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Saturday, 20 February 2016

Revival or Hysteria?

This week's blog, although open to anyone to read worldwide, is a response to an article written by a very good friend of mine, Jon of the Kerith Centre, in my home town of Bracknell. Before I married, I have had many discussions with him at his home, which ended when he moved his family to a different location. But according to what I have read, he attends a prayer meeting every weekend to pray particularly for revival. I have to admire the fellow, and his devotion to prayer, and quite likely with fasting too, for such a particular cause. He, like myself, have as strong concern for the spiritual welfare of our local population, as well as for the nation as a whole. In his article he mentions one particular revival which took place in the Outer Hebrides in 1949 as a result of persistent prayer by two elderly ladies.

These ladies were Peggy and Christine Smith, 84 and 82 years old respectively. Apparently, both these sisters had never married and therefore had no children or grandchildren among them. But their faith in God, along with their perseverance in prayer allowed the Lord to move supernaturally across the islands under the ministry of a visiting evangelist, Duncan Campbell. It was a revival, or an awakening in the true sense, not unlike the three thousand Jews converted on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two. Prior to Campbell's preach, much of the population were on their knees, convicted of their sin and pleading with God for forgiveness. Among other things, Psalm 24 was read out, resulting in a mass conversion leading to salvation. If there was such a moving of the Holy Spirit across a particular location, this was one good example of God's cup of mercy poured out for all to drink.

Lewis Island, Outer Hebrides.

The population of the Outer Hebrides has always been sparse, the two main industries were fishing and crofting. Also at that time they were most likely suffering the ravages of War, maybe with a small percentage of the population never having returned home. Younger men avoided church altogether, blaming God for allowing such conflict, suffering and death to occur in the first place. It was the spiritual welfare of their fellow countrymen, together with their concern for God's glory, which struck the hearts of these two sisters, for something which was nothing short of a miracle.

Jon believes that if God can move in such a way in the harsh environment of a remote group of islands, he could also move across the whole of Britain, as history itself attests of past spiritual awakenings which took place across the nation during the 18th and 19th Centuries. I have to admire his faith and perseverance. A lot of it. In fact, a great deal of it, to say the least. Because between the Hebrides and the Home Counties, for example, could not be more culturally diverse. While up north, the unforgiving climate and the gruelling efforts of commercial fishing and crofting draws such workers to a greater awareness of their circumstances, along with the need for God in their lives, a characteristic which was quite prominent among slaves of the Deep South. By contrast, why should the highly sophisticated, well educated, confident professional, who sit smugly in his office throughout the working week, feel the need for God? Believing that science and particularly Darwinism has demeaned the Bible to a level of silly fables totally unrelated to the real world, his self-confidence and comparatively easy living would require a miracle of stupendous proportions to attract his attention to his need. Yet Jon rightly believes that with God all things are possible, including such a mass conversion of the present secular middle classes. Such hope in God's omnipotence motivates him to persevere in prayer.

Yet the word Revival in referral to a spiritual awakening is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament. Its real meaning is that of an individual who has been unconscious, or in a coma, on his way to recovery by returning to life and consciousness. It is true that revival is something that occurs in hospitals rather than in a church. However, Jon writes that he had read a great deal about past church revivals. I can attest to that. Because I once recall him reading about Charles G. Finney's evangelistic crusade in New York, especially between the years 1825 and 1835, before taking on the role of President of Oberlin College in Ohio that year. It is said the Charles G. Finney was the father of Revivalism.

Finney as a young man was tall for his 6'2" stature, had an athletic build and was startlingly handsome, with piercing eyes which would have cut through the very soul of any man. He was confident to the point of arrogance, he had a brilliant intellect which he used to study Law. When he was converted in 1825, then aged 33, he was said that he read the whole Bible from cover to cover before packing in his studies for good to be ordained as a minister by the Presbyterian Church, which had Calvinistic leanings. Despite his ordination, he denounced the churches of his day of being deceived, and began to preach very pragmatically to large crowds assembled to hear him. A fully fledged revival got under way, and according to his biographer, up to 250,000 people were converted throughout his career. According to many, Finney lives on, some 140 years after his death in 1875 aged 83 years. 

