A number of months ago I asked myself this question, “Why have you not done revival?” In almost forty years of active ministry, I had never organized nor presided over meetings that were referred to as revival meetings. I had attended meetings that were later referred to as “revival” or “renewal” meetings. I had attended meetings that were announced as “renewal” meetings ahead of time. At the time I was not looking for revival or renewal for myself or my church. I was in the process of learning about the Holy Spirit. My focus was on learning more about the person of the Holy Spirit, the ways of the Spirit and how to minister in the Spirit. I have drawn deeply from the well of Bethel Redding the past eighteen years. An important focus of Bethel ministry is the development of a kingdom culture and of training “revivalists”. Until recently I had never really thought that seriously about the prevalent use of the term “revival” in our network of relationships. Over the years I have studied many of the past “revivals”, “awakenings”, and “renewals” of church history and have read books on the topic. I have gleaned many insights from those studies. These studies have impacted my life and ministry but not to the point of being motivated to “do revival” “Why?” I asked myself.
FIRST I REFLECTED ON AN OBSERVATION I had made when I first started in vocational ministry. I had noted that other churches from time to time would announce “revival” meetings that were to be held during certain prescribed dates. I remember asking myself, “How do they know? How do they know that God will show up during that timeframe and do revival?” My question reveals something of my understanding of “revival” at the time. I regarded revivals as a sovereign act of God.
NEXT, I REFLECTED ON MY WORK ETHIC IN MINISTRY
My call to the ministry came during the summer of 1968. I was attending a Leadership Conference aimed at high school aged young people sponsored by Youth For Christ. The venue for the conference was Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, the college I would attend after graduating high school. The speaker for the last evening’s meeting concluded his message with this challenge, “Do not speak to anyone but God from the end of this meeting until breakfast tomorrow morning.” I returned to the dorm room. My roommates had not yet returned. I sat on my bed and randomly opened my Bible. It opened to Acts chapter nine. I read the story about Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. As I did a knowing came into to me that I was called to full-time vocational ministry. At breakfast, I announced this revelation to my other Valley Baptist friends who were also attending the conference. After returning home I went to see my pastor. I told him about my experience. He listened carefully and then quoted this verse to me: “But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 9:62, NKJV) He spoke more words to me but that is all I remember of our conversation. Looking back some forty-eight years later I can state that this is what I have done. Ministry has been about keeping my eyes on Jesus while plowing, planting, nurturing, and harvesting. This has been work in the best sense of the word. I never regarded Jesus Christ as a Santa Claus who would magically produce maturity and fruit. The ministry is work. Maturity is work. There are no short cuts. Fortunately, I had a supernatural co-laborer by my side the whole time!
THEN I ASKED MYSELF, “WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO, THE WAY I DO IT, IN MY LIFE AND MINISTRY?
As I pondered this question and focused on various areas of my life and ministry I could identify a theological basis for much of what I was doing the way I was doing it. My philosophy of life and ministry has a biblical foundation. I remember being challenged in college and seminary to develop my own personal world view and philosophy of ministry. Being from a “Word” background it was quite natural to seek a biblical basis for my personal world view and philosophy of ministry.
NEXT, THE LOGICAL QUESTION SEEMED TO BE:
- IF I DO WHAT I DO, THEY WAY I DO IT IN MINISTRY,
- BECAUSE OF MY PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY WHICH IS BASED ON MY THEOLOGY,
- AND I DO NOT DO “REVIVAL”
- MIGHT I BE LACKING A BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING OF “REVIVAL”?
I returned to the Bible to build such an understanding. Long story short, I was unable to do that for two main reasons:
- The absence of revival teaching in the New Testament
- The inspired pattern for the Church and the Kingdom as outlined in the New Covenant
THE ABSENCE OF REVIVAL TEACHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Over a decade ago the Holy Spirit spoke to me one day while I was studying and said something to the effect that many believers today are not fully living in the realities of the New Covenant. Some were living with one foot in the Old Covenant and one foot in the New Covenant. As a response to this word I studied again the differences between the two covenants and incorporated my understandings into to my teaching and preaching in that season. No surprise, the Holy Spirit was right. To this day I still hear teaching, preaching and prophetic words which are Old Covenant or a hybrid of Old and New Covenants. The New Testament is the inspired commentary on the Old Testament. My counsel to young teachers and preachers is to master the New Testament and an understanding of New Covenant theology before teaching and preaching from the Old Testament. My alarms go off whenever I hear young ministers and even “celebrity” prophets constantly basing their messages and prophetic words upon the Old Testament.
