to America in 1739, become a super famous traveling preacher in America. He was about as big of a celebrity as there was in America at that time. And then in 1744, John Wesley founds the Methodist movement, his brother, Charles. Charles Wesley wrote a lot of hymns. Many of which we still sing today. They were all very influential people in that first Great Awakening.
So this Great Awakening that was happening brought a new vitality to Christianity. It was in Edwards’ words, “An extraordinary work of God,” that came about suddenly and surprisingly Edwards did not schedule this revival. He was just doing the ordinary things that they always did. He was preaching the word and they were praying. His church would systematically and regularly pray for revival. They wanted that to happen. And God just did something extraordinary using those ordinary means. This is important to note. Edwards thought of revival as a miracle, an act of God. He defined it as a special season of mercy during which God pours out his spirit, producing greater sanctification among Christians and in the conversion of the lost. Both Edwards and Whitfield were Calvinists. And so, they had a very high view of God’s role in salvation. They believe that man had an inability to come to salvation in Christ without the Holy Spirit first drawing them.
The Holy Spirit would have to bring about that new life. And that was true for individual people. And then of course, it was true for churches and it was true for communities and towns. John Wesley also involved in that first Great Awakening, not Calvinist, but he was more [inaudible 00:06:26], but he did say this. He did say that we are dependent on God to bring about that new birth. Everyone has been given grace from God to come to faith and it’s up them to the exercise of faith, but Wesley still believed in original sin. He believed in our inability to save ourselves. That’ll be important later.
The service in Jonathan Edwards’ church would have been relatively ordinary. They would have sung with instruments, with voices. They would have sung a lot of Isaac Watts’ hymns, which were paraphrases of scripture, which were actually quite progressive in their day because a lot of people would argue that you just need to sing the scripture themselves, but Isaac Watts paraphrased it. There was some disagreement about whether or not that was right, but that’s what they would have sung in Jonathan Edwards’ church.
In fact, Jonathan Edwards was not particularly exciting as a preacher. In the wake of the revival that came at the church that he administered at, Edwards had to encourage people in his sermons not to fall asleep during the service, to set a good example for those that were in there visiting. But Whitfield was different. Whitfield was a traveling preacher. He didn’t really attach himself to any particular local church. He traveled all up and down the east coast of America. Sometimes you’d be able to gather as many as 20,000 or 30,000 people to hear him preach his open air sermons from all sorts of different denominations, different churches. And he was a natural born actor. He was very theatrical. The story is that he could make people weep just by the way that he pronounced the word Mesopotamia.
That’s the word. He would impersonate the biblical characters and the stories that he was telling, even with their individual voices, perhaps. And he was a marketer. He would write stories about himself and then send them to the newspapers about how large his gatherings were, so that when he arrived to the city, they would already know who he was. And it was sort of like a puff piece. So he was theatrical. He worked sort of a part from any local particular church. He advertised his meetings in newspapers, and he wasn’t really concerned about how the church worshiped. He just wanted to preach the gospel in big open air gatherings. And I think he sort of anticipates some of the church practices that would become more and more popular in America in the decades to come.
Well over time, maybe 10 to 20 years, historians disagree, the effects of this first Great Awakening start to die out. And during this time in American colonies, you’ve got the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the nation of America and the expansion of settlers that are continuing to press out into the Western front. And the settlers as they move across in America, they’re so spread out that they don’t really have easy access to churches anymore. And there’s a general lack of spiritual vitality for many, many years in America.
And then starting at around 1790, there was this distinct sense of a new revival coming. And it was just like the first Great Awakening in this. The second Great Awakening started out as a surprise. No one saw it coming. It spread far and wide and it lasted quite awhile. It started in this Southeast region of America and then eventually spread from there. And it was heavily influenced by English and Scottish settlers, those English and Scottish Presbyterians who had come over. They brought some of their church practices with them to America.
And one of the practices was called the communion season or a holy fair. The Christian there in Britain would spend a few days in these long church gatherings. So they’d get Christians to gather together from Thursday to a Sunday and they’d spend a day fasting. They would spend a day praying. They’d spend a day preaching, singing, and then it would sort of culminate in communion. So the whole goal of this service when the Christians gather together was to have communion together on Sunday. And this kind of event was super helpful in America because there was a lot of frontier land. As I mentioned, settlers are all dispersed in areas where they don’t have towns that are big enough to support their own churches.
They’re not able to support trained ministers. And so they adopted these communion seasons, these meetings, and they call them in America, they call them camp meetings. So they would schedule these meetings. They would bring in a traveling preacher and everybody would just sort of gather in from the geographical area that surrounded it. And they would camp out and make the best out of the trip, and make the most out of it. Right? So they would do very similar things. They’d pray. They would preach. They would sing. They would take communion. And then, they would go home and sometimes family members would be converted.
And then they would go home. And sometimes family members would be converted, people that were guests would be converted. And there were seeing a lot of people coming to repentance and faith.
The biggest of these camp meetings was in 1801 and it was called the Cane Ridge Revival that happened in Kentucky. There were supposedly between 10,000 and 20,000 people there at this long extended camp meeting, and it was here that things started to get super weird.
The focus of the meetings shifted from taking communion to inviting people to make decisions for Christ. They introduced some new techniques, like a sawdust trail for converts to walk down down the aisle as they would walk forward. They also used what they called a mourner’s bench that would be set up in the front. So when they walked down the aisle, they could sit on this bench, and that’s where they would gather to be prayed for for their conversions, for their souls. They would sit people up front to pray for their conversion.
And at that this giant camp meeting, people were starting to get hysterical. They were groaning, they were dancing, jerking, going into trances and falling. They were dropping as if they were shot dead, what one eye witness said. They laid motionless for hours. And as you might imagine, they’re not singing Isaac Watts hymns at these camp meetings. They’re not singing the songs of Charles Wesley anymore. They sang songs that really were just meant to stir up emotions and they didn’t really say it a whole lot. There were just simple, repetitive songs because they needed people to be able to learn the songs quickly. We’re just gathering together for the short little camp meeting. We’re going to have super simple songs, very simple melodies. The words are not that important, emotion is sort of leading the way.
So this I believe is where we sit the focus shift in American Christian music from declaring biblical truth to cultivating personal experiences.
Over time, the focus of these meetings changed. As I mentioned, the goal switched from taking communion together as Christians to converting the lost. So no longer is it about gathering Christians, it’s about evangelizing the lost. Do you see that’s different? It might seem like a minor difference.
The ultimate goal of those communion seasons of Scotland and England was for Christians to gather together to take the Lord separate together. But by the time the Cane Ridge Revival happened in America, that camp meeting, the focus of American camp meetings was on getting people to make decisions for Christ and having ecstatic experiences.
One historian, Gordon Lathrop, notes that if decision-making is the central matter, the meeting will not really be around God. It becomes centered on man and his response.
Over time, these practices from the camp meetings moved from the frontier areas of America back into the settled parts of the country, back into the churches. So they moved from the Southwest regions, those frontier areas, back into the cities where the churches are sort of taking those practices.
And this is where we meet Charles Finney. Charles Finney has been called the most influential liturgical reformer in American history, the most influential liturgical reformer in American history. And I don’t think that that’s an overstatement.
In 1821, Finney is converted. He begins preaching in revival meetings in upstate New York, and he brings a bunch of those practices from those camp meetings back with him into the city. But instead of using what used to be called a mourning bench, he would call it the anxious bench. It was the same idea, you would come up front to be prayed for if you were anxious about being saved. He would use the saw dust trails. And he called all these approaches to worship in the church new measures. That was his phrase. These were just new measures that we’re going to use in churches worship.
Now, look back to the first good awakening and remember that Jonathan Edwards saw revival as a miraculous act of God. Here’s what Finney said. A revival is, quote, “Not a miracle or dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is purely philosophical result of the right use of the appropriate means.” That’s a big difference, right? Those are very contrasting views of what’s happening in a revival.
So I want us to see how theology is driving Finney’s practices here. Now, Whitfield and Wesley disagreed about Calvinism, as I mentioned, but they both agreed that God needed to work in people to bring about that new birth, their salvation. There was a new birth that God needed to bring about.
But Finney disagreed. He was very anti-Calvinist. In fact, he went super overboard. If you read his systematic theology that he published, he denied God’s sovereignty, but he went further. He denied man’s depravity. He denied the imputed righteousness of Christ and he denied penal substitutionary atonement. In Finney’s mind, all that was needed for someone to become a Christian was for them to decide to do it. If doesn’t require an act of God, it just requires a change of mind. This is a very stark contrast. Edwards thought revival was prayed down, Finney thought revival was worked up.
