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It is written:
Joel 2:13-So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.
As I write these words, a revival of amazing proportions appears to be taking place at Asbury College in Willmore, Kentucky. It has been going on for well over a week.
By all reports, a small prayer meeting began there with a local body of students. From what I have read, one of the students confessed to sin in his life and repented and this brought more students to turn to the Lord. The prayer meeting did not end, and before long, people from the town flooded the college chapel. Then, people from around the state poured in. After that, people from around the world have begun massing together into the college chapels.
Sins are being confessed; repentance is taking place; some folks who are sick are being healed; demons are being cast out; lives are being transformed.
And that isn’t all.
Reports are that this event is spreading around other colleges…other towns…and other states.
What are we to make of these things?
Let’s turn our attention to the Bible.
The word “revival” as I use it has reference to a spiritual yearning from within the heart of man to return to God. We are born in communion with the Almighty (Ezekiel 18:20; 28:15; Matthew 18:3; Romans 7:9), yet we choose to sin against God and separate ourselves from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). God continues to call us back to Him, and those who choose to return to Him may do so (John 5:40; Revelation 22:17).
Throughout the history of God’s Word, there were times when periods of revival broke out. Indeed, one entire Book of the Old Testament seems to be devoted to the topic of revival: the Book of Second Chronicles! We can see this clearly illustrated in this text:
2 Chronicles 7:14-if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
This text reminds us about the circumstances of revival, the conditions of revival, the choice of revival, and the consequences of revival. Indeed, we see all throughout the Book of 2 Chronicles several revivals that took place:
Revival Under Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11-12)
Revival Under Asa (2 Chronicles 14-16)
Revival Under Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17-20)
Revival Under Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29-32)
Revival Under Josiah (2 Chronicles 34-35)
When we carefully examine the examples in the Old Testament, we find the following characteristics of true revival:
1. Revival is often preceded by periods of great spiritual and moral decline;
2. Revival began in the hearts of a servant of God and then spread;
3. Revival was intimately tied with the preaching and teaching of the Word of God;
4. Revival leads to a return of the pure worship of God;
5. Revival leads to the destruction of idols that turned people from God;
6. Revival always produced such repentance that the people separated themselves from everything which led them into sin and which paved the way for sin into their lives;
7. Revival led to a return of blood sacrifice, which pointed to Jesus the Messiah;
8. Revival brought about great joy and rejoicing;
9. Revival brought for a time of great productivity and prosperity.
Walter Kaiser has documented all of this well:
“What then are the features of revival as described in the Scriptures and especially in the ten great Old Testament revivals on which this book of the Bible focuses? Wilbur Smith lists nine characteristics of the great revivals. 9 First, most revivals were preceded by a time of deep spiritual decline and despair….. Second, each of these revivals began in the heart of one of God’s servants, who then became the instrument in God’s hands to stir up the sleeping consciences of God’s people…. This leads nicely into the third characteristic. Every revival in the Old Testament rested solidly on a new and powerful proclamation of the Word of God. The most obvious evidence of this characteristic can be seen in the revival under Josiah, when the Book of the Law was found and read with great response in the presence of the king. In the revival that took place under Jehoshaphat, the Levites “taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 17:9). No less central was the Word of God in the revival under Ezra and Nehemiah, for Ezra read from it from daybreak until noon (Neh. 8:3) for seven days (Neh. 8:18), “making it clear and giving the meaning” (Neh. 8:8). But even in those instances where the revival was not immediately preceded by a proclamation or reading of the Word of God, such as with Jacob or Elijah on Mount Carmel, the power and ministry of that mighty word is not very far out of the picture. All lasting revivals have their genesis in the restoration of the Word of God to its rightful place of prominence. As Wilbur Smith warned: A revival which does not rest solidly upon the Word of God will ultimately either fade out, because there is no fountain of divine truth continually refreshing it, or it will run into dangerous and sensational emotionalism, which, after it has passed, will make those who have been the subjects of such an experience dry and indifferent to the things of God, at times more easily accessible than ever to the inroads of Satan himself. There is something about the Word of God that men recognize as divine: when it is preached men know that they are hearing the Word of God, and nothing less will ever arouse a nation sunk in selfishness, self-satisfaction, and godlessness. 