The only use of any form of the English word “revive” in the New King James New Testament is in this verse:
“I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” (Romans 7:9, NKJV)
Needless to say, this is not the revival for which many are longing.
The Greek word for “revived” is a rare word. It is also used in Romans 14:9 to refer to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in Luke 15:24 to refer to the return of the prodigal son.
The English Standard Version of the New Testament uses the English word “revived” in another verse:
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” (Philippians 4:10, ESV)
The Greek word used here means “to sprout again”.
Concerned that I may be missing something I reviewed some of the literature I had read in the past on revival. I was l not looking for support for my thesis. I sincerely wanted to know if I had missed something in my study and thinking. I even googled “theology of revival” and read a number of articles. My objective was to try and identify the author’s biblical understanding of revival. Below is a summary of some of my discoveries:
Ray Ortland: a former professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School,
According to the journalist of this article, Ray Ortland is quoted as saying, “Revival is a season in the life of the church when the normal work of the gospel operates with unusually quickening spiritual power.” . . .
“Revival is a season in the life of the church when the normal work of the gospel operates with unusually quickening spiritual power.” . . .
“God hits the fast-forward button, so that five years of advance, expansion and deepening can take place in perhaps five weeks.” . . .
“Though we have rich revival literature, work on revival from an exegetical, biblical base “is a bit thin,” . . .
The journalist then reported that Ray Ortland then proposed to develop a biblical theology of revival starting, not, as is commonly done, from Old Testament historical narratives but from those “principal passages” in the Psalms and the Prophets.
Note: Ray Ortland’s understanding of revival is based on Old Testament scripture. The community of the Old Covenant was the nation of Israel. Israel’s history recorded in the Old Testament revealed a nation that regularly wandered from their relationship with God. As a result, the nation often needed a revival, a returning to God.
A Biblical Theology of Revival by Tim Keller
Tim Keller, a pastor from the reformed tradition, provides some interesting insights into revivals based on historical observations; not on New Testament exegesis. He sees three definitions of revival in church history:
1, Frontier definition: a season of extremely vigorous evangelistic exertion
(If one does the right things i.e. sing the right songs, preach the right messages, etc., and works hard enough then one can make a revival happen)
2. Pentecostal approach: the coming of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit: conviction of sin, conversion, the giving of assurance, sanctification
- sleepy Christians wake up (they’re not happy or sad enough)
- assurance and conviction of sin which leads to repentance
- nominal Christians get converted
- the hard to reach are converted
Keller suggests that this kind of revival beautifies the church and brings church growth.
3. Biblical definition: the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit
The theological marks of revival include:
- a sense of the gospel being recovered/revitalized – legalism vs antinomianism
2. a sense of repentance (not emotional frothiness), a sense of awe!
3. anointed corporate worship (awareness of presence)
4. church growth
5. extraordinary prayer
“How do you get revival?” asks Keller. Pursue the above 5 theological marks.
