In the last Praiseletter entitled Today, I mentioned that I may have more to say on that topic in this present letter. I think, in a sense, I shall, but perhaps not in the same way I had anticipated.
My wife and I recently went to see the movie, Jesus Revolution. The same day we went to see that movie, the news media (or at least some of the media) were continuing to carry a story about a revival that was occurring on the campus of Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Today, in this Praiseletter, we are going to attempt to get some clarity, perspective, and guidance concerning these kinds of events that have happened historically and are happening presently.
Even as I say that, it’s very possible that some of you are already choosing up sides (which always happens when these events occur) as to whether or not these revivals, awakenings, or so-called outpourings, are genuine, God-ordained, Spirit-empowered “happenings” or just emotionally charged and manipulated (by men) anomalies.
The best answer I can give is, I believe they can be both. This, of course, is where discernment comes in. But unfortunately, even discernment can be “muddied” by dogmatic opinions that have oftentimes been grounded in faulty doctrine, which inevitably leads to prejudiced or biased actions or reactions.
Our only hope of sorting these issues out is to go to God’s Word. So, first let’s consider the word revival in light of God’s revealed truth, as it relates to the aforementioned topics.
Revival definition: “restoration to life, consciousness, vigor, strength, an awakening, in a church or community, of interest in and care for matters relating to personal religion.”
I recently read a rather lengthy opinion piece by a highly regarded and well-respected theologian, dismissing any validity or credibility to the Asbury revival. In short, his opinion was that because revival is not a term found anywhere in the New Testament, we err in supposing that “these kinds of things” are to be anticipated or embraced today.
This line of thinking is rather like a particular denomination that allows no instruments to be used in the act of corporate worship in the church. Their reasoning is that nowhere in the New Testament are instruments mentioned, even though there are numerous mentions of varied instruments throughout the Old Testament.
There is music to be sure in this particular denomination, by way of acapella choirs, ensembles, and soloists. Beautiful music, I might add. The choirs and ensembles get their correct beginning note from a pitch pipe. A pitch pipe is akin to a harmonica but with fewer available notes. It is, by any definition, an instrument (though they’ll argue that) but that’s a topic for another time, not today. But you get the argument. If the word that defines the event is not mentioned, then the event itself cannot be credible or viable.
Many, it seems, who are the quickest to speak out against the possibility that God, in His sovereignty, might again do what scripture verifies He has done historically, say: “Such outpourings, awakenings, revivings, and the miraculous have all ended at the conclusion of the Apostolic Age.” Oh well, that settles it! But wait a minute…I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover many times and I don’t recall coming across the term “Apostolic Age” anywhere…not once!
Now relax, I believe the term Apostolic Age is most appropriate in defining that period of time from the Day of Pentecost (c. A.D. 30-33, Acts 2 to the death of John c. A.D. 100). There are some nuanced opinions on this, but I am comfortable with the previous definition. There are no more apostles! By the defined qualifications found in scripture, apostles were those who:
1) Were an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ.
2) Were directly called by Christ.
3) Demonstrated “Signs of a true apostle” (performed signs and wonders).
There are some who may have an apostolic-type ministry as it relates to “being sent out.” But, I do not believe there are apostles today who can meet the same criteria as those of the Apostolic Age. However, the point in all this is to be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” as the saying goes.
Though the Apostolic Age has ended, we must be careful not to automatically suppose that all that the Holy Spirit was doing during that time has ended as well. The Holy Spirit is not still inspiring men to write words that are equal to or in addition to the Canon of Scripture. Of this we can be sure! However, I find it interesting that many who are so adamant about the sovereignty of God (I believe He is absolutely sovereign) are often among the first to say what He can or can’t, will or won’t, do anymore.
Has God ever revived? (Remember Nineveh?)
Has He ever poured out His Spirit? (Remember Pentecost and subsequent scriptural references.)
Has He ever awakened a church, a city, or a region? (Ask Johnathan Edwards and many others in both biblical and present times.)
If God has a history of reviving, pouring out His Spirit, and awakening people, all in accordance with the truth of His Word and the power of His Spirit, why couldn’t He or wouldn’t He do it now?