10 The fourth characteristic is that each revival was marked by a return to the genuine worship of Yahweh…. Closely attached to this is the fifth sign of revival: a destruction of every idol that blocked the rightful acknowledgment of Yahweh as the only true and living God…. In the sixth place, there was a deep sense of sin and an overpowering desire to separate themselves from it and from all its sponsoring causes…. Seventh, in every revival in the Old Testament there was likewise a return to the offering of blood sacrifices…. The eighth feature plainly set forth in the Old Testament revivals was the experience of a new sense of unbounded joy and exuberant gladness…. The ninth and final characteristic is that each revival was followed by a time of great productivity and prosperity. This is not the health, wealth, happiness, and success message that some are offering today. Rather it is the observation that the fortunes of the soil are intimately tied up with men and women and their spiritual suecess or failure. We find the rationale and explanation for this feature of revivals in the biblical record as early as the garden of Eden. When Adam sinned, the ground was cursed on his account. And so it will remain until all creation is redeemed at the future coming of the Lord (Rom. 8:20-22). But if the final redemption cannot presently be offered because creation is still subjected to vanity, there can be substantial healing in the realm of nature. This observable measure of healing for the fields and crops of the fields is always associated with the repentance of humanity and the revival of the spiritual fortunes of believers. Thus Haggai asked whether anyone had noticed that when the spiritual temperature of the community declined, so did the productivity of their fields, the enjoyment of their food and drink, and the purchasing power of their earnings (Hag. 1:5-6). Similarly, in response to the preaching of Joel’s call for repentance, Yahweh answered not only with a promise of the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32) but also with immediate relief from the locust plague and the drought (Joel 2:19-27). The fields, Joel explained, would groan under the heavy load of the bumper crop of grain and grapes. The pastures would become green, the trees would bear their fruit in abundance, and the autumn and spring rains would come as before. The barns and storage bins would overflow because the yield would be so unexpectedly high. We should not be surprised, therefore, to find that 2 Chronicles 7:14 promises that God will heal our land (i.e., any nation that takes serious this promise of God) if we turn to him to be revived. Must we always fail to see that the deliverance offered in Scripture is not isolated from the material world? It is not enough to view the effect of revival as only on a person’s soul. Revival affects the whole of life, including agriculture, the economy, international relations, peace, and the security of a people (even in its large urban areas). To be sure, revival is no panacea or magical cure-all. To see it as such would be to reject the reality of the presence of sin in the created order until the Messiah’s return. But neither should we hesitate to speak of the substantial restoration that is available now. It is to our shame that we have not utilized our spiritual power more openly and effectively; but then, how can we if we are currently in need of being revived? Before we can either experience these blessings or be the means of blessing to a watching world, we must experience God’s reviving of us and our people.” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Revive Us Again, 184-257 (Kindle Edition); Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, IV20 1TW, Scotland, U.K.; Christian Focus Publications)
Many of these characteristics seem to be evident in the revival taking place at Asbury.
With these things in mind, what do the events at Asbury College say to churches of Christ?
Churches Of Christ Are Living In A Terrific Time With Great Opportunity
In our country right now, the fields are ripe unto harvest. There are many opportunities for us to share the Gospel of Jesus because so many people are disheartened and discouraged and seeking help from God. Is this not why we are here? Did God not leave us in this world as His light-bearers (Philippians 2:15-16?)?
Many have been greatly disillusioned by the militarization and politicization of American “Christianity” in the last few years. Indeed, this has been one of the leading causes of dropout among churches recently.
Others in our country are seeing the rise of many false and dangerous religions. This is a remarkable time for New Testament Christians to lovingly and yet boldly encourage people to seek God’s Word with a good and noble heart (Luke 8:11-15). We can today do our best to provide a reasonable and logical defense to everyone that asks a reason of the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
Churches Of Christ Are In Great Need Of Revival Ourselves
Let’s face it: churches of Christ in America are facing some hard times!
“One old friend of mine preaches at the (used to be large) congregation in Houston where Foy Wallace preached in the famous Music Hall meetings in the forties. The last time I visited there, he told me they had about 40 in attendance, all elderly, and even they didn’t know the basics: the books of the New Testament, how to tell someone what to do to be saved, etc. He said it was nearly like teaching children’s classes. I’m afraid my elder friend was right. He and I were raised at a time when churches of Christ numbered about 18,000, and had three million members. I can remember in the fifties when it was said (denominationally) that we were the third largest religious group in the United States and the fastest growing. Modern almanacs set the figures at 15,000 congregations and two million members. The latest, most-detailed figures I’ve seen are in The Christian Chronicle of February 2006, in an article entitled, “A cappella membership drops as churches fail to keep pace with population growth,” giving 12,963 congregations and 1.267 million members. (Bobby Ross Jr., “A cappella membership drops as churches fail to keep pace with population growth,” The Christian Chronicle, February 1, 2006 [Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Christian College].) You and I know that many, if not most, of those congregations are populated by a high percentage of elderly Christians, and short of younger ones. If these numbers are anywhere near right, churches of Christ have lost 58% of their members while the national population has approximately doubled!” (Samuel G. Dawson, What Is Wrong With Most Churches of Christ: and How They Can Avoid Extinction, 200-210 (Kindle Edition); Bowie, TX: SGD Press)
One reason for this decline has been the continuing and steady growth of the world population, and of the continuing increase in false religion (Matthew 7:13-14). Yet undoubtedly, another reason has been the prideful tendency among some New Testament Christians to embrace the idea that they have somehow come to understand “all truth” since we have fought through so much denominational and sectarian dogma through the centuries.
Do not mistake me: I am a product of a family that was converted to the church of Christ from a denominational background, and I am immensely grateful for that heritage. My parents were converted from the Baptist church, and had to make their way through much denominational false teaching to become members of the church of Christ. I am blessed to have been raised in a home that was faithful to the teachings of the New Testament Scriptures. Indeed, I have known others who have had the same background and appreciation.
Nevertheless, some Christians believe that because they have come through the background of sectarianism brought forth by Catholicism, Calvinism, and Charismaticism (the three big denominational “C”’s of Christendom), that they have somehow grasped the fullness of New Testament Christianity.
How many Christians view their Christian life from the viewpoint of “checklist” Christianity? They have: the five steps of the plan of salvation (check); they have the five acts of worship in the assembly (check); they have scripturally organized churches with elders and deacons where qualified (check); etc.
However, Christianity is not a “check-list” style religion.
The truth is, there is revival needed among many churches of Christ!
Churches Of Christ Are In A Great Position To Be A Balance Against Extremism
Due to the religious nature of churches of Christ, we are in a unique position to encourage the good in the revival taking place at Asbury and to caution against the bad that we see. The fact is, some of the elements of the revival taking place at Asbury were found in some of the great revivals during the American Restoration Movement.
As a case in point, think about the Cane Ridge Revival:
“Among the first Presbyterians to see the need of returning to primitive Christianity was Barton W. Stone. Being of serious mind and well educated for his day, he decided to preach. When he was ordained he agreed to support the Westminister Confession of Faith “only so far as it agreed with the Word of God.” The doctrines of Calvinism distressed him as he tried to harmonize them with the love of God. He finally rejected the doctrines of total depravity and absolute predestination and began to call upon sinners to accept Christ and turn from their sin. Over thirty thousand people poured into Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801 for a great revival. Stone was preaching in that area at the time. Methodist and Baptist preachers were invited to assist in the revival. There were a number of preachers in different parts of the camp ground preaching at the same time. Emotional excitement ran through the crowd producing physical reactions of various kinds. Some fell to the ground as though dead, others experienced the “jerks,” danced, laughed, ran or sang. This supposedly was a manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The preachers from different churches worked together in such a way that Stone was impressed with the value and need of unity.” (F.W. Mattox & John McRay, The Eternal Kingdom: A History of the Church of Christ, 338-339 (Kindle Edition); Charleston, AR; Cobb Publishing)
As churches of Christ, we are in a very unique position. We can be a balance against extremism of all kinds. We can see the good in the things that are happening, and we can encourage them in this (as we should, 2 Timothy 4:2-4)!
Of course, we realize that there are some very important doctrinal matters manifesting in this event which we need to draw attention to.
We realize that salvation is preceded by faith in Christ, repentance and baptism (Acts 2:37-47); yet as far as i know, the ones involved in the Asbury event do not seem to be preaching this;
We know that the Holy Spirit commands believers not to be involved in worship practices which are not authorized by the Word of God (John 4:23-24; Colossians 3:17), yet there are many examples of these unauthorized forms of worship taking place in the revival;
The notion of an “altar” to pray through for salvation is completely foreign to the New Testament (Acts 9:1-11; cf. 22:16), yet this is being practiced and endorsed by many in the Asbury revival;
I could give more examples, but the point is, there are some elements of this event which are not perfectly and doctrinally sound.
Should this not concern us?
As a Christian and Gospel preacher, I always want to encourage people to seek God’s Word and submit to it as they learn (2 Timothy 4:2-5). Yet the fact that people seeking God are having to work through doctrinal issues is not a reason to reject the good that is happening in this event.
Do we believe that we must be doctrinally perfect before God can bring about revival?
Let’s ask the inspired Prophet Luke.
Acts 18:24-28-Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Here was a man named Apollos who was “eloquent” and “mighty in the Scriptures.” God was using him to bring forth a great revival in the land!
Furthermore, Apollos had been “instructed in the way of the Lord!” He was a powerful speaker and preacher, and he “taught accurately the things of the Lord.” However, what did Luke point out next about Apollos?
“He knew only the baptism of John.”
It would be so easy to miss this little statement if we are not careful!
Apollos was not fully versed in doctrinal matters-and some of these were very important matters as they pertained to the First Coming of Jesus!
However, what did Aquila and Pricilla do?
“They took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
Revival was taking place in and through a preacher who had some serious doctrinal errors; yet as he continued to learn and grow, revival continued!
Or let’s consider another example from the Old Testament.
2 Chronicles 30:17-20-For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was not clean, to sanctify them to the LORD. 18 For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD provide atonement for everyone 19 who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.” 20 And the LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.
The people here had long forgotten the Law of God. This had not just been mere ignorance, but a result of following false gods. They were doing some very incorrect things when they approached God in worship. So serious, in fact, that under the Old Testament Law, God had declared that He could inflict the death penalty on those who violated these commandments (see Numbers 9:10-14; 19:20)!
However, despite these things, God showed mercy on them. He recognized that there were genuine people who were seeking Him and His Word. So, He showed mercy as they experienced revival from their repentance.
