Revival vs. Revivalism





Today we want to talk about revival. We’ve gotten a number of requests from some on this recently. Much of this is the result of the state of our culture.


Here in Kenosha, we’ve been having so-called “revival meetings” or “revival gatherings.”


In light of the riots we had, there was a great desire for many churches and Christians to gather, and see change, hope, and revival in our city.


In our civic park (where much of the protesting and rioting took place outside the courthouse), there were worship concerts, where many people came to sing, pray, and so on.


There were a number of churches that organized this, and several pastors in the area spoke at some of these.


There was also a traveling worship guy named Sean Feucht (pronounced Foyt) who came to town. He’s been traveling around the U.S., apparently tired of the double standard, where protesters can gather in the streets, but churches can’t meet.


So he’s been organizing, and holding, “worship protests.”


He has amassed a rather large following.


He goes from city to city, and then asks a local preacher to come preach the Gospel.

So in light of Kenosha now being a household name in light of the riots, Sean came to our city and held one of his events. The stated goal was to help bring in renewal and revival.


The result of these calls for revival in our city have been met with mixed thoughts and feelings by the various churches and pastors.


Some pastors have loved it and strongly desire to see revival.


Other pastors have had a strong aversion to some of these efforts because they think the atmosphere at these “revival events” (Sean Feuch’s in particular) was too celebratory. Rather, they think the church in Kenosha should be more sober (and grieving) right now, because of racism and police brutality.


Our goal here is not to comment on the various perspectives from these pastors and churches, but it is to say that this idea of revival is happening in light of the recent events.


Further, there are revival and prayer efforts organizing at a national level.

These sorts of things are always around, but they seem to become prominent during times of crisis, or around election time.


For example, you can go to www.thereturn.org and you will see a national day of prayer and global repentance.


It was an event that took place on Sept. 26, where celebrities, and popular authors, speakers, and pastors led an online event centered around global prayer and repentance.


Again, you could do a quick Google (better, www.duckduckgo.com ) search and find many of these sorts of events taking place all the time.


The questions we get as pastors is; should we be part of this?

So we weren’t part of any of the events in our city. First, we weren’t asked to be part of it, but even if we were, we would not be part it—which is likely why we are never asked.


Second, we also got some inquiries as to whether or not we could sign up to host a virtual meeting for a global prayer event.


There was a genuine and honest frustration from some as to why we would not be part of this, nor support such a thing.


We found their questions and concerns to be honest.

So what we thought we would do is record some episodes on why.

And, like all things, that answer has to do with theology.


So while prayer and revival meetings sound like a worthy thing; and while global gatherings for repentance sound like a good thing, the question becomes, is it biblical?

Is this right, proper, and what God has actually called us to?


Further, is what these various organizations mean when they use the word “revival” what we mean when we talk about revival.


In terms of the global gatherings for prayer and repentance – the question we have is what does repentance mean in their mind?


Are we talking about the same thing?

Do we have the same biblical framework and understanding?

Are the motivations, and goals the same?

Are the things we’d be praying for the same thing?


In other words, when we gather with other churches in the city to pray for revival, restoration, and hope, are we even doing the same thing? Is there a true unity of mind, effort, and goals there?


Well the answer will ultimately come down to what is true revival, biblically? What is our part to play in revival; and how is it actually accomplished?


So we’re going to spend some time talking about revival, and specially, try to make a very critical distinction between true revival, and something called “revivalism” (which we would argue is, far and away, much of what is commonly taking place.


So what is revival?


Defining Revival


First of all, we want to give credit where credit is due.

If you’re looking for some good resources on revival, we would highly recommend “When God Moves” by John Armstrong.


Also, if you’re looking for some really good history on revival, Iian Murray’s “Revival and Revivalism” is excellent. He’s a very good church historian, and any of his writing would be worth your time.


But to give credit where it’s due, both of these books were helpful guiding our discussion on this topic, and so much of what we say can be drawn from those two resources.


