You may have heard of the modern “word of faith” movement. It might be the fastest growing segment of professing Christianity today. According to those of this movement, the faith possessed by Christians can and should operate like a force or power. If you have legitimate faith, according to them, then you have the potential for and should expect to have power as well. In the word of faith movement, this power or force of faith exerts itself to obtain things that you want—prosperity, position, or health. If you just believe, your faith can operate through your words with God to get anything that you want; that’s what God wants to do, and Christians should expect it. So you could change the world, especially your own world, by means of this faith, to create a healing, cause a salvation, bring about a good relationship, or to change an economic situation.
Like the Pentecostal or Charismatic “word of faith” gets these blessings and changes individual realities, the faith of revivalists obtains spiritual results by means of personal faith. I believe that both of these distortions of scriptural faith come from the same influence upon American evangelicalism, that of Charles Finney in the mid nineteenth century. The perversion of revivalism is actually an earlier error, more in line with that of Finney himself. “Word of faith” was a later development as an outcome of the revivalistic thinking.
Both revivalism and ”word of faith” have a similar emphasis on the ability of man to cause his own spiritual effects by the right use of means. Both believe that faith can solve every important problem and create their own desired results. In both cases, the results make it inappropriate to question the means—the end justifies the means.
Finney believed that the faith of a Christian could and should produce a revival. In modern revivalism, a person reveals his faith by paying a price to get the power that comes from believing. If he really has faith, then he will persevere to get the power from that faith by lining himself up with enough moral guidelines to reach some threshold that initiates the spiritual blessing that God wants to give, dependent on his faith. The faith that merits revival also reveals itself in really, really wanting it, manifesting itself in praying long and hard to get it.
How does the faith of revivalism and the “word of faith” movement veer off a scriptural understanding of faith? The faith of the Bible is not a power that someone possesses to control something in his future. The faith of God’s Word accepts the reality that the Bible promises it. And we can see that future is not normally one of success and great results and health and prosperity. Faith is not an instrument that people use to acquire the future on earth that they want, but a God-given means by which men will accept the future that God has already promised them. Faith trusts God with its future.
Jesus didn’t send out the twelve with promise that they could see tremendous results if they only had faith. He sent them all over Galilee and said that they should shake the dust off their feet outside of the town or city that didn’t believe what they said. At times, many believed—that is true. But that is not some kind of paradigm that believers should take as an expectation for their future.
Genuine faith itself is the substance, not the results of that faith. What is promised for that faith? As you look through Hebrews 11 you see it to be a lot of suffering, difficulty, and rejection. You see that in Abel, who was murdered, in Noah, who was mocked and jeered before he was vindicated much later by a worldwide flood, in Abraham, who never did possess the land to which he set out on his long journey, in Moses, who gave up the Egyptian court, and then those who were tortured and saw asunder to reward their faith. They went ahead and went through their characteristically difficult times because of faith. Faith had no connection to worldly success or earthly results. They did what they did because they had placed their futures in the hands of the God they trusted. Their faith was in what God would make of their lives.
The attraction of revivalism is that it guarantees the results an individual of faith would want to receive. The allure is not its historic or biblical theology. Revivalists utilize proof texts out of context and then mainly stories of former revivals that have occurred since the inception of revivalism. They brag about special moments in the past that have come because of power from God they received by faith. No one should depend on these experiences as hope for the future. We can’t and neither are we supposed to trust anecdotal material as a basis for Christian living or decision making.
In its own way, revivalism corrupts faith as much as the word of faith movement. It redefines and misrepresents scriptural faith. Revivalism doesn’t really trust in God. Trusting in God accepts the results that God gives and is content with the outcomes from obedience to the Bible. True faith doesn’t judge based upon assembly size, reaction to a post-preaching invitation, or numbers of professions of faith. Faith brings its own built-in rewards—the indwelling Holy Spirit, the pleasure of God, forgiveness of sin, joy, peace, and contentment. These are rewards of faith in the midst of a sin-loving and God-hating world, where God promises that all they who live godly will suffer persecution.
Deviating from a biblical understanding of faith is obviously going to have an effect on the nature of the gospel. Revivalism has harmed the gospel in this way. Revivalism diverted the focus of the gospel from God and the Bible to the short-term results of believing. Scripture concentrates on God’s nature and His promises. Small alterations are enough to ruin faith and then those changes become bigger through the years, enough for damning deceptions and a broad road leading to destruction.