But Finney was very much a man of his time. Modernity had begun to set in in America. We’ve got the rise of scientific naturalism. There was a growing belief that the world could be measured and predicted, and even more importantly than that, it could be manipulated and it can be controlled for human interests.
So following that philosophy, Finney and other revivalists, he was not alone in this, they started looking back to see what used to happen in revivals of the past so that they could recreate those circumstances that surrounded it. They wanted to reverse engineer revivals. I believe that this is the turning point when revivals become revivalism.
And here’s how I like to relate revivals to revivalism. It’s like Jurassic Park. In Jurassic Park, the scientists have come up with this new technology. They’ve got this ability now to reach back into time and extract information from the past and pull it into the present. They pulled DNA out of those bones of the dinosaurs in order to create new life. This is their approach. They want to recreate life. And in the same way, Charles Finney wants to look back at the circumstances that were surrounding the first great awakening at Cane Ridge and to sort of make scientific observations about it, pull whatever we can out of that and bring it into the present in hopes that it would recreate revival.
And for a time, it appeared to work. His revivals had big numbers for a while, but as we know, Jurassic Park ends up in a massive loss of life. It does not go well when man pretends to be God. I love what Jeff Goldblum’s character says in that first Jurassic Park movie. He says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make dinosaurs, they didn’t stop to think whether they should.”
Well, Finney was a pragmatist. He said, “Show me the fruits of your ministry, and if they’re better than mine, then I’ll change my mind.” That’s the battle cry of pragmatism. That’s the very definition of pragmatism. If you get more decisions, then your approach to evangelism is right. This is the beginning I believe of how it begun, so number oriented in our churches.
Starting in the 1830s, revivals were measured by how many decisions were made. In fact, I couldn’t believe this when I read this, some revivalists were actually paid by the convert. They were working on commission, and I do not think that that’s what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 28. It was up to the preacher to create revival. So preachers now have become professionals. It used to be that people would ask God for revival, and now they would hire professionals to create them.
But over time, Finney’s new measures would become less and less effective. And in order to keep people excited, they would have to start innovating. Finney’s measures had to be changed over time. They had to chase novelty. They needed something new. So they started bringing in singing evangelists and comedians and other entertainers, all for the goal of keeping people interested.
But ultimately, the impact of these new measures of Finney were short-lived, and by the 1840s, these scheduled revivals were less effective than the spontaneous revivals that they had been designed to supplement or even replace.
Here’s what I think might’ve happened, speculation. When you get people interested in spirituality and in these ecstatic experiences like we had at Cane Ridge, but not actually vitally connected with Christ, not discipled in a church, you create unbelievers who actually are just more lost, chasing spiritual highs.
And here’s what’s interesting. The innovation did not stop with Finney. There were a lot of other innovative religious movements that came out of the same soil and time of upstate New York where Finney was ministering. In 1830, the Book of Mormon was published there. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists all came from this same time and place. There were various utopian societies that were founded that practiced weird hippie stuff like group marriage. Seances became popular. There were people trying to interact with the dead through mediums because they were so interested in the spiritual realm, but they were not discipled. Just as in Jurassic Park, this experiment to bring about life ended in a burned over area of death and destruction, and in this instance, cults.
So moving forward a little bit in American church history time, in the 1870s, D.L. Moody would follow in Finney’s methods, and I think this is where the altar call really takes hold. In his revival meetings, they would sing songs like Softly and Tenderly and Only Trust Him, which were written in order to coax people out of their seats and to come up front.
He was different from Finney in that Finney, he would sort of demand a decision from people, but Moody would sort of hypnotically plead for one. It seems like a minor difference, but I think it’s pretty big.
So here’s what happened. What happened at those camp meetings that we mentioned, all those frontier areas, that practice gets turned into revivalism, it gets brought back into the churches, which impacts Sunday worship services across-
Brought back into the churches which impacts Sunday worship services across evangelical churches in America. And in the past, this is how it’s different. In the past, the church would have gathered together for worship with a fourfold pattern. I think that’s on your outline too. It would have been historically it’s the gathering, then you’ve got the word, the table or response, word separate community baptism. And then there’s the sending. That’s an historical fourfold pattern of worship. But this is the American contribution to global worship. We came up with a new pattern. This threefold pattern was what liturgical historian, James F. White calls a frontier, bless you, liturgy. He calls it a frontier liturgy because it came from those areas of the frontier areas in the south where those revivals, so camp meetings were happening. And here’s what it looks like. It’s songs, a sermon and an alter call, the harvest.
