Saturday, January 28, 2012

Revival Hope

Again I'm hoping maybe it really isn't too late to save America, to have revival that resuscitates an entire nation and pulls it back from the brink of death.

Here's where Leonard Ravenhill would have us start:
...[I]f I could, I would like to call together thousands of preachers in different countries of the world to spend a week in prayer for renewal. I would like to see them given instruction in prayer; not seminars on prayer, mind you, but exhortation to pray. We would spend the whole week praying, with periodic breaks. I believe this could be a detergent in the life of the Church. It would be a cleansing process. We could go back to our churches and perhaps stave off judgment, and God would usher in the revival that must* come. [p. 95, America Is Too Young To Die. Christian Life Books paperback]
This ought to be a prayer in itself, but I've found that I can't pray that big. I can barely pray for thousands of preachers in America myself, let alone the whole world. Which I guess means I don't have the faith for a movement that large. But wouldn't it be great if thousands of us all over the nation prayed for this to happen?

It seems right that it should start with the preachers, the pastors of churches, and the elders and deacons. That's where the revival in the Hebrides under Duncan Campbell started, with the church leaders saddened by the falling away of the young people in the community and desiring to revive them, so getting together two or three nights a week to pray, while a couple of the elder women in the congregation prayed together at home at the same time.

We need a HUGE revival in America, a nation-wide revival, and of course a world-wide revival would be even better, but Ravenhill's book is about America under God's judgment and what it would take to save the nation, and the theme of my recent posts has been the same. America is going to go under completely if the churches don't rise to the occasion and pray out their hearts for revival. The same is true of all the nations of Europe and all I can do is hope the fire would spread there too.

And please, not the kind of revival they had in Brownsville with people passing out and jerking and flailing around as if that's the whole point of revival while the word of God hardly got heard, but a revival that majors in conviction of sin and repentance first of all, at all levels of the Church from the pastors on down. That's where REAL revival always starts and that's what the nation needs, after all, if judgment is to be averted.

There always seems to be less preaching during revivals from what I've read, God Himself doing the major work of it, but there must be some preaching of the truth if there isn't going to be a flood of false doctrine taking over. People can get saved but have some very strange ideas about Christian theology and someone has to teach them.

The very best book I've found on revival is Brian H. Edwards' Revival!

[Back later to say more about this book]

How do you tell a true revival from a counterfeit?

Reading in Leonard Ravenhill this evening, a book he wrote in 1979, America Is Too Young To Die, his usual powerful exhortations to a failing church, exhortations to repentance, to holiness, to prayer, to revival. It's rich with quotations I'd like to copy out and hope I will soon. It's so sad that it's been over thirty years and America still hasn't seen revival considering that Leonard Ravenhill prayed for years for revival and preached and wrote exhortations that moved many.

But some would disagree that we've had no revivals since then. In the back of the book there are ads for other books put out by the same publishing company, all revival-oriented, some of them about genuine revivals I'm aware of that go back a hundred years or more, but some on highly questionable revivals. There is a series of books, for instance, about the "Azusa Street Revival" of 1904 which I came to believe years ago was a false revival, but now I'm going to have to repeat my research on it to convince myself again, because I find it so hard to reconcile an ad for that event with the solid Biblical position of Ravenhill -- can't the publishers tell the difference?

There's also an ad for a book on the supposed "Brownsville Revival" of the 90s in Pensacola, Florida, which I've also been convinced was counterfeit. Again I'm going to have to do more research, but I did start by finding some video of that "revival" on You Tube and it's really quite fascinating. It's the first time I've actually seen some of the phenomena I'd only read and heard about otherwise, people falling down, jumping up and down "in the spirit" and having the "jerks" and generally acting "drunk in the spirit."

Well, to be accurate, I'd seen something like it in charismatic contexts, people falling down when the leader -- usually a visiting "evangelist" -- touched them and prayed over them, but I was never convinced that was for real. None of it appeared to be involuntary -- though some of it may have been, I don't know, there was no way to tell.

I also saw some people fall down under helpless laughter at a charismatic retreat, but not the whole group, just a few. The "Laughing Revival" in Toronto was going strong during that period and it was clear the people in the group where I was were really having some kind of laughing fit they couldn't stop. I've experienced out-of-control laughter that takes your breath away and makes your sides hurt and that's what this looked like, but it went on an entire night in one case at least and maybe more and it was all attributed to the Holy Spirit.

Brownsville wasn't into laughter, but it certainly was into passing out, jerking and flailing and the like. And now I know it is very very real, whatever it is. You can see it particularly in a four-part You Tube video, the first part of which I've embedded below -- you click on a message at the end of each which will take you to the next part -- where one of the leaders/pastors is interviewing various people about their experiences in the "revival." Most of them experienced these phenomena even in the process of being interviewed -- watch the young black man as he is waiting for his turn in the second part -- and the interviewer himself almost succumbed a few times later on, his head jerking uncontrollably at times, almost completely falling down at least once. The phenomenon seems to start with small jerks of the upper body and may or may not progress to full body flailing movements and/or falling down, though some just seem to get weak in the knees and fall down without any of the other manifestations.

It appeared some were making a mighty effort to control the effects. Whatever these things are they are clearly real in the sense that the people are not intentionally doing them but it's all just happening to them. I think this is completely obvious on the film.

They call it "the power of the Spirit" and refer it all to God and Jesus. But is that what it really is?

It seems that all they talk about is the physical manifestations themselves. This is what interests them, what they come for, what suffices for "revival." They "give the glory to God" but IS God the author of all this? They seem drunk, and they love being drunk, it's obviously a lot of fun. The crowd applauds when someone falls down or shows other evidence of being "under the power" and they laugh and jump up and down in the normal voluntary emotional way to see that clearly INvoluntary stuff going on. It all reminds me of the giggles people get on various illegal drugs recognizing that everybody else is also high. Very much like that. Drunk. Stoned.

What IS this phenomenon?

The interviewees say God "really did a work" in them or something along those lines, when they were out cold on the floor, or God "healed me" and so on. But the actual content of the experience is oddly vague and scrambled or not voiced at all while the jerking and falling and whatever the feeling is that goes along with those manifestations are celebrated as what it is really about. "Give me more," more more more, says the first woman. More WHAT? Apparently just whatever the feeling is that makes her stagger and eventually fall down and not wake up until 3:30 in the morning.

Is God REALLY the author of these things? Is God glorified in such phenomena?

Since the people in the Brownsville "revival" clearly believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit and give thanks to God, talk about cleaning up their lives and plead the blood of Christ and the like, I don't want to come to any premature conclusions on the basis of some negative impressions but want to study it more. The test is always the fruit, as the Lord says, so what has been the fruit of Brownsville? True revivals change the surrounding community in some way and the participants in the revival go on to do meaningful Christian work. Has that been happening?

There have been many credible witnesses of former revivals that were undoubtedly true revivals who reported that such phenomena also occurred to some participants --sometimes understood in earlier times to evidence a bad conscience under conviction of sin, or a weak constitution -- but in those cases the manifestations were not made the center of the revival as they obviously were in Brownsville. So there is room, it seems, to recognize that such things may happen to some people in a true revival, but when they dominate and become the focus as if they are the whole point of the revival itself they've got to be considered at least a distraction from God's true work. I'm not completely happy with this way of sorting it out but it would be risky to assume more than this.

At the very least I have to say that this is not the revival I'm praying for, and I specifically pray that such phenomena not be welcomed and applauded if God sends us revival, though I'm not going to say it shouldn't be expected or tolerated. If the focus isn't clearly on conviction and repentance from sin and changed lives it's just too vague WHAT it's about.

Later, I'm convinced this all does come from God now, my impression after watching the video a number of times, but I'm also puzzled at the different kinds of revivals that apparently all come from God. [June 13 2012: I don't remember what made me think this was of God back then, probably nothing more than believing one or two of the participants. But as I review it now I have to go with all the misgivings I had at the time as well. This can't be from God.] Just what's on these videos makes it appear that repentance from sin was NOT part of this revival. There's more of a spirit of accusation from the pastor's wife, for instance, a complaint she had against the church, a statement about being "hurt," no sense of her own being at fault, so rather than being forgiven by God she thinks in terms of being "healed" by God, or released from a "curse" she's been under, or from a kind of imprisonment. The young black man said something about having done some bad things but he also denied that he was a bad guy and there was no spirit of repentance in him either.

This kind of thing is what I've witnessed in charismatic contexts myself -- much emphasis on healing and release, no sense of repentance. (I do have to note that the Wikipedia article on the Brownsville revival says that preaching on sin and experiences of conviction and repentance definitely WERE part of this revival, though that wasn't evident on the video above.)

But it's the great revivals in which God breaks people under conviction of sin and self-accusation that I've only read about that seem to carry God's power out to the community and affect the participants for the rest of their lives. This is the sort of revival I hope would come to America. The revival in Saskatchewan in the 70s started with repentance among the church members and I think their pastor Bill McLeod ought to be a model for all pastors today because he spent hours praying for his church every day until the revival came. This charismatic kind of thing in Florida just seems weak by comparison. The TONE of it bothers me, the giddiness or giggliness. What WAS the fruit of Brownsville?