The 1857 Christ Awakening in New York City: Could It Happen Again Here or Anywhere?
[Editor’s Note: Monday at the famed Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City more than 3000 gathered to pray together for a Christ Awakening movement in this generation. Many leaders will come from cities across America; additionally, nearly 1000 delegates will arrive from 100 of the major global cities of the world. This concert of prayer launches a full week of “Movement Day Global Cities” meetings convened at the Jacob Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan. David Bryant was invited to write an article in the convention magazine. Here we share it with you to encourage all of us to seek the Father for a Christ Awakening wherever we live.]
Ponder these headlines in the New York Times: “Biggest Church Packed Twice a Day for Prayer”; “Businesses Shut Down Daily for One Hour of Prayer”; “Political Leaders Get Down on Their Knees Before God”; “Revival Sweeps City.”
Envision tens of thousands gathered at noon for prayer in places of commerce and then filling churches at night, with an intensity that inspires similar convocations in cities across America and around the world.
Imagine conversions to Christ transpiring so rapidly, with such impact on the life of the city, that the newspaper is compelled to report daily the names of hundreds of New Yorkers who have committed their lives to Christ.
This is not a screenplay idea for a Christian movie. All of this really did take place! Could it happen again? Right where you live?
A Phenomenal Breakthrough Focused on Christ
Listen to one scholar with three earned doctorates in the study of revival history, who called this season of renewal in 1857-58 “the greatest awakening ever experienced in the USA,” as he remarked on its global impact:
“The practical evangelical ecumenism of that revival embodied the formation of interdenominational outreaches around the world, launched by these awakened churches.”
The widespread dynamics of the 1857 New York “Laymen’s Prayer Movement” ushered in a “Christ Awakening”—as defined by the same 20th-century academician, J. Edwin Orr:
Such an awakening consists of the outpouring of Christ upon His people by His Spirit [i.e., a “Christ Awakening”], affecting the reviving of the church, the awakening of the masses, the movement of uninstructed peoples toward the Christian faith. Then the revived church is moved to engage in evangelism, in teaching and in social action (emphasis added).
Similar revival meetings continued in the military encampments of both the North and South during the years of the Civil War. Meanwhile, the united prayer movement in New York City pressed on, while also spreading to cities and towns across the whole nation, and influencing similar awakenings overseas. The Times currently has 80 articles digitally archived that were published over the next 40 years detailing how the prayer initiative evolved.
What Does 1857 Have to Say to 2016?
As thousands of leaders gather in New York City for “Movement Day Global Cities 2016,” focused on advancing Christ’s kingdom within every dimension of urban life, surely it is prudent for us to ask: Could what happened 160 years ago take place again?
Prior to the 1857 breakthrough, there was no reason for Christians to hope for such a miracle. Trends were going in the opposite direction. Churches were dying. The city (and nation) was turning from religion to pursue prosperity. Youth were increasingly hedonistic and materialistic. The wealthy were fleeing the city, with multitudes of unreached immigrants and disenfranchised laborers replacing them. Then, like a jarring earthquake, The Great Bank Panic of 1857 shook the city.
Into this arena stepped businessman-turned-urban-missionary Jeremiah Lanphier. By his own testimony, God used one verse of a familiar hymn to call him to serve the city’s unevangelized poor: “It’s done, the great transaction’s done. I am my Lord’s and He is mine. He drew me and I followed on.”
Faced with intractable obstacles to outreach, Lanphier employed the biblical strategy of united prayer. In September 1857 he invited local business people to join him for a weekly noontime prayer meeting. The first week garnered only six people. But within a year, tens of thousands were gathering every day to pray for renewal! One writer concluded: “Out of his solitary consecration to the service of Christ, who can tell what results have come?”
Lanphier’s passion was not for prayer or outreach; it was for Christ. More than purpose-driven or even prayer-driven, this leader was Person-driven (Christ). To illustrate, in 1873 Lanphier wrote a book in celebration of the 15-year anniversary of that first prayer gathering at the Old Dutch Church on Fulton Street. Titled With Christ Alone, it asserted that a singular focus on Christ was the secret to the prayer movement as well as its aftermath.
Christ is the text; all preaching beside Christ is beside the text. Therefore, keep to your text.
Christ is the very foundation and subject matter of preaching; preaching without Christ is building castles in the air.
Christ is the life and spirit of preaching; all preaching without Him is like a body without life and spirit.
Christ is the great end of preaching; preaching is to manifest his glory. When Christ is not preached, that great end is lost (With Christ Alone, p. 92, emphasis added).
Can the 1857 phenomenon happen again in 2016—in New York City or any other city?
Yes! To whatever degree Christians assume a Person-driven focus on prayer, unity, urban transformation, justice, and evangelism, there are no limits to how fully Christ is willing and ready (in the words of Dr. Orr) to “pour out Himself on His people by His Spirit.” Everything else flows from that sovereign, gracious invasion.
Borrowing from Lanphier’s words above, but applying them beyond preaching, I hear him saying to us:
Keep your focus on Christ. Without that, every other focus is irrelevant.
Keep Christ as the foundation and reason for every effort you make to serve his forcefully advancing kingdom (Matthew 11:12).
Remember that Christ himself provides the spirit and life that must infuse every ambition you have to serve the poor or confront the powerful.
Never cease to make the manifestation of Christ your chief end regarding all you do to reach the city for him, measuring success by how fully people are being drawn to trust him, serve him, and lift him up.
Praying and Preparing for Citywide Christ Awakenings
In 2007, nearly 1000 Christian leaders from across the city and nation gathered in the Midtown Hilton ballroom to spend four hours commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the 1857 Laymen’s Prayer Revival, seeking the Father to do it again. Since then, through Concerts of Prayer Greater New York, The New York City Leadership Center, annual Movement Days, Pastors Prayer Summits, Pray New York, the monthly Lord’s Watch, and more, the Holy Spirit has continued to fill us with a yearning for the Father to do it again.
Take, for example, a recently forged citywide initiative called “Saturate NYC.” It offers practical, transferable strategies for every congregation to use to impact their “parishes” for Christ—individual households, public schools, the poor (especially in housing projects), and ethnic enclaves (representing over 150 nations).
But their priority passion is for a full-orbed awakening to Christ. Their mission statement says it all: “Saturate the Church with the supremacy of Christ in order to saturate the city with the glory of Christ.” As it should be for all gospel movements, Saturate NYC is grounded in a bold emphasis on praying—revival praying, reformation praying, evangelism praying—1857-styled praying!
We’re praying for God’s Spirit to use God’s Word to reintroduce God’s people to God’s Son for ALL he is. We’re praying for a Christ Awakening to saturate church and city.
We’re praying in Jesus’ name—to spread Jesus’ fame, to advance Jesus’ reign, to increase Jesus’ gain, to ratify Jesus’ claim—in New York City and beyond.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ-proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a pastor, minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, today David provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements.