Cultural Resources




Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sherman Haywood Cox II, Guest Cultural Resource Commentator
Director, SoulPreaching.Com, Nashville, TN

I. Introduction

a. Historical Roots of Modern Revivals

The Lectionary focuses today on one of the oldest creations of the American Christian church: “revivals.” According to the Concise Dictionary of American History, church “revivals have occurred in America at frequent intervals from the early 18th century to the present.”1 The earliest of these revivals is traced to Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1734.2That was forty years before the first assemblage of the Continental Congress, forty-two years before the adoption of the American Declaration of Independence, and fifty-three years before the United States Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. It also was sixty years before the first black (institutional) church was founded in what had become America.

The first Africans came to the New World as “explorers, servants and slaves” as early as the early 1500s.3  However, it is not absolutely clear how many of those individuals were exposed to America’s earliest church revivals. But, it is reasonable to assume that many colonial blacks were since the institutional black church was not founded until 1794.4Many of the earliest (institutional) religious experiences, including revival experiences, of Africans in the New World were connected to colonial white churches, evangelists, preachers and revivalists.

Yet, that was not the entire religious experience of America’s earliest blacks. Long before there was an institutional black church, free and enslaved blacks had religious experiences outside of the white (institutional) church, including outside of the control of white evangelists, preachers and revivalists. The late E. Franklin Frazier noted that an “invisible institution of the Negro church took root among the enslaved blacks.”5 To support his claim, Frazier presented the following words of an ex-slave:

Our preachers were usually plantation folks just like the rest
of us. Some man who had a little education and had been taught
something about the Bible would be our preacher. The coloured
folks had their code of religion, not nearly so complicated as the
white man’s religion, but more closely observed…. When we had
our meetings of this kind, we held them in our own way and were
not interfered with by the white folks.6

Just how many brush harbor revivals were held between the early 1500s and 1794 is not known. However, considering the harshness of the colonial and American slave experience, inclusion of revivals as part of their religious observances would have been a natural response by the invisible black church and its preachers. Restoral and renewal, two basic ingredients of all revivals, would have had special meanings for both free and enslaved blacks.

b. Revived for What? 

Often our preaching and revival meetings are geared towards an inward change that manifests itself in much outward sound. This focus is important, but we cannot lose sight of the need for our inward change to manifest itself in outward work for our families, churches, and communities. 

Let us remember that such revivals as the First and Second Great Awakenings provided the climate that moved the nation towards reforms such as the beginning of the Women's Movement and abolitionism.  And one must never lose the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was heavily influenced by the revivalistic tendencies of the Black Church. These revivals did change individual human beings inwardly, but they also caused a real change in the world. 

Very simply, if our revivals are real, then there should be some signs; those outside of our community of faith should recognize the changes. In African American communities, revival is something heavily anticipated. We expect to hear a powerful word of God that will open up avenues into the scriptures that we have not normally seen. We expect that the choir will sing a song that touches our hearts. We expect to be able to tell our friends and colleagues that they missed a powerful blessing from God when they missed this Word that came to us.

This expectation of renewed power forces us to think about what we will do with that power. It forces us to question whether a good “shout” is the only outcome of our revival experience. It forces us to rethink what we will do with revival. Certainly preachers and worship leaders cannot ignore this important aspect of revival. Our people need to be able to answer the simple question: “What will you do with what God has given to us?”

II. A Revival of Stewardship—Leaving our Children an Inheritance

Our text reminds us of the grave responsibility of passing on an inheritance to our children. And our text forces us to ask: how can we demonstrate this responsibility, through revival, to our seed? In addition, it instructs us to teach them the stewardship responsibilities that are connected to God's blessings.

Volumes have been, are being, and will be written about the great inheritances that our African ancestors left us. They were brought here in chains, stripped of their cultures, languages and dignity. They were robbed of their humanity, defined as property and worked like animals. They were beaten, raped and emasculated. They were deprived of education, political rights and judicial relief. And, when the nightmare of slavery ended, they were released without food, land, housing, money, or any other form of recompense for their suffering.

Still, they gave us schools, colleges and universities. They gave us banks, insurance companies and financial institutions. They gave us burial associations, funeral homes and cemeteries. They gave us new forms of black music, dance, drama, literature, storytelling and humor. They gave us farms, lands and housing. They gave us inventions, towns and hospitals. They gave us stores, factories and jobs. They gave us teachers, preachers and missionaries.

