The Holy Spirit, the Sacraments & Revival
by William L. De Arteaga
On a fall Sunday in the mid-1980s, the rector of a suburban church gave one of his usual renowned sermons. The church had a reputation not only for superb preaching, but also for being the most charismatic Episcopal church in the Atlanta area. The Sunday services blended traditional liturgy, lively contemporary worship music with occasional “word gifts” breaking out among the congregation. The assistant rector, an internationally respected composer of Christian music, led the music.
The rector’s sermon was on loving one another. In a moment of inspiration, the assistant rector suggested in response to the sermon that the congregation take time to visit, pray with, love and affirm one another.1 The rector suggested a modification: during communion, members should follow the Spirit’s lead and do those things at the communion rail.
So at communion people hugged, loved, prayed, laid hands for healing, and reconciled, in a way that was both spontaneous and awe-inspiring. Words of wisdom, encouragement and prophecy flowed. The same format was followed the next Sunday.
Complaints filtered in, however. Mistakes had been made: someone laid hands on someone “imprudently.” Someone else prayed too loudly. Several in the congregation missed their periods of “recollection” with the Eucharist. To correct these “errors” the altar prayers were restricted to the trained intercessors of the church’s healing teams. A few months later one of the intercessors hovered over a young woman at the altar who had been molested by her father and recently raped. She was in terror of any touch, and became unhinged by the intercessor. So the intercessors were moved to the front side of the church where the communicants would go for prayer—a practice now quite common in renewed churches. Everything was in proper order again.
Theories of Revival
Only God can count how often this type of grace breakthrough (and retreat) has occurred among the liturgical churches in America. Research on the great Scotch Presbyterian revivals of the eighteenth century and other revivals in the past has shown similar intensely graced Communion services.
Although many liturgical Christians have understood the charismatic renewal as an opportunity to regain an appreciation of liturgy and the sacraments, there is little understanding of the role of sacraments in either initiating revival or having a central place in revival. This is largely due to the current understanding of revivals derived from two principal sources that little noted the sacraments.
The first is the revival theology of Charles Finney in the nineteenth century that especially influenced Pentecostal theology. Finney’s Revivals of Religion forcefully presented the case that God moves among his people as a result of the intercessory prayers of a remnant of faithful Christians. Thus it is the revivalist’s responsibility to organize prayer intercessors so that evangelistic preaching bears fruit in a true revival (i.e., the conviction and conversion of unbelievers).
The second is an earlier theory of revival, suggested by Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth century. America’s most famous revival theologian, Edwards believed the onset of revival was largely a matter of God’s sovereign will and mercy, and that it comes during periods of decline and formalism in church life. Significantly, his first work on revival was entitled A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God at Northampton. In Edwards’s view the minister must preach the gospel of sin, repentance and grace, as a setting for the possibility of revival, but the initiation of true revival is beyond man’s domain.
To these theologies of revival (intercession versus God’s sovereignty) has been added a third and more recent understanding that some individuals are particularly graced or “anointed” to preach the gospel (e.g., Billy Graham or Howard Rodney-Brown). All of this can be substantiated, if not ultimately proven, from the historical records of revivals. The God-sovereignty or intercessory prayer debate seems to be a subcategory of the predestination versus free-will paradox (complimentarity) that may never be fully resolved by human understanding.
In any case, for both Finney and Edwards, baptism and the Lord’s Supper were ministered in the normal course of local church life, including revival periods, but had no special role in initiating revival. From the mid-nineteenth century to the present the sacraments have played an ever-diminishing role in revivals. The triumph of the Zwinglian understanding of the sacraments as “ordinances” that has dominated evangelical theology, especially fundamentalism, has reduced sacramental worship to an act of obedience.2 Zwinglian theology views sacraments as nothing more than memorials, and ultimately marginal in church life.
This theology’s impact on revival practice is exemplified in the current “laughing revival” which has largely spread from Vineyard churches led by John Wimber or through the itinerant ministry of South African evangelist Howard Rodney-Brown. Wimber led the Vineyard denomination to an especially effective ministry to the youth and the unchurched. Wimber was discipled in a house church with no sacramental worship, and came from a family that for four generations had been unbelievers.
