We’ve come to the end of a series, so now it’s time for a palate cleanser to help switch gears from one subject to the next. In our most recent palate cleanser series, we’ve been looking at America’s Third Great Awakening. It’s fascinating to see how each Great Awakening has changed America. An overview of these great moves of God reveals a very specific and deliberate strategy. The First Great Awakening brought forth the message of the new birth, the truth that you must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. They learned the free gift of salvation comes through faith and not through good works. The Second Great Awakening brought forth an emphasis on evangelism and a more effective way of making converts. Great evangelists came forth preaching to massive crowds, bringing thousands to the free gift of salvation. Then during the Third Great Awakening, the Lord added something new… something wonderful that had never been seen before. And to introduce this new element, the Lord brought it forth through an unexpected vessel! Keep reading if you want to learn more.
THE THIRD GREAT AWAKENING
Fourth in a Four-Part Series
By Karen Thompson
“Grandmother of the Pentecostal Movement”
Out of the Third Great Awakening came forth many anointed evangelists. Two worth mentioning are Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899) and Billy Sunday(1862–1935). But the person I want to focus on is, in my opinion, the most extraordinary evangelist during this time, Marie Woodworth-Etter (1844–1924). A word that describes her ministry is “unprecedented”—unprecedented for a number of reasons. The Lord used Maria (pronounced as if it was spelled Mariah) to bring forth a whole new wave of evangelism… the likes of which had never been seen before.
At age 13, Maria became a Christian and soon after heard the Lord’s call to ministry: “Go to the highways and hedges and gather the lost sheep.” Sadly, she resisted the call of God on her life for many years. She had her reasons for resisting. For one, she was a sickly person. For another, she had a strong dose of social fear. But the most important reason—she was a woman. She simply didn’t know how it would be possible for a woman to be in the ministry. At that time, society held a certain view of women. Her church (like most churches) didn’t believe women had any “right” to work for Jesus. Had she told the people in her church of the Lord’s calling upon her life, they would have made light of her. She believed if she were to preach, it would only bring ridicule and contempt on her and all those who were associated with her.
Her reasoning was understandable. Society had very distinct roles for men and women in the 17th and 18th century America. You’ve heard the saying, “The woman’s place is in the home.” Back then, it wasn’t just a saying. It really was their only acceptable place. The men functioned in all things public, but societal standards dictated that women did not participate in the public sphere. It was improper for them to speak in mixed company. They were to be silent. This idea came from an erroneous interpretation of scripture that says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1st Cor. 14:34–35).
It’s this same attitude about women being silent that got Evangelist Charles G. Finney in trouble. In his meetings, women stood up and gave their testimonies, and even worse, they prayed… when men were present! It was such a societal violation that the Presbyterian Church wanted to strip Finney of his ordination papers.
This attitude severely restricted women’s contribution to society. I’ll give you an example. During the time of abolition, many women were active in protesting slavery. For instance, Lucretia Mott started the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. In 1840, she led a delegation of women to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. When they arrived, they were turned away. The reason? No women allowed. Though they were on the frontlines of this important cause, the men refused to let the women participate in the convention, saying “It would lower the dignity of the Convention and bring ridicule on the whole thing if ladies were admitted.”The first two days of the convention were focused not on slavery but on whether they should allow women to attend the convention. It was finally decided the women would be allowed to attend, but they had to sit in the balcony and could not speak. After the convention, Lucretia Mott and friends started a movement for women’s rights.
This was the attitude toward women at the time. It’s no wonder Maria didn’t think it was possible for her to be in ministry. But as Maria studied the Bible, she began to see the Lord used many women to do His work. She saw throughout the Bible that in all ages and generations, God used women. He even used children.
Maria Stepped Out in Obedience
Throughout the time Maria was resisting the call of God, it was always before her. Day and night, she carried within her an urgency to preach the Gospel of salvation to sinners. In fact, she continually saw within herself a vision of her standing before large congregations presenting the Gospel of salvation to them. It never left her.
Finally, Maria stepped out in obedience and great fear. An opportunity opened up for her to speak at a friend’s meeting. She was terrified, but when she stood up to preach, all the fear left her. The anointing of God came upon her and she gave her message. At the end, she gave a call for salvation and 20 people were converted. Every time she preached, people were converted.
