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|THE GREAT PRAYER REVIVAL OF 1857-58|
The date is September 23, 1857. The place is an assembly room on the third floor of the North Dutch Church in Manhattan. Fifteen minutes before noon, a few ladies are seated in one corner. A few men are scattered here and there, talking. At 11:50 businessmen begin to pour quietly into the room. At 11:55 the appointed layleader for the day comes in and takes his seat at a desk. By 11:58 the room is packed to capacity. Many are standing in the hall, unable to get in.
At 12:00 noon the chairman promptly rises and gives out a beautiful hymn. One stanza is sung. Then he leads in a very short prayer asking for the Holy Spirit, for the quickening of Christians, for the conversion of sinners there present, and for the spread of the revival. Then he reads from the seventeenth chapter of John and gives a word of comment while he stands with slips of paper in his hand. He reads four or five of these requests, then calls on someone immediately to pray. The prayer lasts four minutes and fervently addresses the specific requests.
A gentleman in the back rises and begs the prayers of all present for himself and for his sister. Prayer immediately follows. Then all sing one verse of another great hymn. A gentleman in black rises and speaks briefly of the importance of praying “for all that are in authority.” He solicits intercession specifically for President Buchanan, who had attended similar daily prayer meetings at Bedford Springs. The layleader calls upon another man to pray for the President – for his salvation if not a believer, for wisdom from above to guide and assist him in his great responsibilities. There is a remarkable propriety and sincerity in the prayer that touches a chord in every heart.
The above is an eyewitness account of a typical service in the early days of the last great nationwide awakening in America. It has been variously referred to as the “Great Prayer Revival of 1857-58,” the “Fulton Street Revival,” the “Great Manhattan Prayer Revival,” and the “Laymen’s Prayer Revival.” The spark for the noonday prayer meetings that spread like wildfire from Fulton Street across the country came from a city missionary named Jeremiah Lanphier. For some eight or nine years Lanphier had sat under the ministry of James W. Alexander, the eldest son of Princeton Seminary’s first professor, and the pastor of the Nineteenth Street Presbyterian Church. Alexander was a Spirit-filled preacher who faithfully sought to lay the burden of prayer for revival before his people.
The need for another awakening was great. By 1845, the “aftershocks” of the Second Great Awakening had subsided. A low, lax state of religious feeling prevailed. Outward religion was still practiced, but the earlier power and vitality was gone. New immigrants were pouring into New York City at the rate of 1800 per day. Many of them were bringing with them the revolutionary atheism of Europe and were ignorant of America’s spiritual history. The famous evangelist, Charles Finney, was still alive, but the sensation he had created in the 1820s and 1830s was a distant memory.
The nation was in the throes of the Panic of 1857. By mid-year banks and businesses failed in a rapid “domino effect.” Five thousand businesses closed their doors within a year. Railroads went bankrupt. Ten thousand factory workers in New York City alone were suddenly idled. On October 14, the whole monetary system of the country was virtually shut down. Men went to bed dreaming of their vast hoarded treasures and woke up in the morning hopelessly bankrupt. Former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant had to pawn his gold watch to buy Christmas presents for his family. Bank presidents and prominent businessmen committed suicide. However, God used this emptiness in men smarting under their losses to cause them to seek consolation in the prayer meetings. There was a growing consensus among Christians that the present financial calamity was evidence that God “had a controversy with His people” and was trying to get their attention. Many responded with a call to fasting, humiliation, and prayer for God’s mercy.
Within six months ten thousand people were gathering daily for prayer in New York City alone. This impetus for prayer exploded. Theaters, Masonic temples, concert halls, fire stations, and newly formed YMCA halls were packed with supplicants in Philadelphia, Chicago, Louisville, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Memphis, Charleston, New Orleans, and many other cities. By June, 1858, there were an estimated fifty thousand conversions in New York City. Lanphier’s pastor, J.W. Alexander, could not find time to study because he was “run down” by persons whom he had never met under solemn concern for their souls. Hundreds of unsaved people came to the prayer meetings, where they were welcomed, prayed for, and encouraged to turn to Christ. Some notorious hardened criminals were thus converted.