There is minimal attention to sacramental worship in the Vineyard churches even in normal times, and certainly no hint that there can be a relationship between sacraments and revival. In one new Vineyard church where I gave a teaching series, the church had not celebrated the Lord’s Supper in their two-year existence.3
Revival at the Vineyard churches mostly comes about through the controversial means of “anointed” evangelists who travel from church to church spreading the revival by preaching and invoking the Holy Spirit. This is in conjunction with preparatory intercessory prayer and great expectancy on the part of the host congregation—the Finney pattern.
A similar pattern is found in the revivals initiated by Howard Rodney-Brown. He often says in his sermons that the “problem with the Church today is religion!”, meaning that too many Christians center their life on dogma, liturgy and tradition, but have no dynamic life in the Spirit. That charge may be true, but it can unfortunately reinforce the Zwinglian-evangelical suspicion that the sacraments are of little use in the Spirit-led life.
Wesley’s Sacramental Accent
Few Christians understand that previous to the nineteenth century, revivals took place in the context of, and were initiated by, devout sacramental worship. This is true not only of revivals that occurred within the Roman Catholic Church but in Protestant revival movements also.4 For example, the great Methodist Revival in England led by the Wesley brothers (1740s to 1790s) had a major sacramental component. John Wesley was an Anglican to the day he died and held a “high church” theology of the sacraments. He insisted that frequent Communion be a part of the Methodist way of life.
Besides the accent on the Eucharist, he introduced into Methodist practice a “love feast” rite, a witness and encouragement service taken from Moravian usage, as well as a rite of covenant recommitment modeled after earlier Puritan rituals.5 Though these were not considered major sacraments, they were certainly rites with sacramental understanding. That is, they were “means of grace” whereby the disciple appropriated covenant graces to grow into Christian maturity.6 Significantly, the Weslyan revival was one of the most long-lived, socially and spiritually transforming, and influential of modern revivals. It is a lesson for our age, where many critics have noted that the charismatic renewal has failed to encourage deep holiness or sacrificial spirituality.
The Presbyterian Sacrament
Historically, and as an ironic reversal of the present situation, the greatest example of revivals with integrated sacramental worship came not through the Roman Catholic Church, but from the great Presbyterian Scotch and Scotch-Irish revivals of the eighteenth century.7 These revivals, which flourished from the 1630s through the 1850s, became the evangelical and revival focus of that denomination.
John Knox and Scottish Reformers followed closely the sacramental theology of John Calvin who affirmed the real “spiritual” presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. This was in the face of the Reformers’ aversion to the Roman Catholic Mass and the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Knox wanted to reconstruct the “Lord’s Supper” as instituted in the New Testament and developed a liturgy to that end. The elements were served on tables to a seated congregation, and communicants were given both wine and bread in sufficient quantities to simulate a small meal. The minister said the words of consecration, and the elements were in turn distributed by the elders to the congregation. All of which was to get as far away as possible from the priest-focused Mass and to recreate the atmosphere of a New Testament community meal.
Knox wished for frequent Communion for congregations, as against the Roman Catholic practice of the time, which was yearly Communion with bread only, with a weekly “viewing” of the elevated Host at mass. Ironically, practicality intervened. The first generation of Scottish Reformers could not recruit enough clergy to minister frequent Communions, and they drifted into a pattern of Communion once or twice a year per congregation. Even so, the infrequency of “the Sacrament,” as the Communion service was called, ultimately added to its solemnity and impact.
The Four-Day Communion
By the 1650s a pattern had developed that served as the perfect vehicle for recurring revivals. The Sacrament developed into a three-day or four-day cycle. Thursday was declared a preparatory fast day. On Fridays and Saturdays the pastor preached repentance and gave opportunity for public confession. Also on Saturdays small metallic tokens (similar to our modern poker chips) were given to those in the congregation deemed qualified for Communion—those in good standing in the church. Sunday was the day for the Lord’s Supper.
