I was daydreaming one day wondering what it would be like to live in a different era. The conclusion of ‘Downton Abbey’ was all the buzz as the final episode aired a few months ago on PBS. It may have been a blessing to live in the higher elite of society in the early 1900’s and not have to be the poor person trapped in the basement of servitude. But was that what was happening in the church during this same modern age?
My thoughts were, “At some other time in history it had to have been better to believe in Jesus and live amongst others that had a zeal and passion for the Lord.” But I quickly realized that other than the actual day of Pentecost, every era of Christian history has had its high and low points. Did the people of the days of ‘Downton Abbey’ know how to worship God in a different way than we do today?
The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, which was the setting for the show, welcomed in the blooming of what we now call the ‘modern age.’ Everyone wanted to be modern, look modern and incorporate modern appliances as well as the latest modern way to have church.
Some people of this modern time left behind their castles and migrated from Europe to America bringing with them their views and philosophies from the Enlightenment of the late 1700’s. Centered on reason, as the primary source of authority, they came to advance ideals of tolerance, liberality, and progress. As America was being influenced by these ideas, it undermined the authority of the church and the theologians of the time wanted to go back to simple scripture and the separation of church and state. They felt that the government should not have control of one’s conscience. These views were forefront to the drafting of the United States Constitution, forming a wall of separation between church and state at the federal level. This sparked the dawning of the Second Great Awakening. (It is fascinating that there was a need to establish something perceived to be even better than a first Awakening.)
The First Awakening centered on reviving spirituality and establishing congregations, and the Second Awakening was more inclined to focus on the ‘unchurched’ – those that were not yet in the church. Revival meetings were thought to be ‘the awakening’ to the experience of a deep sense of personal salvation. These meetings were called camp meetings, and the first one was in July of 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwest Kentucky followed by a very large gathering later in 1801 with 10,000 to 25,000 people who attended on a given day. They set up tents to attract people to get away for several days for revival and engage the emotions.
On the other hand, The Second Awakening, also known as the American Restoration Movement, was thought to be the re-forming of the whole church and the uniting of Christians in the pattern outlined in the New Testament. Someone living during this time said this about it, “The significant and most recurring theme is that of a broken heart, tenderness of heart, a heart not hardened to the Spirit and the Word of God. The teaching was that the image of God lives in each person, and the heart is meant to guide the head, not the other way around.” Firey preaching and people seeking sanctification became the goal. The desire was to abandon all denominational labels. But in many ways, it brought, even more, division and tension.
The word revival means an improvement in the condition or strengthening of something that becomes relevant again. This term has many meanings in the Christian church. Many people are praying for revival but what is it that they are desiring? The church for centuries has yearned for revival, hence why there were revival tent meetings. What do we keep wanting and waiting for? Truthfully revival will only come when people are anticipating God to pour out His Spirit upon “me.” Revival is when individuals become convicted of their sins and turn to God. Increasing it to a local, national and global effect. The tent meetings were conducive to invite God and to help to set people free. But at the end of World War I, many people were left disillusioned.
In both Europe and America, this disillusionment marked the beginning of the Evangelical section of the Protestant denomination.
The term “Evangelicalism” has a wide-reaching canopy that now covers a diverse number of Protestant groups. It came about from the Greek word “euangelion” meaning ‘the good news’ or the ‘gospel.’ It had a revivalist beginning, but it is now often used to describe a wide variety of concepts and styles, just as much as it is used to define a set of beliefs. The original core beliefs have remained the same, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement. This Evangelical branch of the church can be traced back to the Great Awakenings. Some key people were John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and now more recently Billy Graham.
Let’s go back again to the early 1900’s. Can you picture yourself in that castle of ‘Downton Abbey’? It must have seemed confining in comparison to our modern way of life. No internet. What we take for granted in our instantaneous connection would not be available to you. How would you know what else was going on in the different parts of the world?
Coinciding with the beginning of Evangelicalism was another phenomenal event in the early 1900’s. In the United States in January of 1901, a man named Charles Parham asked the students at his Topeka Bible school to study the scriptures and determine what evidence might be given of Spirit baptism using the accounts in Acts chapter 2. In 1906 William Seymour, who studied under Parham, arrived in Los Angeles California and started holding meetings in a store front church. Lucy Farrow was a friend of Seymour’s who first told him about the baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues because she received this in her experience through the ministry of Parham. As Seymour preached it upset people and Seymour was padlocked out of the church; this partly because he was teaching on an experience that he had not received himself. Edward Lee offered him temporary accommodations, and Seymour spent much time there in prayer and fasting becoming known as a man of unusual prayerfulness.
Seymour and Lee along with a few other people in a small Bible study in the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry, at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street, were intentional about seeking revival. On April 9, Lee was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. Others in the group were filled and over the next few days, hundreds of people started to gather as the word spread. Finally, on April 12, Seymour received his long awaited baptism power.
To accommodate the very large and growing crowds there was a need for a change of address to a building at 312 Azusa Street. From this small partially burned structure the ‘Pentecostal truth’ was spread all around the world. Some mocked and others marveled, and it is still that way today. Church historians have mostly ignored the pivotal role of Seymour over the years, but his influence will not be forgotten by those that know that he was courageous and loved the Lord, to the heights of contending for revival.
