In terms of a qualified defence of the practice, I have written on this subject elsewhere. I certainly acknowledge the danger of presumption and of giving a false impression as to the nature of the spiritual work done in a person who has responded to the gospel message by ‘going forward’
It is often asserted that Charles Finney is the dastardly inventor of this religious device, which has had both the staunchly Reformed and the weak-of-faith irritated by its popularity and reluctant to employ it at the end of their messages.
That Finney is the originator of this overwhelmingly popular form of response is apparently enough for some Reformed pastors to reject it outright. Tut tut.
But author Iain Murray, a friend of Dr Lloyd-Jones and a keen historian of revival, has unintentionally come to Finney’s rescue.
Revival and Results
In Revival and Revivalism, Murray discusses the dangers of emotionalism. Strange things happen in genuine revivals: people fall down, overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit.
But, when such things take place, there begins a dynamic in which such outward displays of religious excitement can become indicators of success, and preachers eager to see a response to their preaching, or, worse, driven by an ambition to be known as powerful, can fall into the trap of encouraging such responses.
These elements, he argues, were fully at work during the Kentucky Camp Meetings in the early 19th Century, noting menacingly that some ‘went the full distance into delusion’. Nevertheless he credits the Kentucky revival and the Second Great Awakening in America generally as ‘giving men the Bible as their guide instead of the goddess Reason whose reign had begun in France.’
The old Calvinism under threat
In the context of these developments he raises the problem of Calvinism’s loosening hold on the prevailing theology of evangelicals. Although the late 18th century revivals had begun primarily amongst Calvinists, new opinions were gaining ground. The first American Methodist magazine was bullishly titled ‘The Arminian Magazine’.
The opinion of those Methodists who were vigourously engaged in the work of evangelisation was that the Calvinists had a tendency to slow things down and get in the way.
If the revival in Kentucky had given a boost to the Christian cause generally it was at the expense of the old Reformed doctrinal unity.
Here Murray charges the Methodists with being ‘overbalanced on an experience-centred Christianity, and too ready to exalt zeal above knowledge.’
Mass Evangelism, Organized Campaigns, Lots of Singing, Presumption
Thus several regrettable outcomes: ‘the Methodists…came to believe that the organization of mass meetings was a very effective part of evangelism. Emotion engendered by numbers and mass singing, repeated over several days, was conducive to securing a response. Results could thus be multiplied, even guaranteed.’
The Calvinists, by contrast, according to Murray, ‘using their Bibles rather than any knowledge of psychology, saw from the New Testament that no technique could produce conversions.’
That the Methodists were then doing what Whitefield had done a generation before (organize mass meetings), and what all believers shall do one day (ie, sing songs of worship to Jesus Christ in a massive, massive crowd cf Rev 7:9-10) is of little consequence to Murray: he is setting the stage for the still irritatingly prevalent ‘altar call’.
How do you know what’s happening?
At first it was difficult to tell who was being actually converted. Should they count the ones who fell down as converted? Obviously not. Murray omits the fact that even Whitefield tended to consider the general weeping of one of the mass congregations as a good indicator, even explicitly mentioning the broken emotional responses of Bristol miners as a sign of their repentance.
The whole connection between Kentucky emotionalism and the evangelistic appeal is tenuous anyhow as no ‘altar calls’ happened there anyway.
The first modern appeals
Nevertheless here it is: Murray has pinpointed what may well be the first instance of the evangelistic appeal (and it wasn’t Finney): ‘Before the end of the eighteenth century, in some congregations of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the innovation had been introduced of inviting ‘mourners’ to come to the front, metaphorically, ‘to the altar’.
‘Jesse Lee recorded in his journal for 31 October 1798: ‘At Paup’s Meeting House Mr Asbury preached on Eph 5:25, 26, 27…I exhorted, and the power of the Lord was among us…John Easter proclaimed aloud, “I have not a doubt but God will convert a soul today”. The preachers then requested all that were under conviction to come together. Several men and women came and fell upon their knees, and the preachers for some time kept singing and exhorting the mourners…two or three found peace.’’
Murray gives a further example: ‘In 1801 another Methodist in Delaware reported: ‘After prayer I called upon the persons in distress to come forward and look to the Lord to convert their souls. Numbers came forward.’’
As a Christian who joyfully embraces Reformed theology I struggle to see the problem with that example.
What do you think?
More next time…
For the first part in the Charles Finney Story click here
© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog
 NB. In the US the appeal is still referred to by the archaic sounding term ‘altar call’. The term ‘evangelistic appeal’ also has problems, of course, considering that the actual appeal is contained in the message itself.
 ‘The phenomenon of hearers falling prostrate during a service or crying out in anguish is nor uncommon at the outset of revivals.’ Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth 1994) p.163
 ibid p.170
 ibid p.174
 ibid p.183
 ibid p.184
 He says later, ‘There were no ‘altar calls’ in the early great communion services and camp meetings in the Kentucky revival but, with the impetus that high emotion imparted to the immediate and the visible, it was a short step to its introduction by the Methodists.’ P. 186 Thus he reveals the weakness of his historical argument.
 Ibid p.185
We’ve all been appalled by the news footage of looting and theft in London and other cities in the UK.
We’ve seen cars burning, shops being broken into, buildings on fire, violence. We’ve seen who are doing these things – largely young people who clearly don’t have an internal restraint.
Groups of hundreds have been moving up and down local high streets, smashing windows and stealing whatever they can.
Obviously pastors and elders all across London will be evaluating both the measure of their impact amongst young people as well as what they could or should be doing in the future.
Many churches have worked hard to create respectful, relevant community engagement. Kings Church, Catford and Jubilee Church Enfield (both in boroughs where looting took place) are just two examples of vibrant, growing, multi-racial churches with strong youth groups. So this post is not intended to be a corrective to those churches who are making a difference. See here for a statement by Tope Koleoso, Pastor at Jubilee, Enfield.
Some may be questioning whether a concert-and-motivational-talk type of ministry is really penetrating London’s population – and whether a far more robust ministry both on Sundays and in the midst of the communities is now more obviously necessary. Time to serve.
And it seems that as the British media, and the culture generally, has pushed evangelical Christianity into a corner, and as the church has submitted to this marginal role in modern British life, something of a beast has been growing in its place – and we’re seeing something of the fruit of that in the behaviour of the young people involved in these looting sprees. Why would we expect a Christian ethic to be in place when we’ve repeatedly displaced the Christian message?
[Added later]: Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone was interviewed on Sky News (evening, August 9th) and, comparing the mischief his contemporaries got up to as youngsters, said: ‘Something’s changed in the last thirty years. We’ve got to find out what it is, and then tackle it!’ (Sky News Live Broadcast)
No God – no authority
The logic seems to be: ‘If there’s no God, there’s no ultimate authority, there’s no real basis for any other form of authority – therefore, we can take the moment and go for it! Why not?’
So how has the church actually grappled with these issues in the past? One obvious example that comes to mind sprang up in London itself – through William and Catherine Booth and the movement of unashamed evangelism they created: The Salvation Army.
Your view of the Salvation Army today may be of something that is very tame – closer to the St John’s Ambulance volunteers than the SAS.
A Return to Unashamed Evangelism and Social Engagement
I want to suggest that church leaders and believers looking on at this problem today could do well to learn from the London-based Salvation Army of yesterday.
They were crystal clear on preaching the gospel, not just from ‘the pulpit’ but actually in the communities they were reaching, and their ranks were filled with self-sacrificing Christians who were determined to meet the needs of the disenfranchised and marginalised. Many of the early full time officers were younger than 23.
So, I hope you’ll excuse me by putting a link here to a pretty thorough overview of their early methods and successes. It is based on years of research and is a message I brought at a Newfrontiers conference in the UK, in 2010.
My hope is that as you hear what the Booths and others did, the Holy Spirit will strengthen your resolve to actually make a difference in our cities. If you want to skip past Booth’s formative years, jump in at around 20 minutes.
Here’s the message: The Salvation Army – lessons for us
(Please note that this is the complete message, replacing a faulty link)
Click on the image below to see a fascinating video about what led Gavin McKenna out of gang life and into helping troubled teenagers:
© 2011 Lex Loizides / Church History
The Poets’ Question is an enjoyable presentation of superb poetry and spiritual inquiry and a great event for friends who love literature.
It debuted in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010, was first presented in the UK at Queen’s College, Oxford and then in Norwich. The next performance will be in Birmingham, England on Wednesday 16th November. Enquire here for details.
British actor John Carson reads selections from WB Yeats, TS Eliot, Stevie Smith, Robert Frost, John Crowe Ransom and Dylan Thomas.
Lex Loizides invites us to consider some of the most popular modern poems, and examines the relationship between the poets’ expressions of longing and the possibility of spiritual truth. The presentation is a fine blend of literary insight and Lex’s own personal journey towards authentic and intellectually satisfying spirituality, and represents a contribution to literary apologetics.
For photos, information and to read what people are saying about The Poets’ Question click here
© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides
‘Early in the afternoon of 11 July 1963, a fine winter’s day, the telephone rang in my chambers.
‘I heard a coin drop into the call box and then the muffled voice of Harold Wolpe. He named a corner in the city centre and asked me to meet him there.
‘Our meeting place was outside a bookshop and I found him staring intently into the window at the books on display.
‘He didn’t turn round when I greeted him but pointed at a book.
‘We stood side by side, facing away from the pedestrians while he whispered that the leadership of the ANC had been arrested at its Rivonia headquarters and that he was going into hiding.
‘He handed me a file, asked me to find some excuse for his absence from court, and to report what had happened to his brother-in-law and partner, James Kantor.
‘I was not to see Wolpe again until he returned from exile almost thirty years later.’ (p.204)
In his autobiography ‘Odyssey to Freedom’, Nelson Mandela’s defence lawyer takes us on a journey on the inside of the legal processes and secret ANC meetings that ultimately led to democracy in South Africa. It is a tremendous story of how one modern day ‘Daniel’ helped influence a nation towards freedom.
Full the full book review and article on xenophobia, and how we, as Christians, should regard foreigners in our home countries click here
© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides
(Methodism and the Mob Part Two)
Early Irritations and Scares
As the popularity of the movement grew, the Methodist preachers found that they were involved in a battle that, although spiritual, often found a physical expression.
Not only did they face resistance from the clergy, but actual violence from gangs who were often paid to disrupt the meetings.
Here are two accounts from John Wesley’s experience. By the way, this is about as far as you could possibly get from the ‘private jet, 5 Star only’ attitude of a few modern travelling religious celebrities.
The only frequent traveler reward that Wesley enjoyed was an extremely sore bottom! (He travelled hundreds of miles each year on horseback) But more of his personal sacrifice later.
Disturbances in the meeting rooms
This from Wesley’s Journal: ‘Tues 26th Jan, 1742
‘I explained at Chelsea, the faith which worketh by love. I was very weak when I went into the room;
‘but the more ‘the beasts of the people’ increased in madness and rage, the more was I strengthened, both in body and soul; so that I believe few in the house, which was exceedingly full, lost one sentence of what I spoke.
‘Indeed they could not see me, nor one another at a few yards’ distance, by reason of the exceeding thick smoke, which was occasioned by the wild fire, and things of that kind, continually thrown in to the room.
‘But they who could praise God in the midst of the fires, were not to be affrighted by a little smoke.’
(JW Journal, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.354)
A tortured bull is driven into the people and disturbs Wesley’s preaching
March 19, 1742: ‘I rode once more to Pensford at the earnest request of serious people. The place where they desired me to preach was a little green spot near the town.
‘But I had no sooner begun than a great company of rabble, hired (as we afterwards found) for that purpose, came furiously upon us, bringing a bull, which they had been baiting, and now strove to drive in among the people.
‘But the beast was wiser than his drivers and continually ran either on one side of us or the other, while we quietly sang praise to God and prayed for about an hour.
‘The poor wretches, finding themselves disappointed, at length seized upon the bull, now weak and tired after having been so long torn and beaten both by dogs and men; and, by main strength, partly dragged, and partly thrust, him in among the people.
‘When they had forced their way to the little table on which I stood, they strove several times to throw it down by thrusting the helpless beast against it, who, of himself, stirred no more than a log of wood.
‘I once or twice put aside his head with my hand that the blood might not drop upon my clothes; intending to go on as soon as the hurry should be over. But the table falling down, some of our friends caught me in their arms, and carried me right away on their shoulders; while the rabble wreaked their vengeance on the table, which they tore bit from bit.
‘We went a little way off, where I finished my discourse without any noise or interruption.’
(JW Journals, Baker edition, p.363)
This was actually just the beginning of the opposition to the gospel taking hold in England. Persecution has not been uncommon in the history of the Church.
There is, perhaps, comfort in the stories of yesterday to encourage us as we seek to graciously bring the good news of Jesus Christ into the places where God has sent us.
For the next installment click here
See Methodism and the Mob Part 1
© 2009 Lex Loizides
From their first LP in 1963 to ‘Let it Be’, released only 7 years later in 1970, the Beatles made a huge impact on both popular music and popular culture in the UK and the US.
This riveting biography takes us into the life of John Lennon, one of modern culture’s most celebrated icons. In this review we’ll touch on his infamous ‘We’re more popular than Jesus’ statement (and his lesser known but equally worthy classic: ‘Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.’), as well as looking at his life as a son, husband and father, his song writing brilliance with Paul Macartney, the Beatles rise to fame and the famous trip to India.
(C) 2009 Lex Loizides