The service was usually held outdoors under tents, with rows of tables set with immaculate linen, and often took all morning.8 The tokens were deposited with the elders as a solemn recommitment to lead a Christian life in the coming year. Psalms were sung as wave after wave of communicants received the elements. Monday was a day of thanksgiving and celebration, and often included baptisms and weddings.
Each congregation could celebrate the sacrament only once yearly, usually in late summer or fall, but it was free to invite neighboring congregations and ministers. This was reciprocated so that the devout Presbyterian Scot would attend four or five such services in the course of the “sacramental season” by traveling less than fifty miles.
The Sacraments became religious and social occasions in which people not only heard evangelical preaching, but also offered and received hospitality as villages of a few hundred suddenly swelled to two thousand or more. Courtships were initiated, and friendships formed or reestablished.
Like the famous Irish wake, these Sacraments were both solemn and festive. Solemnity reigned during the preaching and at the Communion table, but there was much festivity in the social interactions and at the Monday thanksgiving service. Significantly, non-believers who came for the social aspects were often convicted of sin and converted during these sacramental cycles.9
Revival Breaks Out
By the first decades of the eighteenth century the Scotch and Scotch-Irish Sacraments were growing to a point where attendance by 5,000 persons, with perhaps one third as communicants, was not uncommon.
As early as 1625, a revival broke out among Northern Ireland’s Presbyterian churches that manifested some of the phenomenon that were to become common (and controversial) among later revivals. The Presbyterian pastors, educated in the cessationism of orthodox Calvinism, which banished ecstatic spiritual experiences to biblical times only,10 were somewhat taken aback by the “ecstasies and enthusiasms” of the crowds. They could report what happened, but not explain it: “I have seen them myself stricken, and swoon with the word—yea, a dozen in one day carried out of doors as dead.”11 These were the first references to the “fallings” that would be common to many forthcoming revivals. Two centuries later Pentecostals called it “falling under the power.” It recently has been given the more dignified name by Francis MacNutt: “resting in the Spirit.”12
The Anglican Dean of Down observed the 1625 outpourings and wrote to his skeptical fellow priests:
The people in that place are grown in such frenzies that the like is not to be found among the Anabaptist, for there is set abroad a new piece of divinity that no man can be counted as converted unless he feel the pains of the new birth such as St. Paul felt. So that every sermon, 40 or so people, for the most part women, fall down in the church in a trance, and are (as it is supposed) senseless, but in their fits they are grievously afflicted with convulsions, tremblings, unnatural motions. After they awake they confess that they have seen devils (as who may not see a factious and a cheating devil among them)… .13
A century later Jonathan Edwards named the physical manifestations of the fallings, groanings, tremblings, and so forth, the “exercises,” and understood them as an ambiguous part of revivals. That is, in themselves the exercises could not prove the presence of God as they were easily counterfeited by soulish or demonic forces, but they were not forbidden by Scripture and could be from God.14 At the time of the first revival in Northern Ireland the exercises were seen as hysteria and “enthusiasm” by orthodox churchman. In fact the revival was suppressed the following season by the Anglican hierarchy.
The suppression was only temporary. In the next hundred years similar sacramental revivals occurred all over Scotland, and new outbreaks took place in Northern Ireland. The outdoor sacramental cycle became normative for the Presbyterian church.
The Revival at Cambuslang
The largest and most famous of the Sacraments was the one held at the village of Cambuslang (five miles from Glasgow) in 1742.15 For several years previous the village had experienced steady revival under the evangelical preaching of its minister, William McCulloch. He had mobilized faithful intercessors within the parish’s “societies of prayer” to intercede for revival.
These societies were common in Great Britain at the time. They were similar to modern house fellowships, but more formal in organization and worship than today’s groups. In addition, McCulloch had raised the expectancy of his parishioners by reading Jonathan Edwards’s account of the revival at Northampton ( Faithful Narrative) from the pulpit. By 1741 all of Scotland was aware that Cambuslang was experiencing revival, and so many seekers were coming to the town that McCulloch organized nightly sermons to serve the visitors. Preachers from nearby churches also came both to observe and to lend a hand at the blossoming revival.