Bill Johnson – Bethel Redding
Bill Johnson is very passionate about revival. I could not find a specific definition of revival from Bill in the materials I reviewed. After years of acquaintance, I would summarize Bill’s definition of revival as “moving the church from where it is now to what it is destined to become.” This definition is evident in Bill’s book: “When Heaven Invades Earth” (Destiny Image Publishers Inc. Shippensburg, PA ©️2003)
Chapter 1 – The Normal Christian Life
“It is abnormal for a Christian not to have an appetite for the impossible. It has been written into our spiritual DNA to hunger for the impossibilities around us to bow at the name of Jesus” (p.25)
Chapter 17 – The Present Revival – a vision of “The Coming Glorious Church . . “
Rick Joyner – The World Aflame (Morningstar Publications, Charlotte, NC ©️1993)
In referencing the Welsh revival Joyner notes, “Evan Roberts: He came as a great example of a dynamic follower of the Lord, encouraging the church to be a proper host to the Holy Spirit. As both the Scriptures and history testify, the more yielded that we are to the Holy Spirit, the more He will use us.” (p.11)
Martin Lloyd-Jones – Revival (Crossway Books, Westchester, IL ©️ 1987)
Writing in the foreword to this book, J.I. Packer refers to revival as “a quickening divine visitation”. Lloyd-Jones is a well know reformed theologian who was also open to the contemporary ministry of the Holy Spirit. There are twenty-four chapters in his book. Twenty-two chapters begin with a quote from the Old Testament. One chapter entitled “The Urgent Need for Revival Today” quotes Mark 9:28-29. The ministry context of these verses is pre-New Covenant. The disciples were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. Another chapter entitled, “The Effects of Revival” quotes Acts 2:12-13. These verses record the response of onlookers to the visible phenomena of those who had just been filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ shed blood on the cross legally established the New Covenant. Pentecost was evidence that the New Covenant was now in effect. The disciples were now filled with the Holy Spirit.
Contemporary revivalist rhetoric:
The picture often portrayed by revivalist is that of the Holy Spirit being poured out and coming upon those who are experiencing revival. That may be an apt description of the Old Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit is an indwelling ministry. The Holy Spirit fills individual believers and the corporate Body of Christ. They become His temple.
Look carefully again at the event of Pentecost.
“‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days, And they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17–18, NKJV)
“Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33, NKJV)
The Event Repeated:
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. . . (Acts 10:44–46, NKJV)
The Event Repeated Again:
“And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6, NKJV)
Paul Refers to the Event:
“not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” (Titus 3:5–6, NKJV)
Note: Joel prophesied the “upon all flesh out-pouring” of the Holy Spirit. This was affirmed by Peter on the day of Pentecost. The event was repeated twice according to Luke’s account in Acts and referred to by Paul. However, there was a significant aspect of the event missed in Joel’s prophecy.
“Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” . . . “Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”” (Acts 2:3-4, 11, NKJV)
The Greek word for “filled” used by Luke is an intensified form the Greek verb. (In the Greek language the significance of the verb could be intensified by adding a preposition to the verb as Luke has done here). In other words, Luke was trying to grammatically emphasize the reality that these people were filled with the Spirit. The Spirit was not simply residing upon them. This indwelling reality is also affirmed by Jesus statement, ““He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ”” (John 7:38, NASB95)
The ultimate fulfillment of Joel’s “upon all flesh out-pouring” of the Holy Spirit prophecy is the filling of believers with the Holy Spirit. This is New Covenant reality. Joel as an Old Covenanter and Prophet would have understood and experienced the coming upon ministry of the Holy Spirit. New Covenanters experience the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. Under the New Covenant, those who put their faith in Jesus receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
To this day I have been unable to discover a biblically based theology of revival derived from the New Testament and based on New Covenant Theology.
THE PATTERN FOR THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM OUTLINED IN THE NEW COVENANT
I will not go into a detailed study of the New Covenant but simply summarize some of my understandings:
The Holy Spirit inspired Scripture.
Jesus is the King of His kingdom and the Lord of His church. The members of the Body of Christ co-labor alongside a sovereign God. God can do whatever He wants whenever He chooses whatever way He chooses. He also responds to our prayers and declarations. Throughout history, God has primarily chosen to work through, and alongside, human beings instead of acting unilaterally. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “paraclete”, literally “The One Called Alongside to Help”. Individually believers (and corporately the Church) are in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is the river of life being poured out from heaven. He flows out from the innermost being of each believer. In the New Covenant God has chosen to release his graces on the earth through the Body of Christ and its members.
Jesus Christ is the head of the church. He is the source, the supplier of every resource needed by the church to fulfill its mission of maturing the saints and expanding the kingdom.
One constant between the two covenants is the Kingdom of God manifesting on earth. The community for the Kingdom on earth under the Old Covenant was the nation of Israel, The community for the Kingdom on earth in the New Covenant is the Church, the Body of Christ.
The Church universal expresses itself through viable local churches. The local church is a community of believers. The local church has an inspired family structure. The community is shepherded by individuals referred to as overseers and elders. They parent the community. Individuals anointed with specific graces are enumerated for the maturing of the Body of Christ: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. (revivalists are not mentioned)
Every member of the local Body is graced by the Holy Spirit for life and ministry.
