A Testimony to God’s Grace
I know that my perspective is shaped by the experiences I’ve been through.
It’s true for everyone. In order to understand where someone is (as we say) “coming from” you need to understand the shaping influences in their life.
I offered a small glimpse of that when I wrote this: Where is the Revival Now? There I said:
I think I’m a real Methodist “throwback” and I’m actually rather glad about it. My early experiences in the faith included Revival meetings and Camp Meeting and Prayer Groups and Evening Worship Services and Midweek Prayer Meetings, etc. They were all aids to discipleship. They were important.
Revivalism was actually a very important part of my early Christian experience. So, as a result, there is a special place in my heart for Camp-meeting and revival meetings. The formative Christian experiences of my adolescence were closely related to these experiences. I know a lot of people feel differently about it. But, I’m eternally grateful to the people who first conveyed the Gospel of Christ to me.
I’m afraid I’ve drifted away a bit. While our family lived in the Boyne City area, I was president of the local Camp-meeting Association for a brief time. But, by and large, since entering the pastoral ministry, I have not attended camp-meeting in the summer. And, yes, I do feel that something is missing.
The Eaton Rapids Holiness Camp Meeting is still in operation. There is a group that a Family Bible Camp every year at Albright Park Camp & Retreat Center.
Now, let me be clear. I’m not talking about church camp. That’s a wonderful thing, too, but I never knew about that until I was an adult — and was asked to serve as a camp counselor. Sad to say, I don’t think that as a child or a teen anyone could have successfully even dragged me to church camp.
As a child, I was lost in the church. I was sent to Sunday school. Later, I was sent to confirmation class. I was sent to youth meetings. I was confirmed in the Congregational (U.C.C.) church. But, in my estimation, the Church had nothing to offer. It seemed to be a sterile and pointless institution. It seemed like an organization of people engaged in the pitiful attempt to hold on to the forms, symbols and rituals of a faith they no longer (and perhaps had never) believed. They sought to make relevant a Book whose acknowledged mistakes, distortions and falsehoods made it an unlikely source of authority.
An unfair accusation? No doubt. Maybe I shouldn’t have “written off'” the Church so quickly. But, please remember that the worst thing we can do to the Gospel is to make it look false, empty, boring and irrelevant to daily life. And, I haven’t forgotten that the “liberal church” never conveyed the Gospel of God’s love and grace and forgiveness to me.
So camp-meeting hit me pretty hard. There I heard some fiery and enthusiastic evangelistic preaching. Evangelists there spoke of a Gospel that was genuinely related to the struggles of my life. These people really seemed to believe that the Bible’s message was true. It was there I heard how faith in Jesus Christ related to personal guilt, decision-making, and daily life. There I heard about a real God with a genuine love for all people. My attention was now directed to the power, truth and relevancy of the very Book my Sunday school teachers had found embarrassing. I was told that Jesus Christ could change my life and give me a reason to live. I needed that. In fear and trembling, I responded to the invitation. The pastor of the Methodist church our family had been attending made his way forward to pray with me. It was a step I have never since regretted.
Time has passed. Much has happened since those days. My outlook has changed in many ways. But, what the evangelist at camp-meeting told me was true. There is a God of love. There is a revelation from God. By faith in Christ, there is a life of peace, hope and love. I’m glad someone told me that.
Are camp-meetings (and revival meetings) an anachronism? They were a great evangelistic strategy of nineteenth century frontier revivalism. They were once the heart and soul of American Methodism. But, many of the great camp-meetings are no longer in existence. Some of those that still remain have an uncertain future. But, what has taken their place? Where now is the point of entry for people like me who were lost in Church? Where now are we gathering together to call people to new commitments & into a deeper life of faith? Yes, some camp-meetings still survive (as noted above). Yes, there are other movements like the Lay Witness Mission or the Emmaus Walk and so forth. But, I wonder if we are really doing all we should to help people find reality, strength, and spiritual depth in their faith.
I have not forgotten the debt I owe to those who told me the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ. It is because of the truth, power and relevancy of that message that I continue to remember these experiences with gratitude.
Long ago someone preached a message of hope and faith to me. I’d like to do that same favor for others.
Craig, in the short time I’ve known of your blog it has been an immense Blessing to me. I, like you, enjoyed some camps in the UK over summers and holidays. It was actually after a period of years away from God that I came across some of the tapes from one of those meetings while clearing out junk a few years ago. The passion and relevance of the Gospel hit me again and I’ve never looked back!
There’s importance in the history, but it’s the relevance of the Church to transform rather than conform to the world that has always continued to excite me. It’s why I joined an “on-fire” church in Devon, England while I lived there, and although there are excellent churches in Cape Town where I live now, the closest local ones were – mostly – not in it for the Spirit on the weeks I visited. Most came and went quickly, with the “pastors” driving away in new 4×4 vehicles while the congregations went home to scrounge enough for a loaf of bread. The fire was missing.
I freely acknowledge I haven’t tried ALL the churches, and when transport allows me I do manage to visit some incredible congregations with amazing testimony of God’s Power at work not just in the city but over the continent. In a few weeks I’m expecting to move back to the UK for some time, and I’m looking forward to joining a Living Church I can get to (most weeks) and be a full member of again.
Fellowship is the most crucial part of any walk folloowing conversion and commitment, and it’s refreshing to be Blessed by someone who’s so open and clearly passionate about Jesus, His Church and other people.
Thanks, David. I am glad to be an encouragement to you.
Craig, I’m appreciative of so much of your writings, and am grateful for your sharing your deep wisdom, knowledge, insights, and faith with us.
Your present article leads me to make comment. I too lived through the revivals (though never went to a campmeeting until I was pastoring some of our Indian churches). I’m not sure I recall any formal revivals in my home Methodist Church, though I attended frequently some of them in non-Methodist churches in our small-town community. And I did have the advantage of the summer youth camp – EVERY year! – including the invitation at the firebowl on the closing Friday night service. It was in that setting where I first made a specific response to such invitation.
I too have a great appreciation for the Lay Witness Mission and the Emmaus as I have benefited from both and have seen significant life-change in others from these events.
It was within the “liberal church” (as I understand the term) that I also learned how the individual relationship with God through Jesus the Christ was applied and played out in ways that affect the world which God gave us as a gift.
… Just some remarks about where I’m “ (as we say) ‘coming from’”.
Well, thanks for the comments, Ed. I know longer know “liberal” from “conservative” as I once was very sure I did.