Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What Is Revival Anyway and Should We Be Looking For It?

I understand people's desire for what I think they consider to be revival.  It's convenient really.  First, you have a building or a tent, then people come to the building or tent, someone preaches, and multitudes of people actually get saved, truly converted.  There are lots of great things about that described scenario, even if it isn't actually happening -- the thought of it sounds great.  Many, many people came to hear preaching, for one.  They wanted to come to hear it.  Wow. Several of them believe it.  Who wouldn't want that?  I would.  Is it even something that we should expect though?

If you told people, the Bible will be preached, you could hear it, find out who Jesus is, and then be saved from sin and Hell, and they said, I want that -- that would be wonderful.  Let's say it isn't happening, even as I've noticed it isn't.  However, let's also say that it could be happening if we prayed for it to happen, so we started praying.  What do we pray?  How long do we pray?

It would seem that you would pray, "Father, cause people to come in great numbers to gather together to hear the preaching of the gospel."  How long do you pray that?  How many do you need praying for that for it to work?  Let's just say you prayed it every day several times and you got everyone praying it at least in your church several times a day.  Is there a basis for believing that you would get what you were praying for?  I'm talking just from two things, inviting people only on those terms with no hopes of anything else, and then praying that prayer.  Would you get that outcome?  If you were to get that, why not invite every single person in your entire region to come and then pray for every single person to come to that meeting, even by using the phone book to mention everyone by name? (Even though God knows everyone's name, you would pray for everyone by name just to be sure God knows you mean every single person.)  Do we have a biblical basis for believing that would work?

"Revival," when you look at the Hebrew and even Greek words of the Old and New Testaments, is about people who are dead then being made alive.  Speaking about spiritual revival, people must be spiritually dead, who are then made alive spiritually, that is, they are converted.  A revival, however, seems to be when this being made alive experience occurs with a lot of people.  If it were, let's say, two or three, I'm thinking that isn't revival.  I have no reason to think just two or three being saved is revival, but my opinion is that "revival" (if what people called revival was actually something real) is seeing a whole lot of people actually get saved -- not just make professions, but for them to become new creatures in Christ, just because you wanted that a lot and a lot of people prayed for it a lot of time.  People, who didn't even want the Bible or Jesus, suddenly now want both because they are overcome by some kind of supernatural coercion as a response to praying for this to occur.

I know in the history of mankind, there have been times where a relatively lot of people have been converted upon hearing gospel preaching.  We see some of these times in Acts.  One was on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  We see one of these times in the colonial period of the United States under the preaching of George Whitefield.  I accept that this has occurred.  The Acts event is not a normative event, because it was accompanied by actual signs and wonders, but many did believe.  However, compared to the number of people who did not believe, there were still far more who did not believe than who did believe.  It was still a major threat to be a Christian in Jerusalem as seen in the resulting persecution.  Then you can read in books about the Great Awakening and what happened there.  I think it did happen.

I can admire and appreciate and enjoy reading about the times when many, many people were saved in a very short period of time.  I'm glad for those occasions.  I'm very, very happy that Jesus did miracles that indicated He was the Messiah.  I don't expect those signs today, but I'm happy He and the Apostles did them.   As for me, I can still be fulfilled without seeing a lot of people saved in a very short period of time. Would I like it to occur?  I would. However, I'm satisfied with preaching the gospel to as many people as possible and then seeing whoever wants to receive it, even if it is a small number.  I don't believe that I'm a lesser person or even a less powerful person because I don't see one of these times of multitudes being saved like Acts 2 or the Great Awakening.

Remember what the psalmist prayed in Psalm 85:6?  He was asking God if He would bring Israel back to life.  I believe the answer to that question was, "Yes."  Paul wrote in Romans 11:26, "so all Israel shall be saved."  Let's say that we asked the same question in a prayer?  It's not asking for revival, but we asked this question:  "Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?"  "Us" is the United States.  Answer:  I don't know.  "Us" is El Sobrante where I live.  Answer:  I don't know.

The best way to find out whether people are going to be made alive is by preaching the gospel to them.  Instead of praying for revival, we should obey the Great Commission.  Instead of praying for power, we should assume we have enough.  We should pray for boldness.  We should pray that God would send out laborers.  We should pray that we would have doors of opportunity open.  That would be to do our job.