And that’s the pattern that many churches follow today. I know the Southern Baptist church that I grew up in I would sing softly and tenderly and only trust Him a lot at the end of every service, no matter what kind of. But it’s not just Southern Baptist, less of those folks that are more interested in church growth look down at those Baptists. Some who aspire to be mega churches do essentially the same thing. You might not ask people to walk down an aisle, but you might ask them to stand up and make a decision. It’s difficult to get out of those movie seats to get to an aisle. You might ask them to serve in a ministry, to sign up. You might ask them to, even worse, be spontaneously baptized which there’s not enough time to argue that, but that’s way worse than an alter call.
But here’s what I really want you all to consider this morning. This is in my estimation, the biggest switch that has happened in American worship. The worship of the church has shifted from glorifying God and edifying the saints to entertaining the lost for the purpose of evangelism. I think we’ve arrived at the point where non-Christians are setting the agenda for the liturgy of the church. I like the way that Daniel Block put it in his book on worship. He said this, “Too often in worship, pragmatism, which is what our people want, and personal taste, which is what our people like, rather than biblical perspectives or theology drive the discussion of worship. And music and worship is often designed to satisfy those whose worship is unacceptable to God.” Let me read that again. I don’t know if that set in. “Music in worship is often designed to satisfy those whose worship is unacceptable to God.”
Strong language right? But is that not a truth? You have to worship in spirit and in truth. And do non-Christians worship in spirit and in truth? To achieve the highest administrative goal, which is that people will return next Sunday, the music must create a certain mood and the service must engage the attendees like a theatrical performance or like a concert. And that desire for a certain mood to be present it’s called emotionalism. Emotionalism says that God is present only if I feel like He is present. God is present only if I feel like He is present. And it has its beginnings there in that second great awakening, but it really takes off in the Azusa street revival of 1906 that happened in Southern California. There was this new novel idea that if someone really has truly been baptized with the Holy Spirit, they’re going to show evidence of that by speaking in tongues, it’s the beginning of Pentecostalism.
Pentecostalism, which came out of revivalism has influenced today’s worship by introducing an expectation of a palpable experience to worship. This idea was fleshed out further in the 1940s. There was a Canadian revival that happened, a Pentecostal Canadian revival that was called the Latter Rain Movement that happened there. Very influential. One thing that I really do appreciate about Pentecostals is that they value the word of God. And so they really want it to be biblical in their approach to worship, which needs to be commended. And so they would look to the Bible. They would look to passages like Psalm 22, where it says, “God is inhabiting the praise of His people.” They interpreted that to mean that God is made present through our praise. And they would do word studies about praise and worship in the Bible and they would sort of bifurcate the two. Those things don’t mean the same thing anymore. There are different. And here’s how they would define it. Praise is defined as exuberant, expression of love and gratitude and appreciation. And then worship is like an intense, personal communication with God.
Praise is what brings us into God’s presence and then worship is what you do once you get there. So if you follow the logic here, if God is made present in praise, then we ought to be rethinking our services in terms of it being a journey of being ushered into the presence of God. This is the Pentecostal thinking. So if you’ve been involved in planning Christian worship services at all, you’ve probably heard this familiar analogy. It’s the analogy of the temple. It was often said that the service should be a progressive journey into the Holy of Holies. You would start out in the outer courts of the temple, you’d move to the inner courts, outer courts is praise. And then as you’re getting closer to the presence of God, now you’re in the Holy of Holies where God is actually present. And wherever God is present, His power comes with Him. And where His power is, there are signs and wonders. And so their conclusion, this is the train of logic I believe.
The conclusion becomes that the goal of a church service is to experience signs and wonders like being slain in the spirit. And there are of course still churches that hold very strongly to this very explicit teaching. There was a scheduled revival that [inaudible 00:28:12] just a couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad for it on Facebook. They showed pictures of a preacher standing up on a chair, pressing down on someone’s forehead, knocking them out. That still exist. And while most of evangelical churches would be sort of skeptical, they would look askance at that sort of thing, we’re still influenced by their approach to worship. And here’s how. It used to be that God was considered to be uniquely, specially, spiritually present in the sacrament of communion, like with the Presbyterians that started those camp meetings back in the 1700. But now God was considered to be spiritually present in praise, which is facilitated through music and it’s proven by emotional experiences. So here’s the switch. Music became the new sacrament. No longer are we focusing on communion for God, now we’re focusing on the music.
