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Revivalism is actually the religion of magical technique. It is an ancient religion that simply has found a new expression in contemporary America. The purpose of all such religious technique is to control and manipulate the god who serves those who want to worship themselves under cover of worshiping him. By using certain techniques in their worship, they will receive personal salvation, personal affluence, and a personal relationship.

The techniques themselves reveal the essential gnostic flavor of American Christianity. Each person is assumed to have the divine ability to choose that which is good and is called upon regularly by the evangelist to make that choice. If the one being invited relies on his own heart, makes the right decision in his own heart, and follows the instructions given to him very carefully, then he will receive what he wants. In one place, it is necessary to go forward at the end of the church meeting. In another place, it is necessary to say the words printed in the back of a tract or booklet. (Of course, by God’s grace, a number of people have been genuinely saved under such circumstances. But it must also be said that many others have remained in their sins, clutching their technique.)

Whenever men make a religion, they make one that can be manipulated with some ease. In revivalism, therefore, the rules are simple: When you know what you want, go forward and get it. From the time of Charles Finney on, few have questioned such things because they are assumed to be Scriptural. But are they?

I am fond of telling people that Christianity is not a relationship, it is a religion. Of course, having made the point, I hasten to add that it is a covenantal religion with a covenantal relationship at its heart. God promises that we will be His people and He will be our God. But this is not what the religion of revivalism demands. It insists that there be what is called “a personal relationship.”

We must be careful here, for each believer is a person, and God has poured out His Spirit into the hearts of believers, causing them to cry out, “Abba, Father.” In a profound sense, this is a personal relationship. But this is not what revivalism means by “personal relationship.”

Whenever men make a religion, they make one that can be manipulated with some ease.

In revivalism, this personal relationship is isolated and individualistic. In the Christian faith, our relationship is covenantal and connected. God never establishes Himself as an individual’s Father without giving that person countless brothers and sisters. This is another way of saying that there is no salvation outside the church. Note the difference it makes in the nature of devotion—one religion emphasizes a personal “quiet time” while the other emphasizes corporate worship.

This question of the personal relationship relates to the common practice of inviting Jesus into our hearts. Where does the Bible tell us to do this, or where does it show someone doing this? The question “What must I do to be saved?” is asked in Scripture. But the answers we like to provide to that question are not found so easily. We want to tell the Philippian jailer to ask Jesus into his heart. We want to tell the Ethiopian eunuch to respond to the altar call. We want to tell Lydia to sign a card indicating her commitment.

This leads naturally to the problem of pseudo-sacraments. Many advocates of revivalism object strongly to such practices as infant baptism because they do not see examples of them in Scripture. Although I do see paedobaptism taught in Scripture, that is not my point. My concern is that this objection to baptizing infants arises but that there is no objection to taking those same kids to summer youth camp 13 years later in order to have them all throw pine cones in the fire as a sacramental indicator of their commitment. A rejection of God’s sacraments will not give us no sacraments but substitute sacraments.

If someone were to maintain that he became a Christian because his parents took him down to the front of the church and there had him baptized, many modern evangelicals would be greatly dismayed. You don’t become a Christian because your parents bring you down front to be baptized! You become a Christian when a friend brings you down to the same place and you sign a little card. In order for a certain practice to be a modern evangelical sacrament, the requirement apparently is that there be no Scriptural case for it.

We do this because we are nervous that Biblical sacraments might be abused. Of course, they can be, have been, and will be abused. Being sinful, men invent different ways to ignore what the Bible teaches. The best thing we can do in response to this sinfulness is to take pains to hear the Scriptures carefully. When men abuse the Word by presumption in their orthodoxy, the response ought not to be presumptive heresy. Always, to the law and the testimony!

One Night Only

Democratization of American Christianity

Keep Reading Revivalism: An Impotent Wind

From the June 2001 Issue
Jun 2001 Issue