Revival, Reformation, Restoration, and Revolution
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Right now, many Christians are reporting that a revival is taking place at a university in the upper south of the USA.
Here are my personal thoughts on the matter.
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I’m defining revival in the classic sense. It’s when scores of people are converted to Jesus Christ in a short time-span (usually over the course of two to four years).
There’s a great deal of prayer, a lot of repentance, and many conversions.
Churches and chapels are marked by the functioning of the body of Christ where “laymen” spontaneously start songs, share, exhort, testify, and even prophesy.
There is “leaderless” worship, the felt-presence of the Spirit, and sometimes demonstrations of God’s healing power.
There’s also an overall awakening to the reality of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.
Aside from the numerous local revivals that were restricted to a city or denomination, since the 20th century, there have been two major revivals in the United States that swept the entire nation.
The first occurred from 1948 to 1952. It began in Texas among the Baptists, and it is known as the “Youth Revival Movement.”
The second revival occurred from 1968 to 1972. It began in California, and it was primarily outside the organized church where God’s Spirit moved among the hippie counterculture. It is known as the “Jesus Movement.”
Over the years, I’ve met many zealous Christians who were converted during one of these two revivals.
In a true revival, a believer can spit on the sidewalk and a fountain will gush forth.
Wandering sheep are brought back into the fold and the lost are unusually open to the gospel.
Revivals are beautiful, and I’m 100% for them.
So I hope what’s happening right now in the upper South spreads throughout the entire nation and the world.
But beyond their short shelf-life of two to four years, there is another problem with revivals.
Revivals merely resurrect a dying church back to zero.
Once the revival ends, the churches and chapels that were affected by it continue as they were before.
Same practices, same mindset, and same traditions. It’s business as usual.
Christian community dies, enthusiasm dies, and the functioning of the body of Christ dies.
The Youth Revival Movement didn’t change the Baptists churches. The revivals of the past that took place in the upper South didn’t change the Methodist churches after the waters receded.
And all the revivals that took place among the Pentecostals and charismatics never changed their traditional structures or systems.
For example, in the mid-1990s I had a front-row seat to a localized revival that started in central Florida among the Pentecostals and spread to different parts of the State all the way up to Canada.
I visited some of those churches when the revival first broke out. Several years later, when the revival was over, I was invited to speak at one of them.
The same church where thousands of people descended from all over the world had reverted back to what it was before the revival began.
That was true for every other church that was affected by it.
Revival, therefore, is a temporary solution to a long-term problem.
Historically, it has never touched the root.
And in many cases, what has killed some of the past revivals are insecure ambitious leaders with institutional mindsets who either squash it or seek to leverage it to advance their own ministries.
John Stott made this remarkable statement about reform:
“The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform.”
To reform something is to keep the original, but to make improvements upon it.
This has been true of every reformation that has taken place in history.
For instance, Luther and Calvin reformed certain aspects of Roman Catholicism, but they left a great deal of it untouched.
Reformations are wonderful, and I’m 100% for them.
But something beyond reformation is needed to meet the heart of God.
We can think of reformation as redecorating an existing house. A fresh coat of paint is applied to the walls and doors, furniture and hanging pictures are updated.
Restoration, however, is completely refurbishing the house. Old appliances are replaced with new ones, new cabinets are installed, bathroom fixtures are updated, old carpets are ripped up and new flooring is put in, etc.
In restoration, God uses one of His vessels to lead a group of His people to restore a truth or experience that has been lost to the body of Christ.
In the charismatic world, “restoration” focused on restoring spiritual gifts and manifestations.
Two movements before it (one in the United States and the other in England) were focused on restoring the unity of the body of Christ.
Restoration is wonderful, and I’m 100% for it.
But it’s never gone far enough in dealing with the overall structure and mindset of the Christian populace.
That brings us to revolution.
A revolution is a radical departure from what previously existed.
Think American revolution, French revolution, Communist revolution, the scientific revolution, and the various technological revolutions that have radically altered our way of life.
