By Jonathan David Faulkner
The first Church I served in suffered because of “Revivalism.” That sounds harsh, but it is true. Way back in the 70’s, before my dad had even graduated from school, while the Second Wave Pentecostal Movement was sweeping across the country and people were coming to the Lord and American Christianity was still popular. As it faded those who had been spearheading such a thing were trying to throw fuel on the fire, keep it going as long as possible until in the 1980’s it became Third Wave Pentecostalism. Inspiring Petra to write, in the 1990’s, “We’re content, to pitch our tent, when the glories evident, seldom to we know, the Glory came and went.” Because of the abuses, the drive to make the experience normative, my church lost an entire generation. A generation who now sent their kids, but would not darken the doors of a church themselves.
In the early 1900’s, inspired by the Welsh Revival a revival broke out on Azuza Street, its brand of Spirit filled teaching and preaching would help to propel the church into its height in the fifties and sixties. The leaders of the Azuza Street Revival understood that the signs and wonders would eventually fade and when they did, it would be back to life in the body. It would give rise to the Holiness and modern Pentecostal movements with all its excess, but at the time had more positive effects than negative.
In the 1720-40’s the Great Awakening was sweeping across New England, Jonathan Edwards was the Pastor at Northhampton, George Whitefield was preaching in the United States and people were coming to the Lord in droves. But, as the Fervor of the Awakening began to fade there were those who tried to keep it going. As what became known as “Excesses” were beginning to become a problem Edwards had to respond to the situation. Safely navigating the gap between emotionalism and intellectualism that had formed as a result of some who were caught in the hysteria of the excess. The result was the captivating (if you love theology) work “Religious Affections.”
Now, I am not saying that Pentecostalism as a whole is bad, nor am I saying that revivalism is wrong. Both can be good and life-giving things and for revival, we should all pray, but when they come up we, like Edwards, must be discerning
With all the news about AzuzaNow and individual revivals reportedly happening all over the country it is essential that we thus look at the wisdom of those who have gone before us, lest we become victims of short-sightedness and fall into some ecstasy that is not of the Spirit of God. Or fall under the influence of power hungry men who desire to harm out spiritual lives with the lies of the enemy.
Edwards gives us the best framework within modern Christian Thought to address these issues. Forced to respond to the criticism of Charles Chancy and others that the First Great Awakening had fallen into Apostasy Edwards wrote his great book “Religious Affections.” Where, being the pastor and intellectual he was he reasoned by Scripture those signs that indicate whether something is or is not of the Spirit of God. His final conclusion was relatively simple, but one must know what might not be of the Spirit before they can know what is of the Spirit.
Edwards was wise in reminding us that the enemy can duplicate many of the signs and wonders that people like Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, who organized AzuzaNow says are marks of a true revival. Things like speaking in tongues, visions and dreams and many other signs. I have certainly seen, in my study of mind control, each of those things used as tools of the enemy against the Church. Edwards backs this us by quoting 1 Corinthians 11:14: “And no wonder, for even the devil masquerades as an Angel of light.” This of course comes in the middle of a passage about false teachers who were doing similar works as the Apostles but were truly false teachers and agents of the enemy against the way word church (Indeed the Cretens sound better than these men. See Titus 1).
False Teachers claim special revelations and would seem to perform miracles, but ultimately distort the true gospel of Jesus Christ, sow division in the church, tear down The Body of Christ. These men should be avoided, they fruit they bear is not the fruit of the spirit.
Then there are the emotions, or as Edwards calls them “Affections.” Signs and Wonders can stir these up, but so can good preaching, a nice painting, a beautiful opera. Edwards sees emotions unguided by Scripture and Reason as not part of True Religion. One must inform the other, Edwards tells us that it is “Spiritual Knowledge” that must inform the Affections: “This sort of understanding is that knowledge of divine things from whence all truly gracious affections do proceed, by which therefore all affections are to be tried.” So, the believer must ask, is this a truly religious affection? Or am I being swept along by something that has very little to do with divine things?
In American Christian Teaching Emotionalism is one of the many extremes that is popular on many Christian College Campuses. To the point that young people fully reject theology for the sake of having an “Emotional experience,” emotions are not evil, but they can misinform us, be misplaced, be harmful if they do not come from an outpouring of God’s love and a knowledge that God is the divine source. We cannot do that if we reject theology, knowledge, reason.
So what does mark a move of the Spirit? What should be the outcome? Signs and Wonders? They are part of it, strong emotional responses too. What is the purpose of revival?
Edwards tells us that only those things that spur us to bear the fruit of the Spirit can count as true moves of the Spirit. This is not out of line with Scripture for it is by the fruit of a person we are told by Jesus to judge teachers and those proclaiming a message. No one who is preaching the gospel with a humble heart and a desire to live out the life put before us is going to bear bad fruit more frequently then he bears good fruit. On the contrary, the good fruit will provide overwhelming evidence for the source of such a move. If a charismatic leader splits a church and causes division his work is not of the Spirit. If the congregation grows in love for one another and for God and walks daily with Him, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, then it is of the Spirit of God.
“But what about a deeper relationship with God? Signs and Wonders? Tongues?” The first is assumed with the work of the Spirit, if we are producing those fruits one can tell of a close relationship with the father. By the nature of such a life lived by the Spirit we are growing daily in closeness to the father. Signs and Wonders, tongues, Personal Revelation, Prophetic Word (through scripture) may also be a by-product, but are not the end all deciding factors as to whether or not something is of the Spirit. As we have discussed, they can be present and it actually be a work of the enemy, but they can be produced by the Spirit of God working within us but should be done under biblical direction and done properly.
As for Revivalism, in preparation for writing this article I read an article on “Charismatic News” where the author genuinely believed that the next step for the Charismatic Movement was to see “Tongues of Fire descend like at the time of Pentecost.” This presents a major theological problem as it implies, as did pastor Bill Johnson did in his interview about AzuzaNow that we need a descending of the Holy Spirit and Manifestation of the Spirit to spark revival.
Within Reformed Thinking we have an understanding that the Spirit is constantly present, to the point that we can sometimes forget that it is there. Thus, by the incarnation we have the power of the Holy Spirit to preach and teach and do the work God has called us to do. But if we have to call upon Him to enter that place which we are at then he must not be indwelling and therefore scripture presents us with a false view of the incarnation of the Holy Spirit (John 15-16, Rom. 8).
What does this mean for revivalism? Am I saying there are no revivals? On the contrary, I think there are, and I think they serve a specific purpose. To draw the Saints back to the gospel and renew the covenant relationship where it has been broken. To remind us of the constant and ever present power of the Holy Spirit and to spur us back to love and good works out of gratitude for what God has done for us.
So, let us remember the constant presence of the Spirit of GOD that lives inside of us and works through us. Let us remember that those things that people claim are marks of revival can actually be signs that the enemy is at work and remember what does mark and true move of the Spirit. Bearing good fruit out of the unity that we have in Him to build up one another and Glorify God.
Let us not be deceived, but be discerning about every situation we encounter.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree inChristian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry