President Obama himself said multiple times that America "is no longer a Christian nation", and has gone out of his way to ensure that his statement comes true. One cannot blame the atrophy of Christianity in America on the President alone, but one cannot deny that it has become considerably more difficult to confess Christianity and its attendant beliefs and values since he has taken office
RICHMOND, VA (Catholic Online) - As I am sitting here, the Heart-Cry for Revival conference is going on at the Billy Graham Training Center near Ashville, N.C. It is a four-day event that includes prayer, worship, preaching, focus groups, a panel discussion, and fellowship. The purpose of the conference is to, "ignite, equip, and commission ministry and marketplace leaders in their passionate desire for God to bring spiritual renewal to individuals, churches, campuses, and nations."
But what is a "revival", anyway? Most Catholics associate the term "revival" with Neil Diamond's satirical "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show", or perhaps Sinclair Lewis 's equally denigratory "Elmer Gantry". More recently, a revival preacher was the subject of the movie "The Apostle". Robert Duval wrote and directed it, and played the title role which won him an Academy Award nomination. Few realize that revival in a positive sense has a long and storied history in American culture.
There are two distinct uses for the word "revival", and it is easy to get them mixed up. The first one, the subject of the song, book, and movie is an evangelical meeting, designed to get new converts. These are often given by itinerant preachers, the most famous of who was probably Billy Sunday. Frequently they were held in tents, though in more recent times tents have given way to halls as a bow to creature comforts such as air conditioning. They are generally held over several days, and are generally held by evangelical protestant denominations.
The second meaning refers to a historical period when there was a heightened awareness of God, a spiritual awakening. Although revivals are generally associated with Protestant sects, they owe their inspiration equally to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the 16th Century, beginning with the Council of Trent.
In the United States, historians generally distinguish three periods of revival. The First Great Awakening in the 1730's and '40's was a time of vigorous preaching that convinced listeners of their sinfulness, guilt, and need for salvation through a personal relationship with Christ. The revival was not limited to the United States; it was active in England and Scotland as well. In America, it began with the preaching of George Whitefield, who visited from England in 1739.
He preached that, unlike the Calvinist view that man is predestined for damnation, he could be saved by repenting of his sins. Whitefield was an fiery speaker who stirred up the emotions of his listeners, describing the boundless joy of salvation on the one hand and the horrors of damnation on the other. His emphasis on preaching and Bible reading over ritual and ceremony made a lasting impression on many Protestant sects, and swelled the ranks of the Baptists and Methodists.
The Second Great Awakening occurred in the 1800-1830's. Rev. Charles Finney was a key leader of the evangelical revival movement in America, and conducted revival meetings of the type described earlier across several Northeastern states, winning many converts. Finny also traveled to England and Scotland to conduct his revival meetings. One of the other leaders of this movement was Lyman Beecher, the father of abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin". He preached throughout New England on the evils of intemperance, against Unitarianism and Catholicism, and in favor of the abolition of slavery.
The Third Great Awakening loosely covers the time from the 1850's to early 1900's, It invigorated evangelical Protestant denominations and generated a strong sense of social activism, known as the Social Gospel. Theologically, it was based on the postmillennial notion that the Second Coming of Christ would come after mankind had reformed the entire earth. Evangelicals conducted a systematic outreach to the unchurched in America through revivals, and around the globe through active missionary programs.
Dwight Moody institutionalized revivalism through his Moody Bible Institute, and new sects such as the Holiness movement, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Church of God were born. God-centered movements such as the Women's Christian Temperance Movement and the YMCA were also formed. The ramifications of these movements have been profound on American society.
But here we are in 2013. We have a government that makes its battle cry, "Separation of Church and State", which really means, "Separation of Church from social life". From the prohibition of prayer in schools, the prohibition of public displays of religious symbols on Christmas or Easter, to the adoption of abortion on demand, no fault divorce, homosexual "marriage", and forced payment by taxpayers for abortions, forced payment by employers for abortion and contraception, and on and on, the government is seeking to separate America from its God.
President Obama himself said multiple times that America "is no longer a Christian nation", and has gone out of his way to ensure that his statement comes true. One cannot blame the atrophy of Christianity in America on the President alone, but one cannot deny that it has become considerably more difficult to confess Christianity and its attendant beliefs and values since he has taken office.
The situation has become so grim that many Christians were praying for Obama's defeat last November. When this did not occur, many were led to virtual despair, and cried out as Jesus did, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" But we were not praying for God to take charge, we were praying that He would do what we wanted Him to do, which was to give us a different President. God hears our prayers, and answers them, but not always in the way we desire.
Maybe the last Presidential election was God's way of telling us something. If Romney had won, he would certainly have fixed some of Obama's most egregious transgressions, and certainly would have substituted a more Christian staff for Obama's collection of liberals and self-proclaimed "Catholics" who appear to consider themselves the supreme arbiters of Church teaching.
Romney was arguably one of the most decent political candidates to have ever run for the office, but his stand on abortion was a "compromise" with loopholes and exceptions, and his opinions had flip-flopped on several important issues, which led some to wonder what if anything would actually change during his presidency. On top of that, he couldn't have single-handedly changed that much anyway, absent a cooperative Congress. We would have been lulled into complacency while the undercurrent of social destruction began in the 1960's, if not before, continued.
Maybe, just maybe, with the ascendance of homosexual "rights" trumping those of Christians at every turn, with abortion "rights" continuing to be the litmus test for political appointments and legislative activity, and with Christians being continually relegated to the back of the social bus, people may realize that we have pretty much reached the limit of what man can do. Things are not getting better; in fact every day seems to bring more bad news on the social front.
The economy is not improving, in large measure because of the uncertainty of what new contract law the government will violate next, or how much money it will remove from businesses and individuals in the name of taxes and fees to finance its bloated spending programs. Foreign relations are at an all-time low, because operating from a framework of tolerance and radical egalitarianism we are unable to define the principles under which we will act in the world arena or to know who our friends and enemies are. Without a "moral compass" we are rapidly descending into an abyss from which there is only one escape - divine intervention.
After he was tormented mercilessly by the Devil, Job is unable to understand why God allowed this to happen. Many Christians feel the same way. God, however, refuses to explain Himself to Job. "Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this" (38:18).
Job realized the error and presumption of his question, and says in Verse 42: "I know that thou canst do all things and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.' I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
And that is what revival is all about.
Dr. Frederick Liewehr is an endodontist who teaches and works in private practice. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1983, having been drawn ineluctably to Christ's Church by the light of Truth. He is a member of St. Benedict parish in Richmond, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus and a Cooperator of Opus Dei.
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