Side Effects of Revivalism part two
I want to remind anyone reading that I’m writing about the side effects of revivalism, not revival. Anyone who hasn’t perceived that, with all due respect, isn’t reading very closely. We can diagnose genuine revival, contrary to someone’s comment on part one. We use the Bible. The point a commenter made was that my post assumed that we wouldn’t know if a real revival occurred or not. No, my post opposed revivalism. You can know when an occurrence or activity is revivalism, because it is something not regulated by scripture. We are to make these types of evaluations. Paul did (1 Corinthians 2). Jesus did (Matthew 7:13-29), and you could say that John did (1 John) and James did (James). In the same fashion, we can know based upon the Bible whether we have seen revival too.
I hear justification for revivalism today according to the same old arguments used by its inventors. Men see results and they choose to attribute it to some kind of parallel with what they read in Acts. They prayed and saw what they thought were good results mixed with bad. The problem with revivalism is that more occurs than just prayer. If men prayed in faith, they would assume that they had done all they could do to prepare for revival. Prayer assumes that we’re helpless and we must wait on God. Revivalism assumes in practice that God needs a little help. He needs our techniques and strategies and marketing and emotionalism and choreography, in addition to prayer. The Bible isn’t enough either—we’ve got to add our stories and histrionics.
The philosophy of concocting man-made and extra-scriptural activities intended to initiate a burst of salvation decisions is revivalism. On the other hand, revival is a surge of genuine conversions disconnected from choreographed human efforts. Revivalism plans revivals. We can’t plan revivals. We obey God. We live by faith. Sometimes revivals occur. God gives them.
In this two part series, I am listing and explaining some of the side-effects of revivalism. These negative consequences demonstrate revivalism and debunk it.
Inordinate Human Ingenuity (cont’)
Bible reading and prayer can contribute to the sanctification of the believer. They also manifest that sanctification. However, these two disciplines are not sanctification. A revivalist Christian, who wants God’s blessing on his life, might think that a habit of Bible reading and prayer will align him sufficiently with God to generate a revival. This isn’t true.
A revivalist might not need to know what he read in his chapters. The Bible, he’s been told, is a supernatural book, and it will do something to you irregardless of understanding the meaning of the words. You let it speak to you. You pray for it to give you the message you need. That may not be what it is saying, but still “the Holy Spirit was able to use it in your life.” This isn’t true either.
The revivalist might think that God will reward him according to the number of hours of “soulwinning” he does. It could relate to how many verses he memorizes. He might commit hundreds to memory, and again, not know what they mean, but those English words bouncing around in his head, seeing that they are the same ones found in his King James Bible, will leave a spiritual effect in their wake. And this also isn’t true.
None of the above is said to discourage prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, and Bible memorization. All of these can be wonderful spiritual disciplines with their rightful spirit, understanding, and emphasis. They could be a means to an end. They might be part of the end in itself. But not necessarily.
Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism writes (p. 201):
Revival is not something that men can plan or command as they will; the revivals in the Northeast, which occurred over a period of thirty years, followed no pattern or sequence . . . but why these were years of great harvest, rather than others no one can explain. It was certainly not because of ‘protracted meetings’ (special evangelistic services), for they were unknown in Connecticut before 1931.
David Benedict in Fifty Years Among the Baptists writes (p. 326):
The revival ministers, as they were called, soon became very popular; they were sent for from far and near, and in many cases very large additions were made to our churches under their ministrations.
The itinerant preacher, who travels from church to church, for a week of meetings, was not an office formed by scripture. It isn’t the “evangelist” found three times in the New Testament. Knowing what we see about Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8) in Acts 8, that office was more of a church planter, someone who evangelized a community with the possibility in time of an assembly gathering.
Today what is commonly known as “the evangelist” seems to be an invented office.
Many, if not most, programs in local churches are the fruit of revivalism. The operation of a church in the New Testament reads very simple. We should assume that this is how God wants us to operate, since the Bible is sufficient. Many inventions have come out of this movement to aid God through our new measures. Some have taken other legitimate aspects of church worship to manipulate men. The revival song, what once was a part of praise directed to God, now takes on the task of enducing men to a saving feeling. This has been taken to new heights with contemporary Christian music.
Recently popular evangelical pastor John Piper was asked what he thought about the coarse pulpit speech of Mark Driscoll. As a part of his answer, he excused Driscoll by saying:
These are weird people comin’ to his church . . . look at this . . . they wouldn’t come to hear me for anything. They wouldn’t go to my church, but they’ll go to his church. I’m cuttin’ him a lot of slack because of the mission. It’s kind of a both/and for me. You don’t need to go as far as you’ve gone sometime with your language, but I understand what you’re doing missiologically there and I have a lot of sympathy for, because I like to see those people saved.
John Piper calls himself a seven-point Calvinist. He’s the hero all over of professing young evangelical Calvinists. And yet you get this kind of revivalistic language in which missions has become so dependent on us. You see the conclusion here. Mark Driscoll does things in the way of course language and other strategies, completely detached from scripture and the Holy Spirit, that make him effective at seeing people saved. John Piper believes this. And in this case it is the worldliness of Mark Driscoll that he says is causing it.
This understanding of Piper is no different than Jack Hyles or other well-known revivalist fundamentalists through the years. Perhaps the gimmicks of Driscoll, congratulated by Piper, are more appreciated by the younger evangelical and fundamentalist of the day. These same would say that they despise revivalism. They just choose a different brand of it. Iain Murray writes (p. 412):
Whenever wrong methods are popularised, on the basis of a weak or erroneous theology, the work of God is marred and confused. Dependence on men, whoever they are, or upon means, is ultimately the opposite of biblical religion.
One almost unanimous characteristic of revivalism has been inaccurate assessment of results. Murray again comments (p. 215):
[T]hese leaders were against treating anyone as a convert simply on profession of faith. Beecher’s warning against ‘the hasty recognition of persons as converted upon their own judgment, without interrogation or evidence’, was echoed by all his brethren.
The revivalists are often anxious to quote post meeting successes as proof of the genuineness of the experience. In the same audio of Piper above in his answer about the methods of Driscoll, he mentions the “four hundred” whom Driscoll had “baptized” on Easter Sunday as reason for admiration. For Hyles, it may have been his 3,000 “new converts” on a Pentecost Sunday.
What is ironic about many of the false results of revivalists is that the methods produce the results and the results validate the method. This is a destructive circular reasoning that circumvents the Word of God as the authority for faith and practice. Ignoring the Bible leaves solely human evaluation, which falls short as a means of discernment (John 17:17).
Because revivalism depends so much on man’s methods and inducements, he gets the credit no matter how much he might protest it. This is in part why Paul said what he said in 1 Corinthians 2. We see the purpose of keeping man out of God’s work in v. 5:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
God doesn’t want the results of His work to be understandable, we see that in the last several verses of 1 Corinthians 1:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
God doesn’t choose things that seem to men like they will work. God chooses to use what looks like it would never work. It does work, not because of man’s cleverness, but because of the power of God.
Genuine Christians will be concerned when God isn’t glorified by what they do. They won’t fight to defend their own turf and reputations. They want something real. In the end, what we produce will produce a lot of us, yet telling people that it is God producing something of God. We’ve got to be scriptural, transparent, and honest about this. When we follow God’s ways, the world will despise it, but God will be pleased and praised.