Pentecostals and revival

May 15, 2008

bible / church / pentecostal / charismatic / theology

As I’ve said fairly often on this blog, I met Jesus in a Pentecostal church, and went to a Pentecostal college for one of the degrees I earned. One of the really common parts of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements is revival. Seeking revival, predicting revival, announcing revival, and any number of other things.

What is revival?

The interesting thing is that there are as many definitions of what revival is as there are ways of looking for and identifying it. The Old Testament sees (thematically and linguistically) revival as restoring something to life – whether it is a person’s physical life, spiritual life, or the relationship of Israel to Yahweh.

The New Testament uses a word that is often translated as stirring up, or kindling (like a fire), and can also be translated as revival. So, a follower of Jesus can stir up the Spirit within her, and she is revived in this way.

Interestingly, nowhere does Scripture refer to revival as an event. It doesn’t speak of evangelists, or crusades, or altar calls, or anything else that we typically associate with it in modern, Western Christianity. Evangelists and altar calls and nightly meetings are not necessarily excluded from what revival is, but neither are they necessary.

In church history, revival typically comes when the church is at a low point, and a person or group of people begins to stir up the flame, and seek life in the Spirit. In some way, usually a way that is entirely unexpected, God responds.

Examples of this include the various monastic movements (especially the life and effects of St. Francis), the Protestant Reformation (especially the Anabaptists), the Methodist movement, several Great Awakenings, the birth of the Pentecostal movement in Wales and Los Angeles in the early 20th century, and the charismatic movement (and alongside it, the Jesus Movement) across mainline and evangelical denominations in the mid 20th century.

All of these examples, at their beginning at least, had two parts: personal and social. Many of the followers of Jesus in these movements saw visions, dreams, and had powerful encounters with the Spirit. They also experienced a renewal of desire to share their experiences with others, and started innovative churches and ministries, helped the poor and the outcast, and especially in the case of Azusa Street in Los Angeles, they saw that “the color line was washed away in the blood.”

Current revival issues

In the mid to late 20th century up to the present, the term revival has come to mean a lot less, and also a lot more. Now, it refers to a series of meetings with a guest preacher. Nothing really has to change at all, either inwardly or outwardly. If something is expected to change, usually it is narrowed down to physical healing.

There are still people who talk about revival in a more biblical sense. Graham Cooke is one of these, and defines revival as the restoration of the church’s passion for people who are far from God. Then, he sees a stage of reformation, where the effect of that passion goes out into society and changes people. Changes society, and influences it with the kingdom of God. And this, of course, is that second part of social influence.

What’s going on in Lakeland?

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about revival in Lakeland, Florida. Todd Bentley is leading this, and it has moved to the local (regional) airport, where there is not enough space to hold all of the people who want to be there.

I spent just over five years living in Lakeland, long enough to earn a couple of degrees, and earn some extra money to get out of Florida. When I first moved there to attend college, a group of people formed in a small coffeeshop to pray for revival. We wanted to pray for revival among ourselves, in our school, and in Lakeland itself. We kept this up for at least three years, maybe four, and we saw very little effect outside ourselves.

It’s interesting to look at what is happening in Lakeland (people coming from the outside, reports of miraculous things, and renewed and new passion for Jesus) from a distant perspective, and ponder whether or not this is the answer to our prayers. I have come to extreme respect for the wisdom of Robby Mac, and he has a recent post that I think has a very balanced perspective. In essence, he believes that the Spirit is, in fact, at work in Lakeland, but that his work there does not necessitate his approval of the theology or the methodology that is at work there, and it does not mean that people who want to be part of the work of the Spirit need to ignore their own sense of discernment.

And that’s a beautiful thing that I’ve taught, and have observed in my education and in various experiences in pentecost (referring to Pentecostal and charismatic things). God is less interested in perfecting our theology and methodology before he uses us than he is in using us while he changes us. There is great power in grasping that statement.

So, I would love to join some of my friends who are still in Lakeland, and have been to these meetings to see what God is doing. It’s wonderful to see a prayer like that being answered, regardless of how weird the answer is.