It seems to me that men are less interested in doing their job, and more interested in some big event that God doesn't promise.  Why do they want the big event?   I believe that what God said to Baruch in Jeremiah 45:5 is apropros here:  "And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not."  Men are seeking great things for themselves.  They seek after signs.  They seek after great numbers of conversions.  They should obey and be content with the results.  If they did obey and were content with the results, we would not be in the mess we are in today.  We wouldn't be.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but people are actually ashamed of the gospel.  They preach something other than the gospel in order to attain "revival."  They leave out unpopular features of the gospel to get results and then call it the gospel being preached.  It isn't and it wasn't.  The gospel is enough, but it is the part that is perverted.  The necessary part for the revivalists is the emotion and the tent and the excitement and the music and the hollering and the momentum. These are attributed to the Holy Spirit, even though they are just fleshly means.

Think about this "revival" in Burlington, NC.  They set up a tent.  Why a tent?  The "revivals" of Finney and the other 19th century revivalists were in tents.  What does a "tent" have to do with it?  It looks like what happened then.  It seems like one of the conditions.  The tent impersonates what happened then to align itself with what occurred with the thought that this was a necessary condition. It is parallel with the temples of Christendom, the ornate buildings that attracted men in the medieval period.

The hoe-down music and the physical incantations and shouting and emotionalism, what is stirred up by fleshly means, is not the Holy Spirit.  The preacher is not so much interested in exposition of scripture, depending on its authority, as he is putting on a show.  Part of preaching, it seems, is jumping up on one leg with the other lifted high in the air, and shouting into a portable microphone. Actually, it's a similar activity as giving an inspirational speech at a pep rally in order to "fire everyone up."  One of the ways you act like you've got the Holy Spirit is lifting up your hands or your Bible, staring skyward with a glassy gaze, or shouting.  The entire purpose of setting a date, picking a place with a lot of seating, packing a crowd in through promotion, and then manipulating an event has no scriptural parallel.

Anybody who is in his right mind should think that this stuff they are witnessing is crazy.   The point is not to be in your right mind though.  The entire production is to disengage from the mind and allow yourself to be manipulated.  The emphasis is on the experience you'll have, which is caused to make you feel the Holy Spirit is doing something.

The Burlington, NC meeting postponed for a week so that the speaker could move to a Carolina Youth Camp.  The revival moves to camp and then back to the tent the next week.  At the end of the session, the number of results are declared with the names of the decision makers, for instance with such-and-such teenage boy "asking Jesus into his heart" and this girl "asking God to save her" and "another boy asking Jesus into his heart."  This is not a biblical doctrine of salvation. This is not how you see people saved in scripture.

I've met men who say they were saved while hearing the preaching of Oral Roberts.  Others testify to salvation in the ecumenical preaching of Billy Graham.  I hope they are saved.  I would compare it somewhat to someone throwing up the full court shot.  You hope he makes the shot.  If he does make it, you don't want him to keep shooting full court shots.  If the ball goes in, you are happy about that, but that doesn't justify the strategy of shooting full court shots.  I said "compare it somewhat" because the methodology of revivalism is worse.  It is permissible to shoot full court shots in basketball.  It isn't permissible to function in an unscriptural way for evangelism.  You still rejoice in the salvation of souls, but that doesn't justify what those people are doing.  In the long run, less people will be saved the wrong way. What I'm describing is a matter of discernment.  You don't accept the method while rejoicing in the soul saved.


James Bronsveld said...

Historians have noted 5 aspects to the Great Awakening (citing Beardsley again):
1)"There was little or no dependence upon external measures as a means for promoting a work of grace. Indeed, any great reliance upon means and measures would have been esteemed inconsistent with the prevailing conceptions of God's sovereignty..."
2) There were no protracted efforts to get up a revival.
3) Services primarily occurred only during regular service times.
4) There were no "anxious seats" or inquiry meetings
5) Preaching was practically the only means employed for quickening the consciences of the impenitent

I used to think that those men who push revival simply want what happened in Acts at Pentecost, and later after the healing of the lame man at the temple. I've since realized they don't actually want it, they just want something that appears to be like it. If they really wanted it, they'd follow Scripture and simply preach and expound Scripture. This brings us back to doctrine. No revival movement in the history of America has ever been successful without de-emphasizing doctrine. Doctrine divides, and division is the opposite of multiplication -- the supposedly incontrovertible measure of revival.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I loved the comment. Very informative. True. I hope people read it. Thank you.