All the classic characteristics of a true, Heaven-sent awakening were present – hunger for the Word of God, for prayer and serious Christian literature (there was a great surge in demand for the young Spurgeon’s printed sermons), an awed awareness of the presence of God, a profound seriousness, joyful praise and readiness to witness, a rekindling of family worship, and the wholesale reformation of public morals. Businessmen began to pay off honest debts, and houses of ill repute and taverns by the hundreds closed down. The revival transcended denominational lines and soon spilled over across the Atlantic as ships coming into British ports told of the revival.
The Prayer Revival of 1857-58 became the first to start in America and have a worldwide impact. Ireland soon began to experience a prayer revival as well, and the Ulster Awakening of 1859 was sparked. When Andrew Bonar heard of the work in Ireland, he increased his prayer for his beloved Scotland. Within two months he found himself in the midst of revival in Scotland and wrote in his diary: “This has been a remarkable week: every day I have heard of some soul saved among us…”
There was no class of people or region of the country left untouched. The battleship North Carolina was anchored in New York harbor as a naval receiving ship with more than one thousand sailors on board. Four Christians agreed to meet together for prayer and knelt on the lower deck. Ungodly men on the top deck saw them kneeling and began running down the stairs, mocking and jeering. The convicting power of the Holy Spirit was so great, however, that by the time they reached the bottom deck, they fell on their knees and began crying for mercy. Night after night the sailors prayed, and hundreds were converted on the ship.
In Charleston, the predominantly black Zion Church, pastored by John L. Girardeau, began holding special prayer meetings in 1858. Soon the crowds exceeded the regular congregation estimated at between fifteen hundred and two thousand. For a time Girardeau refused to comply with the request to commence special preaching services, urging his people to rather “wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” At length he received the distinct conviction that their prayers were answered, and for eight weeks he preached to dense and deeply moved congregations. Girardeau later wrote, “The work grew steadily until it was arrested by the war.” He always believed that this great ingathering of souls was the merciful work of God prior to the outbreak of the terrible War Between the States that would “sweep so many of them into eternity.”
Conservative estimates place the number of conversions during the great Prayer Revival at nearly one million. This represents ten percent of the population of the United States at the time. Another million were added to the churches. The revival continued after war broke out and was encouraged by Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Confederate Armies. They pled for chaplains and lay missionaries to go out among the troops. An estimated 150,000 soldiers were converted – 21% of the southern troops.
The unique feature of this revival was that it arose “amid the ordinary means of grace.” There was an utter distrust of mere human agencies and a helpless dependence upon a sovereign God. This union of Christian laymen in prayer seemed to have a disarming effect on all opposition. Bishop McIlvaine, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in his annual address before the Diocesan Convention of Ohio, said in 1858, “I rejoice in the decided conviction that it [the revival] is the Lord’s doing, unaccountable by any natural causes, entirely above and beyond what any human device or power could produce; an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon God’s people, quickening them to greater earnestness in His service; and upon the unconverted, to make them new creatures in Christ Jesus.”
By Pastor Bob Vrandenburgh
Below is from the Gospel Coalition Blog. I have been a Senior Pastor for almost 25 years now, and I agree from experience that pride can kill a ministry.
The pastor’s worst enemy is pride, and it is a special danger for young pastors (1 Tim. 3:6).
The Particular Causes of Pride
- Public gifts. As your gifts are exercised in public (unlike those with more private and unseen gifts and ministries), they are more likely to be recognized, admired, and praised.
- Official status. As many of God’s people respect and honor the “office” of pastor (sometimes regardless of who fills it), you may be inclined to think it is you they respect and honor.
- Man-centeredness. When people are blessed under your ministry, they will often attribute it to you rather than to God.
- Worldly ideas of leadership. You see yourself as “in charge of all these people,” rather than their servant.
- Inexperience. The Church is quite unique in how it places untested and inexperienced young men into positions of the highest responsibility without going through the “humbling school of hard knocks.” Having never been led, they sometimes do not know how to lead.
- Misunderstanding of call to the ministry. Paul did not see the pastoral ministry as a prize he had earned. For Paul, it was as much a grace, an unearned gift, as salvation (Eph. 3:8).
The Pastoral Consequences of Pride
If you fall into pride there will be serious consequences in your ministry.
- You will start depending on your gifts rather than on God.
- You will become impatient with your less gifted brethren in the ministry or eldership.
- You will become thoughtlessly insensitive to the traditions and customs of the past.
- You will resist personal criticism and mature counsel.
- You will become discouraged and discontented because “I deserve better than this crowd!”
