Articles, Tracts and Letters

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What About the Crusade?

by the Session of Shettleston Free Church of Scotland (1994)

The following article was produced as a response to questions arising from the Billy Graham crusades. It serves as a reminder that the errors in evangelism which arose last century are still with us today – and more so. Then as now, Reformed men were too willing to countenance unscriptural techniques in order to obtain the results which they desired. We are indebted to the Session of Shettleston Free Church of Scotland for permission to reprint the material. The lesson to be learned is that the Church should be more careful to heed and obey her Lord in all that He has commanded: rather than the spiritual "quick fix" of revival much touted today, repentance and reformation according to the teachings of the Word of God are the great needs of the hour. We may say also that the well-documented and unbiblical ecumenical associations of Billy Graham go far beyond anything that Moody was guilty of!

This article was published in thePresbyterian Standard, Issue No. 4, October-December 1996.

What do you mean by "Crusade"?

A crusade is a 'holy war'. The name has been taken over in the last hundred years for an organized series of large public meetings. They are held round one well-publicized preacher.

Has not the Church always had these big meetings?

No. 'Crusades' are something very recent in the Church. Large gatherings of people to hear preachers have often happened in history, but not on the same organization and doctrine.

What is the difference in 'Crusades'?

Modern 'Crusades' are based on a different theology from that held by our Reformers or preachers of the 18th Century Revival.Revivalism is the word used for the new system. Reformed doctrine teaches that the Church needs to follow only the programme laid down in the Scripture, and that, depending in faith upon the promises of our Sovereign God, we will be blessed with Revival.

Do not Revivalists believe the same thing?

Many revivalists are good Christians, but they tend to believe that the blessing of revival can be brought about by the crusade-technique. The Crusades of revivalism began with Charles Finney in the U.S.A. He taught that revival was not the sovereign blessing of God upon the ordinary life and worship of the Church. Finney, an Arminian, denied the Reformed doctrine of sovereign grace, and said that at his great meetings people could be persuaded to "make a decision for Christ". He insisted that a revival could be organized. This doctrine of revival gained popularity in the U.S.A. and here, and there have been many big campaigns since then. They began in Scotland with Moody and Sankey.

What difference does the doctrine make so long as the Gospel is preached?

The acceptance of Arminianism has poisoned the life of the Church. Since blessing was promised independently of the faithful, steady use of the ordinary means of grace, these biblical ordinances have been neglected. Systematic study and preaching of the Word and a close adherence to the biblical ways of worship have been neglected and even scorned as 'old-fashioned' and 'dead'. A 'free and easy' way expected great successes. The Shorter Catechism, a proven tool of biblical training, was jettisoned.

May not Reformed Christians take part although they do not accept Arminian doctrine?

Some good people think this way. But we cannot separate thedoctrine from thepractice. Revivalism contains some false views, and these have shaped its methods. Often one hears Reformed preachers using Arminian persuasions or methods; but in this they are being inconsistent.

But have not crusades been the cause of much blessing?

Even if crusades had been successful, they still could not be right if they went against Scripture. But, in any case, although some people have been converted, they [i.e., the Revivalism Crusades] have not produced blessing in the Church, but disaster !

How are crusades unscriptural?

They are against Scripture in their Arminian belief that men are not so spiritually dead that they cannot find God for themselves. They teach that Christ died for all men, and so it is mere human choice that keeps men from being Christians, and it is only the individual who decides that God may apply the blessings of Christ's Atonement to himself, NOT GOD! Thus human persuasion, in the right atmosphere, can bring people to have faith in Christ. This has led the Church to applaud 'great preachers', rather than depend humbly on God's Word as it is regularly expounded, in the ordinary life of the Church. Crusades emphasize in their methods:–

  • A rousing atmosphere created by choirs and bands.
  • Gospel addresses that leave out much of the whole counsel of God.
  • Calls to the front which try to get people to make a decision after which the organizers can work.
  • Inexperienced counsellors who give simple advice to 'enquirers' who are complete strangers to them.

Why has Revivalism been a 'disaster'?

It has weaned folk off true Gospel methods and doctrine. People have been led to despise thorough study of doctrine, and so made them a prey to dangers like charismaticism. Scotland is now in theological chaos, and the Church spiritually weaker than it has been since the Reformation. The main remedy for the results of revivalism to many of our brethren tends to be more revivalism ! With a century and more of 'revivalism' no true revival has appeared in Scotland.

What should we do about Billy?

We are embarrassed to criticize the sincere efforts of good Christians. But there is probably nothing that a Reformed Christian can do within the system. Perhaps our best contributions are prayer for real revival, which must come from a wholehearted turning to "wait upon the Lord", meekly hearing his Word, and having the priorities for activity that the Bible itself gives. This, of course involves us in examining our own failures in following God's Word.

We must tactfully point out that crusades have been generally selfdefeating, and that experience shows that powerful revivals in our history ALWAYS come through other means that revivalism: usually the ordinary weekly activities laid down by God Himself in the Word.

Revivalism has a history of fantasy. Living in illusions is always unhealthy for anyone, and especially damaging for the life of the Church.