They gave us doctors, lawyers and accountants. They gave us governors, senators, and presidents. They gave us bankers, scientists and social workers. They gave us dancers, musicians and singers. They gave us actors, chorographers and playwrights. They gave us poets, movie directors and visionaries. They gave us architects, electricians and plumbers. They gave us soldiers, pilots and engineers. They gave us Masons, fraternities and sororities.

Our ancestors gave us prophets, seers and leaders. They gave us politicians, judges and statesmen. They gave us artists, athletes, and counselors. They gave us nurses, dentists and surgeons. They gave us astronauts, farmers and builders. They gave us planners, surveyors and economists. They gave us courage, hope and faith. They gave us strength, wisdom and love. They gave us insight, freedom and vision. They gave us the black church—the invisible institution and the visible institution.

With a past so dark and an inheritance so great, every revival in every black church always should be a time of deep recommitment, rejoicing and renewal for the struggle that lies ahead. It also should be a time of renewed understanding—that all children are our children; and, that the inheritance of which we speak is both a personal and corporate inheritance, belonging to all of God’s children, not just to our biological off-spring or a chosen few. Thus, the lessons of stewardship that we must teach, by necessity, must extend beyond our individual households and families. Our duties regarding our inheritances (blessings) and our obligations of stewardship and stewardship training extend to the children of our family, church, community, race, nation and world.

III. Songs That Speak to the Moment

In the song, “Order My Steps,” the singer calls for God to order their movement on this plane. The ordering should be in line with the word that God has given to us. The singer calls for guiding and leading that only God can give. The singer wants to see an outward manifestation of God’s life in her life. The singer wants the anointing and revival that will cause not just shouting, but a better talk and a better walk. 

Order My Steps
Lyrics: Chorus 1:
Order my steps in your word dear Lord,
lead me, guide me every day,
send your anointing, Father I pray;
order my steps in your word,
please, order my steps in your word.

Verse 1:
Humbly, I ask thee to teach me your will,
while you are working, help me be still,
Satan is busy, but my God is real;
order my steps in your word,
please, order my steps in your word.

Verse 2:
Bridle my tongue let my words edify,
let the words of my mouth be acceptable in thy sight,
take charge of my thoughts both day and night;
please order my steps in your word,
please order my steps in your word.

I want to walk worthy,
my calling to fulfill.
Please order my steps Lord,
and I’ll do your blessed will.
The world is ever changing,
but you are still the same;
if you order my steps, I’ll praise your name.

Order my steps in your word.
Order my tongue in your word.
Guide my feet in your word.
Wash my heart in your word.
Show me how to walk in your word.
Show me how to talk in your word.
When I need a brand new song to sing,
show me how to let your praises ring,
in your word (2x),

Chorus 2:
Please order my steps in your word,
please order my steps in your word.

Please order my step in your word.
Please order my tongue in your word.
Please guide my feet in your word.
Please wash my heart in your word.
Please order my steps in your word.

True revival will only come from the sweet Spirit that will inhabit the holy place where “two or three” have gathered. Yes, others will see a change in even the expressions on our faces as we enter the presence of the Lord. The sweet Spirit will fill us with love that will of necessity flow out to others. And then we will lift our hearts in praise for we all will know that God has been to our revival when we leave. 

Sweet Sweet Spirit
There's a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place,
And I know that it's the Spirit of the Lord;
There are sweet expressions on each face,
And I know that it's the presence of the Lord.

Sweet holy Spirit,
Sweet heavenly Dove;
Stay right here with us,
Filling us with your love;

And for these blessings,
We lift our hearts in praise;
Without a doubt we'll know
That we have been revived,
When we shall leave this place.

The mindset of revival is one that desires a clean heart. This clean heart is for the purpose of service. Our revival is not to make us feel better, but to empower and equip us for service to God and humanity.  The true heart filled with revival is not asking for riches but recognizes that God’s blessings are not even deserved. The spirit of revival will call for an experience with the Most High, so that service will result.

Give me a Clean Heart
Give me a clean heart, so I might serve thee
Lord, fix my heart so that I may be used by thee.
For I’m not worthy of all these blessings
Give me a clean heart, and I’ll follow thee.

I’m not asking for the riches of this land,
I’m not asking for famous men to know my name.
But Lord, Oh Lord, Lord, give me a clean heart and I'll follow thee.