Lexical issues:


First of all, the word “revival” as a noun is never used in Scripture, and that right there should cause you to slow down.


That does not mean that the concept is not seen in Scripture, but this should cause you to at least slow down.


Now the verb, “to revive” is used in Scripture.


In the OT, it’s the verb חָיָה (chayayh)which is the verb used to speak of making alive.

Literally, it is “to live.”


However, it is also used in the sense of “bringing back alive.” It refers to “breathing,” or causing something to once again breathe. So the idea of “revive” is certainly present in the term.


Ex.) 1 Kings 17:22“The LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.”


So, here, the clear context is that of bringing physical life back to a child. Elijah prayed for God to bring life back to Zarephath’s dead child.


The same term is used in Ezekiel 37.

This is that famous passage, commonly referred to as the Valley of Dry Bones. Here, Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy over dead bones. As He does, the Lord causes His Spirit to enter them.


The context is that of bringing life back to Israel. It is looking to a future time of national restoration.


In the NT, we see a couple Greek words that may carry connotations of some type of reviving.

ἐγείρω (egeiro).


This word means to awake or arouse a sleeping person.


Paul likes to use “sleeping” as a euphemism for when Christians die.

As a result, he will use this word to speak of the physical resurrection from the dead.


e.g.) 1 Cor. 15:52-

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”


ἀνίστημι (anistami)

The term literally means “to rise” or “cause to rise.”


Most often in Paul, it is used to speak of a physical resurrection of the body from the dead (e.g.) 1 Thess. 4:16 -

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”


That’s basically the closest we get to the idea of “reviving” in terms of lexical data in the Scripture. The bulk of the occurrences seems to speak of bringing physical life.

The Ezek. 37 passage is perhaps the closest we get to a “spiritual reviving.” But even that is a specific text used in reference to the nation of Israel and her future restoration.


As a result, this is why we say it is wise to slow down, if you’re going to be biblical.

You can look to historical accounts and anecdotal stories to build your theology of revival. But if we are going to be truly biblical, we have to be honest with ourselves in terms of what Scripture actually reveals—which is very little.


Now is that to say revival is not a real thing? No. But it is to say we should not come to the Scripture with our preconceived notions that our understanding of revival is necessarily biblical.


So how do we proceed? Well let’s begin by talking about what revival is not.


What revival is not:


First of all, from a biblical and truly historical perspective, revival is not a series of meetings. And this is key, because there is so much historical precedent for thinking this is the case.


We’re all familiar with tent meetings, prayer meetings, evangelistic crusades, conferences, etc. that are designed to bring about revival.


There are also calls for repentance, both individually and corporately (e.g.,www.thereturn.org effort we mentioned earlier). The hope with these calls to repentance is that God will be pleased with our repentance and bring about a greater revival.


While all of these are well meaning and well intentioned, they are not revival. To put it plainly, it is indefensible from the Scriptures.


There is no passage that speaks of God bringing about revival as a result of meeting certain preconditions, and this is the great error that many make.


They wrongly think that if we can be heartfelt enough, passionate enough, pray hard enough, get enough people together to cry out to God, that somehow revival will happen.


Again, you will struggle to defend this from the Scriptures, and show that this is how God actually works, or that it is what God has asked His Church to do.


Further, we would say that as long as this is how revival is being defined, the concept of true revival will continue to be confused.


Revival is not a program, it is not an effort, it is not striving to meet certain preconditions that God has promised to bless.


Now, there are certain realities that will often precede revival (which we’ll talk about later), but they are no guarantee revival will come.


However, it is not in our ability to create revival, or “do something” to bring it about.

In fact, if you study the history of true revival, it is interesting to see how there are very few precursors.


MLJ is quoted saying that “if you want living proof of God’s sovereignty, study the history of true revivals.”... But more on that later...


Again, we simply cannot stress this point enough.


Second, revival is not something that is here today and gone tomorrow. In other words, it is not a mere emotional disturbance due to a conference, traveling worship leader, or “feeling in the air” during times of crises.