Simultaneous to Azusa Street the Holiness Movement was in full force. But in 1911 another man by the name of William E. Durham had a new freshness with his preaching and brought with it a welcome freedom from the legalistic austere ‘holiness’ branding and emphasis. He, however, was locked out of the Azusa Street mission by Seymour because of his perceived doctrinal errors. However, the crowds were seeking more and followed Durham leaving Seymour struggling until his death in 1922.
It would seem that the opposite extreme to the Pentecostal movement of the 1900’s would be the more ritual liturgical sect of the Christian church. Could this be what was thought to be the best way to commune with God even when people wanted to be modern? Maybe more ‘hype’ was not what you would have wanted. Maybe no matter how modern everyone else was becoming, maybe just maybe, you preferred to stick with the Orthodox way.
Way back in the early Middle Ages, Orthodox missions were spreading, while at the same time an estrangement was taking place that would mount and culminate into the Great Schism in the 11th Century. The Orthodox and the Latin Church in Rome split from each other resulting in separation. Today this other sect of the church is known as the Roman Catholic Church. After this Great Schism, there was a decline in the Orthodox Church during the Fall of Constantinople. But it is interesting to note that around the beginning of the 20th century, the time of ‘Downton Abbey’, Orthodoxy started to regain its popularity.
Orthodox trace their roots back to the Apostles in Jesus’s time. They assigned Bishops as the Apostles’ successors. The Fathers of the Church lived and wrote the Orthodox worship and practices that settled into their permanent form, including liturgies and the major holidays. However, the early Orthodox believers had no way to get a copy of these works, and in addition to that fact, most people could not read. So it became more learned than studied. The Eucharist became the center, which are the sacraments of the breaking of bread and drinking of the wine. The rest of the liturgical ritual rooted out from the Jewish Feasts, the reading of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and the singing of the Psalms.
The Catholic Church separated itself from Orthodox as differences in understanding arose as to the role of the Bishop of Rome. (Now known as the Pope.) The Eastern Catholic Church considered themselves to have reconciled the East and West Schism by keeping their prayers and rituals similar to those of the Eastern Orthodoxy while also accepting the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The Orthodox saw this as undermining the first Patriarchs of the church. Thus lies the conflict that forever changed Christian church history.
Out from the Catholic Church rose a protest, this was the Protest of Luther on October 31, 1517. He was protesting, wanting to go back to the ‘original’ sacred doctrines of the early church. After many years this eventually resulted in there being three distinctive sects of the Christian church – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. (Any Protestant church whether it is Evangelical, Pentecostal, Methodist or Anglican; these are all in protest to Catholicism.)
However, the Orthodox Church claims to have their lineage all the way back to the Apostles with no breakage in the divine heritage. So if that is, in fact, the case, then during the 20th century while all the revival tent meetings and denominational pulling and pressure of the Protestants was taking place, the Orthodox were still doing their very same liturgies established centuries earlier. (They had their problems as well, such as divisions between Russian and Greek, along with their conflicts over different styles of buildings and beliefs. As people migrated bringing ‘Enlightenment’ from Europe to America, this happened within the Orthodox Church as well. In 1794 Orthodox missionaries landed on Kodiak Island, Alaska and brought with them the Orthodox faith that spread throughout North America as dioceses and their extensions came from their mother churches abroad.)
To a similar degree as the heartfelt desire of the revivalist for their camp meetings of wanting to bring forth a greater and more in-depth awareness and worship of the Lord, the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches’ may express worship in a different form. There is something divine about the simplicity of quiet, meditative formal traditional ritual.
I grew up in a family in which my grandfather was an Episcopal minister, and we went to church every week. I have known the presence of God during the many ‘traditional’ services I have attended in my life. At times this has left me in breathless silence. The weighty presence of the Lord can be known anywhere, but it is quite powerful to honor the majesty of the Lord in the beautifully created majestic environment and atmosphere of worship through unique art and architecture designed to involve a person’s intellect, feeling senses and vision. This intended to create a House of God and the place where His glory dwells. (We know that this applies to our very own bodies now in the New Covenant, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.) But Congregationally speaking ambiance sets the mood. The contrast between the tent meetings and the ornate buildings has always fascinated me.
There have been reoccurring patterns in Christian church history that help shed some light on the future of the church. The revivals of the Great Awakenings were evidence of an innate hunger and thirst for God that have been true throughout all of the ages. True also of the monastic way of life among the Orthodox and Catholics.
Searching deeply for the renewing Spirit of God has in itself the power to regenerate not only the individual but also the often struggling declining divided church.
There is always hope. We wake up each morning with a sense of longing for a great and mighty outpouring of God. The consideration to be concerned about is the sacralizing of the means to the end, generating a move or work of God into a set path or pattern and becoming stuck in the how instead of the Wow.
The Church’s great task is not to get off course from the Person of the Truth. The ideal would be a Spirit guided balance between the head and the heart, exerting the evidence of both, to the worship and adoration of God. Each era has been centered not only on the progression of life but also on the progression of finding the Lord in the midst of it.
We have a great need here in America in this era, as has every era before us. ‘Downton Abbey’ was a fantastic television series to watch. But, there is no part of me that wishes I lived back in that castle. My hope is in the Lord and eternity in heaven. I wouldn’t want to be in any other era of time. This is the time. Much is happening now! Just as in Downton Abbey’s incredible castle, there were many hallways that led to either a luxurious stateroom or down to the underling’s cot. We have been given many pathways in the Christian faith to find God. Just like the people of the early 20th century you have different options open to you.
Which way will you choose?
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