Throughout Maria’s ministry, she never prepared sermons beforehand, not even an outline. The Lord would give her a text upon which to preach and she would speak extemporaneously. In every meeting, Mariah did all the talking, all the singing, all the preaching, and all the praying.
The Lord Confirmed His Word With Signs Following
When Maria Woodworth-Etter stepped out in faith and obeyed the Lord’s calling on her life, it was a big deal. Society didn’t accept women in that role, but the Lord confirmed His call upon Maria’s life “with signs following” (Mark 16:20). Whenever she preached, the power of God would fall. Not only were many people converted, but her preaching was accompanied with signs and wonders.
Early on in her ministry, the power of God was manifested in a unique way. In one meeting, the power of God was present; so much so that when she gave the altar call, 15 people “came to the altar screaming for mercy.” But then, all of a sudden, people began to fall down. When they fell, they laid on the floor as if dead. The only indication they were still alive was that they had a pulse. Other than that, they were motionless.
The very sight frightened Maria. She had never witnessed anything like it before and didn’t know what to do. In her heart, she knew it was the Lord’s work, but she feared what the people would think or what they would do to her. In that moment of fear, the Lord quickly reassured her as to what was taking place. He brought back to her remembrance a vision she had before she began her ministry. While praying, she saw sheaves in a wheat field, and all of a sudden the sheaves fell to the ground. The Lord revealed to Maria that the wheat field symbolized the multitudes of people she would preach to and the sheaves falling is “what you see here tonight, the slaying power of God.”
The Lord explained to her that this was His working—a display of power needed to bring sinners to repentance. All fear left her. After two hours, the people who fell to the floor began to come around. One by one, they got up and with shining faces began to shout praises to God. Each of them had a testimony of remarkable transformation.
The phenomenon of people falling out under the power of God and laying still like dead people happened frequently at her meetings. The word they used to describe this experience was “trance.” While preaching to thousands, she would witness the power of God move upon the crowd in waves; the multitude would sway back and forth like trees in the forest being blown by the wind. As the waves of His presence moved over the people, many would fall out under the power. People responded one of two ways: with weeping or with shouts of joy. These outpourings of the Holy Spirit always resulted in hundreds of sinners coming to Christ.
Another extraordinary occurrence happened when Maria was preaching at a church that had gone cold. The members were nearly all backslidden. While Maria was preaching, an older woman fell prostrate on the floor. She looked dead. She actually became cold and rigid. The only sign of life was a pulse beat. Everyone became frightened. They placed her on a couch and she laid there all day. In the evening meeting, two other women also fell to the floor and became as the other woman. It caused a curious stir among the congregation. Maria told them that if they were quiet, they could pass by the women and observe them. Many of the congregants stayed with the women, singing and praying all night long. The next day, six other people fell out as the others. One woman was overpowered while standing up, eyes wide open with a smile on her face. She stood frozen like a statue for two hours. Eventually, all the people were aroused and had glorious testimonies of visions and the like. As a result of this display of the power of God, the church became alive and their faith in God was revitalized.
In 1885 in Hartford City, Maria held meetings at another church that had gone cold. As usual, the power of God fell upon the meetings. But these meetings were different in that the power of God wasn’t confined to just the church, but it went out over the entire city. The first meeting began with a most unusual manifestation. A little boy fell under the power of God. When he arose, he was transformed. He stepped onto the pulpit and began to implore people to come to the Lord. He didn’t speak as a little boy, but as a mature evangelist!
As the meetings went on, the power of God increased and began to move over the entire city like a wind. Men, women, and even children were struck down by the power of God while in their places of work and in their homes. One instance took place 17 miles outside the city. When they came out of their trances, they testified about experiencing wonderful visions of God. They were all converted, shouting thanks to God. The city changed dramatically—a spirit of love was everywhere.
In another meeting, the church was filled with the glory of God which manifested like a mist. People fell out of their seats all over the congregation. The unsaved cried out to God for mercy.
Maria accepted the invitation of an unsaved lawyer to come to his home. While she talked with him about salvation, the glory of God manifested as brilliant light. Maria said she became “almost blind with the glory of God.” She said her hands looked transparent! Needless to say, the unsaved lawyer gave his life to God.
These are just a sampling of the supernatural signs and wonders for which Maria’s ministry became known.