And it’s not the Lord’s supper anymore, that’s not where we see Him, we see Him through music. And that’s why I believe when we say worship in this day and age, we usually just mean music. We’re not talking about a whole worship service of the gathered people of God. We’re typically just talking about music. And this is where that influence comes from. This I believe also is why music leaders started to be called worship leaders because they’re not really just leading music anymore. They’re ushering people into the presence of God like an old Testament priest. They’re facilitating a meeting with God by making Him present through their music. This is also why we hear people saying that they want to hear music that makes them feel God’s presence and gives them chills because that’s how they know that God’s actually there and that was the goal of worship service right?
I think that when I’m with Jonathan Edwards on this, he was open to God doing new things. He believed that Christianity definitely should have an impact on your emotions and on your affections. But he was very careful with overemphasizing their importance or pointing to them as evidence of God’s presence. The objective truth that Christ is present among His people in gathered worship does need to be emphasized. And I think that we can thank the Pentecostal movement for that. That we are in a sense, singing to Jesus and not just about Jesus. But we really need to be careful with equating our own subjective, personal, emotional experiences with God’s presence. God is present whether we feel Him or not. That’s why I love that line from the old song, solid rock, which was written in the wake of the second rate awakening. It says this, “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, which is a frame of mind or an emotional state, but I wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” So we are not dependent on our emotions or our frame of mind to confirm God’s existence or our salvation.
Well the Pentecostal influence continued in Southern California in the late 1960s when the Jesus people movement started. And there was a small, I think, genuine revival that happened there then that involved a lot of folks, but in particular surfers and hippies and musicians in Southern California. And this is where Calvary Chapel started. And at Calvary Chapel, they started to write this new simple music that was based on scripture that was easily sung by the congregation, which is an excellent idea. I think we need to affirm that. There was a strong movement to update the language of worship, just to make it accessible, to make it plain. And they also started a music label called Maranatha Music. And Maranatha when they first started, they had two categories of music. They would have music that was meant for the church, written for the church. And then there was a category that was really this sort of personal listening, music for Christians to listen to in their free time.
Over time, really by the 1980s, those two categories combined and that’s how we’ve ended up with CCM or Contemporary Christian Music as a genre. This is around the time when the CCLI starts and you start to have charts. And the music industry for Christian churches really becomes an industry, it’s very much more business oriented. The focus becomes less on the church writing music for the gathered congregation to traveling artists writing music for the radio, different goals in mind. And those categories have not been separated since. Well, I don’t want to paint a picture of worship where it started out really great like Jonathan Edwards had it all figured out. And really since then, it’s gotten worse until today and it’s awful. That’s not the picture I want to paint. There’s much to be thankful for.
That’s not the picture I want to paint. There’s much to be thankful for today, just as there is a lot to be cautious of, just like there’s always been. But my hope is that we can leave here being just a little bit more aware of what the dangers are for us. There are some good things that we can learn from those who’ve come before us in American church. For example, shouldn’t we be concerned about people being saved like those revivalists? Of course, but we have to remember that we can’t coerce someone into being born again. Shouldn’t we acknowledge that God is indeed present in the church’s worship like the Pentecostals? Absolutely, but we have to remember that God is present whether or not we’re able to stir up our emotions enough to invoke His presence.
Shouldn’t we want to do things with excellence like those church growth folks would say? Don’t we want our campuses to look great and beautiful and clean and well-kept and our volunteers to be well-trained? Yes, but we don’t rely on our ability to bring results. We rely on the ordinary graces that Christ gave to us, His word, prayer and gathering of His people in worship.
So let me just recap. Revivalism brought us pragmatism, which is to say whatever it looks like it’s working is good and true. It valued effectiveness over faithfulness. Here’s what we need to do, we need to return to valuing long-term faithfulness over short-term effectiveness again. Revivalism brought us professionalism. We started relying on pastors to do the work of ministry. We hired them to cause people to make decisions for Christ, but we need to get back to the place where the Christians don’t just rely on pastors to tell people about the gospel because, well that’s their job.
Revivalism brought us emotionalism, trying to generate a palpable experience that is interpreted to be an encounter with God. We need to train people to rely on God’s word more than their own fickle hearts. I can’t say that loud enough or often enough. That is so important in our day and age. People are following their hearts because they’ve watched every Disney movie and they’ve listened to the radio and that is the gospel of our age, follow your heart. And when we gather people together in their church and say, “Yeah, follow your heart. Just whatever your heart’s telling you to do.” That is not what we’re gathered to do. We are to call people to trust The Word of God, not their emotions.