No one wants to be seen as faithless, and yet he knows he will if his faith doesn’t produce the required result to be seen as faithful. Men know this, so they produce the result that will merit the correct evaluation from men. They give credit in the end to the faith that they possess, but the real praise should go to the methods that they used to produce their results. They say it is faith, but it really is a unique mix of various technology, motivation, propaganda, techniques, and enthusiasm. It takes the form of various styles of music, lighting, comforts, conveniences, advertising, programs, promotions, and compromises. In many cases, the result given credit to faith isn’t a genuine result. It hasn’t been produced by the power of God because of its mixture with the man-made method or strategy.
The manifestations of the perversions of revivalism are all over evangelicalism and fundamentalism, including in the churches or organizations or people who are critical of revivalism. Non-revivalist preachers and their fans also judge their success by how big they are, calling that the “blessing of God on their ministries.” And other non-revivalist preachers crowd around those men and their churches looking for what it is the “successful pastors” have in order to imitate their methods. The sad result is that the One upon whom true faith rests doesn’t get the credit He deserves for the genuine blessing that He has produced that has nothing to do with the trappings of buildings, bucks, or books published. Many of these well-known churches are as guilty of leaning on methodological manipulation as any staunch supporter of Finney.
May we return to scriptural faith. May we seek to judge based upon biblical criteria. May we correct our belief and practice according to the Word of God.
When the Revivalist movement swept Canada and the United States, holiness and humility got a little extra face time. And, as far as that goes, we’re fine with holiness and humility getting some props. We certainly need to emphasize these things. So long, that is, as we emphasize them Biblically. And that brings up one of the glaring ironies of the Revivalist movement, still strongly promoted in some circles in our day. Because the “holiness” and “humility” preached among the Revivalists is not true holiness or humility. In fact, we might argue that they are sinful holiness, and sinful humility.
Revivalistic holiness is not Biblical holiness. It is nothing more than moralism. Moralism sets up a false standard. Rather than preaching what is right and acceptable according to the standard of God’s Word, moralism preaches what is moral according to the times. A false standard produces a false holiness, and false holiness is sinful holiness. As we have discussed previously, we must presuppose the authority of God’s Word in defining our standards of righteousness and holiness. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Paul warns us to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
There might not be any one man who has been more guilty of preaching the rudiments of the world and the traditions of men than Charles Grandison Finney. Finney absolutely denied the doctrine of original sin, preached that man was basically good, denied the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, denied that Christ’s atonement paid for the sin of any man, denied that the new birth was supernatural, believed that Christ died for a purpose not for people, and preached that salvation is the result of men repudiating sin, continually repenting and staying clean, in order to keep in good standing with God. In short, Finney based his theology on logic rather than on Scripture. As a result, Finney developed standards of holiness based on moralistic values and the traditions of men, rather than presupposing the pure standard of God’s Word. Finney preached a form of Christian perfectionism that exalted the self and relied on the flesh in order to obtain holiness. This kind of holiness, the kind that is generated from the sinful flesh, can only be sinful.
But we like Finney. And Finney wanted holiness. We want holiness, so we like the holiness that Finney preached. Do you want to defend the Finney standards? Do you think that a wrong standard is better than no standard? Or perhaps you would defend Finney by saying, “at least he preached holiness.” Then perhaps you should consider this… So did the Pharisees. Finney is not the first to develop his own standards of holiness. The Pharisees, in fact, beat him to it by more than a millenium. What do you think of the kind of holiness that the Pharisees indulged in? Would you consider Pharisaical holiness to be true holiness? Christ didn’t (Matthew 23:3). To be sure, they were very tedious about keeping all of the traditions and laws that they had invented. They were expert gnat-strainers. They also excelled at heavy-burden-binding (Matthew 23:4). But they were not so scrupulous about keeping God’s law, especially the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23) like judgment, mercy, and faith. Their kind of holiness is very unholy, for it fails to observe the whole of God’s law.
The same can be said for the kind of humility — I believe our modern day apostles of revivalism call it “brokenness” — preached by the revivalists in the Finney tradition. The humility they promote mirrors the kind of humility that Paul was speaking of in Colossians 2:18. Granted, he was referring to Gnostic humility. But false humility is false, whether Gnostic, Finneyistic, or perfectionistic. In the case Paul describes in Colossians, they were worshipping angels, as if they could not go directly to the Lord but instead relied on an intermediate agency to bring their requests to God. They promoted this kind of thing in the name of “humility.” They believed that praying through angels made them more humble. But their humility was not the result of a Scriptural understanding of God. Rather, it was a “voluntary humility.” The Greek word for “voluntary” is a participle form of the word thelos, which means “will” or “desire.” It means to take delight in, to devote oneself to a thing, delighting in it. The idea is that they were humble for the sake of being humble, because they delighted in humility, rather than because they were humbled by a proper view of God. It was a gratuitious kind of humility, and they developed a fixation on humility itself as an end. This kind of humility is sinful. This kind of humility actually produces pride and makes a man more self-absorbed, because he becomes enamored with his own humility. This is the kind of “brokenness” or humility promoted amongst the modern-day Finneyists. This kind of humility strips a man of all actual humility, and instead vainly puffs him up by his own fleshly mind.
