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DISCLAIMER: If there is anything that has gotten me in trouble in regards to my writing, it's when I take a commonly used term, define it according to the Bible and then apply it, slaughtering any sacred cows along the way. I simply don't think we have the liberty to redefine Bible words in light of our experiences or denominational preference and I think it is the duty of a child of God to use the word of God to scrape away any moss or fungus that has grown over our understanding. Although my goal is not to irritate but to edify, I have absolutely no doubt this post will do one or the other.
It will be revival season soon here in the southeastern United states. For those of you who aren't familiar with the culture, let me enlighten you. Churches will begin, usually in the early fall, to schedule 'revival meetings' which will consist of a series of back to back church services ranging anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. Usually during these meetings, a guest preacher or panel of preachers will be brought in to preach and sometimes special music or musicians are used. If you trace the tradition back very far, you will find that it has strong ties to the Charles Finney meetings of the late 19th century. The thread runs through the Billy Sunday tent meetings of the 1920's and branches off a bit, depending on which group you look at. In fact, the timing of the meetings tend to give away their agrarian roots; churches held special meetings when the harvest was over.
I will start with what's right with this tradition, and then delve into the very serious problems plaguing it. It seems an absolutely good idea in the hustle and bustle of life to take some time every so often and set it aside for the purpose of edification and corporate worship; a time to refocus from the cares and troubles of this world and to focus on eternal things. The Bible says "Let all things be done to edifying" and if having 3 or 4 days where you listen to the word of God preached as opposed to watching TV helps you, then I think you ought to get help wherever you can. I have been to several special meetings over the years where I was encouraged and emboldened or where I learned something about the Bible.
I am not opposed to special meetings. I am not opposed to preaching. I am not opposed to preachers young or old, skilled or unskilled. I say this because that a certain percentage of my readers will miss that if I don't come right out and say it. You know who you are.
It's true that the Bible, in the book of Acts never once mentions any sort of revival meetings despite covering 30 years or so of church history, but that's hardly the end of the world. After all the Bible doesn't mention indoor plumbing either but I have every intention of availing myself of it. It does say, in Acts 2 "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved ." A man opposed to assembling more often than Sunday and Wednesday has no scriptural leg to stand on; we are at liberty to meet as often as we need to. The meeting isn't the problem.
I know honorable men whose ministry is going from church to church edifying and encouraging the saints. I think that is completely a scriptural idea, and I applaud them for enduring the inconveniences and hardships of a life of travel to be able to do that. I'm not against them. We are told in Romans 14:19 "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.", and in 1 Thess 5:11 "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do ." These men are right to do this. They live off of the substance provided by the people they minister to since the travel prevents them from most types of regular employment. This is also scriptural since the Bible tells us in 1 Cor 9:14 "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." Those of you that do this, and truly are an evangelist in the Biblical sense, please know that I am on your side. You aren't the problem.
The problem is in what I call the 'revival business'. Existing side by side with legitimate ministers are men for whom the edification of the saints isn't a ministry, its a profession. Much like the barber always thinks you need a haircut, these men fervently agree that revival of some kind is desperately needed. They will say that the body of Christ is tragically ill, and only revival can save her. They will say that America is doomed, and only revival can save her. By 'revival' they generally mean a series of meetings hosted or pulpiteered by men like themselves designed to stir the body of Christ towards a closer walk with God. There are also what I call 'revival groupies'; people who run from meeting to meeting in some strange unscriptural idea of chasing God down. These groupies will attend every meeting in their area where they can afford the gas, and spend their lives surrounded by like-minded people with no ministry outside of the church walls. Some will even refer to attendance at these emotional meetings as 'getting their fix', an interesting choice of words for a people who are commanded to be "sober" and "vigilant".
Now I agree that Christianity is in decline in America. I agree that men are waxing worse and worse and that the love of many has grown cold. I've seen it first hand in 20 years of public ministry as people's reactions have morphed from hostility and opposition to apathy. Where I disagree with the 'revival business' is in the definition of the word. Bad definitions lead to bad applications.
The word 'revival' never once occurs in your Bible. The word 'revive' or 'revived' shows up several times in the Old Testament, with the clearest definition being in Hosea 6:2 which says "After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up , and we shall live in his sight." To 'revive ' something is to raise it up, and impart life unto it. In every case it is used, the context is something has died, or is dying, and life is imparted back into it from an outside source, hence the 're' prefix'.
So what is the big deal, you may say? The big deal is that the 'revival business' assumes a couple of things, neither of which is true. It assumes that the roller-coaster of meeting to meeting is the normal Christian life, as opposed to a life of steady, dedicated consistent service. Day in, day out laboring in word and doctrine is what builds the body of Christ, not a special meeting in October with the other 11 months full of reruns of Gilligan's Island. Paul pointed, in his ministry, not to his ability to stir up an apathetic crowd, but in his day-to-day life lived in plain view of both the saved and the lost, saying in 1 Thess 1 " For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad ; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come ."
The other big deal is simple; I don't need reviving because I'm not dead. Romans 6:11-13 says "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" Plainly, I'm alive in Christ, and I'm not supposed to act like I'm dead, so for a man to tell me I need revival as a default condition is akin to an EMT bursting into my house, knocking me to the ground and repeatedly trying to shock me with the defib paddles as I tried to fight him off. No matter how well-intentioned he may be, I think we can agree that would be bizarre behavior.
The proof of the pudding is in the crust. I'm not sure how many 'revival meetings are held , but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that between September and December within 100 miles of my house I could easily attend a different 'revival ' meeting every night of the week. If revival is the answer, then the American South ought to be full of the most revived people on earth. There ought not be a liquor store or wicked website that can stand under the assault of such a spiritually minded people. Instead we have preaching that is a mile wide and an inch deep. We have people that run the aisles and shout. We have people that hit the altar and weep. Then the revivalist folds up his tent, somebody vacuums up the sawdust, and life goes back to whatever it was before the big meeting.
Christians don't need revival, they need to get busy. They don't need new light or more light, they need to do something with the light they already have.