This is the fourth post in our series on America’s Second Great Awakening. In this post, we’re going to examine the greatest failure that took place during the camp meeting revivals. It involves a decision made by the leaders that would take the most effective denomination in the wrong direction. It would have a devastating effect… an effect that would result in the slow death of the denomination that had been the vanguard of every revival. It all had to do with the “bodily effects” that accompanied the revivals and how those bodily effects became a point of division among the denominations. Get ready, cuz we’re going to talk about the “good, the bad, and the ugly.”
AMERICA’S SECOND GREAT AWAKENING
By Karen Thompson
Fourth in a Five-Part Series
Note: This blog happens to be quite long. But the subject matter is very important, and I didn’t see a way to trim it down in size without hurting the message. I’m confident you will barely notice that it’s really, really long because it’s so very interesting! Besides, you have two weeks to read it before I send you something else!
A Cautionary Tale
In our previous post regarding the Camp Meetings, we talked much about how the presence of God would fall upon the congregations, which manifested in many different ways. There were various manifestations of these “bodily effects” (the terminology back then). The most typical effect was when people fell to the ground. They called this “fainting” or being “struck.” Present-day terminology is “being slain in the spirit” or saying someone “fell out” under the power of God. It could be one person falling out or many people falling out under the power of God. In one instance, a group of 300 people simultaneously fell out under the power of God.
The most typical bodily effects people experienced were great joy, weeping, shaking, or trembling. There were some who got the “holy laughs,” where they couldn’t stop laughing. Some experienced trances and others had visions. There were instances where whole congregations would simultaneously begin to shout praises to God so loudly that they could be heard for miles around.
(Side note: That happened at my church one time. We were worshiping the Lord, and all of a sudden, the congregation began to shout praises to God so loudly that it was ear deafening. It was so loud that I couldn’t hear my own voice. And I was shouting! The atmosphere was electric. Then as quickly as it began, it stopped. It was amazing!)
There were extraordinary instances where people would be “struck” and fall to the ground. They would lay motionless as though dead. They didn’t move or speak and couldn’t be roused out of it. Those near would carry the persons away from the crowd to an out-of-the-way place. People would stay with them, praying over them. When the persons came to, those around them would pay careful attention to them as they described their experience. Many experienced wonderful visitations with God where He ministered to them in a deep way. One extraordinary example was of a young man who was described as a “wicked sinner.” He was “struck” and lay on the ground for a long while. When he arose, he was transformed into a different person. He climbed onto the preacher’s podium and began to passionately preach nonstop for two hours about the love of God and entreated all present to come to Christ. People were thunderstruck at what they were witnessing. They knew this young man, and they knew he did not have the ability to do what he was doing.
Not everyone in the Christian community was happy about these bodily effects. There were denominations that disapproved of these sensational physical manifestations and viciously criticized those churches that allowed it. They called the meetings “unwholesome enthusiasm,” and considered them to be offensive based on the grounds of taste and style. They felt it was all undignified. Fanatical. They wanted no part of it.
The Presbyterian denomination didn’t approve. That became a problem for Charles Finney because he was a licensed and ordained Presbyterian minister. Among other things, Finney’s meetings were accompanied by people falling out under the power of God. He didn’t encourage it or promote it. It just happened. Though Finney was a Presbyterian, the Methodists invited him to speak at their churches. Very often, when Finney preached in the Methodist churches, people would fall out.
In one town, the Presbyterians and Methodists joined together for revival meetings and asked Finney to come preach. He agreed. As he began to preach, the power of God began to fall upon the congregation, and one by one, people fell out under the power of God. Knowing the Presbyterians’ disapproval of this activity, Finney became concerned they would cancel the meetings with the Methodists altogether. But when the Presbyterians learned that the people who fell out were all Presbyterians, it took all the steam out of their disapproval. The Lord knows how to silence the critics!
The fire of God spread through the camp meetings, and many wonderful things were taking place in the lives of the people. Many were delivered from depression and anxieties. People repented of their sins and turned their lives around. Many made restitutions of all kinds to those they had wronged. People stopped hating each other. So many marvelous things were taking place… but, alas, there arose a problem.