The famous Anglican revivalist George Whitefield also preached in Scotland in 1741 with an especially effective ministry in Glasgow. McCulloch corresponded with him and when Whitefield again came to Scotland in June of the next year he agreed to come to Cambuslang for its summer Sacrament. About 30,000 people descended into the small town from all of Scotland and England. Whitefield preached to vast crowds on the hillside near McCulloch’s church. Whitefield reported:
It far out-did all that I ever saw in America… Mr. M[cCulloch] preached after I had ended, till one past in the morning, and then could scarce persuade them to depart. All night in the fields, might be heard the voice of prayer and praise.16
A dozen other ministers helped distribute the elements to over 1,700 communicants. Then McCulloch asked Whitefield to preach the thanksgiving sermon on Monday. He preached to another huge crowd:
. . . such a universal stir I never saw before. The motion [of the Spirit] fled as swift as lightening from one end of the auditory to another. You might have seen thousands bathed in tears. Some at the same time wringing their hands, others almost swooning and others crying out.17
Many participants experienced visions and locutions from the Lord. One devout young woman described her Communion experience:
I cannot express the joy with which I was filled, in the time the Tables were serving, and I could not endure to look down to the Earth, but look’d up—mostly to heaven . . . I heard Christ speaking to me from thence and saying, Arise my Love, my fair one, and come away; and saw him, as it were, reaching down his hand, & drawing me up to himself. . . .18
Scandal, Caricature & Demise
Many of the visiting clergy and theology professors from Edinburgh were scandalized by the “exercises” and labeled the revival as unbridled “enthusiasm.” They were also offended by the emotions of joy and the socializing that occurred in what they anticipated would be a wholly and grandly solemn occasion. A pamphlet and sermon war was begun by the anti-revival clergy against the Cambuslang Revival in particular and the “sacramental seasons” that so frequently spawned such revivals.19
The Scottish revival spread the following year to other towns, and another notable sacramental service occurred in Kilsyth, but clergy opposition and the pamphlet war began to take their toll on the expectations and self-confidence of the population. Several decades later the most famous and loved of Scottish poets, Robert Burns, wrote a now-famous scathing satire of the Sacraments, “The Holy Faire.” For Burns, and for many other Deists of the era, the sacramental revivals were nothing but licentious festivals where pious and ignorant crowds were whipped into frenzy by equally ignorant and misguided clergy. This interpretation molded the consensus view of most Christian historians, who until current decades had little understanding of revival phenomenon as being a possible genuine manifestation of God’s special presence.20
The great sacramental revival of 1742 at Cambuslang turned out to be the high-water mark of sacramental revivals in Scotland. The outdoor Sacraments continued to occur, but on a decreasing scale in rural parishes in Scotland until the 1850s when the “reformed” faction of the Presbyterian Church totally triumphed.
Instead of yearly sacraments with cross-village visiting, each church had quarterly Communion services inside the church building, and the Elements were received in the pews. The Communion wine (later, grape juice) began to be distributed in the tiny individual glasses introduced to meet Victorian standards of sanitation. Everything was in good order, but revival never returned to these “reformed” Presbyterian churches.
Into the New World
In the century that it took to finally quench the last sacramental revivals in Scotland, many of the pro-revival clergy continued to pray for revival to return, “as at Cambuslang.” Their prayers were answered, but not in Scotland.
