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The So-Called Revivals PDF Print E-mail
Written by S.B. Luckett   

The Primitive Monitor--March 1911


Dear Brother Thompson :-One proverb speaks of “too much of a good thing.” Another says, “that which is worth doing, is worth doing well.” I send you a second article to dispose of as you deem best. One said, “0 liberty, how many crimes have been committed in thy name,” and so of that excellent word, “Revival.” The matter I send is interesting, but may not be suitable. This is the time of year for these shows. There may be brethren who regard these wild “revival meetings” in a friendly light. But two articles may not appeal favorably to you. So I did not give it any intro­duction. Indeed, I must cease trying to write.

0, what is poor man that God is mindful of him? I want to praise him while I have my being. The following is taken from Hampton’s Magazine, written by Dr. Thomas E. Green.

In bonds of love always,

“GET RIGHT WITH GOD!” It is a queer sensation that comes to the casual traveler, alighting from his train, as he reads these words, painted large in bright red on a huge strip of canvas strung like a campaign banner across the main street of a Middle West town of thirty thousand inhabitants. It is a shock to both instinct and training to see what one always thinks of as belonging to the secret self paraded in garish blazon, as if it were a patent medicine advertisement, or the announcement of a county fair. He hastens On to his hotel, registers, and is shown to his room. As he unpacks his traveling bag a card stuck in the frame of the mirror stares him in the face and impertinently asks, “ARE YOU SAVED?”
He tears it petulantly into bits and hides the fragments in the dresser drawer. Then he hastens down to his belated luncheon. As he passes the office, the clerk hands him an envelope from the box marked with his room number. He tears it open curiously, and another card confronts him which inquires, ‘WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?”

He turns to the clerk and asks: “What is all this?” The clerk answers in a matter-of-fact fashion as if the query had been for the time of a departing train: Big revival goin’ on. Publicity committee card in all the boxes every day.” It is merely part of the machinery of evangelism up to date, an evangelism that organizes its forces as thoroughly as does the political manager, and “follows Up” as steadfastly as the operation of a card index. It is the very antithesis of the old-time revivalism.

The revival of today is a thing of method and of machinery. Here and there one finds still a community or a peculiarly adapted preacher whose ideas and methods reach back to these earlier days. However, the fact stands that people in increasing numbers do not go to church or support the church; that with ten times as many churches as there is any need or excuse for to support, the work of operation is becoming harder and harder. * * *

For the revivalist and his methods I have no word of criticism. In the present condition of things he seems a ne­cessity. I make no question as to his complete sincerity, nor as to his entire and absorbing faith in that which he pro­claims. He must needs have absorbing faith, and that faith must breed authority.

I heard an evangelist, on the last night of a revival, preaching on, “The harvest is past,” say: “The meetings are closing; this is your last call for salvation. I leave in the morning on the 7:30 train.” He meant it, too, with all his heart, and never stopped to think how it sounded-nor did his audience.

“GYPSY SMITH’S PARADE THROUGH CHICAGO’S TENDER­LOIN.” The fervid revivalist seems sometimes fairly to yearn for opportunities of martyrdom. Sometimes the things done in this spirit are extremely grotesque. A case was the spec­tacular midnight march which Revivalist “Gypsy” Smith led through the red light district of Chicago.

Under the patronage of sixty-five churches, he had in­vaded Chicago for a month’s meetings. Romany born and bred, “Gypsy” Smith is the most emotional type of the re­vivalist. When he decided to lead his followers on a midnight march through the Tenderloin, to be followed by a meeting in the Alhambra Theater, everybody advised against it. The revivalist insisted, the spectacle was announced, the news­papers gave it endless advertising. All Chicago flocked early to see the show. Five thousand marchers, four abreast, many of them boys and young women, devout old men and grandmothers, inspired by an earnest notion that they were doing something heroic, marched through the section where the worst dregs of Chicago’s vice are segregated. The streets were jammed with multitudes of the curious from theater parties in evening clothes and automobiles to boys and girls for whom it was an astounding lark. All the other resorts were closed by order of the police, but the morbid throngs filled the saloons. Barkeepers were exhausted with the effort to serve their patrons. Cafes were thronged with men and women drinking at the tables. Young men and girls everywhere showed the effect of undue indulgence during the long wait for the show. The instant the marchers had passed beyond the district, the resorts threw open their doors, and police and dive keepers gave unanimous testimony that there bad never been a night of such business as was transacted from that hour until daylight.