Paul said, “Let no man beguile you of your reward” in this sort of humility. The phrase “beguile you of your reward” comes from a single Greek word, katabrabeuo. The prefix kata means “against,” and brabueo means “to act as a judge or empire.” A.T. Robertson tells us that the word brabeus is used for the judge at the games, and the word brabeion is used for the prize awarded to the victor. The Gnostics warned these Colossian believers that if they did not humble themselves and seek the mediation of angels, that they would lose their reward. But Paul warns the Colossians that if in fact they followed Gnostic teaching, the Righteous Judge would strip them of their prize.
Instead, they need to hold fast the Head, which is Christ (v. 10). From the Head, all the body by joints and bands has nourishment ministered to it. By the Head, the body being knit together (v. 2), increaseth with the increase of God. Revival, holiness, and humility, contrary to what Charles Finney taught, are not natural results of human effort. Rather, they are the result of God working in us, producing in us that vital life and communion that increases us with the increase of God.
Contrary to the Fundamentals of Revivalist Preaching, revival is never the result of meritorious power with God. Obtaining new heights of holiness and new degrees of humility do not make us especially powerful with God. I believe that Charles Spurgeon was addressing the perfectionism preached by Finney when he said, in his sermon “Power with God,”
when we speak of having power with God, we must not suppose that any man can have any meritorious power with God. It has been thought, by some people, that a man can attain to a certain degree of merit, and that, then, he will receive heaven’s blessings; — if he offers a certain number of prayers, if he does this, or feels that, or suffers the other, then he will stand in high favor with God. Many are living under this delusion; and, in their way, are trying to get power with God by what they are, or do, or suffer. They think they would get power with God if they were to feel sin more, or if they were to weep more, or if they were to repent more. It is always something that they are to do, or something they are to produce in themselves, which they are to bring before God, so that, when he sees it, he will say, “Now I will have mercy upon you, and grant you the blessing you crave.” O dear friends, all this is contrary to the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ! There is far more power with God in the humble acknowledgment of sinfulness than in a boastful claim of cleanliness, — much more power in pleading that grace will forgive than in asking that justice should reward; because, when we plead our emptiness and sin, we plead the truth; but when we talk about our goodness and meritorious doings, we plead a lie; and lies can never have any power in the presence of the God of truth. O brethren and sisters, let us for ever shake off from us, as we would shake a viper from our hand, all idea that, by any goodness of ours, which even the Spirit of God might work in us, we should be able to deserve anything at God’s hands, and to claim as right anything from the justice of our Maker! 
He went on to point out the pride of those who think themselves to have obtained a higher sanctification…
Have you ever tried to go to God as a fully-sanctified man? I did so once; I had heard some of the “perfect” brethren, who are travelling to heaven by the “high level” railway, and I thought I would try their plan of praying. I went before the Lord as a consecrated and sanctified man. I knocked at the gate; I had been accustomed to gain admittance the first time I knocked; but, this time, I did not. I knocked again, and kept on knocking, though I did not feel quite easy in my conscience about what I was doing. At last, I clamoured loudly to be let in; and when they asked me who I was, I replied that I was a perfectly-consecrated and fully sanctified man; but they said that they did not know me! The fact was, they had never seen me in that character before. At last, when I felt that I must get in, and must have a hearing, I knocked again; and when the keeper of the gate asked, “Who is there?” I answered, “I am Charles Spurgeon, a poor sinner, who has no sanctification or perfection of his own to talk about, but who is trusting alone to Jesus Christ, the sinners’ Savior.” The gatekeeper said, “Oh, it is you, is it? Come in; we know you well enough, we have known you these many years, and then I went in directly. I believe that is the best way of praying, and the way to win the day. It is when you have got on your fine feathers and top-knots that the Lord will not know you; when you have taken them all off, and gone to him, as you went at the first, then you can say to him, —
“Once a sinner near despair
Sought thy mercy-seat by prayer;
Mercy heard, and set him free,
Lord, that mercy came to me;” —
“and I am that poor publican, who dared not lift so much as his eyes towards heaven, but smote upon his breast, and cried, ’God be merciful to me a sinner,’ and he went home to his house justified rather than the brother over there, who talked so proudly about the higher life, but who went home without a blessing. “Yes, my brother, you are strong when you are weak, and you are perfect when you know that you are imperfect, and you are nearest to heaven when you think you are farthest off. The less you esteem yourself, the higher is God’s esteem of you. 
Spurgeon, Charles H.: Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 52. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1998 (Logos Library System; Spurgeon’s Sermons 52)
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.
You sit down with the doctor and he talks to you about a new medication. It will get rid of your skin irritation. However, it will cause migraine headaches, blurred vision, and severe stomach cramps. I think I’d take the skin irritation.
The lure of revivalism is amazing short term, tangible results. Churches have experienced a burst of conversions that overflowed their seating capacity. Sometimes they have had those events and then saw nothing like it ever again. Some haven’t ever seen it, but they’ve read about it. Who wouldn’t want it if it were available?
Revivalism doesn’t advertise its peripheral effects. However, it has several. We’ve already talked about whether revivalism is even revival. That’s bad enough, but then the side effects.
Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism writes (pp. 163-164):
From attitudes of indifference, or of cold religious formality, many are suddenly brought by the hearing of the truth to a concern and distress so strong that it may even be accompanied by temporary physical collapse. The phenomenon of hearers falling prostrate during a service or crying out in anguish is not uncommon at the outset of revivals. . . . A revival is, by its very nature, bound to be attended by emotional excitement. But the course of a revival, together with its purity and abiding fruit, is directly related to the manner in which such excitement is handled by its leaders. Once the idea gains acceptance that the degree of the Spirit’s work is to be measured by the strength of emotion, or that physical effects of any kind are proofs of God’s action, then what is rightly called fanaticism is bound to follow.
Murray talks about revivalism in Kentucky during what is called “the Second Great Awakening” (p. 177):
We have considered the general detrimental effects which accompanied the awakening in the churches of Kentucky, and noted how these effects gained strength on account of the low level of biblical instruction that was prevalent. Ideas popularized by the spirit of the age were too strong to be counteracted by preachers who were too few in number, or inadequately prepared for a situation of such an extraordinary character.
Murray mentions the “detrimental effects which accompanied” something that was known as a revival. I have my own observations about the harmful side effects of revivalism. I believe that a common assumption today is that these effects are seen almost entirely within a certain branch of fundamentalism. I see revivalism in evangelicalism — including what is considered conservative evangelicalism.
People probably have their idea of who is sanctimonious—anyone with stronger standards than they. I support church-wide application of biblical principles. However, I have noticed a rigidity, tightness, or edginess that often characterizes revivalists. So much is dependent on their getting everything aligned correctly for revival that they obsess over administrative minutiae. Often from top to bottom, revivalists feel a guilt for holding back revival. The Achan in the camp must be found and dealt with harshly.
Much of the Christian life is external. We must obey God in our body, which is His. Externals have gotten a bad rap especially recently. However, because “revival” in revivalism so hinges on a certain performance by us, a wrong emphasis is placed on the externals, resulting in a kind of hyper-externalism.
Young people in hyper-externalism learn how to perform in order to fit the required appearance. They know how not-to-get-in-trouble. They know what it takes to be a good boy and girl. They train themselves to conform to the rules. The strong one could actually be the weak one in this system. The “strong one” may not develop at all in his love for God and scripture. He may just be the one who knows how to toe the line better than others. He knows how someone becomes considered good.
It’s not that internals are ignored completely with revivalists. It’s a matter of not following the emphasis of scripture, which starts on the inside and works its way out. Since so much depends on us in revivalism, keeping everyone in line becomes the challenge, rather than developing the internal convictions and the affections for God. Keeping standards high is seen as the means by which other revival-receivers have obtained their coveted experience. The standards are seen as a means to get God’s blessing.
There are two extremes to externalism. One moves the way of better-than-thou rule keeping. The other travels the road of “I’ve got more freedom than you do.” I call it left wing legalism. It’s probably akin to the Samaritan religion. The left winged legalist focuses on externals as much as the right winger, just in taking about every possible liberty that he can with almost no limitation. And he talks about his liberty all the time, reminding people how free he is by mentioning the movies he went to, his favorite rock band, his latest micro-brew, and the beauty of his goatee and mustache. This guy may be someone who was once a right winger and now he’s proud to be a left winger. He changed uniforms, but he’s still on the same team.
Rituals are not the sole domain of revivalists, but ritualism is a side effect of revivalism. I call it a “punching the time-clock” mentality. We must perform as Christians. Actions are important. However, we are not to be performance based. In revivalism, you’ve got to jump through a certain number of hoops to get the blessing of God. God holds us to the demands of a certain degree and quantity of performance, withholding His special working until we reach the tipping point.
Many revivalists just give up on attempting to fulfill all the criteria required to get God’s special favor. The bar seems to keep getting moved or God has entrusted only a few deserving ones with the special endowment of His power. Once they see that they’ll never find the pebble under the shell, they give up on the inside and start painting on their Christian life. You could call it “paint by numbers” Christianity. They become faithful to the ritual of being a Christian, playing the game, going through the motions. They assume it’s their duty. Lost is joy and love.
Inordinate Human Ingenuity
I read a lot of explanations from evangelicals on their music. They betray their revivalism in what they say. Here’s a typical statement of someone who wants to leave fundamentalism and go to evangelicalism because he doesn’t see enough emotionalism in the “worship”:
While worship can certainly be “overdone” and focused purely on emotions in more contemporary services, Fundamentalism goes to the other extreme. There needs to be balance here and, unfortunately, I’ve attended exactly 2 services in any Fundamentalist church that managed to strike this balance. . . . We are careful to ensure that the emotions are not engaged during the song service because we believe emotional engagement is wrong….unless of course it’s time for the invitation. The command to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (these address the will, emotion, and intellect) doesn’t seem to apply in the church service. We want to engage the will and intellect, but the emotions need to be put down. You will never see hands raised in worship in an IFB church (unless there is an “outsider” visiting), nor will you see anything other than dry eyes at any point during the “worship” service. The church service tends to be a very regimented, dry, rote, obligatory occasion.
What I find very interesting is the emphasis on externals and emotionalism as signs of genuineness. Notice the quote from Murray above, the last part in which he says:
Once the idea gains acceptance that the degree of the Spirit’s work is to be measured by the strength of emotion, or that physical effects of any kind are proofs of God’s action, then what is rightly called fanaticism is bound to follow.
For those who embrace such beliefs will suppose that any check on emotion or on physical phenomena is tantamount to opposing the Holy Spirit.
Later he writes (p. 209):
And in their [wise pastors] view, to lay importance on outward signs of conviction, such as tears, was a sure way to confuse the natural with the spiritual. They also knew that if displays of emotion were allowed to go unchecked in large congregations then, by a principle of natural sympathy, others would soon be affected. The consequent heightened emotion, far from advancing a true revival, could well bring it to an end.
One of the problems with the contemporary “worship” is that it choreographs the emotions with the music. This was a characteristic that Edwards dealt with in his Treatise on Religious Affections. He showed how that scriptural affection starts with the mind, not the body. The latter could be called passions, which is not the quality of the love for God. The mind feeds the affections, which results in an act of the will. Obviously Edwards didn’t have a problem with affection. He criticized the manipulation of it which occurs today with the productions of contemporary Christian music. The problem is not the emotions, but how it is that the emotions are influenced. Targeting them is an act of the flesh.
The nature of contemporary music, which is fitting of the culture from which it was spawned, is emotional. It is intended to make people feel something. This should help you understand the existential nature of this spirituality. It isn’t spiritual worship, which is what scripture requires. It is a feeling that makes someone think he is being spiritual. Because the feeling exists, it must be the spirit. But the feeling was produced by the music. It didn’t come through the mind, but through the body, the flesh. And if it is being sent to God, consideration of making us feel something should be the furthest thing from our mind and will. This is what corrupts the worship to the extent that it is false worship.
I’ve talked about revival being “to be made alive,” so that when revival is occurring, sinners are being converted. Preachers were not satisfied with only the preached Word as a basis for conversion. They wanted more numbers, so they began enacting certain measures that they found worked at seeing more professions of faith. New means were invented to ensure that those hearing would make a decision. The purpose was to get a physical response, either by walking to the front, to an anxious room, or by joining in a scripted prayer. Murray talks about the argument that was used by preachers at the time of the so-called “Second Great Awakening”:
If only some souls are saved by the use of these new measures, we ought thankfully to own their power, and give them our countenance. Conversion is so important that if any cases prove genuine is that not enough to justify the method?
(to be continued)
John Angell James in 1861 in his Discourses Addressed to the Churches (pp. 544-545, 551) wrote:
I do not desire, I do not advise a bustling, artificial effort to get up a revival, nor the construction of any man-devised machinery . . . I want God’s work, not man’s . . . I want no revivalist preachers (emphasis mine).
For a long time, men have distinguished between revival and revivalism. Iain Murray in his Revival and Revivalism (1994, p. xix) differentiated between the two. He said that revival was “the phenomenon of authentic spiritual awakening which is the work of the living God, ” while revivalism was “religious excitements, deliberately organized to secure converts.” A few sentences later he writes:
[O]rthodox Christianity at an earlier date protested that revival and revivalism — far from being of the same genus — are actually opposed.
Earlier (p. xviii) Murray distinguished between the two this way:
[I]t was not until the last forty years of the nineteenth century that a new view of revival came generally to displace the old . . . . Seasons of revival became ‘revival meetings’. Instead of being ‘surprising’ they might now be even announced in advance, and whereas no one in the previous century had known of ways to secure a revival, a system was now popularised by ‘revivalists’ which came near to guaranteeing results.
