Rethinking Revival

Revival and Judgment Intertwined

Charles Finney in 1835 stated in “Hindrances to Revivals,

if revivals do cease in this land, the ministers and churches will be guilty of all the blood of all the souls that shall go to hell in consequence of it. […] if it is to be always so, that two-thirds of the church will hang back and do nothing but find fault in time of revival, the curse of God will be on this nation, and that before long.

Earlier in the lecture, he speaks of war as an impending judgment of God. Because the majority of the church opposed the powerful revivals sweeping across America, Finney said, “the nation is under [God’s] displeasure.” He warned that if the church would not do right, God would let loose the judgment of war. Because the spirit of war is so opposed to the spirit of revival, such a judgment would utterly halt all revival in America.

Rethinking Revival

As I read this material, a great paradigm shift occurred in the groundwork of my mind. I began to rethink revival. First, I considered that our nation had been continuously in war since before I was born: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the War on Drugs, and now the War on Terror. And, I considered that, since the Jesus movement of the late 60s and early 70s, there has been no widespread, national revival in the United States.

Now, these facts had always disturbed me. But, I had seen them merely as sin: indolence, wickedness, and backsliding on behalf of the church and the nation. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit unfolded to me that these wars, and the lack of revival, are judgments of God on America.

Lack of Revival Abnormal and Disturbing

The present-day lack of revival is extremely abnormal and disturbing. The book of Acts, church history, and modern-day revivals in China and India testify that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the norm for the church. During the Second Great Awakening, Finney said that the whole nation could be brought into the millenium in three years if the church would unite and continue in revival. Equally disturbing is the modern American church’s lack of concern about the lack of revival.

I’ve seen three basic camps on the subject. One, those who don’t say anything at all about revival. Two, those who say that they are promoting revivals, when in fact they’re holding emotional concerts or spiritually dead meetings. Three, those who believe they already have the Holy Spirit. These final two groups (I have participated in both) can include churches in which people experience spiritual manifestations, such as falling to the ground. But, there is no conviction of sin, no holiness, and no changed life.

In all three camps, nobody seems to be saying, “Where is Jesus?” As Pastor Ray Greenley has said, it’s as if we don’t even realize that the Holy Spirit has left us. This, perhaps, is the most frightening thing of all. Not only has God brought terrible judgment by withdrawing revival from America, but the majority of the American church doesn’t even realize that this judgment has happened.

God’s Judgments Already On America

God has already passed a number of remedial judgments on America. By remedial, I mean that they are calculated to turn us back to God–if we will recognize them as the righteous judgments of God and repent.

We can recognize these as the judgments of God because of Romans 1:21-32 and Deuteronomy 28:15-28. For example, the proliferation of homosexuality in American government and culture is a direct result of God handing over to this sin people who “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful” (Romans 1:21). Isaiah 66:4 and 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 speak of God sending delusion as a judgment on those who knowingly turned from righteousness.

America was colonized with the explicit purpose of advancing the Christian faith. She passed through several Great Awakenings. She has known tremendous revivals–perhaps more than any other nation. We knew God. And what has happened? Have we glorified God for this? Have we been thankful? Nay, we have trampled under our feet the tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We’ve cast the blessing of God into the ditch.

God’s present judgments include:

  1. America in almost non-stop war since the 1960s (Vietnam War, Cold War, Gulf War, War on Terror)
  2. Prayer forbidden in public school
  3. Bible removed as foundation of education in public school
  4. Abortion legalized
  5. Gay marriage sanctioned by Supreme Court
  6. Astronomical divorce rate in and out of the church
  7. Child abduction, trafficking, and pornography (Deuteronomy 28:41)
  8. Widespread cancer, venereal disease, and sickness of adults and children (Deuteronomy 28:21-22, 27, 35, 61)
  9. The proliferation of Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, New Age, and other religions
  10. Exorbitant national debt (Deuteronomy 28:43-44)
  11. Continuous and repeated attacks on Christian religious freedoms across the country, including the destruction of monuments, shutting down college student meetings for prayer and Bible study, and shutting down street preaching and evangelism
  12. No widespread revival since the Jesus movement–almost 50 years.
  13. Widespread delusion (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). In spite of widespread sin in the culture, and sin in one’s personal life, and that the Bible clearly states that those who die in sin are not saved, 64% of Americans believe they will go to heaven when they die.

In light of all this, our incredible prosperity ought to strike us as a rebuke from God. He is pouring coals of fire on our heads. Our standard of living; incredible material, technological, and financial resources; and freedom would shame us if we truly considered our condition before God. But, we’ve gone so far away from God that we don’t recognize our abundance as a rebuke to our wickedness. Though it is natural that the unchurched wouldn’t recognize this, it is alarming that the church has gone so far from God that she doesn’t recognize it.