WISDOM EXERCISED IS THE DUPLICATION OF HEAVENLY PATTERNS ON EARTH.
THE NEW TESTAMENT PRESENTS THE HEAVENLY PATTERN FOR THE COMMUNITY OF THE CHURCH.
DUPLICATING THIS HEAVENLY PATTERN ON EARTH IS WISDOM.
The phenomena the church has traditionally labeled as “revivals”, “awakenings”, and “renewals”, in this New Covenant era, are primarily a result of graces being released through members of the Body of Christ. It is the river of life flowing out. It is not God acting unilaterally. It is not a “coming-upon” move of the Holy Spirit. It is not God pouring something new out of heaven upon His people. In His sovereignty, God may be choosing to contribute to this phenomenon in a special way. If God is honoring the biblical structure for the Body of Christ revealed in the New Testament, His contribution is to and through the Body. It is not a contribution placed upon the Body.
What I observe today is the creation of a parallel enterprise to the New Covenant community of the church, the Revival Enterprise. The Revival Enterprise needs leaders. They are called Revivalists. The Revival Enterprise needs opportunities to create revival, venues for hosting revivals, financial support, and warm bodies. Those resources are potentially available in the local church community.
The local church becomes distracted from it inspired structure and mission.
The local church is drained of resource.
The “revival meeting” and accompanying phenomena become the normative expectation for every meeting of the local church community.
THE FOCUS OF NEW COVENANT MINISTRY, ESPECIALLY FOR LEADERS, SHOULD BE ON THE COMMUNITY OF THE CHURCH AS IT IS PRESENTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. THIS FOCUS INCLUDES:
- RECOGNIZING AND SUBMITTING TO THE LOCAL, MATURE, PARENTAL GUIDANCE OF OVERSEERS AND ELDERS
- EQUIPPING AND THEN RELEASING THE MEMBERS OF THE LOCAL COMMUNITY INTO THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY
THE MATURE LOCAL CHURCH EXPANDS THE KINGDOM AS IT MEMBERS LEAVEN SOCIETY.
THE MATURE LOCAL CHURCH PERPETUATES ITSELF.
SUCCEEDING GENERATIONS BENEFIT FROM THE MATURITY OF PAST GENERATIONS.
THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS TO MATURITY. ONE GENERATION MAY START AT A BETTER LEVEL OF UNDERSTANDING AND PRACTICE THAN THE PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, BUT THE MATURATION PROCESS TAKES PLACE OVER A LIFETIME.
OUR TIME, ENERGY AND RESOURCE IS MORE WISELY SPENT CREATING MATURE LOCAL CHURCH COMMUNITIES THAN ON CHASING REVIVAL.
There are tipping points in life for individuals and social groupings. I would recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” for more insights on the phenomena. What is sometimes labeled revival can be the result of an individual or corporate body reaching a tipping point. In the church, we often hear the word “breakthrough”. A breakthrough is a result of reaching a tipping point. Gladwell highlights the factors of creating tipping points in his book. Working the New Testament system for the community of the church can create tipping points with ensuing breakthroughs.
What about the dead or sleepy church?
The local churches represented in New Testament scripture were less than perfect churches. Most of the churches directly addressed by Jesus in the book of Revelation faced serious issues. Never was revival proposed as a solution. Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19, NKJV) The issues of the local churches were confronted by apostolic correction and instruction; not by revival meetings.
What about the world (our nation, etc)?
Some seem to think that inviting the world of people outside the church to our meetings is the way to bring “revival” to the world or some segment of our world, say a civil society like the USA. Obviously, folks attending our meetings may come to believe in Jesus and join the community of the local church. Again, what is the heavenly pattern presented in the New Testament for Kingdom growth and societal change?
Jesus said “GO AND PREACH . . !” He did not say “INVITE TO ATTEND . . .”
Jesus used such imagery as salt, light, leaven, and seeds to illustrate how His kingdom would eventually permeate the world of man. Enabling and empowering the members of the local church community to be the salt, light, leaven and to spread the seeds of His Word in the world fits the heavenly pattern. This is wisdom. This changes societies!!