Carriers of the Glory:
Who were the carriers of the glory of the Great Awakening? George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards were prominent ministers in this powerful movement. Their goal was to get their listeners to have a personal, emotional response to the message of Christ. They wanted their hearers to look into their own souls and become convinced of their need of a Savior. Jonathan Edwards is often credited with starting the Great Awakening in 1741 with his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Imagine this. One day. One gathering. One singular response of the people and all of human history pivots away from secularism and rejection of Christ into a movement that entirely changed the parameters of what it meant to be a believer and what Christianity would look like in the earth. Jonathan Edwards encouraged people to come “not just for curiosity but from a sincere desire to know God and do your duty as a believer in Christ.” Mere curiosity or religious titillation were considered to be the hallmark of a lukewarm heart. He urged people not to apply the mandates of Christ to others (as the Puritans and Quakers were known to do) but to look into their hearts and ask, “Lord is it I?”
George Whitefield taught people to have changed and repentant hearts. In the Western world, Whitefield is credited with starting the modern practice of preaching in public because the organized churches in England would not give him a pulpit. Whitefield responded to the rejection of institutional religion by obeying God and taking the message, from those that were initially invited, out into the highways and by-ways where he found willing listeners.
Another well-known speaker, by the name of James Davenport, held public bonfires so his followers could burn the things that distracted them from kingdom seeking or tempted them to worldliness and pride. Non-religious books and luxury items were commonly cast into the flames. One night, he derided the cult of celebrity and the idolatry of fashion and “fancy clothes.” Leading by example, to the shock of the crowd, he took off his pants and threw them into the fire!
These were men and women willing to push the envelope of acceptability. They would not take no for an answer. The legacy of the Great Awakening was to push the boundaries of spiritual propriety outside the realm of tradition and religion. They took matters of faith out of the ghetto of religion and walked in the kingdom in the spheres of business, education, government, etc. The resulting reforms changed the way business was done, the way government was conducted, and ultimately even slavery was ended, and many other social ills of the day were addressed.
God Wants His Church Back:
There are generations and leaders that shape culture and change history: John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, made the statement before his death that God is asking us to relinquish church as we know it for church as God wants it. Things are the way they are because of what WE are doing. If WE want something different, WE must DO something different. We cannot look to the world and lament how dark and how godless it is. The condition of the world is a reflection of the condition of the Church. We must look at ourselves and lament that we have become so powerless and such a laughingstock in the earth that the fear of God is no longer known among men as once it was. In generations past, the world trembled before the church and our leaders confronted nations. There came a day in the third century that world powers dared to no longer mock the Christ of Christianity in spite of centuries of persecution. In the third century, we have an example of a Church that, in three generations, brought the known world to its knees at the foot of the cross. The might of Rome was so bowed to the power of God that its emperor faced the fact that the future of the Roman Empire could only advance under the sign of the cross.
The Church that Changed the World:
The early Church was neither an activist church nor an insurgent church. It didn’t take up arms or attempt to bring change through the legislative processes available to it. The Church of the first, second, and third centuries is remarkable for two things: 1.) the way they prayed; and 2.) the way they died. The Roman procurators, who oversaw the martyrdoms of the early Church, complained to the emperor insisting that the Christians died so well that for every believer killed in the arena, 100 were taking their place. The early Church was not seen as a religion. In fact, the ancient world, though confronted with “those that have turned the world upside down,” didn’t know how to deal with them. Most early Christians were not martyred for what they believed but were rather condemned and sentenced as atheists. This generation of believers defied definition. They didn’t fit. They challenged the status quo and intimidated every ancient institution with their zeal and passion for Jesus.
There is rising such a generation on the earth again. As the Moravians of old, their watchword will be, “may the Lamb receive the reward of His suffering.” Jihadist extremism will pale before the burning love for God this generation will exemplify. They will confront nations, and the media will be unable to ignore them. The Church will be unable to marginalize them. Young people will go into the mission field with nothing but a passport and a Bible, and will willingly sacrifice their lives for the cause of Christ.
Do we have any modern examples of this kind of movement? Fuller Theological Seminary claims that the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 70’s actually brought more people to Christ than the Great Awakening did. The Jesus Movement was an orphaned outpouring. Even in the churches where it was tolerated, the environment was toxic to the revival. Kids were rejected because of the way they dressed, how they talked, the way they smelled – by a powerless Church that didn’t come close to having the effectiveness that this rowdy, unkempt, unruly generation did in bringing millions to Christ.