Content without Revival

Until recently, I thought of the above as merely America’s wickedness. But now, I see the ways that the church did not like to retain God in her knowledge (Romans 1:28). She despised the labor of Christians and their gains in the Temperance Movement and allowed Prohibition to be repealed. She cast off revivals. She’s gone headlong into powerless Christianity. The disconnect between the average worship service and the power of God manifested in the gospels and in the book of Acts is astonishing.

I’ve often heard Thomas Jefferson criticized for editing his own version of the Bible in which he took out all the miracles. But, today’s American church has done the same in practice. We leave the miracles in the Bible. We leave a real and present holiness and salvation from all sin in the Bible. But we practice a powerless form of religion. Instead of recognizing that we’re to walk in the same power of the New Testament believers, we intellectualize. The New Testament power of God demonstrated in deliverance from sin and in miracles becomes a historical relic. We analyze symbolism. We allegorize, metaphorize, and apply principles to our modern lives. When will we finally say, “Enough is enough. I can’t live as an impotent Christian anymore. God’s heart is to bring the kingdom of God in power through my life. I won’t go on living without it!”

Our Guilt and Spiritual Condition

First, we see the terrifying and immense power of God. He is able to give up an entire nation over to sin–or to deliver a nation. With ease, God has lifted America to such dizzying heights of wealth and prosperity. And, with equal ease, he can bring sudden destruction, and make us the gazing and laughingstock of the world.

In light of this, we see that America is in a state of moral insanity. The unconverted and the church are so unconscious that the judgments of God aren’t recognized as judgments. If an asteroid were to come out of the sky and destroy Las Vegas, would anyone recognize it as a judgment from God?

On the contrary, most of the church appears unconcerned–as if everything is totally fine. Knowledge of revival and true Christianity has so ceased that the church doesn’t realize she is without it. Nor does she recognize the extreme judgments of God–or even that God may be displeased with her. She doesn’t see that all of the nation is under extreme and abnormal judgment because of the sin of the church. This is in and of itself a judgment from God. “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

I am no exception–until the Holy Spirit shed light on this several days ago, I was right along with everybody else. I equated God’s judgment with a horrendous financial crash and the destruction of America. Now, I see that judgment is on every hand.

Ingratitude and Neglect of Revival

The modern American church has neglected church history and accounts of revival. As a result, she’s unaware of what is the real moving of the Holy Spirit, and doesn’t realize that the Holy Spirit has withdrawn. Instead, excitement is viewed as a moving of the Holy Spirit.

The frightening reality is that God has withdrawn revival from America. In the Second Great Awakening, revival was more or less continuous throughout America–so much that Finney said, “We have had such a great revival, that now small revivals do not interest the public mind.” Today, practical knowledge of revival has virtually ceased from America. For example, I’ve never seen revival in my life. This is a terrifying judgment from God. America as a nation has backslidden so far that, as a whole, she’s as an unconverted heathen.

The prospering of America greatly exacerbates our guilt. Not only did it not lead us to repentance, as it should, but it also lays great guilt on all of our selfish use of God’s money. It’s money that could have been spent on revival, on converting the nation to Christ.

Nonetheless, there is some hope. We see the longsuffering of God–that America still survives today is astonishing. Also, the first apostles, or more modern missionary examples such as Hudson Taylor, offer encouragement for revival. In these cases, a small number of individuals—even one or two at a time—were highly prepared by God for revival. Then, they went into completely heathen nations in revival power, planted dozens or hundreds of churches, and rocked society and the culture.

The Work Required

The breadth and the depth of revival work required is immense. When I taught “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in a college English class, one of my students asked, “What is sin?” America has become a nation of heathen. The work to be done in each individual heart is a very deep, huge, overhaul. It would mean millions of people going through a conversion as radical as those in the Jesus movement (or my own conversion). We also see the breadth of it—that this moral declension and giving over to uncleanness by God extends over the entire country.

Only Jesus Christ can do this work. The magnitude–breadth and depth–is so huge. When I look at myself compared to the amount of work needed, I’m like a grain of sand in the Pacific Ocean. Only a move of Jesus himself could convert this nation to himself. But, this does not mean that we are to do nothing and wait for revival to drop out of the sky.

The Unprepared Church

The church as a whole is unprepared for the lost to come and be saved. The church herself has gone so far away from revival that she couldn’t sustain one in her present condition. Revival would stop as soon as it started.

Thus, we see the church needs to be radically revived before she can receive the lost or new converts. Or, new converts would flood the church and change her; but I’ve not read about that pattern happening in revival. SOMEONE in the church has to be able to labor in revival.

Repentance

We must repent and wail over the fact that God has withdrawn revival from America, and over our guilt in that. We must see our guilt in what led to that judgment, and what continued impenitence has led God to not relent on that judgment. Then, we need to forsake what has been our share of sin.

Romans 1, a Blueprint for Repentance

The judgments described in Romans 1 are linked to three causes, which are all sin. Note that all these causes/sins presuppose a knowledge of God. In other words, these judgments come on those who have received spiritual light on who God is, and what he requires. But then, instead of obeying that light, they reject it. As a result, God hands them over to uncleanness. Though this passage does indicate the guilt of all sinners, for the purposes of this article we will focus on how these passages apply to professing Christians. All professing Christians have a basic knowledge of God. Thus, it behooves us to allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and see if we have committed any of these sins.

The key to all of these is that the judgment of God isn’t reversed by going after the judgment. Instead, it’s reversed by going after the underlying cause. For example, the proliferation of homosexuality isn’t reversed by targeting homosexuality. Instead, the underlying sin–forsaking God–must be repented of. I believe that if the church will get honest about how we have left God, and repent, that God will turn back the tide of homosexuality on this nation.

Sin/Cause 1:

When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but become vain in their imaginations…and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beats, and creeping things. (vv. 21-23)

Judgment/Effect: God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves (v.24)

Practical Application: The Greek word “dishonor” doesn’t have an inherently sexual meaning. The word is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to one servant beating another (Luke 20:11), for suffering physical persecution (Acts 5:41), for dishonoring God (John 8:49, Romans 2:23), and for despising the poor (James 2:6). Thus, though the context of the passage does suggest a sexual dishonoring, we can also understand it in a broader sense. For example, poisoning the body with tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs could fall into this category. So would getting in fistfights or brawls. “Between themselves” indicates that these violent acts against the body occur in group settings.

If you are abusing your body or another person’s body, sexually or otherwise, you have good reason to suspect that you are guilty of having known God, and then refusing to give glory or thanks to God. If you yourself are clean, but know of others engaging in this behavior, you can use verses 21-23 as a starting point for praying for them and lovingly talking to them about the underlying cause of this sin. This verse also suggests that idolatry in the church may be a cause for violence in the culture.

Sin/Cause 2:

They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator (v.25)

Judgment/Effect: God gave them up unto vile affections–homosexuality (vv. 26-27)

Practical Application: Here we see that false Christs, or false perceptions of Christ, amount to idolatry. For example, the “cotton candy Jesus” of tolerance is a lie about who God is. And, it exalts that which is created above the Creator. Instead of honoring the holiness of God, the cotton candy Jesus exalts sin. It increases the value of man and decreases the size of God. Homosexuality is a judgment from God against this lie. Have you participated in a false, gnostic gospel of a sinning Christian? Have you, by words and actions, perpetuated the view of a tolerant Jesus? If so, you have contributed to the sin that resulted in God allowing homosexuality to proliferate in the culture. Will you repent?

Sin/Cause 3:

They did not like to retain God in their knowledge (v. 28). They knew the just requirements of God. But, they either 1) participated in wickedness themselves, or 2) approved of those who did. An example of this would be a heterosexual ardently defending homosexuality.

Judgment/Effect: God gave them over to a reprobate mind–a mind void of judgment. As a result, they’re filled with fornication, wickedness, covetousness, envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, backbiting, God-hating, pride, boasting, etc. (vv. 28-31)

Practical Application: Have you defended behavior that the Bible reveals is wicked? Have you participated in it? Have you been tolerant of those who participate in wickedness? Have you reassured them that everything was okay–that they need not worry, need not change? Do right and wrong seem relative–“You can do whatever is right for you?” or “There are no moral absolutes”? These indicate a mind void of judgment–a reprobate mind. We may link the abundance of violence, murder, and general evil in America with Christians who did not like to retain God in their knowledge–with Christians who knew the requirements of God, but became permissive of disobedience.

Renounce Comforting Lies

As part of repentance, we must also renounce lies that comfort us in our impenitence. We must stop abusing passages of Scripture like, “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:37).

I spoke with one young Christian man about this question of revival, and he construed this passage to mean that society is inevitably going to get worse and that we shouldn’t be concerned about the moral decline and wickedness on every hand. This is a poor excuse for impenitence. It shows no love for Christ or hatred of sin. And, it equates to saying, “Well, I’m not really concerned if everyone else is going to hell. I know I’m saved.” No, if your heart is so hardened, you are not saved.

Look at the general tenor of the New Testament. Did the apostles teach this? Did they teach, “Despise thy neighbor, but thou art saved?” Did Jesus Christ teach that it was okay for sin to abound in society, and that we shouldn’t be concerned about it? Or did he say, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:30)? We must utterly abolish the idea that “things are just getting worse because the Bible said they would. It’s normal and expected for the great mass of humanity to abound in sin and go to hell.”

Preparation for Revival

Finally, we see that we need to prepare ourselves for revival. In addition to the repentance above, we must be sanctified so that we can be used by Jesus. “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). This requires that we no longer agree with wickedness, but take a position where wickedness if our enemy (Jeremiah 15:19-21).

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up (James 4:8-10).