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.