Revolutions turn everything upside down.
They destroy the “perfect” and enable the impossible. They introduce game-changing, Spirit-inspired innovation.
While reformation redecorates the house and restoration renews parts of it, revolution tears the entire structure down and builds a new one in its place.
Here’s how I put it in my book Finding Organic Church:
“What is needed in the body of Christ is not restoration. It’s not even revival. What is needed is a revolution—a complete and radical change from top to bottom, a new sighting of Jesus Christ and His church, and a change of both mindset and practice. To put it bluntly, we need a revolution in our understanding of the Christian life. We need a revolution in our practice of the church. And we need a revolution in our approach to church planting.”
A.W. Tozer spoke in the same vein.
In his book Keys to the Deeper Life (originally published in 1957), Tozer wrote the following in a chapter entitled, “Leaning into the Wind.”
“I believe that the imperative need of the day is not simply revival, but a radical reformation that will go to the root of our moral and spiritual maladies and deal with causes rather than with consequences, with the disease rather than with the symptoms … It is my considered opinion that under the present circumstances we do not want revival at all. A widespread revival of the kind of Christianity we know today in America might prove to be a moral tragedy from which we would not recover in a hundred years.”
Tozer’s observation about the limitations of revivals and reformations is the same as my own.
(How he defines “radical reformation” is what I mean by “revolution.”)
A spiritual revolution is a complete overhaul opposed to a cosmetic upgrade.
It’s a total renovation opposed to introducing new pieces of furniture and/or rearranging the old decorations.
Since 1988, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with groups of Christians under the headship of Jesus Christ where the body of Christ functioned in life and power.
Many of the features of revival were present in these fellowships.
Namely, the functioning of the body, leaderless worship, free testifying, sharing, prophetic utterances from the whole body, and the obvious work of the Spirit to shed light on and glorify Christ.
People would fly across the Atlanta to visit our meetings. Having never seen anything like it before, their testimony was “this is a revival!”
But it wasn’t.
For us, it was the normal experience of the body of Christ when she’s properly equipped to function according to her organic nature.
(For details, see Kingdom Ministry: Past, Present, Future.)
By the way, I’m NOT talking about a “house church,” but something far beyond a group of Christians who meet weekly in a home.
If the name of the game is conversions (souls being saved – which I’m 100% for), then Tozer’s analysis doesn’t make much sense.
But if God is after something higher than lost people being converted to Christ, then Tozer’s words should be seriously considered.
I contend that God’s primary interest is His eternal purpose, which includes reclaiming the explosive gospel of the kingdom.
And that, my friends, is revolutionary.
Historically, God has worked in seasons.
This is true for revivals and spiritual awakenings.
I’m thankful for every report about revival winds blowing. I just hope it spreads beyond a city, denomination, or movement.
Even more, what we need today beyond revival, reformation, and even restoration is revolution. A revolution in how we conceive the Christian life, how we live it out, and how we practice the church.
All of my work is toward that singular goal. The aim is that God in His mercy would use it to help ignite a revolution in the Christian faith.
That said, I’ll take revival, reformation, and restoration whenever and wherever they come.
But revolution is where my heart beats.
And that’s precisely what THE INSURGENCE is all about.
It’s a revolution from inside to outside, from ceiling to floor, from one edge to the other.
If you are someone who has witnessed the gamut of present-day Christianity, and there’s a cry in your heart that says, “There has got to be more than this!” than welcome to the revolution.
There is an Insurgence happening right now – a revolution. But it’s the size of a man’s hand. And it’s outside the industrial religious complex.
One of the essential ingredients needed for the Insurgence to move into high gear is this:
That those who are genuinely called to God’s work and who grasp the explosive gospel of the kingdom would be willing to labor together with their peers.
(See My Vision for a Ministry Dream Team for details on this.)
My prayer is that this takes place sooner than later.
I plan to write more about revolution in the future, so stay tuned.