Part One of Four: Introduction and The Shearer Schoolhouse
One of my favorite subjects of study is revival history. The study of other forms of history can be frightening considering how much we see it repeating itself lately, particularly in the government and economic realms. However, revival history takes the same principle question that usually causes fear – “What if it happens again?” – and makes it a buoy of our faith and overwhelmingly encouraging, “What if God does this again?!”. While we can certainly count on evil to continue in its dark agenda, we can rely on the Lord even more to bring about His kingdom here on earth. (Heb. 13:8)
Recently, I posted something every day for a week on Facebook regarding revival history in East Tennessee, about which I imagine, many around here may not know. I have two reasons for this. First, Friday, March 22, 2019, marked the 60th anniversary of an incredibly significant God-event in our local history, which I will touch on later. Second, there has been a considerable amount of future history written involving East Tennessee and the broader region in the last few years. And just like our past revivals, I am sure most around here do not know about it either. When I say, “future history”, that is my way of saying ‘promises from the Lord over an entire area which are confirmed by multiple sources who do not know each other.’ Call it prophecy if you like as that is what the Bible calls it. However, this is not like the abuses of prophecy you may have seen. And since it is in the Bible, we do not have permission to dismiss the real just because we have seen error. The truth is… the heart of the Lord for the future of our area has been disclosed, and we need to get ourselves connected with it through prayer, covenant-building and much more. Or else, He may walk on past our boat on His stroll across the stormy seas of our nation. (Mark 6:4)
As I said before, March 22 marked the anniversary of a significant God-event for this area in 1959. However, to understand the context of that story, we must walk through several moment of East Tennessee history that led there.
One issue in recounting revival history is finding the right place to begin. Time would fail me if I attempted to do true justice to the history of the moves of God in our area. In addition to the detail required, the supernatural nature of prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit across a region means… the intercession of hidden groups can affect events far away with very little evidence connecting the two. So, when I say this is an ‘inexhaustive history,’ what I mean is, the Lord can never be given enough credit, and many saints of the history of this area are only known in heaven. But until we meet them someday, all should know that many faithful remnants have pursued the Lord here; and time and again, despite cold hearts, stubbornness, perversion of His truth, and outright betrayal of His heart for more than two centuries, He has pursued His harvest here. I would also add, I believe that today, He once again stands at our door, knocking. (Rev 3:20)
The gospel was first preached in our area in the late 1700s by a Presbyterian minister named Samuel Carrick in a church near the Forks of the River in Knoxville. His first message was titled, “Be Ye Reconciled.” This title would soon become a somewhat prophetic statement for a region whose Christian “personality” could be compared to two feuding brothers. One brother was longing for more of God, while the other longed for God and… something else.
Regardless, Carrick was broadly influential in the founding of the state. He gave the opening prayer at the State Constitutional Convention, which inaugurated our statehood. He also started a household Bible study which would grow large enough to become a ministry school before he died. After closing for a time, the ministry school would reopen as what is now known as the University of Tennessee. The University credits him as their first president to this day.
I also want to mention the Moravian missionaries’ influence here. They deserve more credit than I can give here for their work with the Cherokee in East Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina throughout the 1700-1800s. They were a pure witness of the love of Christ to the indigenous tribes, which contrasted sharply against the cruelty of others.
However, despite the work of Carrick, the Moravians, and many other faithful saints, hunger for a purer Gospel witness arose in a handful of believers in Monroe County toward the end of the nineteenth century.
Barney Creek & The Shearer Schoolhouse
On August 19, 1886, Richard Spurling, along with his son, R.C. Spurling, John Plemons and 5 other people, gathered in a boarding house on the banks of Barney Creek. Out of frustration with the condition of Christianity in that time, they formed a new covenant between each other and the Lord; what they called a “Christian Union.” They were inspired by the work of John Wesley and the preaching of sanctification and holiness saying, “God’s church exists where His law and government are observed.” There, they committed to God and one another to pray and fast until the Lord answered with fire.
The sought for fire of God did not arrive the next day. Ten years later, after continual pursuit, they held a series of meetings in the summer of 1896 in a schoolhouse named after the Shearer Family. Four guest evangelists preached on the work of sanctification. It was at this meeting the Lord finally gave them their answer: a corporate outpouring of the Holy Spirit just like in Acts 2. Though individuals throughout history have experienced great infillings, what took place that day is believed to be the first such outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the U.S. and the first in the world in centuries. Many have heard of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Yet ten years earlier, heaven descended on a small schoolhouse at the Tennessee/ North Carolina border. More than one hundred people were filled with the Spirit that day with the evidence of speaking in tongues and divine healing. This one moment would go on to become a movement of holiness in our area, eventually organizing into the modern Church of God denomination, which is now based in Cleveland, TN. and has more than seven million members across the world.
So, what is the significance of this moment today? Perhaps you wonder why a meeting where just one hundred people were changed is a significant event. I can only ask… has anyone alive today even seen that much in our area? I believe it was a turning point event in our region because it had something which none of us can honestly say we have ever seen: a corporate pursuit of such potency as to invite a public answer from heaven.
As I mentioned, I believe this area can be compared to two brothers at war with each other. Unfortunately, this can be literal at times. The Church of God denomination, for its many successes, eventually split several times. One of its founders, AJ Tomlinson, left the denomination to form the Church of God of Prophesy, and later, after his sons, Homer and Milton took over, Milton expelled Homer from the denomination over a dispute, so Homer formed a third denomination, the Church of God (Huntsville, AL). It seems that in the personality of the church of this region, one “brother” always wants the Holy Spirit to fill His temple on earth, while the other wants God and… more power for himself. As the decades advance, the pattern continues: each “brother” alternatively moving to the forefront. And yet the Lord pursues us still.
There is a future history already written over this area. We know this because it is in the Bible: “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth.” However, we also know because the Lord has sent faithful witnesses to give us specifics. If we are to prepare for the Lord’s will and pursue it, we need to break the pattern of the “brothers’ feud.” To do so, we must understand the difference between what draws the Holy Spirit and what grieves Him. Unfortunately, this area has grieved Him deeply in the past. On our way to the glorious God-event of 1959, we need to know the events of 1955, where the leadership of the Body of Christ in Knoxville betrayed and rejected the Holy Spirit because the wrong brother took over. This is what we will discuss in Part Two.