What is a Genuine Revival
A Definition and Course of Action
By Evangelist Daniel Kolenda
It’s been nearly a decade since I have heard so much dialogue on the topic of revival and perhaps more now than ever before. The recent outpouring in Lakeland, Florida seems to be the catalyst behind this resurgence of interest and everyone is buzzing. I am hearing a lot of opinions ranging from, “It is demonic” to “It is the greatest thing ever” and everything in between. Mostly though, the discussion seems to center around one question: “Is this a TRUE revival?” Most will acknowledge that there is something good happening. After all, people are getting saved, healed from sicknesses, delivered from homosexuality and drug addiction, etc. But is it really a “revival”? The answer to that question, they think, will either legitimize what is happening or demote it, if not condemn it altogether.
The fundamental challenge with a discussion about revival is the lack of a solid Scriptural definition. While a concordance search on the word “Revival” will come back empty, a Google search will provide you with thousands of books, websites and articles on the subject. So many authors, with so many opinions, yet it would seem that the Bible is basically silent on the issue, which begs the question: what are all of these notions based on? Reinhard Bonnke said, “There is no jury authorized to decide what is or is not a revival – we have to reach our own conclusions.” And for this reason, most Christians have either formulated their own opinions based on their anecdotal observations and experiences or adopted the definition of someone who seems to know what they are talking about. These definitions are held up as concrete standards to which every revival must attain. Failure to do so will result in a categorical downgrade to something below the sacred status of a “real revival”.
Some definitions seem to be the description of a utopian and thoroughly antiseptic Christian existence:
– Charles Finney described revival as, “…a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.”
– Brian Edwards says, “We often have a tinted view of revival as a time of glory and joy and swelling numbers queuing to enter the churches. That is only part of the story. Before the glory and joy, there is conviction; and that begins with the people of God. There are tears of godly sorrow. There are wrongs to put right, secret things…to be thrown out, and bad relationships, hidden for years, to be repaired openly. If we are not prepared for this, we had better not pray for revival.”
Some descriptions center around our responsibility in the advent of a revival:
– Johnathan Goforth said, “If revival is being withheld from us, it is because some idol remains still enthroned; because we still insist in placing our reliance in human schemes; because we still refuse to face the unchangeable truth that, ‘It is not by might, but by My Spirit.’”
While still others describe revival as something altogether sovereign:
– Leonard Ravenhill said, “Revival is when God gets so sick and tired of being misrepresented that He shows Himself.”
To some, revival is evangelistic in nature, while to others it focuses mainly on the church. To some revival is thrilling and joyful, while to others it is somber and sorrowful. For some revival is a personal experience and to others it is a corporate event. For some it is a reward for many painstaking years of fasting and prayer, while to others it is a completely sovereign event. The definitions are as varied as the experiences of the people who describe them. But in practicality, most of these definitions only serve as ammunition for one camp to hurl at another. When someone claims that they are in a “revival,” the critiques will counter that it is not a “true revival” because it lacks this characteristic or that distinctive.
The word revival has evolved into a non-specific term broadly used to describe an arbitrary event in which something positive and unusual is happening in the spiritual lives of human beings…presumably Christians. Some might conclude that revival is nothing, and some that revival is everything and still others will try to replace it with other non-specific terminology such as “outpouring,” “awakening,” “renewal,” etc to give it some distinction from all other similar events.
For me personally, this subject is more then a matter of scholarly, critical observation. I spent nearly 3 years of my life in the throws of what is considered to be one of the major “revivals” of the last century. It was a movement that touched the world and is held as a standard by which other revival movements are now compared. In this revival, I had an encounter with God that changed and altered the course of my life. I had grown up in the church and seen many powerful things, yet there was something extraordinary about this “revival,” and the impact it had on me was profound. I believe that God does move in unique ways in certain places at certain times in history as he did in scripture. I too have been tempted to define “revival” in the context of my experiences in Brownsville, yet my personal bias towards my own views does nothing to elevate them beyond the humble status of what they really are…mere opinions.
Since revival is not mentioned in the Bible, perhaps we should refer to another source…a standard of definition. The Webster’s dictionary says that the word “revive” means, “to restore from a depressed, inactive, or unused state: bring back.” It implies that something or someone was conscious or alive in the past and had become unconscious or dead and has subsequently been restored to the previous condition of life or consciousness. Based on this simple understanding of the word itself, revival is the restoration of a previous condition of life or consciousness. Some think of a Revival as a time when the church goes to new places in God, but that would go against the fundamental implication of the word “revive” which suggests a previous condition rather then something new. So what is this condition that we are trying to restore? I’m going to take a long shot at this. May I propose that what we are trying to revive is called…authentic Christianity? You see, the book of Acts and the New Testament as a whole were not given to us as a fascinating historical account of the first century Church just for our personal reading pleasure. They are the minimal benchmark of what Christianity really looks like. People being delivered, healed and saved, demons coming out and the dead being raised. These things are not called a “revival” they are called, normal Christianity. We see these sorts of things happening in a “revival” because as aspects of authentic Christianity are being restored, we see its characteristics manifesting. But it is not new…it is a previous condition of life and thus, a “revival” of that life.
Most people focus on what a revival service looks like. They focus on the preaching, the worship, the altar calls, the crowds etc. But by the previous definition, revival as I see it, has very little to do with the liturgical elements and components of a revival service itself, but with the resulting impact of those services. Is authentic Christianity being restored? Does it look more like the book of Acts Church? Is God restoring something to us? I am NOT suggesting that “revival” results in a full restoration of New Testament Christianity. God meets us where we are. He often takes us one level higher at a time and works with us in a spirit of longsuffering and extreme patience.
Of course we all know that the Church started on the day of Pentecost in a fiery blaze of glory. Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promise of the Father; the infilling of the Holy Spirit, documented in Acts 2. In verse 39, Jesus was careful to say, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Yet we know that after several generations, the vibrant, organic, community of believers that was the original church gradually digressed into a structured, liturgical orthodoxy that ultimately gave way to corruption and abuse, resulting in nothing short of a dead religion.
Meanwhile God was at work to restore His bride into what it was intended to be. This restoration did not happen all at once. It took place in portions, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.
All throughout the darkest hours of the Middle Ages there were vestiges of life and power even within the Roman Catholic Church. God was at work in the worst of circumstances. But, for the sake of this discussion allow me to begin my condensed revival timeline with the Protestant Reformation.
– In the 1500’s, through Martin Luther, the basic truth of Sola Fide was restored. This gave way to a host of subsequent reformers and movements. Within two centuries the Anabaptists, Huguenots, Shakers and Quakers had all contributed to the progressive restoration of truth.
– In the 1700’s the First Great Awakening broke out in the United States with Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and John Wesley.
– It had barely ended when the Second Great Awakening broke out in the 1800’s producing another chain reaction of mighty preachers and movements including Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, The Cane Ridge Revival and the Holiness Movement.
– The 1900’s saw the most remarkable increase of spiritual revival to date with nearly every decade marking a significant spiritual advancement.
• Azusa Street
• The Healing Revivals of the 40’s and 50’s
• The Latter Rain Revival
• The Charismatic Movement of the 60’s
• The Jesus People Movement of the 70’s
• The “3rd Wave Movement” in the 80’s
• And finally the Toronto Blessing and Brownsville Revival of the 90’s.
Keep in mind that all of the aforementioned events were very different from one another. The Protestant Reformation was very different from the First Great Awakening, which was very different from the Azuza Street Revival, which was very different from the Healing Movement, which was very different from the Brownsville, Toronto and Argentinean revivals. Yet in each case, something that was dead or dormant (missing from authentic and full Gospel Christianity) was brought back to life or consciousness. At Azusa, it was the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, in the Healing Movement it was faith and healing, in Brownsville it was holiness and repentance, etc. Based on Webster’s definition, though they all varied in function and form, they were all “revivals.”
There are, however, two distinctly unique characteristics that, without exception, typify each of the above events and separate them from literally thousands of similar events, varying in size and scope, that have happened all throughout the world since the Church was born in the Upper Room.
The first characteristic is that every one, without exception, was widely and harshly criticized and persecuted by its contemporaries. When Luther presented his revelation of Justification by Faith Alone, the Church tried to kill him. Later, when the Anabaptists came along, Luther called them, “Messengers of Satan”. Charles Parham and William Seymore were called “rulers of spiritual Sodom”. G Campbell Morgan said that they were, “Satan’s preachers, jugglers, necromancers, enchanters, magicians, and all sorts of mendicants.” And he went on to call the Azusa Street Revival, “The last vomit of Satan”. But why should this surprise us? They said that Jesus was of the Devil and that John the Baptist was demon possessed. In fact Stephen asked the rhetorical question, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” Any revival is sure to come with its fair share of cynics and critics quick to offer their poison opinions. They will normally be the most religious people and often, the children of the previous “revival.”
The second characteristic of all of the events listed above is that they marked a significant shift on a universal/body scale. When Luther posted his 95 theses, little did he know that Christianity as it was known would never be the same because of that restoration of truth. When the Azuza Street Revival broke out in Los Angeles it was the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement that has resulted in over 500 million classical Pentecostals and changed the face of Christianity. The Healing Movement of the 40’s and 50’s brought a wave of supernatural healings and miracles unseen since apostolic times and continuing to this day. Similar revolutionary effects can be noted for all of the previously mentioned “revivals”.
Aside from these two consistent characteristics of revival the other elements widely vary. Some have expressed the notion that in order for a revival to be genuine it must of necessity contain certain of several key ingredients such as; prayer, repentance, powerful preaching, large crowds, a unique sense of the presence of God, miracles, healings, manifestations, Baptisms into the Holy Spirit, evangelism, significant cultural impact and more. However, out of all the revivals that I have mentioned, all widely accepted as genuine, not one contains each of these elements seen as “key ingredients” to a genuine revival. Some of them contained certain elements and others contained other elements, but all were different. Since there is no particularly consistent historical standard and since Scripture does not specifically define “revival” and since everyone seems to have a different opinion about it, how can we discern what is authentic?
When people judge whether what is happening in Lakeland is a genuine revival or not, each person is subjecting it to their own set of expectations, usually based on previous historical events that are widely considered to be revivals. With these criteria, in reality, the question then becomes, “Is the revival in Lakeland on par with the traditionally recognized revivals?” (listed above) Now remember; these revivals are very different from one another, but we know about them because of the restoration, or “revival” of something spiritual in a way that was uniquely widespread and far-reaching. In other words we know about them mostly because of the scope of their impact on the Church at large. Therefore, the question becomes, “Is the ‘revival’ in Lakeland something that is going to impact the body of Christ on a historic scale?” The question then is “How far does it have to reach to be ‘far-reaching’ and thus considered a true revival?”
The brilliant answer of course is, “What difference does it make?” The question is moot. Only time will tell what impact these meetings have on the history of the Church as a whole. But that, in the meantime, has nothing to do with their legitimacy or authenticity or genuineness. People are being healed, saved, delivered and touched. It is clearly supernatural, placing it into one of two categories; that which is of God and that which is of Satan. If it is of God, what is the problem? What more do we need to know? As we have seen, the definition of what a true revival is, has no relevance to our response to what God is doing.
I have to be honest, when I hear people asking the question about whether or not the Lakeland meetings have earned the sacred distinction of a “revival;” I chuckle a bit on the inside. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard it so many times now, and maybe because it reminds me of Peter on the Mt. of Transfiguration asking Jesus if he should build booths. The question seems to me to have nothing to do with anything and is completely inappropriate response to a move of God. Say you join the Peace Corps and accept a mission to go to some war ravaged country and deliver life-saving bags of meal to refugees who are starving to death. You fly over a village and drop a bag that lands in the middle of a group of men. As you fly back through you expect to see them tearing it open and devouring it raw. Instead they are drawn into a circle around the closed bag with arms crossed having an in-depth discussion. You would conclude that either they weren’t very hungry after all, or they simply don’t know what to do with it.
As God is pouring out His Spirit all over the world right now, I observe groups of Christians in little circles discussing and analyzing every possible angle and intricacy like a well-fed glutton straining over a speck of dirt on a 32 oz porterhouse. Maybe they are just not hungry enough. Perhaps they have experienced so much of the presence of God that they can easily wave it by like a third trip to the buffet line at Golden Corral. I would admonish such people. God sees the heart. He fills the hungry. He gives grace to the lowly. He gives power to the faint and to them that have no might He increases strength. But He resists the proud.
For some, the question about the authenticity of the revival stems from an honest desire to avoid deception and “false fire.” If this is sincere (and not jealousy cloaked in concern), I respect it and suggest the wisdom of Gamaliel in Acts 5: “If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, (39) but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it—and you better not be found fighting against God!” If one is not sure about something, sometimes the best response is just to keep quiet. I am reminded of Michel who brought bareness upon herself because she could not resist the urge to criticize. Take heed that you don’t bring upon yourself a spiritual bareness because of an urge to pronounce judgment on the work of the Holy Spirit. It will be a cause of great regret and pain.
The only other explanation for the reaction I have witnessed from so many people is that they simply don’t know what to do with a move of God. Like the group of starving refugees gathered around their bag of meal having a casual discussion, I want to open the cockpit door and scream out at the top of my lungs, “YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO EAT IT!” That’s what its for.
When I was a teenager there was an evangelist that rented my grandfather’s church for a series of meetings. He had his own following, so he filled the church with his own crowd. Most members of our church did not attend the meetings and they were not encouraged to do so. I can remember that a few times I happened to be there while the services were going on. I can remember peeking through the slits in the door at the back of the sanctuary with some friends and family members and seeing things I had never seen before. It was my first exposure to people being stone drunk and laughing uncontrollably under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I heard people around me making critical comments, and some were mocking. As a young, impressionable boy I instinctively agreed with the general sentiment, assuming that it was all a bunch of bologna. After the service was over, the evangelist, Chris Harvey, had everyone stand in a line and began to go down the line laying hands on them and one by one they were all falling to the ground. I cautiously made my way into the sanctuary to witness this phenomenon first hand. As I walked around the room I was amazed by what I was seeing. People were enraptured in the Spirit and everyone seemed to be experiencing something. Finally I saw something that really intrigued me. A young girl, 6 or 7 years old was laying on the ground laughing and crying at the same time. I had never seen that before in my life…I didn’t even know it was possible. I think it was the expression on her face that ignited the first hunger for the presence of God that I ever experienced. I went and stood in the prayer line and I remember the prayer that I prayed to this day word for word. I said, “Lord, if this is not from you I ask you to protect me from it and please don’t let it touch me. But if it is from you, please don’t let me miss out on it”. In hindsight I am amazed at the wisdom of that prayer that came out of such a young boy. I think it is a prayer that many of our wise and educated self-proclaimed scholars could learn from. It was a simple prayer of faith and God heard it. My eyes were closed and I remember hearing Chris come close. He gently laid his hand on my belly, and I remember feeling like I had just put my finger in an electric socket. The next thing I remember is getting up off the ground…forever changed.
If you truly desire God’s presence in your life and you yield yourself to Him trusting that He will give you good things, you have His promise that He will not give you a stone or a scorpion, but He “…will give the Holy Spirit the them that ask.” (Luke 11:13)
Maybe you are one of those wondering about what God is doing in Lakeland and all over the world for that matter. How should you react? What should you do? My friend, there is only one response that makes any sense…receive. Stop worrying about whether or not it qualifies as a real “revival.” Stop worrying about whether or not there is enough preaching. Stop straining over tattoos and piercings. You do not have to answer for the actions and decisions of others, you are only responsible for your own heart response. Hungry people will receive while others will have nothing but their precious objections. My suggestion: position yourself in humility before God and say, “Lord, whatever you have for me, I want it…all of it.” If you do that, it will indeed be a genuine revival…for you!