All through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was a continuous immigration from Scotland and Northern Ireland to the American colonies. In some counties of the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontier Scotch and Scotch-Irish immigrants made up a majority of the population. Scotch Presbyterian communities and churches were established in practically every American colony. Most came for the same reason immigrants flock to this country today—economic opportunity. There were enough sincere Christians to make the sacrifices necessary to found non-established congregations. In Virginia, for instance, where the Anglican churches were Established, the Presbyterians were constantly harassed as they founded their congregations.21
These Presbyterian congregations continued the traditional open-air Sacraments of the “old country.” Criticism of these Sacraments was much less influential in the American colonies than in Scotland. Minor revivals broke out at several of these Sacraments in eighteenth-century America. For example, a well-documented local revival took place in the Scotch Presbyterian congregation of Booth Bay, Maine, from 1778 to 1779. Maine was sparsely populated, and although the revival influenced nearby churches, it never spread beyond the immediate area.22
The most dramatic and influential of the Scotch Presbyterian Sacraments in America took place on the Kentucky frontier at the turn of the century and ushered in the Second Great Awakening. The Scotch Presbyterian ministers were a major element of colonial Presbyterian clergy during the First Great Awakening (1737–1743), although divided in a bitter dispute over the Great Awakening. Those who favored the revival and accepted its “exercises” as a part of revival were called the “New Side,” while those who deemed the revival as mysticism and “enthusiasm” were called the “Old Side.”
The First Great Awakening had sprouted “log colleges” on the frontier where a new breed of pro-revival, “New Side” ministers had been educated and sent out to minister to the frontier congregations. Though their facilities were crude in comparison to Yale and Harvard, they produced surprisingly well-educated clergy who revered the memory of Cambuslang, and practiced “the Sacrament.” The Tennant family, which produced several of the leading evangelists of the Great Awakening, was part of this log-college clergy.
In 1793 James McGready, another Presbyterian log-college graduate, accepted the charge of three small churches in the Cumberland Gap area of Kentucky: the Red River, Muddy River and Gasper River congregations.23 He shared his ministry time among them, and set the church faithful on a course of prayer intercession for revival. Revival was desperately needed at the time, as the newly independent nation was fast accepting deism as the religion of the majority. Alcoholism was rampant, and pious, evangelical believers were but a remnant of the population.
In the summer of 1798 revival broke out at all three of McGready’s sacramental services. The congregations were greatly excited and blessed. However, a visiting “Old Side” preacher warned the people that they were in danger of “enthusiasm” and his sermons quenched the expectations of the communities. McGready again set his intercessors to prayer for revival and against that preacher’s criticisms. In 1800 revival again broke out at his fall sacramental services.
The Gasper River sacramental service was especially significant. Other congregations, including Methodists and Baptists, had been invited to the Sacrament. Their ministers did not want to overtax the hospitality of the tiny Gapser River congregation and instead brought wagons, tents and food with which to camp out. Thus was born the first “Camp Meeting” in modern history. The tiny village swelled to about 5,000. Revival phenomenon included not only the usual fallings and outcries, but also prophetic exhortations by young children, and bodily movements called the “jerks.” Peter Cartwright, the famous frontier Methodist evangelist, recalled this exercise years later:
No matter whether they were saints or sinners, they would be taken under a warm song or sermon, and seized with a convulsive jerking all over, which they could not by any possibility avoid. . . . I have seen more than five hundred persons jerking at one time. . . . To see those proud young gentlemen and young ladies, dressed in their silks, jewelry, and prunella, from top to toe, take to the jerks, would often excite my risibilities. The first jerk or so, you would see their fine bonnets, caps and combs fly. . . .24
The frontier was electrified by news of the events. McGready’s revival sacraments inspired the Reverend Barton Stone, the “New Side” minister of a small Presbyterian congregation in northern Kentucky, to announce a public Sacrament for August of the next year at his congregation at Cane Ridge.
Cane Ridge & Deism
The Sacrament at Cane Ridge in 1801 was America’s Cambuslang. As many as 30,000 came and set up camp. All social classes attended, from the governor of the new state to plantation slaves. Dozens of preachers exhorted and preached simultaneously from several pulpit stands. The “exercises” were in full bloom, the weeping and groaning by sinners, the visions, the child prophecies, and holy laughter in the saints. The fallings especially took a heavy toll. The curious, the cynics and unbelievers and the deists fell to the ground in droves.
