As we look around us today, we see a growing hostility toward the Christian faith and its standard of morality. We see the promotion of a new and militant form of atheism. We see continued opposition to the idea of God as the Creator. We see the attempt to redefine marriage and to normalize behaviors that have always, in every civilization, been considered wrong and sinful. It seems as if there is a growing movement that is intent on ruling God and the Bible out of human affairs. We are indeed at a crossroads—and the choice is between God sending judgment and God sending spiritual revival.
Most Christians today believe that until modern times, America was a solidly Christian nation with high moral standards, originally established by godly Founding Fathers, and has only recently been weakened by the infiltration of secular, humanistic thinking. However the reality is actually quite different. There have been times in the past that were in many ways similar to the times we are living in today.
The late historian, Dr. J. Edwin Orr, writes that the period immediately following the Revolutionary War was one of those times. In the late 1700’s, many Americans were greatly influenced by the writings of humanists like Voltaire and Rousseau in France, and Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen in America.
“Drunkenness had become epidemic. Out of a US population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence."Orr reported that colleges were bastions of unbelief. Students rioted. They held a mock communion at Williams College and put on anti-Christian plays at Dartmouth. In New Jersey, students took a Bible from a Presbyterian church and burned it in a public bonfire. Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote, “It seemed as if Christianity were about to be ushered out of the affairs of men.”2
“The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, James Madison (a cousin of the statesman James Madison), that the Church ‘was too far gone ever to be redeemed.’ Voltaire averred, and Tom Paine echoed, ‘Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.’”1
What happened to change things? It was during the 1790’s that the Second Great Awakening began. (The First Great Awakening is associated with the ministries of George Whitfield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards and spanned the decades from the 1730’s to the 1770’s.)
The Second Great Awakening (which lasted from around 1790 to 1840) broke out first in Connecticut, and then in Massachusetts and all the seaboard states before spreading to the frontier.
The modern missionary movement was born out of this Second Great Awakening. Along with it came the abolition of slavery and the establishment of hospitals, colleges, public education, Sunday school, Bible societies, mission and relief agencies, and countless other social benefits.3 Subsequent revivals that some scholars have identified as being part of a Third Great Awakening swept the United States and the British Isles in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The Awakening was worldwide and had a great impact on China, Korea, and the nations of East Africa.
Much of what we take for granted about the influence of Christianity on our national life is not due primarily to our Founding Fathers, but rather to these mighty outpourings of the Spirit of God at several points in our nation’s history.
Although the world’s circumstances look bleak today and it perhaps seems that, once again, Christianity could be ushered out of the affairs of men, God’s promise to his ancient people remains true for the Church today:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).How can we experience a spiritual awakening in our day? The great early American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, wrote a treatise about spiritual revival in his day. The lengthy but descriptive title of that treatise was as follows: A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of All God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.
There is the answer: We must have the explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people in extraordinary prayer.
(1) God’s people need to agree that they are coming together for the explicit purpose of seeking God’s face in order that He would forgive our sins, give us the fullness of His Holy Spirit, and heal our nation.
(2) There needs to be a visible union of God’s people coming together for this explicit purpose.
(3) It needs to include all God’s people, of every denomination and background. We need to invite our friends and those who may not have thought about this issue to join us in concerted prayer.
(4) It needs to be extraordinary prayer, not simply the times of prayer for which we may already gather, though these may be used to pray for revival as well.
Not only do I believe that there is the possibility that in these days God might want to work in a special way, pouring out His Spirit, bringing revival to the Church and an awakening to the nations, I know, based on the promise of His Word, that He will do it, if we seek Him above all things.
Will you join me?
Toward this end, The Church of the Savior, Milwaukee, WI, will be meeting for a time of extraordinary prayer for revival each Tuesday at 7 p.m., beginning on October 23. Directions are here. You are warmly invited to join us.
1. J. Edwin Orr. “The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakenings.” Oxford Association for Research in Revival, Los Angeles, California, 1976, p. 1. You can see Dr. Orr's video of this address on YouTube.
2. Ibid, p. 2.
Michael Catt, The Power of Surrender: Breaking Through to Revival. B and H Publishing Group, 2010.
Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. Harper Collins, 1992.