Healing the Sick
If you remember, I told you that during the Third Great Awakening, the Lord added something new to evangelism, something that hadn’t been experienced before. I wasn’t talking about the “trances,” as that really wasn’t something new. Even though Maria hadn’t seen this phenomenon before, it actually happened both in the First and Second Great Awakenings. The something new the Lord added to Maria’s ministry was… healing.
In all the articles I read about the First Great Awakening, there was not one instance of healing. The same with the Second Great Awakening. During the Prayer Revival, there was no mention of anyone getting healed. During the Soldiers’ Revival, there was no mention of anyone getting healed. In all these revivals, the emphasis was on the free gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ. None of the other evangelists during the Third Great Awakening like Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, and Billy Sunday ever prayed for people to be healed during their meetings.
Praying for the sick began with Maria Woodworth-Etter, and that is why she is called the “Grandmother of the Pentecostal Movement.”
In March 1885, the Lord began to speak to Maria about praying for the sick. But Maria was consumed with the task of soul winning, so she resisted the Lord. She reasoned with Him saying that if she prayed for the sick, it would distract from soul winning resulting in less people being converted. But the Lord told her the opposite would happen. Praying for the sick would draw more people to the meetings. He explained that thousands would be brought to Christ by seeing the sick being supernaturally healed. Of course, the Lord was right. When people began getting healed in Maria’s meetings, the crowds became greater and even more people were converted.
God healed all manner of sicknesses in Maria’s meetings. There was even a young woman who was raised from her death bed. Many unsaved sick people came to Maria’s meetings seeking healing. They not only got healed but they gave their lives to the Lord, too. When someone got healed and saved at the same time, they called that the “double cure.”
Well, you can imagine the reaction when word got out that Maria was praying for people to be healed. A lot of people didn’t believe it. Convinced Maria was a fraud, a group of ministers in Springfield, Illinois got together to come up with a plan that would bring an end to her ministry. There was a doctor in their group, so they chose him to challenge Maria at a certain meeting. This doctor was determined to crush her and expose her for being a fraud. Maria didn’t run away from his challenge but, instead, came to the meeting to hear him out. She said it was “an undertaking” to meet with him. She answered every one of his criticisms with the Word of God. Sadly, not one minister came to her defense. They were all united in opposition against her. In the end, this challenge didn’t expose Maria for being a fraud. God was with her and no harm came to her or her ministry. In fact, the controversy created more interest in her ministry.
That wasn’t the only resistance she experienced. It actually got worse. Not only did Christian ministers come against her, so did the secular community. When she ministered in Framingham, Massachusetts, she was arrested for claiming to heal people. Arrested! But when people came forward with their testimonies of being healed in her meetings, she was released. Not only that, psychiatrists in St. Louis, Missouri, filed charges of insanity against her for claiming she saw visions of God. Oh dear! By the grace of God, she got through it all.
Unique Conversion Statistics
There is one last detail about Maria’s ministry I wanted to share: her revival statistics. In the First Great Awakening, it was almost entirely all young people that were converted—equal numbers of both men and women. In the Second Great Awakening, the converts were overwhelmingly female. In the Prayer Revival, the statistics are not known because no one kept record of the converts. During the Soldier’s Revival, the converts were predominately men.
What was unique about Maria’s meetings is that a great number of elderly people were converted. Revivals typically have a low number of older people conversions. It was the opposite for Maria. In one meeting, nearly half the converts were over forty years old. On a regular basis, people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and upward came forward for salvation. The oldest person Maria ministered to was a 103 year-old woman who was healed instantly.
Maria’s ministry was truly unprecedented on multiple levels. She was the harbinger for women in the ministry; following her were Lilian B. Yeomans, Aimee Semple McPherson, Kathryn Kuhlman, and so many more. She was also the harbinger for ministers praying for the sick. Following on her heels were John G. Lake, Cyrus B. Fockler, Charles Parham, F.F. Bosworth, Raymond T. Riches, John Alexander Dowie, and many others. Signs and wonders, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before, were manifested. Maria was a pioneer in ministry. People who are pioneers, paving the way for others to follow, usually take a lot of hits for being the first to do something. And that certainly was true with Maria. She plowed the road for others to follow. And, thank God, others did follow!
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