Evangelistic revivals are fast becoming events of a past generation in the modern church. I am old enough to remember when a scheduled revival meeting would begin on a Sunday morning continuing through the following Saturday evening, and if the meeting was successful it might be extended for another week. As time progressed the usual revival of the 1980’s and 1990’s was reduced to a Sunday morning through Wednesday night. Fewer and fewer churches after the 1990’s even scheduled evangelists to come preach, until now only a very few pastors consider an evangelistic revival a relevant event for their church. I believe the church is missing a very significant tool for outreach evangelism, which for many decades was responsible for tens of thousands of spiritually dead sinners to make lasting professions of faith. I use the term lasting because one of the arguments against revivals is many recorded professions of faith from the past were simply emotional responses to high pressure techniques of over-zealous evangelists.
In a previous post I related the account of my friend Rev. Anton (Buddy) Uth’s first evangelistic visit. He was a college student at Ouachita Baptist University at the time, and upon graduation went to seminary to receive his M Div. degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He pastored many Southern Baptist churches in the south during his years of ministry. I was privileged to know and love him because his son David, who is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Orlando is married to our niece Rachel Moore. Brother David became our pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado for a 5 year period in the 1990’s. Besides being a wonderful pastor-shepherd, Brother Buddy could tell some of the most interesting and hilarious stories of any pastor I have known. I always thought one of his best stories concerned a visiting evangelist.
I don’t recall Brother Buddy revealing the name of the evangelist, and this account might well have been the first time this man had preached in one of his churches. In the modern church very few pastors wear a coat and tie, but in the majority of Southern Baptist churches prior to 2000, it would have been unthinkable for a pastor or evangelist to wear anything but a coat and tie. This evangelist had on his nicest suit and came fully prepared to lead a successful meeting.
For the initial service on Sunday morning Brother Buddy didn’t recognize prior to walking onto the platform with the evangelist, the visitor had failed to close the zipper of his pants. The visitor; however recognized his own mistake when he sat in his chair on the platform while the choir was singing the opening anthem. This was certainly not the time to close a zipper with all the congregants watching the activities behind him. The preacher thought he could easily close his zipper when he stood to preach standing behind the pulpit, and the action would not be noticed by even the most observant viewer.
The church sanctuary was an old one without air conditioning and during the hot summer months the windows along the sides were kept open. This meeting was being held in the latter days of August before Labor Day. With the help of the ceiling fans the circulation was enough on most Sundays to keep the inside temperatures pleasant enough for a 1-2 hour service. The pulpit had been built years before by one of the skilled members, and to add a little color and formality a small silk cloth with tassels was covering the top of the pulpit. Those overlays were common in many country churches. The evangelist had no idea this colorful but unobtrusive item was about to become a focal point of his message that morning.
At the close of the choir special the evangelist kept his Bible and notes in front of him as he stood and quickly positioned himself behind the pulpit. While he was making introductory praise remarks to Pastor Buddy and the congregation he quickly pulled on the zipper and succeeded in closing it. His preaching style was not typical of many evangelists in that he primarily remained behind the pulpit while preaching. It was more common for preachers to move back and forth across the platform while speaking, stopping frequently to emphasize a particular point. This particular style for this preacher delayed the discovery of what had just occurred.
The evangelist noted during his message the pulpit overlay seemed to moved slightly when he shifted positions, but he attributed it to the slight breeze coming into the auditorium and thought nothing of it. He remained stationed behind the pulpit and re-positioned his preaching notes. Nearing the close of his message he began making an appeal for anyone desiring to make a public profession of faith or re-commitment of their life to Christ to stand and make their way to the front of the auditorium. He said he and Brother Buddy would be at the front to receive them and pray with them. He asked the pianist to begin softly playing “Just As I Am.” With a quick turn and move the evangelist stepped fully out from behind the pulpit, and he discovered what had occurred when he zipped up his zipper!
One of the tassels was trapped in the top of his zipper and the entire overlay with his Bible and preaching notes came flying off the pulpit. He was suddenly fully exposed to the congregation with the brightly colored overlay hanging down from his pants. He made several attempts at freeing the tassel, but it was so deeply embedded it was not to be removed apart from being cut free. Brother Buddy said he and the entire congregation were so near to breaking out into laughter, the solemnity of the invitation time was gone. As the evangelist turned his back to the crowd he continued in his efforts to free the tassel. Brother Buddy said all he knew to do at the moment was to call on the Chairman of Deacons seated near the front to close in prayer. At the moment he seemed less likely to break out in laughter and was able to successfully voice a prayer.
As Brother Buddy usually said when recalling this funny incident, “Don’t ever assume what God may do in any church service. He will have His way.” God wants us to come to Him with a humble and contrite heart knowing anything good we have is from His hand. (Psalm 51: 16,17). I can think of few things which will humble a preacher more than standing in front of his hearers with a brightly colored pulpit overlay hanging from the front of his pants!