I’m not asking for the riches of this land,
And Lord, I’m not asking for high placed men to praise my name.
but Lord, Oh Lord, Lord, give me a clean heart and I'll follow thee.

Give me a clean heart, so I might serve thee
Lord, fix my heart so that I may be used by thee.
For I’m not worthy of all these blessings
Give me a clean heart, and I’ll follow thee.

IV. Cultural Response to Significant Aspects in the Text

a. Examples of Change

In order for our revivals to affect real change in ourselves and communities, our revivals must become more than places where we listen to powerful preaching, great singing, and then leave unchanged. We must connect our shout to our walk. Great preaching and love for God is demonstrated in our works.  These works will of necessity include stewardship and passing on the rich legacy that the ancestors have given to us.

We must help our people to understand how to connect their faith to their walk in our revivals.

We can connect faith to works by holding up other manifestations for emulation. We show it by noting how it was changed people who stood up to fire hoses and attack dogs. We show it by noting how it was revivals that gave people the power to apply for jobs, be better husbands and wives and fathers.  We demonstrate how revival is more than just what you get, but what you give and how you live.

To encourage and engage the membership to absorb these lessons of inheritance, stewardship and change, churches can:

  1. Hold a church ministry fair where all of the church’s ministries
  2. are represented with literature and individuals who are able to
    answer questions about each ministry. Recruit volunteers to
    work with each ministriy;

  3. Conduct a survey of the membership and surrounding community to determine the real needs of the membership and community;

  4. Provide members and community members with an opportunity to commit to doing at least one new project for the church, community or some non-profit;

  5. Hold an inheritance day/night party that highlights the church’s original founders, how the church’s land was purchased, mortgages were paid, and how church projects (e.g., family life center, nursery, choir robes, benches, stained glass windows, etc.) were paid for;

  6. Include a testimonial period on the revival program to allow people to give their personal stories of change, stewardship and inheritance; and

  7. Highlight special periods of African American and church history and spotlight specific individuals who have been great stewards and/or left wonderful inheritances for the church, community or some non-profit.

b. Stories

When Joshua was leading the children of Israel into the promised land, Joshua took twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan river (Joshua 4:3). He was planning something and made provisions for the execution of that plan. Later, Joshua set those same twelve stones up for all to see  (Joshua 4:20).  Joshua wanted an object lesson reminder for any child who might ask “what do these stones mean?” (Joshua 4:21). Joshua stated that the Israelites would tell their children that God did it twice, once at the Red Sea and once at the Jordan River. It was God's work at the beginning of the trek and at the end of the journey (Joshua 4:23). Joshua knew that just remembering will bring revival. It is time for the people of God to set up some stones so that our decedents will never forget what God has done for us as a people. This remembering will bring a revival that will change us and our communities.

Each African American church is a unique and diverse institution. Individuals and families in those institutions have unique and diverse histories. They come from different parts of the country and have arrived at different times. So much of that uniqueness, diversity and history is never shared and is even lost by those who once knew it. Often it is never passed down to the children of families or the wider church. Small pieces of that history are given in obituaries, upon the death of individual members. What a wasteful method of sharing our stories. It causes our children to stumble in darkness and even think they have no history.

Churches have the capacity and opportunity to change this. They can collect the stories of families and individuals in written and oral forms, if they would only conduct oral history, life/family story projects. These projects could grow out of a revival but could become a permanent part of  a church’s offerings to its membership and surrounding community. Generations to come would then have a thoughtful road map that depicts the history of the church and the people that founded, nurtured and grew it. They will have a better knowledge and understanding of their inheritance, their obligations to be good stewards of that inheritance, and their responsibility to leave an inheritance for the coming generations. They will have a deeper appreciation of the revival experience.


1. Andrews, Wayne and Cochran, Thomas C. Concise Dictionary of American History. New York, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962. p. 819.
2. Id.
3. Franklin, John Hope and Moss, Alfred A., Jr. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. pp. 37-39.
4. Lincoln, Eric C. And Mamiya, Lawrence H. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1990. p. 8.
5. Frazier, Franklin E. The Negro Church in America. New York, New York: Schocken Books, 1964. p. 16.
7. Burleigh, Glenn. “Order My Steps.” The African American Heritage Hymnal. Chicago, IL: GIA Publications: 2001. #333
8. Akers, Doris. “Sweet Sweet Spirit.” The African American Heritage Hymnal. #326
9. Thompson, John. “Give Me a Clean Heart.” The African American Heritage Hymnal. #461



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