Jonathan Speer said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

Your recent writing on the subject of revival has been really great. It seems like an effort to read the Bible and truly let it say what it says. Where we find men's ideas and philosophies have been imposed, free the scripture from such wresting. It is indeed freeing. It helps us to know and then to better understand God's words. It should be done more often.

Most of my friends that know about the Burlington Revival are enamored with it. CT Townsend has been a "big name" in this area for several years now. He presided over some youth meetings years ago that went into extra services after another man from GA had a meeting at a local church here that went on for 12 or 13 weeks. (Its ending happened to coincide with the start of the church's sports league.)

I decided to listen to some of the preaching at the Burlington Revival last week after some friends of mine asked me what I thought of it. I picked random services from the first week of the revival, the middle weeks, and the night before I was listening, which was July 5. I skipped all of the music and only listened to the preaching. I was listening for Bible-centered preaching. Unfortunately, what I heard was par for the course around these parts in campmeetings, tent meetings, and revival meetings. My analysis of this revival will be a little more harsh than some, but it is colored by my having grown up in the midst of this exact stuff and hearing these exact preachers preach these exact messages and say the exact cliche's and exact phrases for the last 30 years.

First, scripture was used in all of the sermons I listened to, but only as a springboard and hardly referenced after the initial reading. This is a means many use in order to justify what is essentially a motivational speech as if it were "preaching the word." While some truth was uttered, it seemed almost accidental in light of the near absence of any evidence being provided from the source of truth, God's word. Many falsehoods and doctrinal inconsistencies were uttered.

Second, the testimonies given during the sermon of the kinds of things "God is doing" explicitly excluded the preaching of the gospel or teaching from God's word of any kind. Around the 1 hour mark of the video from July 5 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaP4P9Q0v9M) he begins to exalt the "manifest moving" of the Spirit over preaching of any sort. And trust me, when he downplays the use of the "Romans Road" he is not doing so in a way that is appriately corrective: he is essentially setting aside preaching the gospel as he knows it in favor of a mystical experience.

Third, there is a large contingency that attends and watches this type of meeting just to see a show and/or be a part of the show. I grew up in these churches. I know what it is like to spend years sitting amongst folks who run the aisles and shout and whoop and holler and cry and wave their hankies only to see their families destroyed for lack of knowledge. I've seen these types of meetings all my life and within weeks, sometimes days, there is no evidence that anything substantial ever happened except for possibly a few folks who were legitimately bettered in their spirital walk somehow.

All three of these observations have to do with a lack of emphasis on God's word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word. If their goal in revival has anything to do with increasing faith, you would think that most of their efforts would be toward preaching the word clearly and accurately.

Even if their words are true, when so many words are spoken without reference to the source documents, it is much easier to question their veracity and it really does very little good in the end. It just feeds the cycle of conformity, realization, disillusionment, disbelief that has plagued so many of these churches that are pining for the "good ole days."

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thank you for the addition of your comment. It was very good. I'm sorry that people you know are enamored with what's going on there. I appreciate the biblical discernment you are showing. Thank you.

KJB1611 said...

Dear James,

Thanks for the comment.

Are you saying that the First Great Awakening and the people preaching the truth in the Second Great Awakening (e. g., Nettleton was good, Finney bad) were:

a.) Unsuccessful
b.) Deemphazied doctrine?

Also, isn't multiplication what the Great Commission requires? So is doctrine opposed to the Great Commission?

When did the Baptist churches fill, e. g., the South--was it during the Awakening(s), or was it during the other times?

Didn't Edwards get kicked out of his church because, post-Awakening, he wanted to restore what was certainly more Biblical--requiring conversion before one can take of the Lord's Supper--that had been set aside by the Congregationalists during non-revival times? Is that a change to a worse doctrine?

Didn't many of Whitfield's converts leave Anglicanism, etc. to become Baptists? Is that a change from better doctrine to a worse one?

I think points #1-5 in your comment are very good (with the exception of where the Calvinism, etc. of Edwards, Whitfield, etc. distorted the sovereignty of God, of course.). My questions above are in relation to this part:

No revival movement in the history of America has ever been successful without de-emphasizing doctrine. Doctrine divides, and division is the opposite of multiplication -- the supposedly incontrovertible measure of revival.

Perhaps you simply meant by "revival movements" manufactured things by men.

Of course, since "revival" is such a rare word in the NT, it is easy to confuse definitions, since it is difficult to get one clearly from Scripture (e. g., is "revival" many unconverted people being saved or already saved people being strengthened, or both?)


