I’ve been reading some Finney lately, especially his Lectures on Revivals in which he defends his use of “new measures,” viz. the “anxious meeting,” “protracted meeting,” and the “anxious seat.” Finney believed that revival came through the right use of means which a preacher makes effectual the same way a sinner makes conversion effectual (“make for yourself a new heart“). Furthermore, Finney argued that excitement and/or emotional stirring is an appropriate means to bring about the revival he guaranteed would follow (by law of cause and effect). Anyone who would challenge the legitimacy of his “new measures” would be dubbed anti-evangelistic and seeking to quench the Spirit. Over the course of my life, I have attended numerous “protracted meetings” (revival services) where the “anxious seat” (i.e. altar calls) were used to the evangelist’s advantage. In fact, I have been told by successful evangelists in the SBC that they know exactly what buttons to push to evoke certain responses to guarantee “successful” revival services (much of this was learned by watching famous evangelists such as Billy Graham for example, who by the way, was quite fond of Finney). Having pondered Finney’s legacy and the new “new measures” I have stumbled upon in recent years, I thought I’d mention some that came to my attention.
1. “I See That Hand” or “God Bless You”
This new measure occurs at the close of the service when the pastor/evangelist/revivalist wants a visible sign to know who or how many unbelievers there are in the meeting. With every head bowed and every eye closed, the pastor is the only person privy to see who raises their hands, lifts up their face, stands up, etc. I was informed that an effective way to promote visible responses is to say “God Bless You” or “I See That Hand” when no hands are raised or no one is looking up. The rationale is that doing this frees others who otherwise would not be courageous or bold enough to do it themselves. If a person hears that someone else has raised their hand or lifted their face (when in fact they haven’t), they will be encouraged to do the same.
2. “The Orchestrated Response”
The purpose of this measure is to take away the dreaded fear of being the only one walking down an aisle. What normally happens is that those involved in counseling or pre-selected members in the church would walk down different aisles at different times and stand near the front. This removes the idea of a person being the first or only one moving forward. The pastor/evangelist would sometimes mention that at the moment you take the first step in the aisle, God is moving to save you.
3. “Prayer Request”
Similar to the “I See That Hand” measure, this measure deals with a pastor/evangelist who asks for a visible sign for anyone who would like for someone to pray for them. When a person’s hand is raised, they are asked to come forward to the altar. What occurs next is that they are led to repeat the sinner’s prayer in which they would “accept Jesus into their heart.” Therefore, the “prayer request” measure would result in not someone praying for them but rather the recitation of the “sinner’s prayer.”
4. “Nail It Down”
The “Nail It Down” measure can be found preachers who say that “if feel that you are 99% saved, then you are 100% lost,” making the assertion that “it is better to be saved twice than to be lost once” (I have heard both in revival services). Nailing it down is a term for those who might have made a profession of faith when they were young (say at VBS) but had doubts about their salvation now that they are older. While they may truly be saved, “nailing it down” is a measure used to offer assurance and peace of mind to those dealing with doubt.
5. “Word of Knowledge”
While this measure is more common in charismatic or Pentecostal services, I have witnessed it in several SBC revival services as well. Generally, the revivalist will claim that he has a “word of knowledge” about someone in the meeting, and that the appropriate response would be to heed that word and come forward for salvation. For instance, a young man could be dealing with pornography and has a sexual addition. The revivalist would then apply the pressure with the appropriate “word of knowledge” and move from a flood light approach to a laser beam, pinpointing certain individuals who fit the declaration.
6. “Itinerant Spirit”
Lastly, the “itinerant Spirit” measure is one that says that Holy Spirit is passing through and only here for a short period of time. If you do not come forward and get saved today, you may never get the change again because the Spirit is going to pass you by (assuming you have blasphemed the Spirit). The measure is to excite an immediate and prompt response with the fear that God may abandon you forever if you do not accept Jesus right then and there.
I know that some of you who read these new “new measures” will think I have made all this up. I regret to say that I have not. Others will find this controversial-perhaps as controversial (if not more so) as Finney’s measures in his day. Indeed they are. Not only are they an embrace of his measures, they are a “new and improved” version that, if questioned by anyone, they will be dubbed as anti-evangelistic or critical. Nevertheless, I think it is fair to bring them up, as those who practice such measures, would most likely not be embarrassed to claim them, since, as Finney argues, they are means to accomplish the ends.