So why did “revivalism” become confused with revival? Bernard A. Weisberger and William G. McLoughlin wrote about this perversion in two books in the late 1950s: Weisberger’s They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (1958) and McLoughlin’s Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (1959). Both of these men said that revivalist supporters wrote a fraudulent history that misrepresented the orthodox understanding of revival. McLoughlin wrote in his preface: “History has not dealt fairly with American revivals.” Weisberger wrote:
There are numerous histories of revivals in the United States written by devout ministers or worshippers in the evangelical denominations. They are, almost with exception, useless as history.
Based on this understanding, what is most often referred to as the First Great Awakening in the American colonies of the early to mid 18th century was an example of a revival. On the other hand, most of what is labeled revival in what was termed the Second Great Awakening was actually only revivalism. In the decades following the First Great Awakening, American preachers stated their opposition to what was merely emotional, contrived, or manipulated. Murray writes (p. xx):
They foresaw the danger of revivalism long before it became a respected part of evangelicalism, and they would have had no problem agreeing with the criticism which has since discredited it.
Much false practice and perhaps even questionable offices were contrived from the revivalism that intended to reproduce what had occurred in the First Great Awakening, including revival meetings and those who lead them. Before the revivalists and the revision of the doctrine and even history of revival, no orthodox saint would have thought that he could “schedule” a revival.
The Biblical Usage of the Term “Revival”
Many might be surprised to hear that the English term “revival” does not appear once in the King James Version of the Bible. Eight times you have the word “revive” (Nehemiah 4:2; Psalm 85:6; Psalm 138:7; Isaiah 57:15 (2), Hosea 6:2; 14:7; Habakkuk 3:2), twice “reviving” (Ezra 9:8, 9), and six times “revived” (Genesis 45:27; Judges 15:19; 1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 13:21; Romans 7:9; 14:9). You’ll notice that all of these instances, except for two, are in the Old Testament—Romans 7:9 and 14:9 use the word “revived.” Twelve out of the fourteen Old Testament usages are the same Hebrew word. Only the two references in Ezra, translated “reviving,” are different Hebrew words.
The English statistics are a little misleading in lieu of a grammatical, historical interpretation of Scripture. Our goal is to understand terms as the people would have understood them in that day. “Revive” might be found eight times in the King James, but forms of the Hebrew word, chayah (pronounced khaw-yaw), are found 390 times. It simply means “to have life.” The first time that a form of chayah appears is in Genesis 1:24 and it is translated “living” as in “living creatures.” Abraham used this Hebrew word in Genesis 12:12, when he said:
This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
There the form of chayah is translated “alive.” It is obvious that Abraham means “physically alive.” Let’s consider the twelve references of chayah in the Old Testament, translated some form of “revive.”
Nehemiah 4:2 uses chayah and there it is obviously being used metaphorically, because it is used to explain the rocks of Jerusalem being rebuilt up a wall. It is used in a kind of mocking way to try to show the impossibility of the walls being rebuilt.
Psalm 85:6 is perhaps the classic passage in the Bible used to teach revival. It says: “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” Psalm 85 is a post-exilic psalm composed after the return from captivity in Babylon. Israel had been returned from exile, but she had not yet been restored back to her former condition. She is praying to God that she would be.
In Psalm 138:7, David is praying that God would keep him alive (chayah) in the midst of troubles.
Isaiah 57:15 is the verse that gives the closest idea to what we would understand as modern day revival. It reads:
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Here we read of spiritual and heart revival. God by His grace will bring spiritual life to the person’s heart who is contrite and humble about his condition. This sounds like it is talking about salvation. A person will be quickened if he repents of his sin and turns to God for deliverance.
Hosea 6:2 speaks of the restoration of Israel. It might seem like forever to her, but God would bring her back to life very soon, the quickness of which is communicated by the few number of days this is said that it would be occurring. Hosea 14:7 is talking about the millennial kingdom resurrection of Israel.
In Habakkuk 3:2, the severity of God’s judgment brought fear to the prophet. In the midst of the punishment, Habakkuk asks for mercy. He pleads with God in essence to crank back up His saving work, to repeat the kind of activity that God had done for Israel before in order to deliver her.
In a root way, “revive” mean “to make alive.” The strongest New Testament equivalent is “to quicken.” Even looking at the Old Testament “revive” passages in a spiritual way, they seem to be speaking more about salvation than they do some kind of renewing work with believers. A revival is when someone who is dead spiritually is quickened, something like what we see in Ephesians 2:1, 5:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. . . . Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).
