This Week in AG History — September 14, 1969
By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 15 September 2016
Early twentieth-century Pentecostal pioneers were hungry for authentic Christianity, and they looked to previous spiritual outpourings for inspiration and instruction. One of the revivals recounted by early Pentecostals — the Prayer Revival of 1857 — had occurred within their lifetime.
The social conditions that led up to the Prayer Revival of 1857, in many ways, mirror those in America today. Harold A. Fischer, an Assemblies of God minister, retold the compelling story of this revival in the Sept. 14, 1969, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
By 1857, spiritual decline in America had become alarming. Church membership was decreasing and public figures were scoffing at religion. A time of prosperity had caused people to forget about God. Furthermore, the nation’s attention was riveted by the unfolding political drama that ultimately resulted in the Civil War.
Things began to change in 1857, when a financial meltdown caused thousands of merchants to go bankrupt and forced many banks to close. People from all social backgrounds were affected. People began to turn away from materialism in the midst of their suffering. “As ruin stared men in the face,” Fischer wrote, “their only refuge was God.”
A declining church pastored by a man with little ministry experience helped to spark a revival in 1857 that spread across the nation. Jeremiah Lanphier, a businessman, felt God’s call to the ministry. At age 49, he gave up his career and accepted the pastorate of Old North Dutch Church on Fulton and Williams Streets in the heart of lower New York City.
The congregation was facing a slow demise. Immigrants were moving into the community, and the church’s members were moving elsewhere. Lanphier did not sit down and allow the inevitable to happen. He canvassed the neighborhood, praying with people and inviting people to church. Few responded, however, and he grew discouraged.
But then Lanphier thought about the businessmen of the community, and how they might like to get away for a short break over the lunch hour. He widely advertised a noon prayer meeting for businessmen. Six showed up on the first day, Sept. 23, 1857. Attendance grew, and it soon became a daily event.
Several weeks later, a stock market crash caused one of the worst financial panics in American history. The church, located near the financial district, became a destination for bankers, lawyers, and businessmen whose world had been turned upside down. Up to 3,000 people flooded into the noon prayer meeting, and similar prayer meetings began to be held around the nation. Over the next year, between 300,000 and one million people accepted Christ across America during what came to be called the Prayer Revival of 1857.
What can Pentecostals learn from the Prayer Revival of 1857? Church work should never be viewed as the primary domain of clergy. The 1857 revival was largely carried on by laity who, according to Fischer, received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that empowered them for unexpectedly effective ministry. Prayer was also one of the hallmarks of this revival. Charles Finney observed during the revival that people seemed to prefer prayer meetings over preaching services. When God moves, it usually seems to coincide with passionate prayer. Finally, when God truly touches peoples’ hearts, there will be social implications to that heart change. After the 1857 revival, laypersons began to organize Sunday schools, local chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and city missionary societies. The revival was a catalyst that provoked Christians to develop ministries to serve and love people, which built up both the churches and the communities where they were located.
The revival waned after one or two years, but churches were left in a stronger position and better able to address the tragedies that would be inflicted by the Civil War only a short time later. According to Fischer, “the effect of such praying had left its mark.”
Read Harold Fischer’s article, “The Great Revival of 1857,” on pages 18-19 of the Sept. 14, 1969, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Why Assemblies of God Colleges are Different,” by T. E. Gannon
• “The Prohibited Love,” by Gordon Chilvers
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.
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