Many are quick to point out that all these revivals, awakenings, or outpourings are nothing more than emotionalism. There are (and unfortunately will continue to be) false revivals. There have been so-called “outpourings” that lacked little if any biblical precedent and should be avoided completely. However, any true move of God upon us by the truth of His Word and the power of His Spirit, will and should involve our emotions. That’s a good thing. A dear pastor friend of mine wrote recently: “Emotion. It’s an essential part of motivation. It’s also an essential part of spirituality. Without emotions spirituality is reduced to empty ritual and formality. It’s when the soul is stirred that authentic godliness becomes a reality.” (Dr. Richard Dressellhaus)
Let’s revisit the definition of Revival:
• Restoration to life (Rom. 6:10-11, Jeremiah 30:17)
• Consciousness (Acts 17:28, Isaiah 30:21)
• Vigor/strength (Philippians 4:13, Isaiah 40:31)
There are many, many other verses throughout Scripture that fit and support these defining words as well. It seems as though revival is a biblical concept. Revival also seems a most appropriate term to recount the lives and ministries of Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, and others of those centuries long ago. Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, Finney, and Moody all gave testimony to the reviving, awakening, and transforming power of the preached Word of God, presented under the anointing of His Holy Spirit.
I think I would offer here a word of advice, and hopefully wisdom, on how we should consider the validity of some present-day revival or awakening. First of all, the Word must be the first and only means whereby we determine the authenticity of any revival, awakening, or movement. I don’t believe, however, that this means revival can begin only if the Word is preached. Some great revivals in history began because people sought God desperately in prayer. In the beginning process of people, churches, and communities, even nations being revived, there was by necessity, a need for the “revived” to be fed. A person being physically revived will soon and always need nourishment. No matter how a revival starts, it must soon and always be nourished by the preaching of the Word or it will become anemic and fade away, as many have.
On the other hand, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon entitled, “Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God” to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, and again on July 8, 1741, in Enfield, Connecticut, and what has come to be known as “The First Great Awakening” ensued.
When assessing revivals, awakenings, or movements, I think we would be wise to apply the wisdom of Gamaliel to the situation. When the high priest and his council wanted to punish some disciples, Gamaliel intervened and said: “Other movements have started and fizzled out. If this is not of God, it will fizzle also. However, if it is of God, you can’t stop it, and may even be found fighting against God.” (My paraphrase)
Good advice. Sound wisdom!
I mentioned earlier that Linda and I went to see the movie, Jesus Revolution. We enjoyed seeing a depiction of what was happening in those days, though I believe the movie got some things wrong. I have never really liked the term revolution to describe what God was doing amongst the Hippies and youth in the late 60s and early 70s. I prefer the term “Jesus Movement” because of the definition of revolution, as we know it. However, whether called a revolution, movement, or revival; I believe God was at work (even in the midst of much chaos, confusion, and counterfeit) targeting wayward, disillusioned youth, with the claims of the gospel. Linda and I lived in So. California in 1970 and 71, only a few miles from where so many new converts were being baptized in the Pacific Ocean. Most of my ministry at that time was with David Wilkerson. We ministered nightly in arenas, auditoriums, on the beaches in California, and across the country, preaching and singing the gospel, and always seeing many come to faith in Christ. Many didn’t.
Yes, there was craziness, bad theology in many corners, commercialism, and excess of various kinds. But what did you think…that Satan was going to stand on the sidelines and cheer? Whenever God moves, either on an individual or a culture, He’s never inactive, disinterested, or uninvolved. He’s always committed to mess things up!
But there are ministers in the pulpit today, missionaries around the world, and musicians still writing and singing the praises of God and the truth of the gospel because of the Jesus Movement. We still have many dear friends in Christian music, and elsewhere, who were brought from darkness to light and from sinners to saints during the Jesus Movement. Let’s be careful to never judge what God may be doing by any personal, biased, and prejudiced opinions.
When considering how God may be” moving” in an individual, a church, a community, or even a nation, let us always look to the “cover-to-cover” evidence in His Word, and believe in the present and unchanged power of His Holy Spirit. Let us pray that He would sovereignly move again in our churches, our cities, our country, and throughout the world. If ever there was a need for true spiritual revival, it’s now!
We praise Thee, Oh God
For the Son of Thy love
For Jesus Who died
And is now gone above
All glory and praise
To the Lamb that was slain
Who hath borne all our sins
And hath cleansed every stain
Revive us again
Fill each heart with Thy Love
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above
Hallelujah Thine the glory
Hallelujah Thine the glory
Revive us again
(William P. Mackay 1835-1885)