[by Sandy McIntosh] I am writing about “What Nehemiah Did and How You Can Do Anything” and this is the first step; we must un-learn before we learn, forget what you know and retrain. Nehemiah is not in this story. In his place I present another famous man.
Do you know some of the heroes of American history; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, maybe Teddy Roosevelt? Yes, but how much do you know about Charles Grandison Finney?
You might have to go to a Bible College to learn about Finney. He was a revival preacher, college president, and anti-slavery activist and he influenced American history as much any other famous character. We mostly remember political and military heroes.
Charles Finney was born in Vermont and raised in New York State near the east end of Lake Ontario, close to the Canadian border, and he lived 82 years, from 1792 to 1875. He is described as the religious and moral leader of the northern states in the civil war, a religious counterpart to President Lincoln.
The “Burned Over District” where he preached revival religion was just south of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie in the states of New York and Pennsylvania.
More recently, in August of 1969, a counterculture festival was held at Woodstock, south of Finney’s district. There may be a lingering cultural preference for massive outdoor revival meetings in that part of the U.S. because Finney’s religious revivals were oddly similar to the 1969 hippy fest. They were spectacular, they profoundly influenced the population, and then they left town with no constructive results. The 1969 Woodstock festival left a field full of trash and many happy memories. The revival preachers left thousands of converts with no spiritual home, after 1835.
To be fair, Finney was not the only revival preacher, and he was critical of the problem.
The Burned Over District became the source of religious innovation and experiments after the revivals, when the converts were abandoned. One spin-off was Mormonism. Salt Lake City is not the only spiritual center of Mormonism, there is a “Hill of Comorah” in New York State, near where Finney preached. Mormonism emerged from the revivals, and the Jehovah’s witnesses emerged nearby, in Pennsylvania. Wikipedia lists some of the odd religious movements that followed Finney, including table thumping séances in Buffalo.
It wasn’t all religious. Did you know the Rockefeller fortune started with devout Baptists from the Burned Over District? And Andrew Carnegie started nearby in Pennsylvania. For decades places like Buffalo and Pittsburgh were great centers of innovation and free thinking.
Most of these organizers and builders did not preach Finney’s religion, they took what he left and found different directions.
The warning for us is clear, entertaining preaching and not enough construction work is destructive. Many Christians take the lazy theater approach; preaching and entertainment from one on the platform, broadcast to many in comfortable seats. This is killing our churches today as it did in 1835.
So what should we do?
We should work and build; that is God’s plan. We live in a world built by our grandparents and supported with borrowed money. We have many things to do; the world should change when you pass through it.
The Bible says “Examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5) and we should all ask, ‘Have I bought into lazy religion?’ Are you ready to do, or happy to be?
Take this spiritual vision test:
Can you read this?
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,”
Now can you read this?
“for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11)
And when we are focused, we need a route map. Please join me as we learn more: how to Dream, Define, Start, Plan, Build, Correct, Finish, Operate, and then do it all over again. It’s a wonderful life, and I will bring Nehemiah into the story.
I will return soon with more about “What Nehemiah Did, and How You Can Do Anything.”
Read more in this series:
- Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Nehemiah the Jew
- Oh those Americans
- Burn baby burn
- DMADV and other funny words
- Ride a donkey at midnight
- The Sad Siding Project
- The Putin ISIS War … and Nehemiah