Friday, June 13, 2008

What is a Revival?

What is a revival? When is it legitimate? Are we allowed to question anyone who claims to be participating in a revival and if we do question it could we be actually “quenching the Spirit”.


There are two extremes for Christian reaction to any type of revival.

First are those who reject the complete thing and label any event that does not fit into their spiritual experience as heresy or as not of God. They do not go to Scripture to test the Spirit but instead rely on hearsay and there own emotions. (Ironically the same thing they condemn in others) This is not something which Scripture would allow a Christian to partake in because notice the following passage: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone (emphasis mine), able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Timothy 2:23-24)

Second are the people who take everything and every word of an experience at a revival as truth (even though they would state they are not) and whenever someone questions them they quickly retort: “You’re quenching the Spirit.” This convenient spiritual trump card stands little chance of rebuttal because usually the person who is following the passage listed above is not trying to disavow a person (this is key) but trying to question as they are biblically commanded to do. All throughout Scripture believers are continuously warned to inspect any move of God. “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said (emphasis mine).” (1 Corinthians 14:29) Paul continues to remind those who would state that no one should question them: “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” (1 Corinthians 14:35) Whenever someone then rejects biblical criticism Paul states emphatically that the person be ignored. Period

What isn’t a Revival

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.” 2 Timothy 2:8

Before getting into what a revival actually is, it’s necessary to weed out the things which should not lead us to conclude that a revival is legitimate.

(a) Miracles/Signs

Miracles and revival seem to go hand in hand. In conversation a revival is always justified because someone was healed or some other miraculous event has taken place. Scripture clearly states: “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:4a) This passage is used and rebutted in any discussion as something Jesus was stating to the Pharisees. Yet, this misses the larger picture in that there is the second part to that verse which mentions the sign of Jonah. He was in the fish for three days; Jesus was in the ground for three days. The point of the matter for Jesus was not to negate miracles but to make everyone realize that miracles happen because of the greatest miracle; the resurrection of Christ! This will lead directly into what a revival is but let’s stay on this subject of miracles.

“For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect-if that were possible.” Mark 13:22

This verse makes it very clear that the “elect” cannot be deceived but notice also that it states that the false prophets/Christs will be able to perform signs and miracles. Throughout the Scriptures then there are continuous examples of men and women who are given supernatural power but do not get that power from God even though they claim to. A believer then should never let a miracle be the starting point for defending any type of revival as legitimate from God. Period.

(b) Disorder

“I just don’t put God in a box”. The second trump card. Many times revivals, at least in today’s day and age, are synonymous with very peculiar human reactions and manifestations. I won’t get into specific one’s here because the list would be to long but given the foundation we have already laid the question is what does Scripture state? “Therefore my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should (emphasis mine) be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (1 Corinthians 14:40) This verse very clearly sets out a limit for what God does in any type of revival and notice it isn’t us who puts God in a box. He gave us the map for how He is going to move! Any legitimate move of God does not defraud or diminish the image of God in us. We have a fallen nature, yes, but God does not magnify that nature or make it some other earth bound nature; He wants to destroy it.

(c) Rebuking “doctrine”

Doctrine does not get a lot of credit these days. In fact, it is almost looked at as the enemy. Doctrine is associated with a rigid, by-the-book type of mentality and many tend to state that doctrine is the reason that we do not have revivals. People would rather live by books then get into the waves of the Spirit. Again, what does Scripture state? “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine (emphasis mine). Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside myths.” (2 Timothy 3:3-4) Paul does not stop there: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Paul, Jesus, and many others loved doctrine and they believed that studying it, living it, and walking it made for a stronger Christian life. As we saw earlier, Jesus even said it would save us in the end!
What is a Revival

Now that we have spent some type stating what a revival isn’t, we must now ask what a revival is.

(a) Return of the Prodigal

Perhaps the greatest example of a revival that I have ever found in Scripture is that of the prodigal son. Yeah, exactly, we don’t necessarily think of it like that! When the son came home, realized his mistake, and repented to the Father, a great feast with music and dancing was rolled out. (Luke 15) The story ends like this: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (vs. 32) Any type of revival centers on the return of the prodigals home.

(b) Reformation

The prodigal analogy I believe works so well because throughout both history and Scripture, the most lasting revivals have been those which led to reformation of a persons character. One thinks of Josiah and his discovery of the book of the law or the Wesleyan revival which is credited with saving much of Britain. Revivals are not “new things” but instead “old things revisited”. We see this throughout Paul’s writings: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3) Paul also stated: “But as for your, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) A revival then does not focus on accepting some “new revelation” but instead focuses on a return to the path of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Keeping close to what was handed down from the past is the job of the Christian; this is why people who state that by questioning the newest revival you are quenching the Spirit are wrong. Are job as a believer is to hold fast to that old, old story. Period.

(c) Love/Fruit

Perhaps the most important sign that a revival is legitimate is something which does not become apparent right away. Time actually is the teller. Does the person experience a dramatic shift in their character? Do they love? As Paul said: “If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Paul then goes and gives the list of all the things which love are. A person cannot have experienced a revival if they do not dramatically shift their thoughts and make the fruit of the Spirit their mission in life. The best sign of revival is to see how a person comes back from one. Many times this tells us all we need to know!

(d) Spiritual Gifts

I know it seems a little contradictory to state that spiritual gifts can be a sign of a revival, especially since miracles and signs are considered spiritual gifts, but this is a tension I am willing to live with because Paul obviously did. I believe that after salvation there is a secondary experience that God bestows on all His people that prepares them to go out and do great works for Him. Acts 2:39 states: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Peter was referring here to the events which took place earlier in the chapter where believers were baptized in tongues of fire. This gifting made rather cowardly men strong preachers of the Gospel. This gift also is so powerful that it can be a way to see that person has had a dramatic shift. “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they had heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” (Acts 10:45-46)

Paul placed love in between the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians because he saw what destructive forces inappropriate revivals can have on a church. When people fight and bicker and things get out of control, no fruit can possibly grow and the body of Christ as a whole suffers because of it! You cannot have spiritual gifts without love and love always proceeds the gifts. I would also argue that fruits proceed gift and just like we prophesy in part so do we “fruit in part” except the former is fertilized by the latter. Whenever revivals start with four and ignore three, we get Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. A mistake we do not need to make again!


In closing I have laid out what I believe to be a biblical examination for looking at how God moves in our world today. As someone who has been on the receiving side of both extremes I know how hard it can be for a Christian to wade through the passions on both sides. Being a Pentecostal also means dealing with spiritual fascists who very quickly toss you under the bus if they feel like you are weighing the Spirit down. I have experienced though that being thrown under the bus is better then crashing and being tossed out a window of the bus. The wisest words I’ve ever heard for treading these discerning waters was from a preacher quoting Scripture. “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39) Time will be the teller and we know the ending if we stick to that which has been passed down to us. Amen!


Amy said...

Thanks Bro. Bell.

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13-14