- You will regard yourself as above the small/dirty jobs in the congregation.
- You will stop learning because you know more than everyone else anyway.
- You may fall into the “condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim.3:6).
The Personal Cure of Pride
Let these two phrases be the double heartbeat of our ministries.
1. I am a sinner
- Remember what I was (think on the sins you’ve been delivered from)
- Remember what I could be now (if God had not stopped you)
- Remember what I still am (research your own heart )
- Remember what I could yet be (if God removed His restraining grace)
2. I am a servant
- A servant of God (not independent but dependent on God for commission, authority, blessing)
- A servant of God’s people (not their lord or sovereign)
- A servant of sinners (do not look down on the unsaved but get down on your knees for them)
- A servant of servants (don’t compete with other pastors but serve them)
- A servant of the Servant (who said, “I am among you as one who serves,” and, “the servant is not greater than his Master.”)
Dr. David P. Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Murray blogs regularly at Head, Heart, Hand: Leadership for Servants.
“If we pray little,
it is probably because
we do not really believe
that prayer accomplishes much at all.”
Melted with Affection for Christ
Aug. 26. Preached to my people from John VI. 51-55. After I had discoursed some time, I addressed those in particular who entertained hopes that they were “passed from death to life.” Opened to them the persevering nature of those consolations Christ gives his people, and which I trusted he had bestowed upon some in that assembly; showed them that such have already the “beginnings of eternal life,” (ver. 54.) and that their heaven shall speedily be completed, &c.
I no sooner began to discourse in this strain, but the dear Christians in the congregation began to be melted with affection to, and desire of, the enjoyment of Christ, and of a state of perfect purity. They wept affectionately, and yet joyfully, and their tears and sobs discovered brokenness of heart, and yet were attended with real comfort and sweetness; so that this was a tender, affectionate, humble, delightful melting, and appeared to be the genuine effect of a Spirit of adoption, and very far from that spirit of bondage that they not long since laboured under. The influence seemed to spread from these through the whole assembly,
And there quickly appeared a wonderful concern among them. Many who had not yet found Christ as an all-sufficient Saviour, were surprisingly engaged in seeking after him. It was indeed a lovely and very desirable assembly. Their number was now about ninety-five persons, old and young, and almost all affected either with joy in Christ Jesus, or with utmost concern to obtain an interest in him.
David Brainerds Journal, Part I., From A.D. 1745 June 19th To Nov 4th, At Crossweeksung And Forks Of Delaware
A revival, then, really means days of heaven upon earth.
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”
Wesley Duewal (Revival Fire: ZondervanPublishingHouse)
A quiet, zealous forty-six-year-old businessman in New York was appointed on July 1,1857 , as a missionary in downtown New York at the Dutch Church. Jeremiah Lamphier had been converted in 1842 in Broadway Tabernacle, Finney’s church that was built in 1836.
Lamphier felt led by God to start a noon-time weekly prayer meeting in which business people could meet for prayer. Anyone could attend, for a few minutes or for the entire hour. Prayers were to be comparatively brief. Lamphier’s group met on the third floor of the old North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street in New York. Lamphier printed some handbills announcing the prayer meetings with the title, “How Often Should I Pray?” He left these in some offices and warehouses. He also put one on the door of the church on the street side.
The first day, September 23, 1857, Lamphier prayed alone for half an hour. But by the end of the hour, six men from at least four denominational backgrounds joined him. The next Wednesday there were twenty. On October 7 there were nearly forty. The meeting was so blessed that they decided to meet daily. One week later there were over one hundred present, including many unsaved who were convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin.
Within one month pastors who had attended the noon prayer meetings in Fulton Street started morning prayer meetings in their own churches. Soon the places where the meetings were held were overcrowded. Men and women, young and old of all denominations met and prayed together without distinctions. The meetings abounded with love for Christ, love for fellow Christians, love for prayer, and love of witnessing. Those in attendance felt an awesome sense of God’s presence. They prayed for specific people, expected answers, and obtained answers.
Newspapers began to report on the meetings and the unusual spirit of prayer that was evident. Within three months similar meetings had sprung up across America. Thousands began praying in these services and in their own homes. I n New York, gospel tracts were distributed to those in attendance, with instructions that they pray over the tracts and then give them to someone God brought to mind.
The three rooms at the Fulton Street Church were filled beyond capacity, and hundreds had to go to other places. By early February a nearby Methodist Church was opened, and it immediately overflowed. The balconies were filled with ladies. By March 19 a theater opened for prayer, and half an hour before it was time to begin, people were turned away. Hundreds stood outside in the streets because they could not get inside. By the end of March over six thou- sand people met daily in prayer gatherings in New York City. Many churches added evening services for prayer. Soon there were 150 united prayer meetings each day across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Meetings began in February in Philadelphia. Soon Jayne’s Hall was overfilled, and meetings were held at noon each day in public halls, concert halls, fire stations, houses, and tents. The whole city exuded a spirit of prayer.
PRAYER MEETING FERVOR
Almost simultaneously noon prayer meetings sprang up all across America in Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, Vicksburg, Memphis, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, and in a multitude of other cities, towns, and in rural areas. By the end of the fourth month, prayer fervor burned intensely across the nation. It was an awesome but glorious demonstration of the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit and the eager obedience of God’s people.
America had entered a new period of faith and prayer. Educated and uneducated, rich and poor, business leaders and common workmen-all prayed, believed, and received answers to prayer. Even the president of the United States, Franklin Pierce, attended many of the noon prayer meetings. This was not a revival of powerful preaching. This was a movement of earnest, powerful, prevailing prayer.
All people wanted was a place to pray. Sinners would come and ask for prayer. Someone would individually pray for them, and in minutes the newly saved person was rejoicing in Christ. Prayers would be asked by name for unconverted friends and loved ones from allover the country. In a day or two, testimonies would be given of how the prayers had already been answered. In some towns, nearly the entire population became saved.
Six months previous to Lamphier’s prayer meeting boom, few would have gathered for a prayer service. But now a spirit of prayer occupied the land, as though the church had suddenly discovered its real power. The majority of the churches in most denominations experienced a new dimension of prayer. The Presbyterian Magazine reported that as of May there had been fifty thousand converts of the revival. In February, a New York Methodist magazine reported a total of eight thousand conversions in Methodist meetings in one week. The Louisville daily paper reported seventeen thousand Baptist conversions in three weeks during the month of March. And according to a June statement, the conversion figures stood at 96,216–and still counting. all but two of the youth in one high school were saved. A similar event took place in Toledo, Ohio. These are just brief examples of what was happening constantly all across the nation.
The accounts of the prayer meetings during those revival years describe how the people would quietly gather at the place of prayer promptly at the appointed hour. Whoever was leader for the meeting—a layman or a minister— arose and announced a hymn. They sang one or two verses with great joy, the leader prayed briefly, and then turned the service over to the members. Any person was free to speak or pray for no longer than five minutes. If the person took more than that time, a small bell was rung and it was someone else’s turn.
Requests for prayer, often coming from distant places, were spoken or read. Often sinners arose and requested prayer for themselves. Members gave testimonies of answers to prayer, and the people praised the Lord. Brief exhortations on prayer or revival were allowed but limited to five minutes. Many testified of revival progress in various locations. Promptly at the closing of the hour the leader rose and pronounced the benediction, and the people quietly left the building. Occasionally someone might stay behind to pray with a spiritual seeker.
THE INVISIBLE CLOUD OF GOD’S PRESENCE
A canopy of holy and awesome revival influence—in reality the presence of the Holy Spirit—seemed to hang like an invisible cloud over many parts of the United States, especially over the eastern seaboard. At times this cloud of God’s presence even seemed to extend out to sea. Those on ships approaching the east coast at times felt a solemn, holy influence, even one hundred miles away, without even knowing what was happening in America.
Revival began aboard one ship before it reached the coast. People on board began to feel the presence of God and a sense of their own sinfulness. The Holy Spirit convicted them, and they began to pray. As the ship neared the harbor, the captain signaled, “Send a minister.” Another small commercial ship arrived in port with the captain, and every member of the crew converted in the last 150 miles. Ship after ship arrived with the same story: both passengers and crew were suddenly convicted of sin and turned to Christ before they reached the American coast.
The battleship North Carolina was anchored in New York harbor as a naval receiving ship. More than a thousand young men were on board. Four Christians agreed to meet together for prayer and knelt on the lower deck. The Spirit of God so filled their hearts with joy that they broke into song. Ungodly men on the top deck heard the singing, looked down, and saw the boys kneeling. They began running down the stairs, mocking and jeering. The convicting power of the Holy Spirit so gripped them that by the time they reached the bottom deck they fell on their knees and began crying for mercy.