James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Ross,
One of the biggest problems in dealing with “revival” is the terminology. In its earliest usage, I believe the term was used to describe “revival of religious interest, or, revival of religion.” I deliberately used the term “revival movement” to describe the concerted efforts of men to replicate the appearance of what they have determined to be a great moving of God in the hearts of men, as evidenced by large numbers of public professions of faith.

A second issue encountered in dealing with the revival movements in American history is that historians tend to treat them all with a universal church type of mindset, in which all denominations of “Christendom” are branded as equally evangelical and obedient in their outlook and doctrine. Thus, the Great Awakening, which saw little effect on Baptist churches, but huge increases in Congregational and Presbyterian churches is seen as a revival. If tomorrow there were a sudden massive movement within our respective nations that saw a 700% increase in faithful adherents to covenant theology, baby-sprinkling, and the affirmation of the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort would you call that a revival? When Congregationalist churches in New England doubled their membership during this time, would you call it a successful revival, knowing that those who held to Biblical Baptist doctrine would continue to have penalties imposed on them by the strengthened state churches?

Thirdly, although I am loathe to use the “filling of Baptist churches” as a measure by which to gauge the success of any “revival of religion,” (since, for example, John R. Rice laid the foundation for the advent of the independent Baptist mega-churches of the '70s, while mocking “bland, self-assured 'Bible teachers' preaching to little groups of saints,” and lumping “doctrinally sound sermons” with “entertaining sermons” that were devoid of the anointing power of the Holy Spirit), I note that Backus sees a near tripling of the number of Baptist churches in America between the start of the Revolutionary War and approximately 1795 which was the outset of the so-called 2nd Great Awakening, suggesting an explosion of Baptist churches in one twenty-year non-revival period.

Just some thoughts for your consideration before I go much further in answering.

Kent Brandenburg said...


How I read James was that the "first great awakening" was not a "revival movement," i.e., wasn't revivalism.


My knowledge of the great awakening was that there was true gospel preaching, despite the ecclesiastical mess, of Whitefield. The people who went back to their congregational churches couldn't stay and this was the multiplication of Baptist churches all over the colonies. You read this in numerous Baptist histories. People who were saved had the discernment not to continue with the congregational churches.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro James,

What I have read is:

"[M]any 'new light' Congregationalists who had been converted under the preaching of George Whitefield left that connection to become 'new light' Baptists when they found no evidence of infant baptism in the apostolic church. When told of this development, Whitefield famously quipped that he was glad to hear about the fervent faith of his followers but regretted that so many of his chickens had become ducks!" (Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner, Shawn Wright; the quote can be found at Google Books online).

If you have reliable stats that Baptists did not grow during the Great Awakening, while other groups did, I would be very interested in that. At this point I think it is strongly contrary to the general consensus, although, of course, that could be wrong. I agree that universal church theology is a problem. And, yes, I think that a doubling among evangelical Congregationalists and a consequent reduction in infidelity would be a good thing, although certainly not as good as if they became Baptists.

Thanks for the clarification. Likewise, Pastor Brandenburg.

Anonymous said...

Regarding James' comment, I think there is another evidence of true revival: The result of true revival is not the enlarging of an individual congregation, it is the starting of many churches.

The only mega-church that I can find in the Bible is the church at Jerusalem. God enlarged it to fulfill the commission to "the uttermost part of the earth." When they decided to stay and grow "their" church, God sent persecution to multiply churches.

James Bronsveld said...

In the interests of maintaining a semblance of brevity, I had removed the following paragraph from my earlier comment: "One does have to look at the Great Awakening differently from the revival movements that followed, because with the Second Great Awakening and its successors there was a concerted effort and desire to replicate what happened in the Great Awakening. I haven't seen any indication that the Great Awakening looked back to any other event in history in a concerted effort to replicate the appearance of previous results." People were saved during the Awakening.