The Reverend John Lyle, a minister at the Cane Ridge sacrament wrote in his diary:
. . . we began to talk and pray for those that were fallen down and . . . a deist fell, son to widow. . . . He had said just before he would not fall so for a thousand dollars and that he did not believe in heaven, hell or the devil. Shortly after two of his cousins fell. He lay speechless for an hour or two then spoke and said he had been ridiculing the work before he fell and said he wanted to seek Christ.25
Deism was given a mortal blow as the personal experience of the Holy Spirit drove out agnosticism and skepticism.
Both the Methodists and the Baptists picked up the institution of the camp meeting and the following summers held their own denominational camps. From one corner of America to the other, but especially in the South, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians held revival camp meetings. They often attracted over 5,000 participants. The temperance movement grew. A new reverence and love of the Word spread all over the nation. Evangelicalism quickly became the predominant expression of American Protestantism.26
The Final Demise
Cane Ridge also was the “autumn” of America’s sacramental revivals. After 1805 many Presbyterian ministers, including many “New Siders,” became wary of the sacramental revivals. Some revival leaders had drifted into unorthodoxy (a perennial temptation of revival movements, as the “Oneness” Pentecostal movement demonstrated in our own century.) A few had drifted into Shakerism, which promised “exercises” without end, and the Reverend Stone and others founded a new denomination that rejected all creeds and set doctrines, an obvious recipe for disaster.
The Methodist camp meetings continued as revival centers for several decades. But Methodist preachers had little education and little of the sacramental theology that the Wesley brothers imbibed from Anglican theology. Methodist camp meetings combined revival preaching, denominational business and the rite of the “love feast.” With all of this going on, the focus on the Lord’s Table quickly dissipated.27
Similarly, Baptist camp meetings were lively and filled with many “exercises,” though by mid-century they became considerably more subdued. Baptist camps instituted foot-washing, and some ministers practiced immediate baptism of converts as exemplified in Acts 2. The Baptist’s attention to the sacrament of baptism, however, never carried over to the Lord’s Table, and the Communion service was not a central part of their camp meetings.
By the time Charles Finney began his itinerant revival ministry in the 1830s, the model of preaching alongside of the Sacrament as a vehicle for revival was only a memory. More importantly, it did not form part of his revival program. With the revival ministry of Dwight Moody, Finney’s innovation of revivals without the traditional sacraments was solidified as the normative evangelical pattern.
The Biblical Pattern of Revival
Was the separation of sacramental activity, especially the Lord’s Table, from the evangelical revival pattern a God-inspired development or a retrogression? Certainly the era since the 1830s has been the most revival-rich in Church history. The non-sacramental revivals of the current age include the Welsh Revival, the Azuza Street Revival and the Pentecostal movement, and the current wave of revival, none of which have been sacramental. Contemporary charismatic evangelists, such as Rinehardt Bonkhe, have in sheer numbers of conversions outpaced all of the sacramental revivals of history. It is hard to see how a Bonkhe revival with its 100,000 people attending and its altar calls of thousands at a time could accommodate any sort of Communion service.
Yet it seems that the Scottish Presbyterian Sacraments presented the Church not just with a charming chapter of Church history, but a high point of revival that slipped by and could be effective today. We can assert that these revivals in fact recreated with deeper fidelity than modern revivals the biblical pattern for renewing the people of God.
An examination of the two principal recorded revivals in the Bible (Acts 2 and Nehemiah 8) will demonstrate the point. The revival sequence of Acts 2 can be described easily in revival vocabulary. The disciples were waiting and praying (“tarrying” in Pentecostal terms) for the reception of the Holy Spirit in response to Jesus’ command. The Holy Spirit descended in dramatic form and the gift of tongues was universally manifest. With the anointing of the Spirit, Peter preached a mighty sermon, calling for repentance and proclaiming the lordship of Jesus. The crowd was “exercised” (“pierced to the heart,” v. 37) and asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter responded by commanding them to repent and be baptized. Three thousand were immediately baptized and continued to be discipled in the Christian community by attending to the Apostles’ teaching, prayer and breaking of bread (Lord’s Table, v. 42). The sacramental dimension of this original Christian revival is obvious.
