Question and Answer

Organized Revivals


I was wondering what [is] the OPC's official position (if there is one) on organized revivals or tent revivals, and what appears to be the consensus of OPC ministers, if there is a lack of official standing. Thank you.


In the days of colonial America God sent what was called “The First Great Awakening,” by which He revived the Lord’s Church throughout the colonies. However, there were many “excesses,” which amounted to people losing control of themselves and engaging in disruptive behaviors and unseemly conduct. I’ll let you read up on that as you do some research at the library or on the internet.

As a result of these excesses, Presbyterians became divided into what was called the Old Side / New Side schism. The New Side believed that it was the Holy Spirit that fostered the unusual behavior. The Old Side, while not denying that God was at work in a mighty way, counseled caution and was reluctant to endorse much of the excitement that accompanied the Awakening, preferring to study these happenings, to seek guidance from the Scriptures and to expect a more orderly outcome of the work of the Spirit.

The OPC mostly traces its roots to the Old Side, which later in the 1800s (as the controversy became more doctrinal) came to be called the Old School. Our “Old School” ministers and congregations today still tend to exercise that same caution when it comes to “crusades” and “revivals.” Not infrequently these sorts of meetings require doctrinal compromise and rather shallow commitments. (One famous evangelist of the past felt no shame in having liberal, unbelieving theologians sit on the platform at his meetings.)

Now, to the best of my knowledge, the OPC does not have an official position on organized revivals or tent revivals. Therefore, congregations have liberty to participate or not. And I am sure there are some that would participate, having concluded that joining the effort involved no compromise and no craziness.   

But I think the consensus in the OPC is to pray for revival through the regular, week-by-week preaching of the Word from pulpits that teach “the whole counsel of God,” i.e., the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God. This kind of preaching is not always compatible with what is expected in the traditional revival meeting, where the New School viewpoint prevails and where the emphasis is on excitement and a large number of “decisions.” We cannot make a real revival happen. When God chooses to pour out his Spirit, revival will come, with a hunger for Christ and for the Word of God, and those who preach the Word will rejoice in feeding that hunger.

You might enjoy reading Revival by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones (Crossway) and Revivals in the Midst of Years by Dr. Benjamin Rice Lacy, Jr. (if you can find it).

God bless you,

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