One author has explained the situation well:
“When Hezekiah began his reign as King of Judah, the temple had been closed for several years (2 Chron. 29: 7). When the temple was cleansed, Hezekiah invited “all Israel and Judah” to celebrate the Passover at the newly rededicated temple (2 Chron. 30: 1). 7 However, Hezekiah celebrated the Passover in the wrong month. Though the Law prescribed the first month, Hezekiah celebrated it in the “second month” (2 Chron. 30: 2). While many think Hezekiah is following the “Second Passover” law of Numbers 9: 2-14 which permits those who are unclean at the time of the first month to celebrate the Passover in the second month once they are clean, the text of Chronicles does not explain the rationale in this light. Hezekiah recognizes that his plan is irregular but he justifies it because “priests had not sanctified themselves in sufficient number” for the celebration in the first month and the people were not yet “assembled in Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 30: 3). Chronicles’ rationale for the irregularity does not invoke Numbers 9 and the rationale includes more than Numbers 9 permits. Numbers 9 permits a second Passover but it does not permit a wholesale abrogation of the first. Thus, grace took precedence over prescribed dates. But may unclean people eat the Passover? Unclean people ate what was clean. This was a clear violation of the Law. Chronicles clearly states that they “ate the Passover contrary to what was written” (2 Chron. 30: 18, NIV). Some have invoked Numbers 9 as a specific authorization for this irregularity, but it does not address this situation. The presumption of Numbers 9 is that those who eat a “second Passover” will be clean when they eat it. Numbers 9 does not authorize unclean people to eat the Passover. Hezekiah’s celebration not only violates Numbers 9, but also Leviticus 7: 19-21 regarding sacrificial meals. The penalty for such a violation was death. But Hezekiah prays for the people. The prayer appeals to the gracious promise of God in 2 Chronicles 6-7 (especially 7: 14). God accepts anyone who seeks him “even though” they do not seek him “in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The critical point is orientation—those “who set their hearts to seek God” (2 Chron. 30: 19). This phrase combines two important words in Chronicles: “heart” and “seeking.” The two terms are linked in 1 Chronicles 16: 10; 22: 19; 28: 9; 2 Chronicles 11: 16; 12: 14; 15: 12,15; 19: 3; 22: 9; 30: 19 and 31: 21. “Seek” (translating two Hebrew synonyms) appears fifty-four times in Chronicles and “heart” (translating two Hebrew synonyms) appears sixty-four times. God seeks hearts that seek him. God takes the initiative and seeks out those hearts that yearn for him and trust him (cf. Heb. 11: 6; Matt. 6: 33; John 4: 23-24). Hezekiah prays for the forgiveness of those who violated the divine ritual out of a heart that sought God. The guiding principles of the prayer are two: (1) the goodness of God who seeks a people for himself (1 Chron. 28: 9; 29: 14-17) and (2) the orientation of the heart toward God. Hezekiah roots his prayer in God’s forgiving nature. Those whose hearts seek God are received, even though they transgress his ritual prescriptions, because God is “good.” God accepted unclean worshippers because they had a heart to seek him. The text explicitly records, as if to emphasize the legitimacy of Hezekiah’s request, that “the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (the promise of 2 Chron. 7: 14). Significantly, Chronicles commends Hezekiah’s Passover renewal in 2 Chronicles 31: 21: “every work that he undertook… to seek his God, he did with all his heart.” Even though he admitted ritually unclean people to the Passover, his Passover is described as wholehearted because he sought God in everything. Why would Hezekiah expect God to forgive this? Was it not clear in the Law that unclean people who eat sacrificial meals should be punished? Did not God forbid unclean people to eat the Passover? Perhaps even some of Hezekiah’s priests could have objected that if they permitted unclean people to eat the Passover that God would judge them and reject their Passover. But Hezekiah knew his God. He knew God’s compassion, grace and goodness toward those who seek him out of a genuine heart of faith.” (John Mark Hicks & Greg Taylor, Down in the River to Pray, 2468-2498 (Kindle Edition); Abilene, TX; Leafwood Publishers)
My hope is that where the believers in Asbury are misguided doctrinally, they will continue to grow in the knowledge of the Word of God and will continue to be transformed. Indeed, this is my prayer and my hope for myself as well, since I am continuing to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
Overall, I am very excited about what is happening at Asbury College. My hope is that the spirit of repentance which seems to be present here will spread throughout Kentucky, the United States, and the world.
Is this not what Christians preach and teach as we encourage people to turn to the Lord?
Has this not been the message of churches of Christ: to encourage believers to return to the Lord?
Jeremiah 6:16-Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.‘
Yes, we must beware of how Satan can manifest through good motives and works of deceived people (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11).
We need to do our best to be Aquila and Priscilla to the young Apollos like folks that we are blessed to meet. But let this desire for growth and revival spring up in our hearts as we seek the Lord of Hosts and His Face.
Psalm 85:6-Will You not revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You?
May God give us a repentant heart, a discerning mind, and opportunities to grow and to teach.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.
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