The Sacred Assembly
Not so clear to the modern Christian is the great Old Testament revival described in Nehemiah 8. The walls of Jerusalem had just been rebuilt under Nehemiah’s leadership, and he calls a convocation of the returned exiles. Ezra the priest begins the convocation with praise and worship, and proceeds to read the Mosaic Law. He reads from morning to night, and priests assist him in explaining the Law to the people.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (v. 9)
The crowd had been “exercised” by a spirit of conviction that surprised the leadership:
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (vv. 10–12)
They returned to the leadership the next day with a request to observe the Feast of Tabernacles, as they had heard read to them from the Law. The leadership agrees:
The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. (v. 17)
The modern Christian may well ask, where is the sacrament in all this? The simple answer is in the observance of the feast of Booths. This is very plain from a reading of Leviticus 23:33–41:
The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the LORD’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. . . . Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. (Emphasis mine.)
The problem is the prejudice of certain patristic writers, especially St. Augustine, who imbibed the anti-Semitism of the early Church. Augustine did not credit the Old Testament “ordinances” as effective, grace-giving sacraments. Rather, these festivals, along with the temple rituals were merely “types” and precursors to Christian sacraments. This debasement of the Old Testament sacramental structure was hotly disputed by prominent theologians in the Middle Ages.28 For example, St. Bonaventure totally disagreed and saw Old Testament sacraments as valid and grace giving. St. Thomas, who developed what became the official Roman Catholic theology of sacraments, sided with Augustine. Sacraments were restricted to those found in the New Testament and to those that could be linked to Jesus.
An impartial reading of Luke 7:28–30 indicates that St. Bonaventure was correct and St. Augustine was wrong.
“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
These verses show two things: Jesus locates John the Baptist as an Old Covenant prophet, and yet his baptism contained the effective grace of opening the hearts of its participants to the gospel of Jesus, and perhaps other graces as well.
Grace upon Grace
Retrospectively, we might safely conclude that what happened in the Scottish Presbyterian revivals, including Cane Ridge, was in some sense a rebirth of the Sacrament of the Feast of Booths. The essential elements were there: a dramatic decrease in social separations by removing the individual from home (a major emblem of social standing), the joy of food sharing and fellowship, preaching the word, repentance and rededication. None of this was understood by the contemporary ministers because of the anti-Semitic heritage of orthodox theology. Certainly the principal graces came from preaching the Cross, and the celebration of the Lord’s Table, but as in many things spiritual, grace upon grace was added as the Spirit shaped the Presbyterian Sacraments to reflect God’s best pattern, from Old and New Testament.
It also is significant that the revivals that broke out in Scotch Presbyterian Sacraments were not limited to special or recognizable seasons of revival. The Booth Bay revival demonstrates this point. This indicates that the Lord’s Table is, when properly administered and received in a faithful congregation, a sufficient “means of grace” to trigger revival. The graces of the Sacrament are based on God’s covenant promises and are not dependent on specific times or persons to be activated.
The foundational element of any revival remains the preaching of the gospel of repentance, and of sinful man in need of a sinless Savior. The Presbyterian sacramental cycle provides us with a perfect example of this. Sacramental worship will add depth and a discipling dimension to revival. However, those from liturgical traditions must not delude themselves with the expectancy that revival will likely break out in a “dry” congregation, where nominal Christianity is normative.
A pastor and his faithful prayer intercessors dedicated to having a visitation of the Holy Spirit in their midst could do no better that to pray the old Scottish prayer: “Come again as at Cambuslang!”
1. This type of activity is unknown in Episcopal churches, but in some non-liturgical churches such a lay activity is done regularly, as in Jack Hayford’s The Church on the Way in California.
2. For a good summary of this view, now a majority opinion among American evangelicals, see: Hank Hanegraaff, “Bringing Baptism into Biblical Balance,” Christian Research Journal (Summer 1996), 53–55.
3. The church was wonderful in spite of its sacramental failings, filled with young couples and hordes of lovely children. Shortly after I finished my revival lectures and demonstrated a “Holy Ghost” communion service, they initiated regular communion services.
4. For a survey of pre-modern revivals, the best source remains R. A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950).
5. Bowmer, John C., The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in Early Methodism, (London: Dacre Press, 1951), Richard O. Johnson, “The Development of the Love Feast in Early American Methodism,” Methodist History 19 (January 1981), 67–83, and David Tripp, The Renewal of the Covenant in the Methodist Tradition, (London: Epworth Press, 1969).
6. Ole E. Borgen, “No End Without Means: John Wesley and the Sacraments,” The Asbury Theological Journal 46 (Spring 1991), 63–86, and especially Henry H. Knight’s excellent study: The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace, (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1992).
7. The best single source on the Scottish Presbyterian sacramental revivals is Leigh Eric Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Also greatly informative, especially for the American aspects, is Paul K. Conkin’s work: Cane Ridge: America’s Pentecost, (University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).
8. For a modern rendition of this liturgy see David A. Ramsey, and R. Craig Koedel, “The Communion Service—An 18th Century Model,” Journal of Presbyterian History 54 (Summer 1976) 203-216.
9. Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 45.
10. On the theology of cessationism see William L. De Arteaga, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1992).
11. W. D. Bailie, The Six Mile Water Revival of 1625 (Belfast: the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, 1976), 17.
12. Francis MacNutt, Overcome By the Spirit (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1990).
13. Cited in Bailie, Six Mile, 18.
14. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections.
15. Described in detail, but with some reticence as regard to revival phenomenon, in Arthur Fawcett’s work The Cambuslang Revival: The Scottish Evangelical Revival of the Eighteenth Century, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971).
16. Cited in Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 114.
17. Cited in Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 117.
18. Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 120. On the pro-revivalist clergy’s embarrassment over the phenomenon of revival see pp. 117–122.
19. The sad story of the opposition to the Presbyterian revivals and the eventual shutdown of these sacramental seasons is splendidly documented by Schmidt, Holy Fairs, chapter 4, “The Autumn of the Sacramental Season: The Decline of a Popular Festival.”
20. See for example, George B. Burnet, The Holy Communion in the Reformed Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1960).
21. See George William Pilcher, Samuel Davies: Apostle of Dissent in Colonial Virginia (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1971).
22. Thomas C. Pears (ed.) “Seasonal Records of the Presbyterian Church of Booth Bay, 1767–1778,” Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society 16 (1935) 203–240, 243–88, 308–355.
23. The fact that McGready had to say he was pastor of the “First Presbyterian Church of Muddy River” proves the Anglican-Episcopal custom of naming churches after saints is of divine inspiration.
24. Peter Cartwright, The Autobiography of Peter Cartwright (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), 45.
25. Cited in Catherine C. Cleveland’s The Great Revival in the West, 1797–1805 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1916), 187.
26. John B. Boles, The Great Revival, 1787–1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind, (University of Kentucky Press, 1972).
27. Russell E. Richey, “From Quarterly to Camp Meeting: A Reconsideration of Early American Methodism,” Methodist History, 23 (July 1985) 199–213, and Richard O. Johnson, “The Development of the Love Feast in Early American Methodism,” Methodist History 19 (January 1981) 67–83.
28. An summary of this issue is found in the superb article by A. H. C. Van Eijk, “The Difference Between the Old and the New Testament Sacraments as an Ecumenical Issue,” Bijdragen 52 (1991) 2–36.
William De Arteaga, a graduate of Fordham University, is a student of Christian history and spirituality. His most recent book is Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1992). His articles have appeared in Charisma, Ministries Today, The Journal of Christian Healing, and other periodicals. His current book project, When Heaven Touches Earth, is due out in 1997. He and his wife Carolyn serve and worship at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Marietta, Georgia.
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