Strong men who were deep in sin were broken down by the Spirit’s power and knelt humbly in penitence and faith. Night after night the sailors prayed, and hundreds were converted on the ship. Ministers were sent for, and they came out from shore to help in the gracious work of the Spirit. The battleship became a mighty center of revival. Converts of the movement, completing their periods of training, were sent out to other navy ships. Wherever they went revival fires were kindled in other naval vessels.
IN HOMES, SHOPS, FIELDS, AND CHURCHES
Reports came in of hundreds being converted in prayer meetings, private homes, workshops, and fields. Often the doors of businesses held signs reading, ” Closed, will reopen at the close of the prayer meeting.” Five prayer meetings took place daily in Washington, D.C. Five thousand or so attended daily services in the Academy of Music Hall.
In Philadelphia, Jayne’s Hall removed partitions and added space for six thousand people to attend daily meetings. At this time George Duffield wrote the hymn “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.” For months multitudes of churches opened every evening for prayer, and some of them had from three to five services of prayer each day. All were filled. The services consisted of simple prayer, confession, exhortation, and singing. But it was ” so earnest, so solemn, the silence. ..so awful, the singing. ..so over-powering” that the meetings were unforgettable. A canvas tent was erected for outdoor meetings, and it immediately filled with people. In four months’ time, a total of 150,000 people attended the ministry in the tent, with many conversions. Philadelphia churches reported five thousand converts.
The Presbyterians in Northern Ireland heard of the awakening in Philadelphia and sent fraternal delegates. These delegates returned to their homeland and reported what they had seen, and the revival broke out in Ireland, spreading across the British Isles.
REVIVAL IN THE ARMY
Because of the bitter tensions of the Civil War and the slavery issue, for a time it seemed that the southern states would not be as powerfully influenced by the revival as the northern ones had been. Others dispute this assumption. An unusually powerful revival broke out among the southern troops stationed around Richmond, Virginia, in the autumn of 1861. It began in the hospitals among the wounded men and then spread into the camps as these men returned to active duty. Prayer meetings were organized and hundreds converted. The movement spread rapidly throughout the army, reaching the troops of Tennessee and Arkansas.
Revival was encouraged by Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who were well known as devout Christians. By the mid-summer of 1863 the revival had spread through all the Confederate armies, and thousands of men had been converted. Chaplains and lay missionaries went out among the troops, preaching and distributing tracts and dealing personally with hungry hearts. By the end of the war at least 150,000 soldiers had been converted, and more than a third of all of the southern troops had become praying men. The revival among the southern troops was primarily a revival of prayer, as the earlier revival in the North had been. While the best estimates are that 6.6 percent of the entire population of the United States was converted during the revival, the percentage among the southern troops was 21 percent. The North really did not win the war—prayer and a mighty revival did!
Over the past 72 hours, I’ve been engaged in various debates about the contents of our newly minted-health care system and the effects of the executive order that was issued to appease Bart Stupak and his ilk.
The central question in the debate is whether the bill will–does–fund abortions, and whether the Executive Order that Obama has promised to sign is enough to prevent that from happening.
It’s my suspicion that significant confusion remains on the issue. So here’s my attempt to shed light on the question of abortion in the Senate bill.
But let’s do this Q&A style. Because that’ll be more fun.
Did the Senate health care bill, which was the bill under consideration, cover abortions initially?
Well, yes. The bill establishes some $9-11 billion in funding for “Community Health Centers.” Robert Destro, a professor at Catholic University, writes:
CHCs and other federally funded primary health care providers such as migrant, tribal, rural, and public housing health centers are required by law to provide “comprehensive” primary care services. The statutory term “comprehensive health care services” is broad enough to include reproductive health services, family planning services, and gynecology services. And the courts are unanimous in holding that – in the absence of the Hyde Amendment – this statutory term necessarily includes federal funding for elective abortions.
The Court decision to note here is Beal v. Doe. While these CHC’s don’t currently perform abortions, that’s largely because their money has come from appropriations bills subject to the Hyde amendment, which prohibits abortion funding. But $9 billion is quite a bit of money, and it’s slated to go into a new “Community Health Center Fund,” not be intermingled with all the other monies.
But isn’t this bill covered by the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding for abortions?
