Revivalism impacted the religious upbringing and inherited faith of many of us in ways we likely didn’t realize. The doctrine, terminology and formulated methods of emotion-driven evangelical evangelism grew out of this frontier phenomenon.
Ultimately, the seasonal, extended evangelistic approach became enshrined in annual one- or two-week church-held revivals and larger, big-venue, evangelistic “crusades” (a bad word choice with horrific historical connotations) led by renowned evangelists with Billy Graham at the apex.
Ensuing evangelistic terminology became commonplace in the church’s shared vocabulary – and treated with the same reverence as biblical quotations, even those in red ink.
Appeals were aplenty for “getting saved,” “accepting Jesus,” “walking the aisle” or “rededicating your life.” And being “under conviction” was the motivator for responding in one or more of these ways.
“Under conviction” described the way the Spirit of God tugs at the heart of someone and urges confession, repentance and rightful redirection.
Such conviction was prayed for by others with hopefulness that enough guilt would build in one’s conscience to loosen the firm grip on a pew back – and whatever sins were holding one back – and chart a repentant course to the altar.
So, I wonder: What are we convicted about today?
Are we still focused on those personal, guilt-driven thoughts (or actions) that were taught to us as a limited understanding of sin? Or might we be convicted about the larger convictions we hold that conflict with the fuller biblical revelation and specifically the call to follow Jesus?
The word “convictions” has been rolling around in my head recently, since crossing the town square where I now live. My determined focus was on the coffee shop where the devil keeps leading me.
Have you ever had a shot of espresso over caramel craze gelato – my new favorite version of affogato? But I digress.
That heavenly experience was delayed a bit as I reached the immense granite monument that serves as the centerpiece of the tree-filled square. An African American man was resting on a nearby bench. Birds were chirping as I paused to read the monument’s inscriptions.
Like in many towns, this monument was an effort of Daughters of the Confederacy to cast the Lost Cause in the best light possible – portraying the forces of sedition as noble and heroic – and to intimidate those granted freedom but not equality by reminding them of where the power still lies.
As someone who pays close attention to words, I looked intently at the ones selectively and strategically chiseled in stone, just half a century after the nation’s devastating intramural battles on American soil: “DEDICATED TO SOUTHERN CONVICTIONS.”
It is one thing to be convicted about weak church attendance, a lustful mind, pool hall shenanigans or a failure to tithe. It is another to allow the Spirit of God to convict us about our long-held but wrong-minded convictions.
There’s a reason the message of personal sin, rather than corporate sins, was the sole (and soul) focus of evangelical revivalism. The institutional church couldn’t survive a challenge to the social sins of the day – and, likely, not do so in this day.
In fact, white congregations and their leaders were – and are – among the primary defenders and preservers of many societal ills. Therefore, it’s uncomfortable but appropriate to ask: If the institutional church remains a major force for protecting – even advancing – social evils, is its survival a greater good?
Preachers know instinctively the approved list of sins they can safely preach against and those timely matters that are off limits – labeled as “too political,” rather than more honestly deemed “too close” to the misconceived values and convictions of those in the pews.
The last things many churchgoers want to have challenged are their sinful convictions of comfort and convenience.
Tell us to pray and give more but not to right society’s wrongs if it means we must give up power or wealth.
Tell us read the Bible each day but not to apply the teachings of Jesus to the way we look upon and treat the vulnerable people around us.
Tell us to fill shoeboxes with cheap trinkets to be sent to refugee kids but don’t ask us to make room for their families in our communities.
Tell us with hostility, misrepresentations and over-simplification about the “evils” of abortion and homosexuality, not our participation in advancing fear-based falsehoods that make a mockery of liberty and justice for all.
Keep the focus on the sawdust in the eyes of others rather than the lumberyard that keeps us from seeing and addressing our own misguided convictions that so desperately need to be “under conviction.”
Yet, only when convicted about our convictions that don’t align with the life and teachings of Jesus, can we take the needed steps toward moral and spiritual renewal.
Moving from conviction to honest confession, repentance and redirection is not a new idea – just one that needs a bit more honesty and focus.
The invitation is open. Whether hitting the sawdust trail or just our knees, or standing before a monument that reveals more truth than intended, the righting of wrongs is still that to which the Spirit compels us.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.