MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
In the mid-1700s our country experienced what George Whitefield called the Great Awakening. The spiritual phenomenon cut across denominational and racial lines, unifying lower- and middle-class people of various groups from Georgia to Massachusetts. Pastors such as William Tennent and Jonathan Edwards held crowds spellbound, and evangelists toured the land. The time of revival brought to the colonies not new plans, purposes or programs - but the Pneuma, the breath of God.
Many historians find spiritual movements difficult to explain. Either they see whatever goes on in the church as symbolic or functional, or they equate the event simply with emotionalism. One came close when describing the Great Awakening as prompted by “spiritual hunger that neither traditional religion nor Enlightenment philosophy could satisfy.”
Emile Durkheim, the father of functionalist sociology, observed the positive role of religion as providing a social safety net, which helped people avoid the perils of intimacy. Religious participants, for instance, have lower suicide rates. But he predicted a day when religion as well as family would fail to serve their social functions and would be replaced.
What Durkheim did not see is the actual relationship that individuals can have with God. Spiritual life is more than a belief; it is an experience, as Quakers talk about, an inner light for each individual, and Christ in the midst of their gatherings.
According to sociologists, religion serves the following purposes: providing answers about ultimate meaning; offering emotional comfort, social solidarity and guidelines for everyday life; and granting social control and adaptation. There are other social organizations, called functional equivalents, which can fulfill each of these functions. Only true religion meets people’s need to experience God.
Many today have difficulty accepting what they have not lived through themselves. The encounter with life in the Spirit is what Jesus taught Nicodemus: “You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).
On the Day of Pentecost a rushing wind filled the room where the believers were gathered. Peter stood and proclaimed, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
Unless the church facilitates our meeting God, it has missed the call to touch and revive the spirit of hurting people. May our churches be places where God and people meet.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This colun origianlly ppread in October 2009.