While the fire of God was being poured out in the camp meetings, certain irreverent persons brought “wild fire.” The term “wild fire” was coined during this time to describe people who pretended the power of God had fallen on them.
Wild fire took several forms. Some began to participate in wild physical exercises. There were people who got down and rolled around on the ground. That’s where the name “holy rollers” came from. The most bizarre was barking like a dog! People would pretend to “tree the devil.” They would start barking, get down on all fours, and run up to a tree as though they were “treeing a devil.” Some began to speak gibberish and claimed it was “other tongues” as described in the Bible.
In the book entitled, “Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, The Backwoods Preacher,” Cartwright called the wild fire he observed in the camp meetings “a great evil.” Calling them “fakers,” he talked about people who claimed to have seen a vision or pretended to fall into a trance. They would mimic those who had genuine experiences and pretend to fall into a trance and lay motionless for great periods of time. When they “came to,” they would, without shame, make up outlandish experiences.
Other fakers would prophesy “under the pretense of Divine inspiration” and predict the time of the end, when the great millennium would begin. Others claimed to have visions of heaven or hell where they saw angels or the devil. Some even claimed to talk to the dead in both heaven and hell, just like the spirit rappers who were all the craze at the time.
Spirit rapping was a mid-19th century craze where people claiming to be able to talk to the dead would hold séances either at private homes or public places and talk to the dead. The dead would respond by either “rapping” on the table, or tip the table, or throw chairs around. The spirit rappers, AKA mediums, made a good living holding these bogus performances.
Cartwright said he watched this matter of wild fire “with a vigilant eye.” It disturbed him greatly that so many people fell for the fakery. He “proclaimed open war against” the fakers. When he considered his responsibility to God as a minister, he said he didn’t hesitate to confront them. Considering the damage these fakers were doing to the Great Awakening, he didn’t care if their feelings were hurt.
Others confronted them also, but the fakers didn’t take it well. When they were confronted, these “visionists” would lash out at those who challenged their authenticity and say God would judge them. They “prophesied” that if anyone would dare to oppose them that God would consume them with fire.
Shutting It All Down
It was difficult to shut down the fakers. The denominations conducting the camp meetings already had bad reputations among the more conservative churches for their “emotional and fanatical” services. Now they had to deal with the wild fire. The Methodist churches were being mightily used of God in the Camp Meetings. They tried to bring correction, but they encountered great resistance and pushback. Everything had gotten out of control, so out of control that it seemed the only way to get rid of the wild fire was to bring an end to all of it. And that’s what the Methodists did. They still had their meetings, but they didn’t allow anyone to yield to the Spirit. There was no laughing or crying, no prophecies, no visions, no falling out. All of it was now forbidden.
Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater
Considering what they were dealing with, it’s easy to understand why they did what they did. But solving their problem this way by simply shutting everything down was the easy way out. Yes, they got rid of the problem of wild fire, for sure. But in the long run, they shot themselves in the foot. The decision to not allow the Spirit of God to flow among them was the decision that initiated their slow death. Denominations that were once vibrant and the vanguard to every move of God began to slowly die out. And since that fateful decision to not let anyone yield to the Spirit, they have become churches described in 2nd Timothy 3:5 as “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (KJV). They have become empty shells of their once glorious selves. They have become worldly, embracing and conforming to the world’s values.
These denominations, once a roaring fire for God, began to gradually lose their members. Why? Their roaring fire was now merely embers. The simple truth is that people are hungry for the power of God. When the river of God starts flowing in their community, they will leave their dead churches and go to where the power of God is displayed. That’s a fact.
A well-known minister once shared a bit of wisdom regarding wild fire. He said that whenever the power of God is displayed, there will always be a touch of wild fire simply because “people are people.” For whatever their reasons, there will always be people who will engage in wild fire. But the answer to a little wild fire, he said, isn’t to shut everything down. Taking care of the problem that way was akin to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” He said if given a choice, he’d rather have meetings where there was a little wild fire he had to deal with, rather than meetings where there was no fire at all.
Amen to that!
A Godly Perspective Toward Revival Fire
I like the perspective of Author Wesley Duewel regarding the outpouring of God’s power. In his book, “Revival Fire,” he says since Pentecost, there has never been an outpouring of God’s power where it wasn’t accompanied by unusual happenings. Every time God’s power and presence falls upon people, it is guaranteed that unusual events are going to happen. How could it not? There’s power in His presence. Real power. And when people are exposed to that great power, any number of things will happen.
And guess what? It never looks dignified! When the power of God comes, people do and say things that look unusual. People get emotional, that’s for sure. Since forever, there’s been a section of the Christian community that has only criticism and condemnation for these kinds of manifestations. Churches who welcome God’s power have had to learn to turn a deaf ear to criticism. They have learned to let criticism roll off their backs, because they know what the reward is for yielding to the river of God when it begins to flow. Change takes place in the lives of the people. Big change! God can accomplish more in a person’s life in mere minutes that otherwise would take years to accomplish. In revival, God is able to do instantaneous work within people. Work that is life changing and lifelong. Ministers are willing to take being criticized and mocked for results like that.
CAVEAT: We’re not to seek experiences like trances or visions, falling out, or the like, and we’re not to seek after emotional displays of laughing or weeping. We are to seek God—not experiences. We seek His presence, His holiness and goodness, and to yield our lives to Him. His power brings change… quick and lasting change. That’s what we are to desire and seek after.
The Importance of Reverence
Christian leaders are responsible to teach and train their people on how to respond when the fire of God flows through the congregation. It’s not about teaching them a long list of “what to do and what not to do.” Really, it all comes down to teaching them the definition of a single word—reverence. They must be taught how to always reverence the presence of God… to be respectful of what is taking place in a meeting.
I’ll share with you an experience of a particular church. For an entire year, this church experienced revival fire. It started during an ordinary Wednesday night church service. The pastor said as soon as he entered the sanctuary, he felt something was different. The spiritual atmosphere had changed. As the congregation began to worship the Lord, the presence of God fell upon the people. Many were filled with joy and began to laugh. The power of God came upon individuals and they would jump up and run down the aisle shouting praises. But shortly after it started, the pastor sensed the Holy Spirit was grieved and His presence had lifted off of them. What grieved Him?
It was a lack of reverence.
As soon as the pastor realized the congregation had grieved the Holy Spirit, he shut down all the activity. He explained to them they had not responded properly to His presence, that they had grieved the Holy Spirit. They were going to start over, he said, by worshiping the Lord. As the congregation began worshiping the Lord, His presence fell upon them again. This time they responded in a more reverent way.
They didn’t mean to be irreverent. They just didn’t know any better. What were they doing that was irreverent? First and foremost, they didn’t have their focus on God. Their focus was on what was happening in their midst. They focused on the people around them who were experiencing God’s power on them. They failed to recognize that what was happening was a holy work. Overall, they began to engage in frivolity and giddiness. I’m not saying the people who were experiencing holy laughter were engaged in frivolity. I’m talking about the people who should have been focusing on the Lord but were, instead, focusing on the people who were experiencing holy laughter.
Being reverent is keeping your focus on the Lord, fixing your gaze on Him in expectation… to be open and yielded to the Lord. You should be a part of what is happening by being prayerful and worshipful in your heart. If you’re gawking at what is happening around you and viewing it as entertainment rather than a holy work, you are not being reverent. You are being a spectator.
There is another aspect of reverence that should be observed. I witnessed the Spirit of God come upon a woman in such power that it affected her in a physical way, to where her body was almost spasmodic. The people near her began to watch. She cried out, “Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me.” She was having a personal moment with God that made her feel vulnerable. And in that vulnerable state, she was being gawked at by people acting like spectators. Part of being reverent means you are respectful toward people when they are experiencing a holy visitation. It’s okay to watch over them prayerfully, but it’s never appropriate to just simply watch like it was entertainment.
As far as the “fakers” are concerned, there’s no formula on how to deal with them. It’s a delicate situation and if it’s not handled correctly, it could actually do a lot of damage to the move of God happening within your midst. And every situation is different. That’s why in order to deal with wild fire, you have to seek God’s direction about it first. A little wild fire can be ignored, but it mustn’t get out of control like at the Camp Meetings.
Manifestations of God’s Power Come in Many Forms
When the glory of God falls upon people, there will always be “bodily effects.” And in case you have it in your mind that what happened at the Camp Meetings was unique to them, I can assure you it was not. No matter the century, no matter the people group, no matter the nation, when the glory of God comes, there will be the same and similar bodily effects that happened at the Camp Meetings. Just to show you that the bodily effects that happened during the Camp Meetings were not unique to them, I have made a list of the different experiences that have taken place in the various revivals around the world. The following is just a small collection of amazing and astonishing happenings that have taken place when the power of God falls upon people.
The Most Common Experiences
I wanted to start the list with the most common manifestations of the power of God upon people.
One of the most common manifestations is when people are struck with holy laughter. People will begin to laugh so hard they will laugh and laugh and laugh until tears roll down their faces.
There is a lot of spontaneous singing. There were reports of people who couldn’t carry a tune and suddenly began singing like angels. In many instances, beautiful hymns have been composed during revival.
People would be lost in prayer where hours would go by, yet it felt like they had only prayed for minutes.
Some said the solemnity and power of God was so strong that it felt almost painful.
People of all ages have experienced both visions and trances. A young blind girl experienced a vision of Jesus. One person fell into a trance and was unaware of his surroundings; while in the trance, the Lord spoke through him to those around him.
The conviction of sin was so strong that many were unable to sleep. They had no peace until they received forgiveness of their sins. People made amends with each other, quarrels ended, and restitution was made for wrongs done.
Unusual Things Happened to Whole Congregations
There are many instances of the presence of God falling on entire congregations with some very unique happenings. Very frequently, things would happen to an entire congregation instantly and simultaneously. Here are a few examples.
Often, the Spirit of God would fall upon entire congregations and they would begin to weep simultaneously. Similarly, all the members of one congregation suddenly and simultaneously fell onto their knees and then broke out in travail.
One congregation experienced the Holy Spirit come in a succession of mighty waves, like the tide coming in from the ocean.
One congregation sat in holy silence, where no one moved or even whispered for an extended period of time. Similarly, a congregation reported that when the presence of God came, the whole congregation could not speak. They were hushed by His presence. If anyone did try to speak, they broke down in tears.
One congregation described the spiritual atmosphere as electric, charged with energy.
One congregation heard a sound like rumbling thunder; then all of a sudden, the congregation experienced a simultaneous agonizing cry to God. All the people began to confess their sins and asked God for mercy.
While listening to the sermon, all the members of an entire congregation simultaneously became convicted of their sins. So profound was the conviction that they all began to cry out in agony to God, trembling and sinking to the floor.
A frequent happening that took place was when entire congregations would simultaneously fall backward to the ground as though dead.
Another frequent happening is when a spirit of repentance and confession of sin would come upon whole groups of people. One by one, they arose to confess and repent of their sins.
The presence of God fell upon a congregation and half the people were filled with joy and began to laugh, while the other half began to weep. Both groups were so loud that it was impossible to distinguish between the shouts of joy with the sound of weeping.
Feeling the Presence of God From Far Away
In past revivals, there were instances where God’s presence was felt from miles away. For instance, there was a revival in a certain town. A man who lived 20 miles away heard what was happening in the town and mocked it. One day, he had to travel to that town on business. When he was one mile away, he felt an awesome sense of God’s presence come upon him. The closer he got to the town, the greater the presence of God became. When he got to the village, he was astonished to find all in the village so overcome with awe of God they had difficulty speaking. Not long afterward, the man was converted.
During a revival that was happening on the east coast of the United States, the presence of God covered very large areas. It was described as an invisible cloud that hung over parts of the United States. There was a report of a ship off the east coast 100 miles away from shore that experienced the presence of God. People on board felt His power and fell to their knees, crying out to God for forgiveness. When the ship came to shore, the captain sent for a minister to come help the people. After that, ship after ship arrived to shore with the same report.
Recently, the pastor of a sister church in France called to share with our pastor what happened in their prayer group. While in prayer, the presence of God became so strong that they couldn’t speak or move. Not only that, but the room appeared white. When they opened their eyes, they said, “Everything looks white.” At first, they didn’t understand what was happening. They then realized it was the glory cloud.
In 1995, a pastor from our church went to the revival in Toronto. The speaker gave an invitation for those in leadership positions to come forward for prayer. As he made his way forward, he experienced an open vision. He saw a huge cross over the stage. That was unusual because the church’s décor was contemporary and, as such, didn’t have a cross. But, nonetheless, he saw a huge cross. As he made his way forward, the cross began to move toward him. At the same time, the speaker came off the stage, walked right up to him, and laid hands on him. BAM! He fell out in the spirit. He laughed and cried under the anointing of the Spirit. When he got up, he said he didn’t feel any different. It wasn’t until three days later when he realized the anointing on him to pray for others had increased greatly.
Here is an astonishing testimony similar to what happened to the young man who was transformed at the Camp Meetings when he was “struck,” and then preached like an evangelist for two hours straight. Not too long ago, a minister from our church went on an evangelistic trip to Tampa, Florida. He approached two women as they came out of a bar and talked to them about Jesus. It turned out they were sisters. The sisters said they had a Bible in their home but neither had ever read it. The minister led the two sisters in the prayer of salvation. Immediately, the Spirit of God came on one of the sisters and she was transformed. She lifted up her hand in the air and began to preach like a crusade evangelist, urging the lost to come to the Lord. What’s more, she quoted scripture from the Bible verbatim, a Book she had never read before! Upon listening to her, two men that came out of the bar also prayed the prayer of salvation!
There have been numerous times when people have fallen out under the power of the Lord in a service, and the anointing on them made them heavy. The ushers needed to move them to an out-of-the-way place, but the anointing made them too heavy for the ushers to move. In one case, it took six ushers a very long time to move a tiny little woman.
There have been reports of people being stuck to the floor while standing in a prayer line. There have been reports where people have been stuck to each other in prayer. In fact, I myself have that testimony. I was in a prayer line and the pastor laid his hand on my head and began to pray. I felt the power of God flowing into me. The pastor took a much longer time to pray for me than all the others in the prayer line. Afterward, he told me the reason he prayed for me so long was that his hand was stuck to my head! He couldn’t take his hand off my head. What did I get from that? I got a dose of divine boldness. The week before, the Lord directed me to do something. But I didn’t have the boldness to do it. In fact, I chickened out twice. After the pastor prayed for me, I had the boldness to do what the Lord asked me to do!
There have been several instances where congregations were singing, and all of a sudden, heaven opened up and angels began to sing with them. They couldn’t see the angels, but all the members of the congregation heard beautiful singing. One church was able to record it and shared it with other churches.
Then there have been multiple instances of fire, both seen and felt. One time, people saw the top of a church on fire and called 911. When the firemen arrived, they didn’t see any fire, that’s because the fire on the church was divine fire from God.
During revival, a man saw a group of people on fire. It was a vision that was so real that he rushed over with water to put the fire out. It was only when he got close to them that he realized it was just a vision of fire, not actual fire.
Others testified that after they had been prayed for, they began to feel as though they were on fire on the inside. They said it got so hot inside that it was almost unbearable. When the fire stopped burning, they found they had been delivered of bad habits.
A man shared how he had a similar experience as Moses did after being in the presence of God on the mountain. When Moses came down from the mountain, his face was shining brightly. In the same way, this man shared how he had just been in a prayer meeting that had gone on for a few hours. After the meeting was over, he raced back home to keep an appointment with an unsaved women. When she knocked on the door, he said, “I opened the door, and she immediately put her hands up to shield her eyes. She said, ‘Whoa! You are so bright!’”
Conclusion: When the river of God flows through your community with His mighty power, do not block it. Welcome the river. Jump into the river. Don’t just wade into the river ankle deep. Let yourself be immersed in the river. Let the river quicken you, change you into His image. And don’t let your pride stop you for fear of looking silly.
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