Recently, in a western city of thirty thousand people, an evangelistic campaign was carried on. It lasted six weeks, under the leadership of one of the most famous evangelists. Meetings were held twice a day, attended by an average con­gregation of five thousand, all the tabernacle would hold. Twelve hundred people were converted, a thousand of whom joined some church. The campaign cost $20,000, of which the revivalist received $8,675 for himself, given as a “thank offer­ing” on the last Sunday. These figures justify the character­istic American questions: “Was it worth while? Did it pay?”

There are thirty-nine churches in that town, big and little together; thirty-nine pastors to support; thirty-nine pieces of property to keep in condition; thirty-nine organiza­tions to keep in operation. How many church debts to pay interest on, it is difficult to say. And the wheels were drag­ging in their motion; there was sand in the gearing. So twenty of the churches “got together,” engaged an evangelist, and launched a revival. The evangelist was a picturesque figure. He had the knack of popular oratory; he caught his crowd at the start and held it. He was sensational in the ex­treme-attitude, gesture, and language, everything as unusual as it could be made. He told stories, used slang, approached the perilous edge of the impossible and swung away just in time, and left five thousand people sitting rigid, gasping for breath. He held meetings for women only, and what he said no one but the women know-and they will not tell. He held meetings for men only, and the way he lit into those men and made many a gray-haired sinner hang his head and many a gay young fellow flush with shame, will be a memory for many a year to come.

From the beginning the crowds were immense. Before long, the red-worded banner across the street was the domi­nating thought of the town. * * * The sensationalism, the slang, were the tricks of the trade, the things the preacher used that made him different from the score of pastors Who, grouped about him on the platform, with wondering eyes watched him do things. These qualities made him worth two thousand dollars a week-when they were promised two thousand dollars a year.

Then the six weeks drew to a close. The many lines were drawn in. The carefully kept card index was turned over to the pastors, and with twelve hundred “converts” behind him, and over eight thousand dollars in his pocket, the evangelist departed to duplicate his work in the next waiting community, leaving the churches and the city to adjust themselves again to their normal life.

“WHAT IS THE RESULT OF A REVIVAL?” That was a year ago. What condition is the town in now? How many of the twelve hundred can you find today? Is the life of the people any different? Are the churches finding it easy now to do their work? After the forced and tremendous enthusiasm of those six weeks did things keep on at the same pace or did they fall back, and was the routine of the ordinary all the more prosaic and dead? It depends entirely on whom you ask. A Synodi­cal Superintendent of Kansas made the public statement recently that his experience had adjudged the professional evangelist as largely a failure in producing permanent results. Another leading western clergyman described the meeting con­ducted by a very popular revivalist as “an orgy of excite­ment, followed by a stupor of inactivity.”

The leading pastor in the converted city, a man of ripe judgment, said, “I looked forward to this thing with a great deal of anxiety. When the evangelist came he quite captured me. He is unique. There is only one of his class; and probably it is well that it is so, but he showed himself sincere, earnest, and honest. There were 2,736 signed conversion cards, and about 1,500 have united with the churches.”

The evangelist himself is an interesting study. Any in­vestigator, to understand his work, must first find, if possible, the why of his influence and dynamic force. I have can­vassed carefully this question of lasting results with my friend Billy Sunday, easily the foremost evangelist in the country. His plan is conceded to be the most nearly perfect in use. It has stood the test of years of steady work. The president of one of the great trust companies in Chicago said to me: “As a smooth-working, absolutely efficient piece of practical organizing machinery, Billy Sunday has everything I know of distanced. His is a practically perfect plan.” When Sunday goes to a town he demands as a condition precedent the union of all the “evangelical” churches. He never gets the Roman Catholic, of course, scarcely ever the Episcopal, very seldom the old-line Lutheran.

His financial man then meets the people interested in promoting the campaign. Under his direction, approximating what the total expense will be, they organize a stock company, and float stock at $1 per share, sufficient to cover all possible outlay. This stock is merely subscribed; none is paid in- merely pledged in event it becomes necessary to call for pay­ment. In fourteen years of Mr. Sunday’s work that has never been necessary. The collections taken at the meetings, to­gether with the special gifts of enthusiastic supporters, have always provided the expenses. In this are included the cost of the “tabernacle,” heating, lighting, printing, the “enter­tainment” of the corps of workers-twelve in number-and a part of the salary of these people. Sunday pays the rest.