All right. Revivalism got us addicted to novelty, coming up with new things to do in services in order to keep people’s attention. We need to rely once again on the power of God’s Word, working through his spirit to bring about life. As I prepared for this, I became increasingly convinced that the biggest impact that revivalism has had on our worship today is that they are now serviced towards non-Christians. When you combine that with pragmatism, we can be tempted to get rid of things that non-Christians don’t like so that they’ll come back next week. We can look at surveys and get freaked out. Look at the Rise of the Nones. Shouldn’t we be doing something to save these people? Maybe you read these surveys and you find out, well non-Christians don’t like religion. And so then the church will just say, “Well, you’re in luck. We’re not a religion anymore. It’s a relationship. It’s not religion.”
All right, I’m going to still want religious freedom. I mean, I kind of get how you can parse that out and make that true, but I think that’s misleading to even use that language. Maybe you read a survey and it says, “Well, non-Christians don’t understand or like the Old Testament.” And they say, “Well, that’s all right. We can unhitch from that. We don’t need that. All you need is the gospels. If you got the gospels, that’s really all you need.” Non-Christians don’t like to confess their sin. Well, we’ll just skip that. We won’t do that in our worship service. Do long prayers make non-Christians uncomfortable? That’s all right, we can skip that.
Here’s my concern, it’s possible that we have been so concerned with evangelizing the world with our worship that we have missed the fact that the world is actually evangelizing our worship. And our zeal for evangelism, we’re building up churches for non-Christians. But what if we’re actually building churches of non-Christians? Let’s remember by way of closing application, let’s remember that worship is more than just a tool for evangelism. Worship is a goal in and of itself. We are to glorify God together as His people so that we’re built up into His temple. And as a result, when an unbeliever comes in and we hope and expect that an unbeliever will come in, he will confess that God really is among us and will join us in worship, that’s 1 Corinthians 14.
Second, we need to take a long view of God’s work. And instead of trying to keep people coming back to church next week, let’s see if we can make people make it into the presence of Christ when they die. Humanity’s biggest problem is not that they’re unchurched, it’s that they stand under the wrath of God. Instead of focusing on decisions, let’s see if we can focus in our worship services on faithfulness and perseverance.
And then third and last, let’s rely on spirit empowered obedience. I think that the fault of pragmatism is that there’s too little reliance on the Holy Spirit. If when you face a problem as the church, your first inclination is to Google what Mark Dever or Andy Stanley says about it instead of prayer, and that’s the definition of pragmatism. But they’re not alone in their misguidance on the Holy Spirit. Emotionalism has a fault in that they misunderstand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does in causing people to repent and pointing to Christ. So my conclusion is that we need to return to a place where we can rely on the power of what God has given to us in Christ and in His word and in His church and in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work to bring about life, instead of trying to cater to the consumerism of our day, which is expecting emotional experiences for pragmatic purposes.
Let me pray and then I want to leave some time for us to have a discussion as well.
Father, we can gather together into a small room like this, separated from time and space and think that we are so wise. Father, would you keep us from being prideful and looking back in shame and judgment at those folks who have brought us to where we are today? Father, help us to continue to be humble in our approach to worship and in our ministries. Help us to keep from being sufficient in our own selves. Would you help remind us that we need you, that we are helpless, as we heard Rich say? That we are a mist that vanishes before dawn. Father, keep us from relying on our own power to make fruit, to manufacturing genetically modified fruit. Father, we can be trusting in the fact that your Word, ultimately through your spirit does bring about life. And even when it doesn’t look effective, your Word is not going to return void.
Father, I pray for those that are gathered here, that whatever churches they’re involved in, whatever conversations they might have in the future, that they would be able to speak lovingly and truthfully into conversations with those who might be impacted in churches that have been guiding people into following their emotions or trusting in their own heart, instead of in you and your cross. Father, we pray that those conversations would go well, just trusting that ultimately it’s you that brings about life and we are responsible as heralds of your gospel, those who are preachers and those who are members. Father, thank you for this opportunity and this conference to gather together to think about revival and we do pray that you would bring this about first in us individually, in the churches represented here, in the geographical areas that surround the churches. Father, we love you and we thank you for your gospel. We pray all in Jesus’ name. Amen.