Edmund Burke once said, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." No truer statement can be made, and it goes along with my husband's frequent declaration that "It all started in the Garden." If we are unaware of just how drastically our nature changed after the Fall, we will put our trust in man rather than God. This has been proven over and over again. Solomon had it right when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." Certainly not knowing history or understanding the "sin" nature causes us to repeat the same errors over and over.
For some time now, I have noticed the drift in the church of our Savior across our culture. We have gone from making central the message of the Gospel in winning souls to Christ to a more emotional, entertainment type, seeker friendly approach called "the church growth movement". Certainly, we all want our churches to grow. The question is how do we do it in a way that glorifies God?
Charles Finney, an attorney turned evangelist in 1821 (part of the Second Great Awakening), felt he had the key to bringing people to belief. He had no formal education at seminary but was apprenticed to a Presbyterian pastor. He came along at a time when "there was a shift from Reformation orthodoxy evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitfield) to Arminian
(indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism, evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present" (Michael Horton, "The Legacy of Charles Finney, Modern Reformation Magazine Jan/Feb 1995, Vol. 4 pg. 1).
As Finney's ministry grew, he used what he called "New Measures" such as an "anxious bench" (this is a precursor to an altar call). He also used many emotional tactics which led to crying, fainting and other "excitements" as Michael Horton described them. He also grew more hostile towards Presbyterianism and was very critical of the Westminster Confession telling others that the men who wrote it had created a "paper pope".
Basically Finney believed in social change and moral goodness. His beliefs centered more around man than upon God. He did not believe in the atonement. Instead, he felt that Christ had died for Himself but not men. Further, he believed that a man had the ability to change himself since he was essentially good (he did not believe in original sin being inherited by all men since Adam). Horton says in his article: "Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an 'anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma'" (page 2 Horton). He also believed that a person had to be morally perfect and if they sinned, they would lose their salvation and have to begin again. In other words, Finney had drifted far from the course of orthodoxy in his position, but he was very successful at drawing crowds.
His revivals were so well attended in some cities that business men would shut down their stores during his meetings. Many committed themselves to God at the gatherings, but just as quickly, they left the faith when the excitement was over. In fact, the district where Finney held many of his revivals later became known as "the burned over district". It was an area where people were exhausted spiritually trying to live the Christian life on their own merits and not in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Finney later declared of his revivals: "A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means --as much as any other effect produced by the applications of means." (pg. 4 Horton) For him, the ends really did justify the means. If a right approach was used, people would commit themselves to God.
Michael Horton goes on to state concerning this: "When the leaders of the church growth movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes: growth is a matter of following the right principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney" (Pg. 4, Horton). If we approach evangelism with this concept, then any program, demonstration, or method is fair game if it brings the people in to the church. However, the question remains, what kind of growth is this? Shallow? Empty?
According to Scripture, Romans 10:17 tells us: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." When the Bible is preached, it proclaims God's message, His character and His means of salvation far better than any other mode tried by man. Paul writes in an earlier verse (Romans 10:14): "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" This is the way we can reach those outside of Christ - by presenting the truth and leaving the results up to God. It isn't based on emotion, entertainment, or methodology as much as it is the simple telling of the Gospel.
If we want to experience real revival, we must first pray and then, go out to reach others. God through the power of the Holy Spirit is the One who awakens the dead soul and brings it to life enabling man to commit his life to Him. Does God want this? Yes, so much that He sent His Son to die for us. How can we possibly improve on that message? Today's churches need to come back to that simple message and the foundation which the Lord has laid for us. We must remember as Elijah did that the Lord is not in a windstorm, an earthquake or a fire (I Kings 19:12). He is a still small voice that reaches inside our hearts where no man can penetrate. His Word alone is what changes and transforms us. So the question remains: with which Gospel will we side? The self made man Gospel of methods or the Gospel of truth as proclaimed in God's Word? My prayer is that we return to our first love and leave the world's methods behind that God will receive the glory...not man. Selah!