For himself, he announces with pride that he makes “absolutely no charge for his services.” He requires not a penny guaranty. All that he asks is that the collections on the last Sunday of the meetings shall be his. And, of course, with resounding hymns and anthems of thanksgiving that last Sunday is the climax of everything. * * *

That’s Billy Sunday, America’s greatest evangelist. On the platform he “plays ball.” Attitude, gestures, method-he crouches, rushes, whirls, bangs his message out, as if he were at the bat in the last inning, with two men out and the bases full. And he can go into any city in America and for six weeks, talk to six thousand people twice a day, and simply turn that community inside out. He says San Francisco is the wickedest city we have; New Orleans next, Chicago third, and New York fourth. Over 300.000 people have been “con­verted” under his preaching-and, he says, ninety per cent of them stick.
Next to Billy Sunday in popular demand and in evangelis­tic efficiency, I place George R. Stuart of Tennessee, for sixteen years the associate of the late Sam Jones. In many respects Sunday and Stuart are alike. They both believe in and preach the same strenuous, orthodox, insistent theology. Heaven or hell is the future destination of every soul-and it’s a real heaven and a sure enough hell. Of the two, Stuart is by far the gentler, has more of Southern temperamental mildness, drawls his stories in the most inimitable manner, and has a fund of inexhaustible humor. Sunday is startling, bold, bellicose, and grim; Stuart is tender, emotional, pleading persuasive.

“LINCOLN MCCONNELL, EVANGELIST-LAWYER.” I had one more interesting interview-with a lawyer turned evangelist, a shrewd, cultured, trained, scholarly man, Lincoln McCon­nell. Mr. McConnell thinks evangelism itself is on the ebb. There are an increasing number of evangelists, but they are becoming cheaper and more common,” and make less im­press on a community. He judges things in very much of a calm, unemotional way does McConnell. He says the “pro­fessional evangelist” is the result of conditions, not the cause of them. “The ordinary preacher cannot do the work at all: he isn’t making the slightest impression on the masses. Hence, the ‘professional evangelist.’ People wouldn‘t go to churches, so about twenty years ago somebody thought out the tent scheme. It was a winner from the start. It held as many-people as you wanted, and the masses flocked in because of the novelty of it.”

“Is the tent meeting still the style?“ “No, the days of the tent men have about passed. Indeed, the ‘cheap’ tent man has gone. A big man could still get a big crowd under a tent, but it is not the thing any more. The tabernacle holds the boards now.

“The first man to make much of the tabernacle idea was M. B. Williams, the father of most of the latter-day evangel­ists of that type. Williams, including Billy Sunday, who was with him for some years as his assistant, trained nearly all of them. Williams was an exceedingly inventive, creative roan. He was the first man to get large money for his work, and for ten or twelve years he received ten to fifteen thousand dollars a year, which was enormous for those days. Williams ought to have gone to West Point He was a born general, and the plans and methods he originated have been used over and over again by his students and imitators. His sermons, his illustrations, his touching anecdotes, his emotional experiences all have been taken up and are being used over and over as original by the men who took them from him.”

“How about Williams’ work, Mr. McConnell?” I asked. “Was it lasting?” “In some ways, yes. I know hundreds of staunch churchmen today who were converted by Williams. But his style of work was such that no one else could follow him. He conducted revivals in 134 cities and towns in Iowa, and so far as I know there has never been a revival in one of them since. Ministers call it ‘the burnt district.’ He was so sensational that anything after him was tame and powerless He did everything that way. Big chorus, big crowd, his attacks on sin so fierce, his slang so picturesque, in nearly every place a personal fight with fists or horsewhips, and even threatened gunplay-you cannot follow that with any ordinary method. Then everybody said, ‘That fellow isn’t afraid, he’s the stuff;’ and men with quieter methods got to be looked upon as weaklings. It’s the same old story. These days it means something to be a real ‘thriller.’ Once the fellow who could turn a back flip was an attraction; now be must turn four ways at once and light on his ear to make em gasp.

“Do they stick when they are attracted by such methods?”

“You’d be surprised to know how many do. There are lots of people who don’t, of course.”

“What about the finances?” “Getting saner and more businesslike. The large sums received by a few men have undoubtedly done great harm, not only to evangelism, but also to religion itself. No man ever has received such enormous sums as Sunday’s machinery produces. But I honestly be­lieve he is the last of his kind. There is a very decided swing away from all that. I hear it everywhere. The reaction demands a saner, less extravagant, less sensational evange­lism, with less emphasis on the personality of the evangelist, and more on the message be should bring.”

“THE VAUDEVILLE OF REVIVALISM.” I have incorporated the ideas of these three men because they may be taken as fairly representative of distinct classes of evangelists, at their best or at their worst, as you may choose to define them. What enters most largely into the question, however, is not the work nor the method of these representative leaders in their profession, but the fact that behind each troops a multitude of understudies, a tremendous number of men-and women, too,-who undertake by all sorts and kinds of eccen­tricities to make themselves valuable and successful as lead­ers in sensational religious promotion.

There are two twin brothers, who dress alike, shave alike, talk alike, whose chief attraction lies in the fact of their being able to confuse their congregation into a constant guessing contest as to which is one and which the other. There is a female evangelist whose piece de resistance is shaking down her luxuriant hair in her earnest physical strenuousness, and doing it up again in full view of her congregation-a grotesque vaudeville act. There is the cowboy evangelist, who affects long, unshorn locks, and whose flannel shirts and shaggy chaps is an attractive part of his “act.” There is the “drummer” evangelist, who carries his sample case and his limp-covered Bible with equal “front” and who implies that his being both a traveling salesman and an evangelist is so unique a combination as to be peculiar. There is even the “child” evangelist, a precocious youngster of fourteen, who has been taught a certain series of declamations, and whose father travels with him as his manager. And they all find work to do and places to work. Then there is the other class, and their name is legion. The combination of a ready speaker and a competent vocalist who prefer nomadic evange­lism to settled activity and who hold meetings the year round, here and there and yonder, helpful often, idle never, the rank and file of professional revivalism. To many a discouraged pastor they are a last resort-the only thing there is to do. Oftentimes they save the day and fan a feeble spark into flame.

“WHY WE DO NOT GO TO CHURCH.” Behind the interesting consideration of revivalism there is a far deeper question, one that is fundamental to the whole fabric of American civiliza­tion. Admittedly church going and church support are not keeping pace with the increase in our own population. It is not meeting and solving the ethical problems of our own life. It is not reaching, even remotely, the masses of our own popula­tion. It is making little if any impression for good upon the great foreign multitudes of our own great cities. Many reasons are given for this. Their discussion here would be entirely germane, but they are so numerous as to forbid con­sideration. Among these reasons, to merely mention a few of the most often given, are:

“The decline of popular belief in the fundamental state­ments of doctrinal Christianity. The demolition of the Bible as an inspired book by the alleged assertions of modern scholarship. The improbability, or at least the improvability, of the future life, at the hands of the most advanced science.

* * * The character of the preaching in many pulpits is not appealing to thoughtful minds. The fact that services and the public worship are dry and unattractive-often crude and in­artistic-and that attendance upon them is a burden rather than a pleasure. That life has become so strenuous, and their constant duty so onerous, that one needs every possible spare hour for relaxation and repose. The punitive side of theology has been entirely abandoned. The fact, most often urged as explanatory, that the constant supply of reading matter-books, magazines, and papers--precludes be old-time willingness, not to say, desire to listen to sermons. The fact that in a large degree organized labor has de­clared itself as entirely out of sympathy with the Church-the Evangelical Protestant Church-because it conceives the Church to be entirely opposed to its well being and its better­ment. Organized labor declares the Church in its teaching and in its operation to be under the influence of the forces that are hostile to labor’s rights and advancement.

The professional evangelist is an apparent necessity in the present decadence of faith and obedience, the current de­cline in church attendance and church support, the weakened and increasingly enfeebled condition of the ministry. By virtue of these conditions he must employ startling methods and sensational means by which to galvanize an almost atrophied vitality into life. In this, as in everything else, the fee answers the question, “Has lie made good?” And as Billy Sunday says, “It is nobody’s business but our own.

If our readers knew the extent of the “revival” wave or craze that is sweeping over the land they would not have us apologize for this second article in that line. The schemes and desires of these infatuated people to stir the world are almost beyond belief. Even the Monitor is besieged to help in these excitements. We print the following as the latest appeal for space in our magazine. We do not intend to, “run the above a few issues,” at any price.-ED.

“SPECIAL.-Seventeen booklets containing 800 revival sermons and outlines by great preachers, $1.00. Also the Book of 100 Revival Sermons described on page sixteen of the Preachers Library will be sent free to all our subscribers as soon as it is off the press.”

DM: The things that were done by the traveling evangelists noted in the above article, written over 90 years ago, are now commonly practiced in many churches today. It seems that today’s churches will go to great lengths to pack the pews. That is not for me. I am more than satisfied with the doctrine and practice of the old line Primitive Baptists. I will gladly take the old doctrines of grace, and the old songs of Zion, over today’s entertainment orientated religions.

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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.