Definitions Of Corporate Revival
[Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is fromAN URGENT APPEAL to Christian Leaders in America for Consensus and Collaboration on the Biblical Nature and Hope of Corporate Revival, a document prepared by National Revival Network of Mission America. The document urges Christian leaders primarily, but includes all Christians, to be of general agreement in recognizing our national need for repentance and divine intervention, and in seeking the face of God through prayer and fasting for revival in the Church and spiritual awakening in our nation, and in finding ways to work together to meet these challenges.
If you are a Christian leader, please feel welcome to write to us and request copies of AN URGENT APPEAL for yourself and for other leaders whom you want to invite to work through the material with you. If you are not a Christian leader, you may want to request a copy to share with your pastor or other Christian leader. The complete text of the document is also available at www.nationalprayer.org (the web site for the National Day of Prayer Committee).]
"This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people....’ The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call . . . Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord..." (Acts 2:16, 39; 3:19).
THREE SCHOLARS SPEAK
Let’s call on three evangelical scholars, with well over 100 years of scholarship and five earned Ph.D.’s between them in the study of biblical and historical revival. They provide us with excellent definitions as a starting point for our considerations.
First, J. Edwin Orr distilled his decades of research into the following definition:
An Evangelical Awakening is a movement of the Holy Spiritbringing about a revival of New Testament Christianity in the church of Christ and in its related community. Such an awakening may change in a significant way an individual; or it may affect a larger group of believers; or it may move a congregation or the churches in the city or district, or the body of believers throughout a country or continent; or indeed the larger body of believers throughout the world. The outpouring of the Spirit affects the reviving of the church, the awakening of the masses, and the movement of uninstructed peoples toward the Christian faith; the revived Church, by many or by few, is moved to engage in evangelism, in teaching, and in social action.
Theologian J. I. Packer concurs with this perspective when he writes:
Revival, I define, as a work of God by his Spirit through his Word bringing the spiritually dead to living faith in Christ and renewing the inner life of Christians who have grown slack and sleepy. In revival God makes old things new, giving new power to law and gospel and new spiritual awareness to those whose hearts and consciousness have been blind, hard and cold. Revival thus animates or reanimates churches and Christian groups to make a spiritual and moral impact on communities. It comprises an initial reviving, followed by a maintained state of revivedness for as long as the visitation lasts.
Writing as a senior pastor, and former Old Testament professor, Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. provides a vivid description of revival:
When God rends the heavens and comes down on His people, a divine power achieves what human effort at its best fails to do. God’s people thirst for the ministry of the Word and receive it with tender meltings of soul. The grip of the enslaving sin is broken. Reconciliation between believers is sought and granted. Spiritual things, rather than material things, capture people’s hearts. A defensive, timid church is transformed into a confident army. Believers joyfully suffer for their Lord. They treasure usefulness to God over career advancement. Communion with God is avidly enjoyed. Churches and Christian organizations reform their policies and procedures. People who had always been indifferent to the gospel now inquire anxiously. And this type of spiritual movement draws in not just the isolated straggler here and there but large numbers of people. A wave of divine grace washes over the church and spills onto the world. That is what happens when God comes.
Revival, by whatever term, appears to be a distinctive and recurring pattern in God’s work with His people. Church historian Dr. Richard Lovelace observes that God’s predisposition is always toward revival: "The great theme of Scripture is God’s recovery of an apostate people." Yale scholar Kenneth Scott Latourette, in his seven-volume work on Christian history, observed that there were "ebbs and flows" of the Christian movement over the past 2,000 years that invariably issued out of seasons of spiritual awakenings.
More importantly, the Bible itself contains revival narratives, revival prayers, revival predictions, and revival principles. Thousands of verses deal with the promises of God for revival, the ways of God in revival, the manifestations of God during revival, the impact of God on His people out of revival, the personal and corporate dimensions of revival, and, ultimately, the centrality of Christ throughout any revival. Although the theme is set forth under both the Old and New Covenants, in the latter there is a much greater range of God’s work in revival because it is now secured, mediated, and expanded through the finished work of the ascended Christ.
From one perspective, revival is where all the purposes of God ultimately end up. The last two chapters of the book of Revelation describe what some have called the "Final Revival," of which every other season of revival is a prototype. Every historic revival is, in a sense, an "approximation of the Consummation"—that is, an intermediate expression, or a preliminary but substantial demonstration, of Christ’s Kingdom in all of its glory. It is a dress rehearsal, if you will, of the climactic "renewal of all things" that transforms heaven and earth when Jesus returns.
TERMS AND METAPHORS
That being said, in time and space and history, revival comes according to patterns generally revealed throughout the Scriptures and church history. As a result, a number of terms have emerged to delineate various facets of biblical revival. These include:
• Effusions of the Spirit
• Outpourings of the Spirit
• Fillings of the Spirit
• Baptisms of the Spirit
• Times of Refreshing
• The manifest presence of Christ
Various metaphors have also been used such as:
• Latter rains
• Fire falling
• Turning back captivity
• Deserts blossoming like a rose
• Rivers of renewal
• Winds of renewal
• Beneficent sabotage
• Overthrowing of the status quo
• Spiritual revolution
• Seasons of springtime and harvest
Whatever the term or metaphor, most would agree that revival is a season when God mercifully turns away His judgments from the church, deserved because of her lukewarmness and disobedience. Instead, God moves to comfort and restore her, to intensify, accelerate, deepen, and extend the work of His Son in and through her.
CYCLES OF REVIVAL
Latourette’s metaphor describes revival epochs as waves of the sea washing up the shore as the tide comes in. Implied in that picture is the fact that there are episodes of advance and recession throughout the history of God’s people—cycles, some call them.
This is not to suggest some kind of arbitrary interpretation that causes previous awakenings to limit or predetermine our expectations of the steps God might take in some future outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We can never put God into some kind of a "revival box." Yet seasons do unfold, and patterns can be seen. Why have cycles of revival been required through the ages?
Again, our consideration is with corporate revival rather than personal revival. Most agree it is possible for an individual believer to live in continuous renewal, or "revivedness" (Packer), even if the Christian community around him is in spiritual recession.
But regarding corporate revival, there are at least five reasons for the cycles or waves:
1. Spiritual gaps, as a new
generation rises up that does not know Christ in the depth and intensity of
2. Previous blessings, which have, over time, fostered a sense of self-satisfaction and complacency in the body of Christ.
3. Theological neglect, that has permitted imbalances and divergences that diminish or obscure our vision of who Christ really is as well as our theological precision.
4. A new era of expansion, when the re-awakening of the church is related primarily not to God’s rescuing her from judgments, but to God’s intention to reactivate the church for new advances of the Gospel in our communities, throughout a nation, and among the unreached peoples of the world.
5. God’s sovereignty — Sometimes there is no other apparent explanation except that God chooses to do so for the glory of His Son simply because He is God.