We have a unique situation here in America. We have been blessed by God in such special ways over our two hundred plus years as a country. We became one of the largest, richest, most powerful nations in the world. Democracy has become a model of government for other countries to emulate. Our diplomacy and influence have shaped modern history, but our greatest influence which has affected the world stage is in the spiritual realm. Throughout our short history God has blessed our nation with revivals in many communities. These were not merely highly emotional special meetings, but a true moving of the Holy Spirit, reviving Christians, saving the lost, and changing communities in the process. Our growing missionary movements have helped to spread the Gospel around the world.
America has also been the fertile soil for two Great Awakenings. These were movements of God’s Spirit over the whole nation. The First Great Awakening happened between the 1730’s and the 1740’s and was lead by such preachers as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. The Second Great Awakening came during the nineteenth century, around 1830. Some of the well known preachers of this era were Charles Finney, Lyman Beecher, and Francis Asbury. Both Awakenings, though different in doctrinal positions, held a common thread. Preachers during both Awakenings preached against sin. Sin had separated men from God. The need men had was to believe in God’s provision of salvation through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross and to repent from their sins.
Notice that these two movements of God’s Spirit happened about one hundred years apart. If God is “into” mathematics then a Third Great Awakening should have happened about 1930, and today we would be on the brink of a Fourth Great Awakening in about twenty years. But something began to happen in the late 1800’s and progressed into the early 1900’s. Liberalism began to creep into the religious schools of higher learning in Europe and America. Liberalism was the attempt to bring God, Jesus and the Bible into line with scientific theories and findings. The thinking of the modern world was interjected into Christianity. Christian history in the twentieth century reveals a movement among denominations to become more psychologically and socially correct than to be Biblically correct. It was a movement away from the God of the Bible, the working of the Holy Spirit, and miracles, i.e. the spiritual world. It questioned, doubted and even denied the truthfulness of the Bible. In order for God, the Bible, Christianity, our church to survive they had to find their place in a modern thinking world. We had to change our way of viewing ourselves, our church, our Bible, our God. Thus the Social Gospel came into existence. We became more concerned about a person’s worldly temporal needs and laid aside their spiritual eternal needs. Most of us grew up during this time and whether we like it or not we were influenced by the spiritual change which enveloped our society. This new religious atmosphere tells us we cannot trust the validity of the Bible or the God it reveals. We must learn to handle our lives, decisions, and emotions in other ways. That is why we are inundated with self help programs, doctors, psychiatrists, and drugs. Yet nothing seems to work because we have removed ourselves from the source of What [WHO] does work. We have become too humanistic in our thinking to need God, and we mostly give lip service to the teachings of the Bible.
This is why there has been no Great Awakening in America since the early 1800’s. American Christians humanistic-ally leave God out of their lives. The fearful result of this “de-Godenizing” of American Christianity is that in our efforts to fit into the modern world’s way of thinking we have become comfortable where we find ourselves. We have answers to our lives which don’t include God or His Word [Romans 1:25]. This is evident in our uncertain view and presentation of the Gospel. Listen to the mixed messages in our music, teaching, and preaching. It’s our environment or our parents that are to blame for the way we have turned out and the problems we have. It’s the government’s fault that we don’t have everything our society offers. We have hurts and habits which became ours because we had no other choice but to follow the circumstances of our lives. It’s not our fault and Jesus came to help us with the mess our lives have become. He loves us and understands. It will be okay. These are the messages which we hear from our teachers, preachers, and entertainers. This has lead to unrepentant sin in our lives which we view as normal and just part of our personality. Our unrepentant sin affects the Body of Christ [1 Corinthians 5:6] and quenches the Holy Spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:19ff], while we view our sinful way of relating to each other as the dynamics of our human relationships. Though God’s blessings are withheld [Jeremiah 5:25], we work hard and bless ourselves. We try to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. The question we are faced with is this, “If we don’t need God and our sin is just a part of our personal makeup, then why did Jesus have to die?”
By allowing the thinking of the world to replace faith in Biblical truth, we have lost the common thread which ran through the first two Great Awakenings. We don’t see the shape our lives are in as a result of our choosing to disobey God. We don’t see our sin as an affront to a Holy God [Leviticus 11:43-45]. We don’t view our sin as God does, as something nauseating. There is no guilt attached to our sin, and clearly no need for repentance. The really hard question we must now ask ourselves is “With a view of God, sin, and salvation which is conformed to the way the world approaches these topics can a person really be saved?” The Biblical view of salvation is not a pat on the back with a “God loves you.” It’s a call to stop our sinning, and to place our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead [Acts 20:20-21, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. Biblical salvation is trusting Jesus as our Savior and Lord [2 Peter 2:20]. The Biblical results of this repentance and faith are the Holy Spirit living within us [Colossians 1:27] and a change in our lives [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The Gospel is the “Good News” that God has provided a way of salvation from His wrath which His Holy and Righteous nature requires Him to pour out on all unrighteousness [Romans 1:18]. Too many people have been turned from the Gospel because of its presentation as a way for God to overcome our problems and circumstances. They pray the prayer of magical words and their life circumstances remain the same. So where is the God who loves us? God does not promise us that our circumstances will change for the better; He does promise He will be with us and bless us through them [Isaiah 43:2]. We must return to a Biblical faith in God. To be saved from our sins we need to return to a Biblical understanding of our need and His supply. If we are to live by faith and have the joy and peace of our salvation we need to return to a Biblical conviction of our changed life lived in the image of Jesus Christ. We need to quit talking spiritually on Sunday with nothing to show for it and start living spiritually during the week.
If we are to be sanctified by the truth [John 17:19] we need to spend time reading the Bible. We need to know that God wants us to think and operate differently than the world [Leviticus 18:30]. It’s not business as usual nor is it to “do to them before they do to you.” [Romans 12:2] It’s a life lived with the attitude and mind of Jesus Christ [Philippians 2:1-11]. It’s an attitude of God and others. Living by the greatest commandment – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:37-39]. Jesus says that every other commandment of God will be accomplished in our lives if we will just live by these two [Matthew 22:40]. Each day that God allows us to live we need to begin our day determined to live to glorify our Heavenly Father. To glorify our Awesome God in this world we need to be bearing fruit [John 15:8] and doing good works [1 Timothy 6:18]. We need to be concerned about the salvation of those we come in contact with, and to take opportunities to help people in their circumstances.
The move away from God did not start with the removal of prayer from our schools during the sixty’s, though we would like to think so. Neither will it end with the humanization and socialization of our society. It began with the turning of Christians from foundational faith in God’s Word and His revelation of Himself and will end with the return to a believing faith in God and the Bible or the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hugh Folds, Minister of Education and Youth SPBC