Old Time Religion in the 21st Century

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

For the past several years I have preached in a couple of camp meetings each year.  Alabama doesn’t have but a few camp meetings, so I suspect most Alabamians have never visited a camp meeting.  This is not true in our neighbor states of Georgia and Mississippi where many camp meetings are a time-honored tradition.

Most of the camp meetings are over 150 years old. Some of the camp meetings last a week, or ten days or even two weeks.  Most of them have a large, open-air tabernacle in the center of the camp ground that can seat in excess of 400 people.  Usually they are surrounded by cabins or what they call “tents.”  Many of them have more than 50 tents, and some tents sleep as many as 20 people.

Most of the tents are owned by families and passed down from one generation to the next.  Some camp meetings have people on the waiting list to secure a tent.  The tents vary from nice, air conditioned cottages to 75-year old un-air-conditioned primitive structures with saw dust floors.

A camp meeting is always held on the same week every year, such as the week following the third Sunday in June.  Many families have their family reunions in conjunction with camp meetings.  Families always know in advance when the family reunion will occur and make plans to attend.  Sometimes as many as 75 people gather in a tent for their family reunion.

While attending Young Harris Junior College in north Georgia and Candler School of Theology at Emory, I remember hearing stories of so many people who made a Christian commitment at a camp meeting, and so many of the people going into ministry were called to preach at a camp meeting.  Camp meetings have been a vehicle God has used to change the population of heaven and supply Christian pulpits across this country!

Strong Christian programs for children and youth are offered during the camp meeting time.  I recently preached twice a day at the Shiloh camp meeting near Carrollton, Georgia.  They had 100 young people on campus for the entire week of camp meeting and 13 college students who served as camp counselors.  They have a nice dormitory that sleeps 50 boys and another one that sleeps 50 girls.  Youth have to sign up early to get a dormitory spot at this camp meeting.

Music is always a vital part of camp meeting.  Most often a different church in the area brings their choir for one of the worship services.  One night at Shiloh, the Carroll County Symphony brought 40 of their members who supplied special music, and their conductor was the song leader for the week!

Camp meeting stories are inspiring.  One night, two 11-year old girls played a clarinet and piano duet.  The pianist is a wonderful story of God’s miraculous grace.  When her mother was pregnant with her, there were severe complications.  The doctors told her parents they should abort the child because she would have little chance of going to term, and no chance of a life without severe handicaps.  The God-fearing parents had people at the camp meeting pray.  Abortion was not an option.  When she was born, she received a perfect bill of health, and today she is a dynamic witness.

You don’t have to go to a camp meeting to have a miracle.  Miracles can happen anywhere.  God is redefining what is possible in life.  I’ve written a book When God Redefines the Possible which many people are finding helpful.  It is only available on our website or by calling the ministry office at (334) 270-2149.

Lay people attending camp meetings, most of them whose families have been going to camp meetings for generations, are excited about this venue God is using.  The “old time religion” camp meeting is still a venue that is growing and God is using effectively in the 21st Century.  We also must ask what new venues God can use to strengthen the faith of our families for generations to come.

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