Repent & Baptize
and be baptized, every
one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your
sins." Acts 2:38
Adaptive Changes -"New Methods" In Evangelism
The "New Measures" were designed to persuade anxious sinners to immediately confront their lost condition. Finney believed the Holy Spirit illuminated every man, (John 1:9) and by demanding what he considered a commensurate response from sinners, he assisted God's process of drawing the sinner unto Himself. (John 6:44)
In retrospect, the only question we need to ask is whether Finney was "assisting" God's process, or assuming too much. Many thought he had gone too far, like Moses striking the rock twice. (Numbers 20:1) In addition, many critics were skeptical of the results.17
To those who pointed out at that any conversions were invaluable, no matter how obtained, one critic said, " If truth and righteousness are made to suffer for the purpose, more is lost than won by the result. We must not do wrong, even to gain a soul for heaven. And if for one thus gained, ten should be virtually destroyed, by the very process employed to reach the point, who will say that such a method of promoting Christianity would be deserved to be approved?" 18
There's a few sniffles, a mother comforts her daughter, the surviving children cry silently. The atmosphere is controlled, allowing for soul-searching, and perhaps in some cases, repentance. Nobody needs to be told that a funeral is a good time to consider the meaning of life.
Once in a great while, a distraught mourner might throw himself on the corpse, weeping. This would upset the deep reflection of the others, so a family member would quickly comfort and remove the distraught person. Everyone knows why they're at the funeral, and their private thoughts and feelings are not shared out of respect for the mourners.
Before Finney, this was a picture of a typical Evangelical church service. People were presented with the truth, but were never asked to respond to the message in any way. To elicit a response would be seen as calculated to assure a planned result, usurping the work of the Holy Spirit.
The famous Jonathan Edward's sermon "Sinners in the hand of an angry God" was not preached, but read, with little, or no inflection. The reason the response was considered a movement of God was precisely because the emotions it inspired were spontaneous. No altar call was given. An altar call would have been considered manipulative and cynical. If God were not willing to stir the people's hearts, why would a Minister attempt to elicit an emotional response?
There would be nothing wrong if 20,000 came forward to express a desire to live for God. But unfortunately, they were led in a formula "salvation prayer" and told they were saved. How many thousand of these precious souls will stumble and "give up on God" because they were never reborn?
Finney's Methods Open Floodgate of Revivalism
Finney believed most Ministers disliked the "new methods" because they were unwilling to call their congregations to repentance. He thought they used the "sovereignty of God" as an excuse for putting up with nominal Christianity. His personal standard of holiness was so high he considering the drinking of tea to be an extravagance. His sober countenance, (and perhaps the presence of the Holy Spirit), caused many to break down emotionally. He took the words of Jesus literally, and eschewed the lures of the world without compromise. Perhaps the "new measures" were appropriate to his complete devotion and trust in the power of God.
Like Elijah demanding "Who is on my side?" , or Joshua, "Choose this day who you will serve," his methods were a natural extension of his zeal. He did not compromise the born again standard. In fact, Finney was far more exacting than most conservative Evangelicals today. His "False Comfort For Sinners" is perhaps the best guide ever written for ministers in dealing with the lost.
But because the "new methods" appealed to the emotions, any persuasive charlatan (even a wolf in sheep's clothing) could use them with seemingly impressive results. Where Finney might spend two weeks teaching on salvation before someone sat on the anxious seat, 20 a lesser minister might try to convince sinners to come to an after meeting after one sermon.
New Methods Accepted as "Normal"
Finney's methods were adopted by lesser men for obvious reasons. A contemporary critic commented on this new type of minister: "There may be no power whatever in his ordinary walk or conversation, to enforce the claims of religion....The truth is, he has no capacity, no inward sufficiency, for the ordinary processes of evangelical labor. Much is required to be a faithful minister of the New Testament; whilst small resources in comparison are needed for that semblance of power, to which a man may attain by the successful use of the system now in view." 21
Evangelists like D.L. Moody used some "methods" to good effect. Others, less gifted, abused the "methods" and brought reproach on all evangelists. The "methods" were not widespread until Billy Sunday, the model for Lewis' Elmer Gantry. Though well meaning, Sunday popularized the tally system, emphasizing the number of people who "walked the sawdust trail" instead of how many people "the Lord added to the Church." Sunday popularized the practice of "coming forward" as a symbol for the sinner who wanted to "get right with God." Despite this, Sunday still relied on the after meeting where counselors would deal with awakened sinners one-on-one. He never led people in a formula "salvation prayer."
Evangelicals before the 20th century saw repentance as a gift of God, necessary for true salvation. If a seeker were influenced by a human agent without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, that conversion was considered spurious. Proponents of the new measures said they were "shaking up" the dry formalism of the past. But perhaps in the end, all new measures become old, and that which was unique, soon becomes common. One contemporary critic made this point:
"They propose to rouse the Church from its dead formalism. And to do this effectively, they strike off from the old ways of worship, and bring in new and strange practices, that are adapted to excite attention. These naturally produce a theatrical effect, and this is taken at once for an evidence of waking life in the congregation. One measure, losing its power in proportion as it becomes familiar, leads to the introduction of another." 22
It's normal that most people who go forward don't repent. Repentance is not sorrow. Although Godly sorrow can produce repentance leading to salvation, (2 Cor 7:10) most people never truly repent. Repentance is not just being sorry for your sins, Repentance is not just being willing to say a "salvation prayer." Repentance is something the unregenerate mind can not understand. In fact, if you can understand repentance, then God has given you this understanding supernaturally. (2 Timothy 2:25, Acts 11:18, Acts 5:31)
If the thousands who come forward burdened with worldly or Godly sorrow were instructed about salvation as the Bible teaches it, most would go away enlightened and a few would know they were born again. But because all are treated as though their coming forward is a sign of repentance, and then are led in a formula "salvation prayer," most go way deceived.