Dynamic outpourings within the church and its corresponding effects upon a given society – or a “spiritual awakening” – has long been the great divine means by which Christ has dramatically advanced His redemptive purposes in the earth.
Throughout the scriptures and church history the Lord of heaven and earth can be seen radiating His glorious perfections with unusual power to particular generations of the elect, who under God’s influence perform great exploits against sin and iniquity, often transforming entire nations with heavenly glory.
To most evangelicals, the life and testimony of the reformers of a bygone era are quite familiar. Names such as Luther, Knox, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, and Finney to name just a few, are generally synonymous with large sweeping movements of Christianity which engulf entire generations. Yet this familiarity often makes the discussion of revival difficult in that any inquiry into revival becomes personality based. This in turn hinders the discovery of the underpinning theology and immutable principles which foster such movements of holy grandeur.
The purpose of our inquiry concerning revival is to uncover the biblical foundations of such awakenings that we may practically implement these principals in our present generation. My hope is that revival will no longer be viewed as a mysterious capricious act of the sovereign Christ but instead seen as part of His overall purposes in maturing the church and advancing His rule among the nations.
REVIVAL – To restore from a depressed, inactive, or unused state. A restoration of force or validity. (Websters)
“Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.” Isaiah 64:1
In order to understand revival and spiritual awakening in a biblical context with all of its high and lofty dimensions, one must inquire beyond fundamental dictionary explanations and preconceived cultural ideas concerning revival. There must be a renewed effort to embrace a theological, historic and global appreciation for this otherworldly phenomenon, if revival is to be more than a byword in our generation.
Three Misunderstandings About “Revival”
Before a proper definition of revival can take place there are three major misunderstandings concerning revival which must be overcome.
The first of these barriers is the all too common cultural understanding of revival which exists among the majority of American evangelicals. Such understanding generally sees revival in terms of a given local church holding a set of special evangelistic meetings usually scheduled in the spring and fall. This sort of meeting would ordinarily include special speakers and varied musical presentations in order to make an appeal for unregenerate sinners to be converted to Christ. That this kind of meeting has value and at times can even assist in the expansion of revival once it is already in progress there can be no doubt. However, evangelistic meetings do not represent authentic biblical revival! Evangelism should be an ongoing function of the church whether the dynamic of revival is present or not.
Another major obstacle in forming a proper understanding of revival again revolves around a cultural difficulty. The critics of revival (I speak here of evangelicals who no longer believe revival a possibility), often cite that the great historical awakenings were generally confined to 18th and 19th century America and Britain because their respective cultures were suited to such religious movements. The implication being that there cannot exist an immutable set of biblical principles which can transcend time and sophistication of culture in order to bring revival to every tribe and kindred on earth.
Of course, this short and truncated view fails to take into account the mighty evangelical awakenings which are currently taking place in such diverse places as Asia, South America, Africa, and the Soviet Union. Thus it is is imperative for the success of the churches global mission that we reject any notion that revival is based upon certain cultural conditions. Revival is distinctly biblical not cultural!
The third major obstacle in arriving at an understanding of revival and spiritual awakening has to do with a confusion over the terms themselves. Very often the terms “revival” and “spiritual awakening” are used interchangeably to describe large numbers of converts being added to the church in a very short period of time. Large numbers of converts can be expected as a result of what is called a “spiritual awakening.” Revival and spiritual awakening are related; both may be attended by the salvation of a large number of souls. However, they are in fact two separate events.
In light of our discussion so far, it is now time to properly define the terms revival and spiritual awakening. While there exist many good and varied explanations for revival, we will opt for simplicity by defining revival as a recovery of Christ’s glorified testimony within a particular generation of the church. Such revival may take place on a local scale, but usually takes on national and international implications. The marks of such reviving include corporate repentance, humility, renewed spiritual vigor, holiness of life, and large sweeping movements of corporate prayer. Thus revival is a specific blessing of divine intervention which Christ bestows to the elect in order to arrest spiritual atrophy and enhance the churches testimony in society.
Spiritual awakening on the other hand, takes place when an already “revived” church begins to righteously leaven the society in which it is located. The evidences of awakening usually include mass conversions and dramatic changes in a given nation’s social structure. Virtually every historic revival has inaugurated an awakening which has challenged and reformed society in some degree. This all encompassing vision can best be summed up in a little known yet poignant statement by the great 19th century revivalist Charles G. Finney in which he exhorted:
“Now the great business of the church is to reform the world – to put away every kind of sin. The church of Christ was originally organized to be a body of reformers … The Christian church was designed to make aggressive movements in every direction – to lift up her voice and put forth her energies against iniquity in high and low places – to reform individuals, communities, and governments, and never rest until the Kingdom and the greatness of the Kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the saints of the most high God – till every form of iniquity is driven from the earth.”
Let us now summarize our opening statements concerning revival and spiritual awakening.
1) Revival and spiritual awakening cannot be defined from a cultural perspective. Culture cannot create revival movements. Revival is based upon immutable biblical principals and this in turn affects both church and culture.
2) Revival is distinctive in that it embodies the sovereign movements of Christ on behalf of His church, in order to enhance her testimony in a given generation.
3) Spiritual awakening takes place among those who are lost in sin due to the relevance of an already revived church.
This is part one in a two part series by Jeff Ziegler on Revival and Spiritual Awakening.
Jeff Ziegler is president of Christian Evangelistic Endeavors, a ministry dedicated to bringing a great and mighty revival to the Church and spiritual awakening throughout the nations. C.E.E. sponsors Intensive Revival School, a two year discipleship training program designed to prepare students for the ministry. Revival Flame, a bi-monthly newsletter published by C.E.E., contains articles written by staff members and revivalists of old concerning revivals past and present. If you wish to receive Revival Flame, write to the following address:
c/o Christian Evangelistic Endeavors, Inc.
35155 Beachpark Dr.
Eastlake, OH 44095