If it was, what is all the wrangling about? You could be assured that Stupak wouldn’t have held out for months for redundant language in the bill. But as John McCormack (an invaluable source) points out:
But the Hyde amendment does not say that “none of the funds channeled through HHS” may pay for elective abortions; it says “none of the funds appropriated by this act” may pay for elective abortions. A Hyde-like amendment needs to be included in each different act authorizing public health programs, or the programs will end up paying for abortions, just as Indian Health Services did long after the Hyde amendment was on the books.
In other words, no. The bill isn’t subject to the Hyde amendment.
So Stupak solved this with the Executive Order, right?
But if you’re still not convinced, there are three problems with it:
1) It’s not clear that the language actually adds anything to the bill itself. Ezra Klein (a lefty commentator) thinks that it essentially promises to enforce the bill…as it’s written. Which is a pretty plausible reading of it.
2) While executive orders may have the force of law, they cannot alter the laws on the books.
3) Again, given Beal v. Doe, the federal government is 0bligated to provide abortions as a part of comprehensive health services in the absence of laws prohibiting it. Given that the Executive Order is not in fact the law, a court challenge will have to nullify the Executive Order in favor of the bill as its written. And if you don’t expect that court challenge to come quickly after the appropriations are received, you’re dreaming.
Why did Stupak cave, then?
Apparently, it was the plan all along.
Did Stupak get anything for it?
Nope. Except a nationalized race in November. At time of writing, his opponent has some 17,000 facebook fans. It had 100 yesterday morning.
They didn’t get much either. As I’ve argued, the bill as it is funds abortions.
Which is why it’s so disappointing to hear facile Christian endorsements of this bill without a single acknowledgement that we have increased abortion funding significantly, overnight. Endorsing the bill without repudiating not what might be pragmatically or economically inefficient, but what is morally wrong, is simply to turn a blind eye to the substance and effect of the legislation.
And as much as we want health-care for all—and health care for all is a good—it is deeply inconsistent to claim a pro-life ethic while endorsing a bill without qualification that directly funds the intentional killing of human persons.
Can we be done talking about this now?
Yes. I’ve written on this more in the past two weeks here than I have in five years combined. So I don’t write about this all the time. But it’s worth saying that this issue isn’t going away in debates about health care. And to make the point, I yield the final word to Phillip Klein:
And speaking of abortion, it’s fitting that in the final hours, the outcome of the vote hinged on the issue. While many saw abortion as tangentially related to the health care debate, in reality the dispute is central to it, and a harbinger of things to come.
The expansion of government’s role in health care will elevate the importance of social issues and trigger contentious battles in the future over the government’s role in personal decisions. Given that abortion is a legal procedure in a free market, government cannot restrict private policies from covering it. But once ostensibly private policies are regulated by the federal government and subsidized with tax dollars, Washington has a say in the matter.
While the year-long debate over whether this particular legislation should pass this particular Congress has just ended, the broader debate over the future of America’s health care system has only begun.
[Note: this is a cross-post from Church Matters, the 9Marks blog.]
Several hundred years ago, revival broke out in New England under the watchcare of America’s greatest pastor, Jonathan Edwards. 275 years later, it may be happening again.
From Downeast magazine, a secular publication covering life in Maine, comes this hugely unexpected news: Maine, one of the spiritually “darkest” states in New England (America’s least Christian region), is apparently experiencing a revival. Evangelical churches emphasizing biblical literacy and doctrinal solidarity are seeing up to 20% increased attendance in recent days. This, to say the least, is a shocker.
Here’s what Cynthia Anderson writes in “Sanctuary,” the article covering this seeming phenomenon (read the whole thing–it’s that encouraging):
The three Sunday services at Calvary Chapel regularly draw more than two thousand people. Turnout is similar ten miles away at Bangor Baptist Church, which has on its grounds two radio stations and the largest Christian school in the state. A few exits down Route 95 in Waterville, Faith Evangelical Free Church — originator of a popular YouTube series of skits based on the TV show The Office — also draws large crowds. Indeed, attendance at the state’s evangelical churches has swelled in recent years as mainline denominations have continued to struggle. According to a 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 37 percent of those Mainers who identify as Protestant now consider themselves evangelical.
