The Servant of the Lord is Not an Entertainer
When Scottish evangelist James Stewart (died 1975) was just a teenager, he was offered a golden opportunity to get his message out around the world. The Columbia Recording Company had already discovered a “boy gospel singer” and they were beginning to widely distribute his gospel music. Now, they wanted Stewart to record his messages and be Columbia’s “Boy Preacher.” He would preach and Columbia would get the message out to the nations. Just think of how many people could be reached! Just think of the income that could be generated! But Stewart’s mother feared he wanted to accept the offer for his own glory. And then the Lord dealt with him clearly.
Stewart came to a shocking conclusion: Satan was trying to make him into a professional evangelist. That’s right, a professional evangelist — in some circles, the contemporary American norm! How interesting it is to see that, what many preachers would jump at today as a Godsend, this young preacher recognized as a satanic trap. But for Stewart, God was killing ambition and the desire to be popular or make money through the Word. The Lord was preparing him for a true outpouring.
And so, shortly before World War II, when Stewart was barely twenty years old, he saw revival break out in Eastern Europe. He became deeply sensitive to the difference between modern, hyped-up meetings and true visitation, really putting his finger on the problem in his little book on “Hollywood Evangelism.”
The Difference Between Hype and God’s Presence
Speaking of our entertainment-oriented Christianity, he wrote, “The atmosphere of these meetings is so much like Hollywood that one might almost expect some comedian or film star to rush on the platform.” (Today, we do have comedians and film stars rushing to the platform; they really draw the masses.)
For Stewart, this was a no compromise area:
I refuse to entertain sinners on their way to hell. … I want to preach every time as though it were my last chance. I do not want souls to curse my name in the lake of fire and say, “Yes, I went to such-and-such a Gospel meeting, but that preacher Stewart only entertained and joked. He made Christianity a farce!”
The old-fashioned method of evangelism was to make people weep, but the modern “Hollywood” way is to make people laugh. Everybody has to have a jolly good time. … We must have plenty of jokes or it would not be a good meeting. That is why there is such a woeful lack of conviction of sin in modern evangelism. The Holy Spirit cannot work in a frivolous atmosphere.
Here is a solemn truth that very few of God’s people seem to see: Everything depends on the atmosphere of the meeting. … For example, if you were saved in a jazzy sort of atmosphere, light and frivolous, with the song leader more like a clown and the preacher merely glorifying himself and using fleshly effort, you will also turn out to be a jazzy frivolous Christian with no depth in your spiritual life.
Self-Confidence is a Killer, Because God is What We Need
Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “The Church always fails at the point of self-confidence. When the Church is run along the same lines as a circus, there may be crowds, but there is no Shekinah.”
It is the Shekinah [God’s manifest presence] that we must have, the Lord dwelling in our midst, a continual “visitation” that doesn’t quickly pass. As someone has said, the Kingdom of God is not going to be advanced by our churches being filled with people, but by the people in our churches becoming filled with God.
There is a place for clowns and stunt men. But that place is not the church of Jesus. Better to give your money to the circus than to waste it on meetings at the First Church of the Three Ring.
Of course, true revival will also bring the crowds, but when they came flocking to Stewart’s meetings in Europe, he did not take this as an automatic proof of blessing. Instead, he asked himself some questions:
It is well known that a crowd brings a crowd. Is that the only reason the people are coming? I want to know what is the center of attraction. Is it, after all, my own personality? Am I a novelty because I am a foreigner? Or am I humorous and entertaining? I also want to know if Christ is the center of attraction. I could have thousands of professions of conversion, but if Christ be not the center of attraction for the multitudes, then the campaign is a spurious work of the devil and not a genuine work of God.
Entertainment has nothing to do with evangelism, amusement has nothing to do with anointing, and reputation has nothing to do with revival.
“We Have a Wonderful Savior to Proclaim to You!”
When I was a boy, evangelists were humble and modest. This is the way we advertised our special meetings: “Dearly beloved friends in the neighborhood, we are commencing a series of evangelistic services in our church. We have a wonderful Saviour to proclaim to you!” Then the leaflet went on to tell about the glories and the beauties which are to be found in the Lord Jesus. Because Christ was everything to the neighborhood, so we advertised a wonderful, glorious Saviour. Then we added that Brother So-and-so from Such-and-such would preach about this wonderful, majestic Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, it was the Lord Jesus who was the center of attraction and He was the One who was magnified. An insignificant, humble man of God was coming to talk about this wonderful Savior.
It doesn’t take much thinking to admit that if the glorious Lord Jesus were being exalted in our meetings through the agency of His mighty Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t need so many of the fleshly tactics we rely on today. No tricks. No games. Just the Lord!
We wouldn’t tickle ears. (Remember what the great orator George Whitefield said: “I didn’t come to tickle your ears; no, I came to touch your hearts.”) We wouldn’t calculate which message would produce the biggest offering. We wouldn’t figure out which musical guest would attract the most people. We would put all our emphasis on exalting the Son of God, on having His manifest presence, on preaching His Word in truth and power. Isn’t that enough? And when the music and the message and the miracles magnify the Master — that’s glorious.
The Only Name That Matters is Jesus’ Name
It is common to see big ads for major conferences featuring this exciting speaker and this glamorous minister, offering special attractions for the whole family and accommodations fit for royalty — yet making no mention at all of the Lord. Not even once! Not God the Father, not the Lord Jesus, not the Holy Spirit. The other names are important. His name is not! One “apostle” encouraged other leaders to attend his conference with a pitch that went something like this: “Just think of how it would feel to be around all the anointed, five-fold ministers that will be there.” Wow! As for me, I’d prefer a small, unfurnished room alone with Jesus. How about you?
During the Hebrides Revival, an interesting phenomenon occurred. Duncan Campbell pointed out that,
While the main emphasis on the revival has been on the severity of God, a very remarkable thing should be noted: eighty-three hymns have been written by the converts, some as fine as anything we have in our Gaelic literature. And without one exception every hymn has for its theme either The Love of Jesus, or The Wonder of the Saviour.
If we speak the truth in love and compassion, if we bring people into genuine contact with the living God, there will be lasting fruit. Hollywood is hollow and entertainment is empty. It is more of Jesus that we need. He alone is the solution to gospel meetings that resemble game shows and ministry scandals that look like soap operas. In our abasement, He is beautiful.
(Excerpted and adapted from Michael L. Brown, From Holy Laughter to Holy Fire: America on the Edge of Revival [Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 1996].)
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is The Political Seduction of the Church: How Millions of American Christians Have Confused Politics with the Gospel. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.