So a lot of bad things happened in Kenosha in August. Many well-meaning people, therefore, assumed God was at work in the midst of it to bring about revival.


We would simply argue that what many saw was simply a greater degree of unrestrained sin. But because we have amplified times of sin, that does not mean God is wanting to now work in a unique way and bring about revival.


Again, these are good desires in well-meaning Christians, but your “sense” or “feeling that God is up to something” has no bearing on whether or not true revival is (or is about) to take place.


It is very interesting how much of that revivalistic notion has already disappeared in Kenosha. The crisis has passed for now. As a result, so have many of the emotions or passionate desire to see God move in the midst of everything—if we are being honest.


Third, true revival is not miracles.

Now in times of true revival, unusual things have been recorded to take place.

However, what is important to understand is that North American Christians (in the 20th century) have put more emphasis on special phenomena than any other century in church history. And yet, we are experiencing an enormous time of infidelity to the basic truths of the Gospel.


Fourth, true revival is not local (or national) moral recovery, nor is it a community being unified in terms of an optimistic spirit (again, especially during times of crisis).

Importantly for the United States, revival is not a renewed political involvement, or renewed sense of the “American Spirit.”


Patriotism and love of country is not bad, but it is not revival; especially when we equate love for country with love for God.


Fifth, revival is not evangelism.


First, evangelism is to be the ongoing work of the Church, regardless of the times.

So when people come to Christ as a result of evangelism, this is not revival.

“A fresh obedience to the work of evangelism may well precede revival, but evangelism and evangelistic efforts do not equal revival. If we persist in calling outreach crusades ‘revivals,’ we will also persist in thinking that what is needed is to be found in outreach efforts... Revival is the awakening of the Christian community, the church” (Armstrong).


This quote is very helpful because it helps orient the focus of true revival. Revival is not bringing about new life, but reviving of old life. Since the church has already been made alive, the focus of revival is the church, not the world. So just because dead sinners are (for the first time) being made alive in Christ, that does not mean revival is happening, in the truest sense of the term.


So we’ll develop this more next time, but it is very important to understand that the focus of revival is always the church, not the world.


This is also seen in the OT, where the focus of revival (e.g., Ezek. 37) was only on the people of God—Israel.


The same holds true in the New Covenant. A biblical view of revival understands the object of God’s blessing and renewal is the church.


Now, there might be some good results in the world as a function of what the revived church is now doing (e.g., evangelism), but the world is not the object in view in terms of God’s Spirit working in a unique way.


So that’s our beginning foray into revival.

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We hope this helps set the stage a little bit.

Much of what we talked about here is what we would simply define as “revivalism.” It is not true revival, but what may have wrongly assumed to be revival.

Much of this is experience driven, and man-made. The efforts may have good intentions behind them, or they may have wicked intentions behind them (e.g., money, etc.). But regardless, all of these are “revivalism” and not true revival.


To define revivalism in a nutshell, it is anything that begins with man, man’s effort, or man attempting to meet criteria that we think must first be met in order to see God move. If what you're doing, or want to take part in can fall in this category, then it is “revivalism” and not truly biblical.


So to attend a revival meeting.

Join a nationwide call to repentance.

Pray to see God move.

Gathering as many churches together to worship, cry out to God, etc.


Nothing here is evil per se, but again, you will be hard pressed to find any of this in the Scriptures. So if you want to be biblical, we would ask you to consider why (and where in the Bible) the Church is called to do any of this for the purpose of seeing revival.


In fact, as we’ll see next time, all true revival is a pure act of sovereign work by God. That is to say, God is completely unmoved, and unreactive to anything outside of Him.


Anything He does, He does from the center of His own personal will and desire. In other words, He is never looking at anything outside of Him to decide when He wants to do something. As a result, there are no precondition that man can meet (or must meet) in order for God to work in a special way, or bring about revival.


Keep this concept in mind, because it is key to understanding true revival.

We will develop this more fully starting next time.