This past week I attended a summer tent revival sponsored by Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank. It is a longstanding tradition for the Pilgrim Baptist Church to do this each summer, in conjunction with other churches from Red Bank. They followed tradition and the revival was held in a tent outside the church walls and they had an evangelist invited for this occasion.
Summer tent revivals have become a rarity these days. One could see cars that slowed down as they passed by and people who were walking by and stopped to see what was going on. In the Atlantic Highlands area, the last summer tent revival was held by Faith Fellowship Church at least 15 years ago in the place where we have a mini golf course now.
In addition to summer tent revivals, churches have also held revivals inside the church building. St Paul Baptist Church has held some great revival services with well-known pastors from around the country. I remember when Father Joe Farrell took a group of parishioners from St. Agnes RCC to their first revival service at St. Paul Baptist Church. I think it was a new and interesting experience for many of them!
The word revival is defined two ways – to revive the local church and to bring new people into the Kingdom of God. Usually indoor revivals were about one week in length, and emphasized the need for church revival during the first few days. Once revival was alive among church members, they would move outside of the church walls and invite new people to come and hear the Gospel during the last two days.
The revival music was much more upbeat, passionate and more direct. It had to do with the relationship that one has or should have with Jesus. The preaching was also more passionate and direct. The preacher would ask people to make decisions; either to become more committed to the calling of Jesus or to come to Jesus Christ for the first time and be saved.
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When one looks at the history of New Jersey and even Monmouth and Ocean County, one can see that we have been a state where major spiritual revivals took place. The Methodists, the Baptists, and the Presbyterians, and Pentecostals had yearly revivals either in their churches or joint summer tent revivals. Here in Atlantic Highlands we have a street called Auditorium (off Ocean Boulevard) which in the 19th century was a center for summer revival services. People would come from New York City and other surrounding communities to participate in revival services here.
In our days, summer tent revival services have almost disappeared. That was one of the reasons why as a pastor and church historian, I made sure that I attended this summer tent revival service. There were somewhere between 150-200 people who came out on a Friday night to listen to a combined area choir and to Dr. J. Sanders who was the evangelist. He preached a powerful sermon entitled “He (Jesus) Is.” People amen-ed and shouted throughout the message and at the end, the entire audience went forward to commit themselves to the cause of Christ in this community.
As I left that evening, I remembered one of the great revival hymns and I have been singing it for a couple of days. It is known by different titles, but the most popular is Revive Us Again. The chorus has these words, “Halleluiah, Thine the glory, Halleluiah, Amen! Halleluiah, Thine the glory, revive us again.” May the gracious Lord revive us again to godly lives.