In our day of Christendom revival is a phrase used by many to exhibit many different ideals that we would say have veered from the apostolic version of the word revival. Firstly what revival is not: It is not healing, it is not miracles, it is not a supernatural manifestation, it is not prosperity, it is not evangelistic meetings. The abuse of the word revival to promote many spurious manifestations in our day, false anointings, has overwhelmed Christianity world-wide while the true meaning of the word has been lost.
What then is revival? In short revival is simply the people of God coming into the light and in right relationship with the living God and His Son Jesus Christ. Revival presumes declension, it presumes that one has fallen away from a state of peace, life and joy and needs to be restored to the original place with God. Revival highlights sin of all types, wickedness that puts us as enemies of God, where we must be dealt with by the grieving of the Lord’s Spirit. Revival when experienced will make Jesus Christ glorious and the only preeminent one in one’s life. Revival brings great glory to Jesus Christ alone and not to the Holy Spirit or any other thing. The Son must be lifted up that all would be drawn to Him and if we get our eyes off of Him we need revival to turn from the snakes of sin and fix our gaze and affection solely on the Lamb of God.
When I think of the word “revival” the first event that pops in my mind is the Great Awakening of the 1730s, etc with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield; and also, with John Wesley and the Methodists in England, and Charles Finney and the Second Great Awakening camp meetings, etc. I even think of William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival. I will try to explain my view of revival from what I know in Scripture, reason, church history, and personal experience.
1. Scripture. The first Biblical revival that I can think of would be the one that occurred through Enoch, when “people began to call on the name of the Lord” after a long of period of apostasy (Genesis 4:26); next, I think of Moses’ experience with the Israelites in the desert as one long series of revivals (Exodus); miracles, signs, and wonders were present, for sure; but after a long time of apostasy (the Jews had even worshiped a golden calf), God used Moses to call the people back to obey God’s commandments; while thousands opposed the revival of Moses, thousands also were revived and obeyed God. The “sons of the prophets” (2 Kings 2:3) were something like prophetic monk orders under the leadership of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha; I guess you could call these prophetic or spiritual “movements,” but not “revivals”; a “revival” however, did occur when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal in the sight of all Israel, and did a nature miracle that brought so much fear of God among the people, that they turned back to God in full repentance, and killed 400 prophets of Baal, at Elijah’s command, according to the law of Moses (1 Kings 18). John the Baptist and his disciples at the Jordan River, preaching the baptism of repentance, was a revival:–perhaps one of the most important revivals in the Bible, because it was the revival that gathered a large number of Jews from all over and paved the way for Jesus. When the right time had come, John the Baptist told his disciples to follow Jesus (Luke 3:1-20). For three years, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ led revivals all over the land of Palestine. He preached repentance, forgiveness of sins by faith in Him, healed the sick, and cast out devils (Luke 4-21). And He gave the same power to many of His disciples to disperse out and do the same:–this is called EVANGELISM. And we see this acted out by the apostles in the Book of Acts: especially by the apostle Paul.
2. Reason. It is common sense to observe that such a thing as “revival” is not only Biblical, but reasonably necessary at certain points in religious history. The word “revival” in the dictionary is defined as “restoration to life.” That which needs reviving is dead; and needs to be resuscitated, brought back to life, revived:–sort of like a man whose heart has stopped beating, and needs a paramedic to shock his heart back to life with a pair of defibrillator paddles, and someone shouts, “CLEAR!” And shocks the man’s chest; and his whole body convulses, and he’s alive again, and his heart is beating, and he thanks the paramedics, “Thanks for SAVING MY LIFE!” It is reasonable to say things like this should occur at various periods in church history, in the moral and spiritual sense, because if they did not, Christian life would always be meaningless and ritualistic. I think modern evangelical (as well as Pentecostal) Christianity is in a DESPERATE NEED OF REVIVALS, because all I see in these churches are dead pastors and dead people. There is often no life, no excitement over what it is they’re doing; no thanks to the Seeker-Sensitive Movement, and the decline of Hell-fire and repentance Gospel preaching.
3. Church History. Although I believe revivals have occurred since the time of Enoch and Moses, in the traditional sense of the word “revival,” it seems to have originated with the Puritans, when they saw lukewarmness entering the Church of England, and they wanted to see a reviving of their churches back to the original spirituality that had been stirred in former days: namely, over the rediscovery of THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST; as expressed in the Anglican and Puritan soteriology of repentance, faith, atonement, the cross, justification, regeneration, sanctification, etc. Michael J. Crawford’s Seasons of Grace: Colonial New England’s Revival Tradition in Its British Context (1991), demonstrates that Jonathan Edwards, whom evangelicals usually think of as the first “revivalist,” was really thinking in terms of a revival tradition that he had inherited from his Puritan forefathers. He was not too much of an innovator in that sense. Revivals of religion were also called “seasons of grace”: that is, periods where the Holy Spirit poured out on masses in the church to revive or renew their experience of salvation by faith and holiness of life in Jesus Christ. I like to think of Leonard Ravenhill and The Banner of Truth Trust as the last BRITISH element of this classic traditional view of revival from its Anglican, Puritan, and Methodist contexts.
4. Experience. I have never experienced a revival in the historical sense of the word. I wish I could some day. But I have experienced aspects of God’s grace in a lot of the same ways that people in times past have in these revivals. When I first came to Christ at the age of 14, it was out of a formality of church attendance at a United Methodist Church, and in the raw evangelistic altar call of a radical youth pastor named Micah, who had the guts to call his youth ministry HELLFIGHTER YOUTH CHURCH:–in the midst of having recently done some stupid mischief, and gotten in trouble with the law, the altar call was enough for the Spirit of God to make it clear to my heart, that if I did not make it a point right now to live for God, then if I died, I would go to Hell. I have been walking in the fear of Hell, and of God, ever since, growing in obedience to the Bible, and loving Jesus for dying on the cross and forgiving my sins. Soon afterwards, a Christian friend led me into the experience of praising God by speaking in tongues and feeling God’s presence. I had, in these ways, been revived from a go-to-church view of Christianity (formality) to a living-for-God view of Christianity (revival; or, Christian spirituality).