At the same time, I asked if the doubling of Presbyterian and Congregational church memberships could be considered a revival, not whether such an occurrence was preferable to infidelity. Having been saved out of a Reformed denomination, I strongly object to the idea that preaching which draws thousands back into a denomination teaching baptismal regeneration is a revival, and this is exactly my point about downplaying of doctrine. The leading men (Tennent, Whitefield, and Edwards) in the Awakening were pedobaptists whose preaching brought the greatest impact upon pedobaptist societies. Isaac Backus noted: "A measure of [divine grace] was granted to the Baptists in Boston, Leicester, Brimfield, Newport, Groton, and Wallingford; but as the work was begun and carried on almost wholly by Paedobaptists, from which denomination their fathers had suffered much, most of the Baptists were prejudiced against the work, and against the Calvinian doctrine by which it was promoted." Beardsley, whom I cited earlier, points to the Awakening primarily impacting the Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Whether the Baptists benefited at all was never my point, but rather who saw the greatest benefit—where was the most significant impact. I still say (unless you can show that Backus' numbers were way off) that the multiplication of Baptist churches in America during the period between the Great Awakening and the so-called Second Great Awakening prove that God does not primarily work through the short periods of heightened popularity of preaching.

Your quote lends further support to my point about downplaying doctrine (either by those involved in the revival, or by those looking back the revival). The Awakening drew seekers into unscriptural churches. The Scriptures drew them out. That they continued to study the Scriptures and recognized the unscripturalness of the societies into which they had been led was good, but has to be seen as an indirect effect of the Awakening, not a direct result of it. And even there, I hesitate to place too much emphasis on the Awakening itself, since there could be much written on the effect, for example, of James Madison's connection with imprisoned Baptist pastors in post-Awakening America and the enshrining of religious liberty that fostered conditions similar to Acts 9:31.

My point was that we do not need to desire or pray for another Great Awakening. I'm glad for some of what happened with the Awakening, just as I am for some of what happened during the Reformation. But we don't need those things. We need to be faithful in doctrinally sound preaching, and exposit the whole counsel of God in our churches. Movements will come and go, carrying along with them the natural interest, curiosity, and excitement of the world...all of which subsides and loses steam, just as did the Great Awakening, as legitimate as it was. What's left? The (often small) particular visible Baptist assembly bought by the blood of Christ and faithfully, systematically preaching the gospel to every creature.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro James,

Thanks for the comment. I do not have time to completely address everything at this point. I would say that the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians became more like the Bible and thus more like the Baptists through both the First and the good int the Second Great Awakening. They did Baptist-like things like restricting the Lord's Supper to those who had a credible profession of conversion. They were less likely to say that infant baptism was a substitute for personal conversion. Of course, since that did not make them Biblical, true churches, these good things were just about certain to decrease over time.

I am certainly glad if there are more born-again people who are teaching more Bible truth, rather than less, among Congregationalists and Presbyterians. That does not mean I would be in fellowship with them. etc. of course. However, if worldly, secular people in the USA became evangelical Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and in our country Baptists increased 200%, Presbyterians increased 150%, and Congregationalists increased 225%, while secular humanists shrunk a corresponding about, that would be very, very good, although not as good as if they all became born-again, separatist Baptists.

I thought the following quotes might be of interest by historical sources:

The various revivals so augmented Baptist growth that by 1800 they had become the largest denomination in America.1 The “Second Great Awakening” in the early 1800s further extended Baptist growth and brought for the first time numbers of black people into the Baptist fold.

H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1987), 343.


After 1785 the Evangelical Revival began a second surge in America. Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians experienced awakenings in the 1780s. This surge of new life aroused a fervent missionary spirit and crystallized into numerous missionary organizations. Leaders of the new societies counted their efforts a vital part of the rising Protestant world mission.

Baptists: Traveling Preachers and Missionary Associations
When the PBA met in 1787, reports of great growth among the Baptists abounded. This growth prompted Whitfield’s remark near the end of his life, “All my chickens have turned to ducks.” The Second Great Awakening became general in 1797, but Baptists had already experienced significant growth. Itinerating missionary-preachers (often traveling at their own expense without pay) and small associations (with contagious enthusiasm for gathering new congregations) were the chief instruments of expansion. By 1792 Baptists had become the largest religious group in the new nation. When Luther Rice arrived from India to attempt to organize Baptists in America to support the Adoniram Judsons as missionaries in the Orient, there was already a long-standing commitment to sending missionaries to destitute places.

John Mark Terry, Ebbie C. Smith, and Justice Anderson, Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 228–229.

The Great Awakening in the 18th century and the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century brought rapid growth to the Baptists in America. Baptist lay preachers were most successful in the new and freer areas of the West, where they had no preexisting religious traditions to contend with. They were particularly successful in the South among both the black (→ Black Churches 1) and the white population.

Edwin S. Schütz Gaustad Eduard, “Baptists,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999–2003), 197.

Thanks again. The quote about "Calvinian doctrine" being a problem was very interesting.