If there is a revival in the New Testament, it is what we see in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. That day three thousand people were made alive. They were all Jews. It is even said to be a fulfillment of Joel 2 and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16). What happened in Acts 2 pre-fulfilled what will occur with the nation Israel before Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth. The dry bones of Ezekiel will be quickened and returned to the land.
Everyone who is saved is revived. Someone dead in sin is made alive at salvation. An already saved person doesn’t need reviving because he is already alive and will continue alive forever. A revival then would perhaps be a time when through preaching the gospel several are saved in a short period of time. It occurs because the Spirit of God is convicting, believers are obedient to the Holy Spirit with bold preaching, the seed falls on good ground, and much fruit is produced. There is no other explanation, especially a human one, for why this might occur, except for this scriptural one. The New Testament doesn’t even use the word “revive,” so there is little to no emphasis on this as a recurring event.
Contrasting Ideas about Revival
I’m not trying to undo any historic opinion about revival. Jonathan Edwards’ book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, was prompted by the Great Awakening. Edwards did not believe that the Great Awakening was either all truth or all error, but a mixture of the two, and that this is normal. He wrote the book to address the question, “How do we discern between that which is genuine and that which is counterfeit?” Most agree that a revival occurred during Edwards’ life, and he was concerned that there was enough false to write a book on it.
What we call revivals have transpired. A whole lot of people have been made alive at a particular point in time. The biggest part of the argument about revivals, however, I believe centers on the Calvinism versus Arminianism issue. It also relates to covenant theology and dispensationalism. Let me break it down for you.
Some might call this Pelagian as it applies to Charles Finney. This is where we get a lot of human-centered problems that are criticized by Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism, which he calls “revivalism.” It is also about manipulating the conditions to make things happen like we want. I don’t believe in revivalism as defined historically, which was the invention of Arminianism. I also believe that this is major problem in fundamentalism today. There are a lot of difficulties here that I will deal with in a separate article later.
This is where I have found that I have a problem with Iain Murray, and, therefore, anyone who agrees with him. I believe that his and others’ fundamental problem with Finney and perhaps to a lesser extent, any revivalists, relates mainly to his Calvinism. Murray shows strong agreement with Samuel Davies and his meaning of revival. What is that? Murray writes concerning early American preacher, and short-time president of Princeton, Samuel Davies (pp. 21-22):
In speaking of the meaning of revival it is also essential to note that what Davies and his brethren believed about revival was not something separate from, or additional to, their main beliefs; it was, rather, a necessary consequence. Such is man’s state of sin that he cannot be saved without the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration, and the faith that results from it, are the gifts of God. Therefore, wherever conversions are multiplied, the cause is to be found not in men, nor in favourable conditions, but in the abundant influences of the Spirit of God that alone make the testimony of the church effective. No other explanation of revival is in harmony with the truths that are ‘the essence of the Christian scheme — the utter depravity of man, the sovereignly-free grace of Jehovah . . . . There is a sovereignty in all God’s activity of his people. Revivals are not brought about by the fulfillment of ‘conditions’ any more than the conversion of a single individual is secured by any means of human actions. The ‘special seasons of mercy’ are determined in heaven.
Calvinists define revival according to their five points with a special emphasis in this case on unconditional election. The opposition to revivalism for a Calvinist galvanizes around the non-Calvinism of revivalism. For an event to be called a revival, man can’t be involved. Murray writes (p. 21):
[T]here are times when the Spirit is given in exceptional measure and that such times may come suddenly, even when deadness is general in the church and indifference to biblical religion prevails in society at large.
I believe this no-condition belief clashes with what we read in Scripture. The one passage in Scripture above that treats the concept of revival more than any other, Isaiah 57:15, says that God revives the spirit and heart of the humble and contrite ones. The verse specifically says that conditions of humility and contriteness precede revival. That clashes with a Calvnist view of revival.
A few times Jesus explained why the seed would not penetrate the soil, the gospel would not be received by a human heart. In Matthew 13 He said that the ground was either thorny, stony, or hard. All of those are conditions. Jesus says that those conditions relate to the result of fruit bearing. In Luke 13, when asked why only few would be saved, Jesus said that men must strive to enter in at the strait gate. That reads like a condition. Of course, the Calvinist may say, “You don’t understand Calvinism. We don’t mean no conditions.” Well, you can’t have it both ways. When you say no conditions, then the explanation from Jesus should be no conditions. Here and several other places, we see conditions.
Much of the explanation for revival among the early American Calvinists takes in their covenant theology, especially seeing Israel as the church in Old Testament prophetic passages. Murray refers to a sermon by Davies (p. 21):
There are eras, said Davies, when only a large communication or outpouring of the Spirit can ‘produce a public general reformation’. Thus, preaching on ‘The Happy Effects of the Pouring Out of the Spirit’ from Isaiah 32:13-19, he argued that ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the great and only remedy for a ruined country — the only effectual preventative of national calamities and desolation, and the only sure cause of a lasting and well-established peace’.
This type of interpretation of the Old Testament, that does not differentiate between the church and Israel, also affects interpretation of the Gospels and Acts. Murray writes (p. 19):
It is through Christ as mediator and head of his body that the Spirit continues to be communicated to the church and that his ‘actual influence’ is known.
At that point, Murray then writes this in a footnote (p. 19):
Bishop Moule wrote: ‘We are not to think of the “giving” of the Spirit as of an isolated deposit of what, once given, is now locally in possession. The first “gift” is, as it were, the first point in a series of actions, of which each one may be expressed also as a gift.’ Were it not for this truth, prayer for the Spirit (Luke 11:13) would be meaningless.
You can see how the covenant theology affects the interpretation of Luke 11:13 where Christ mentions praying for the Spirit. Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit, so the apostles’ asking for the Holy Spirit was a legitimate prayer within the will of God like our praying for the kingdom to come. However, once the Holy Spirit came, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost at the moment of our justification. All believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit simultaneous with salvation. The way Murray explains it, we should keep expecting more and more outpourings of the Holy Spirit (pp. 19-20):
Thus, although the Spirit was initially bestowed on the church by Christ at Pentecost, his influences are not uniform and unchanging; there are variations in the measure in which he continues to be given. In the book of Acts tiems of quickened spiritual prosperity and growth in the church are traced to new and larger measures of the influence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31-33; 11:15-16; 13:52-14:1), and so, through Christian history, the church has been raised to new energy and success by ‘remarkable communications of the Spirit of God . . . at special seasons of mercy’.
Speaking of these non-revivalist Calvinists, he continues:
For these men the words ‘effusion’, ‘baptism’, and ‘outpouring of the Spirit’ were synonymous in meaning with ‘revival of religion’. . . . Thomas Murphy wrote, it was ‘the baptism of the Holy Ghost which caused the infant Church [in America] to become animated by the most fervent piety’. . . . [R]evival consists in a larger giving of God’s Spirit for the making known of Christ’s glory.
I have to admit that I had thought ignorantly that the Keswick movement of the nineteenth century invented the second blessing theology. It is obvious that many at least eighteenth century Calvinists believed in a second blessing, a baptism of the Spirit subsequent to salvation that was accompanied by significant external, tangible consequences.
A Literal, Grammatical-Historical Interpretation of Scripture
I would use the word dispensational, but it really is the conviction of a literal interpretation of Scripture, of course, taking into consideration figures of speech. This literal hermeneutic separates the institution of Israel from the institution of the church. The two are separate entities in the Bible. The outpouring of the Spirit on Israel hasn’t happened yet. We can’t take those promises to Israel in the Old Testament and relate them to an ongoing occurrence in the church.
The revival of the New Testament age isn’t a recurring outpouring of the Spirit. The normal body life of the church has included large numbers of conversions in a very short period of time. In the New Testament we saw it only in the church of Jerusalem in the first nine or ten chapters of Acts. Since then we have had certain periods where churches have seen the same, but that doesn’t mean that any obedient church isn’t revived. This is where I find myself at times agreeing with Murray, when he writes (pp. xx, 22):
This school of preachers held that the Holy Spirit has appointed means to be used for the advancement of the gospel, pre-eminently the teaching of the Word of God accompanied by earnest prayer. . . . They believed that strict adherence to Scripture is the only guard against what may be wrongly claimed as the work of God’s Spirit.
When Do We See Revival?
I believe it is wrong-headed to look at the regular obedience to the Word of God in the local church as something less than revival. This is where the no-condition explanation for many new converts, I’m convinced, falls short. A major contributing factor is the conditions being ripe for revival. Very often people turn to God when they are broken by tough external circumstances. A revived state that is just an obedient Christian life in a local church may lack the pizzazz required to be called revival.
You have revival if you have a church that loves the Lord and regularly and boldly proclaims the gospel throughout the community and beyond. Those are life endowing activities. Do we always want more to be saved? Yes. But we don’t pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to surprise us with a sudden burst of new conversions. We keep praying scriptural prayers and continue in obedience to the Great Commission and we have revival. Revival shouldn’t be measured by the numbers but by the spiritual state of the church—boldness in evangelism, husbands loving wives, wives submitting to husbands, children obeying parents, fruit of the Spirit, and the body of Christ manifested through the mutual spiritual giftedness of its people. We must be content that this is revival too.