The numbers, say religious experts and church leaders, suggest a surge of interest in Bible-based Christianity, particularly north of Portland. “It appears that there’s some sort of revival going on in central Maine,” says Ves Sheely, district superintendent of the Evangelical Free Church in New England. Sheely, who travels the state as he makes the rounds of the association’s sixty member churches, has observed new churches opening and attendance at existing ones rising. “I see an increased openness to spiritual life, here more than in other parts of New England. I see evidence of a new interest in Jesus.”
Others concur. “There is a trend of people going back to church here, especially to the more literally Bible-based churches,” says Jerry Mick, pastor of Bangor Baptist, where the nine hundred-person average weekly attendance reflects a 20 percent increase in two years. In the Bangor area alone there are more than forty churches, close to half of which are evangelical — including Nazarene, Baptist, Assembly of God, and non-denominational. Such religiosity is all the more notable given that the Pew study showed only 59 percent of Mainers are “absolutely certain” God exists, compared with 65 percent of those in the Northeast and 71 percent nationally.
The article, as one can see, doesn’t given a ton of hard data. There’s a good amount of anecdotal evidence referenced here. Furthermore, we all know that Christians have historically had a tendency to claim revival–and church growth–where it may or may not actually have happened. If the testimony recorded here does reflect reality, however, this is a most unexpected and welcome development.
Can I give you a little context here? I’m from Maine. Real Maine–the deep country. I am from a church that averaged between 30 and 70 people in attendance each week during my childhood. Precious few people were saved during my time at First Baptist Church of East Machias. This despite the faithful preaching of the gospel, the sacrificial evangelistic efforts of church members, and devoted members committed to imaging the gospel. I knew of no revivals; my high school had perhaps 3-5 Christian students total.
When I went to college, I went to a vibrant church in Brunswick, Maine of between 200-300 members. I thought it was a megachurch (seriously). The congregation sponsored a radio ministry, had an education wing and pastor’s offices, and more. I could barely believe my eyes.
Why do I share this? Because, in my limited experience, revival in Maine–no, revival in New England–is almost unheard of. Though far from Maine now, I keep tabs on my beloved home state, and I know that now, just as always, many churches fight for their very existence. Many pastors work bivocationally. Asbury’s circuit-riding has not died out; I know preachers who serve several tiny congregations that are the only gospel witnesses within miles. If this revival (and other renewal efforts discussed by folks like Soong-Chang Rah) is indeed happening, and it seems it is, this is some of the most encouraging spiritual news I have ever heard regarding my home state and home region. Ever.
I’m sure that many readers will lack a direct connection to Maine; whatever the case, would you join me in prayer for this development (and for other regions of our country and world)? It may well be another confirmation that even in the darkest of times (a recent cover story by Newsweek showed that North American Christianity is indeed struggling in many cases), God has not forgotten His people. As He has so often shown His church throughout the ages, He is faithful, He is strong to save, and His gospel of the kingdom is pushing back the thickest darkness through a mixed group of churches and faithful believers.
In the land of Edwards, it seems, revival has come again.
To begin learning more about New England Christians:
New England Center for Expository Preaching (note the May 2010 pastor’s conference featuring Mark Dever)
William Carey – 1761-1834
William Carey was far from being a revivalist, but the story of his life has been an inspiration and example to thousands of others who have sought to spread the gospel across the world.
Carey, commonly known as ‘The Father of Modern Missions’, was a Northamptonshire (U.K.) shoemaker who left the Church of England to become a Baptist in 1783. He became a preacher and pastor in Leicester and soon developed a passion for evangelising the ‘heathen,’ as non-Christians in other lands were then called.
He penned a powerful appeal to become involved in missions entitled ‘An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathens….’ His efforts at promoting missions led to the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society.
In 1793 he sailed for India, accompanied by his wife, Dorothy, and subsequently translated portions of the Bible into 34 languages, including 6 completed translations of the whole Bible and 23 of the New Testament. He clearly paved the way for the Gospel in that land.
Despite taking five years to win his first Indian convert he never lost his faith in the glorious success of the Gospel. Gleanings from his writings show him to be a revival seeker throughout. ‘God’s cause will triumph.’ Christ has begun to besiege this ancient and strong fortress, and will assuredly carry it (through); He must reign, till Satan has not an inch of territory (left)’.
By 1813 more than 500 had been baptized and by his death in 1834 he lived to see 24 gospel churches planted in India and 40 fellow workers engaged in Indian missions.