Big Tent Revival

  • Randy Karlberg
Big tent

I am amazed with the pictures and stories from the tent revivals of the 1950’s. One of the most famous is the Los Angeles Crusade that began in 1949. Billy Graham was the main preacher for this crusade which lasted for eight weeks. One of the thousands who trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior at this crusade was Louis Zamperini, whose life story was told in the 2014 blockbuster movie titled “Unbroken.” Later his conversion was specifically shared in the movie “Unbroken, Path To Redemption.” These big tent revivals were popular for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the 1960’s and in some places into the 70’s. Actually Billy Graham went on to hold similar types of evangelistic revivals well into the turn of the century, but through the years many people voiced criticism at this type of evangelism.

Growing up with a Dad who was a pastor has its share of blessings and challenges. My Dad was also a child evangelist. He used magic tricks, ventriloquism, and hand painted flannel displays to tell Bible stories and share the Good News about Jesus with children. He traveled across the United States for many years with his evangelistic program he called “Kids Krusade.” Obviously I attended many of these Kids Krusades, or Kids Meetings. I benefited from hearing the greatest message ever told and have many fond memories of these days. But I do understand the criticisms of this type of evangelism. Many times there is little follow up with those who make a decision to follow Christ. In the case of children, some say don’t even ask a child to respond to the Gospel because they are too young and don’t understand what they are doing. They just want to please their parents or the adults they are talking with. These and other critiques are to be taken seriously. Yet what is most often the case, the criticisms of evangelistic programs are used as excuses for no Gospel sharing endeavor at all. This problem was well articulated by D. L. Moody when a man told him he had issues with his evangelism method. “It is clear you don’t like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

So what are we to do about sharing our faith in Christ? Is there even a critical need for believers in Jesus to share their faith? Some justify themselves from the need of speaking Biblical truth because of the doctrine of Predestination. Should Christians feel the burden of sharing Christ before someone is on their deathbed? There are clear answers to these questions, and I will share some of my thoughts on them. But first of all we need to ask, how critical is it that people around you or people in general come to know Christ? If you don’t realize the eternal realities proclaimed through Scripture, or don’t care about your fellow human beings, then this whole topic is a waste of your time. It really begs the question, what do you truly believe?

Now if you do have a desire for your loved ones and people in your life to realize the bountiful blessing of salvation through Jesus Christ, then these questions do need to be addressed. The Bible is very clear as to how people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus. Romans 10:17 , “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Actually, in the verses preceding Paul makes the case that people are to share with people! “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News?’” ( Romans 10:13-15 ) I can hear some of you now! “I read ‘preach’ in that passage! I am not a preacher!” I don’t disagree with you. But standing in a revival tent, or in a pulpit, is not the only way that sharing the Word of God is represented here. Many of the people we are called to share with will not come to a church service, let alone a revival tent! But they will enter into conversation with you. We can all share our own story and what Christ has done in our life. People don’t need to hear dramatic conversion stories, although those are powerful and need to be shared. They need to hear clear, heartfelt acknowledgments of what God does in the heart of a believer. We must be able to share passages of Scripture with people. It is the power of God’s Word that has an affect on people’s lives. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” It is not your words or my words that will have a piercing, transforming effect on the soul of a person. It is the Word of God. We are the ones privileged and commanded by God to speak His Word. So we need to be less about making our case as to why we are not called to speak the Gospel and spend more time in prayer asking for opportunities to share our faith. God will bring these opportunities right to you. We need to think through what Bible passages we would share and look for possible opportunities to share with others. When we pray for these opportunities, God tends to focus our hearts and minds on occasions to proclaim truth that will have an eternal impact.

So stop with the excuses! Get in the Word, and get on your knees. It is a privilege to be used in this way.