Many churches, particularly in America, continue to look up to him right up to our time. Along with his evangelistic campaigns, he was also a social reformer. He was against Negro slavery of his day, and sought for its abolishment.  Yet although non-whites were invited to his meetings, he made sure that they were segregated from the rest of the congregation, very much as women were segregated from the men at a Jewish synagogue. This made me wonder, when miscegenation was common in slavery, just where Finney drew the line between black and white. Later, while sitting as president of Oberlin College, he wrote Systematic Theology, with all of its 83 Lectures, and he had the final version printed in 1851, which is available online right up to the present.

Charles Finney.

Towards the end of his life, Finney was gravely disappointed with the very high level of apostasy among his converts. Somehow, his pragmatic thesis failed to work in reality of life, and this has shown a shocking lack of endurance and perseverance. Connected with this, by reading part of his work directly about justification by faith, some grave truths began to surface:

1. That the Crucifixion was not substitutionary in the sense that the death of Christ had paid Infinite Justice for our sins. Instead, Finney believed that the Crucifixion was necessary as a public demonstration of God's Government in the realm of displaying justice.

2. Linked to this is his denial that the justification of the believing sinner is forensic. That means that the believer does not receive a legal acquittal from the Divine Court which would have been credited to his account. In short, he denies the truth of imputed righteousness. This is due to his parallel insistence that Original Sin from Adam's transgression is not inherent, and therefore all babies are born innocent. Finney even explains the universality of sin by insisting that young children want their own desires fulfilled before learning to fulfill the desires of God and others, and therefore, by the time they are old enough to learn, the habit of sin is fully ingrained. The result of Adam's transgression is nothing more than a leading of greater intensity of temptations. At initial repentance, the contrite receives a pardon for all his past sins, and he must live a life of holiness where any selfish ends are turned over for the glory of God.

3. The Christian must live a life of holiness and not fall into any sin before he can arrive at complete justification. This has a strong parallel to the Roman Catholic doctrine of infused righteousness, as opposed to imputed righteousness as a result of forensic justification explained by Paul in the fourth chapter of Romans. If a believer sins, he is out of fellowship with God, and requires regeneration all over again, or be lost, according to Finney. His life must be purely devoted to the glory of God and to his Government. Any self-motivated action frequently performed by the believer is proof that he has remained unregenerated and is still in his sins.

For example, a teenage believer who opposes major sins but still commits minor offences, or is flippant in his devotion to God, is proof that the youngster is merely deceived, not converted, and is still in his sins. Or the woman who walks into the office in a new dress, with a desire to show it off to her colleagues. She is still in her sins as well, as with the minister who may argue against infidelity, "Because, to accept infidelity may ruin all my hopes for eternity."

The above examples may have an element of virtue, but it's all down to self-reformation, a human effort to exchange self-motivation to God-centred motivation without the help of God within. Finney expects every true convert to be instantly perfect to prove his salvation, or run the risk of falling away back into eternal ruin. This mode of soteriology is known as Pelagianism, from Pelagius, a fourth Century ascetic monk who grew up in Britain and preached across the Roman Empire. His driving point was that it would have been considered blasphemy for God to have given his Commandments through Moses if mankind is unable to keep them, a view shared by Charles Finney.

And so Finney's revival took hold of New York and its surrounding areas with breathtaking success, which looks to all the world to have been a move of the Holy Spirit. Finney himself insisted that his revival was due to the visitation of the Holy Spirit, otherwise such mass conversion would have not been possible. But as time went by, Finney himself was able to see his converts spiritually decay into apostasy, and it was only about two to three generations later that the general morality of New York City itself deteriorated to the level of gang culture, drugs, gunfire and many instances of killings, along with a multiple cases of mugging and street robbery. It took a secular Mayor to pass new legislation for the city to be morally cleaned up throughout the seventies and eighties.

And here is my point with revivals. They are not always good. Our friend Jon relates his first-hand experience of a revival at an Assemblies of God church at Brownsville, Pensacola, in the mid- nineties. Although I have not visited the city in Florida myself, I have read enough about it to seriously question whether this was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, or whether it was mass hysteria - a play on the emotions of many. I'll accept that among the thousands who attended, some might have genuinely turned to Christ for salvation. But I believe that the greater result of this so-called awakening was emotional rather than spiritual. Would this sort of thing really benefit our town and our country?

At the time, the senior pastor of the church was John Kilpatrick, who invited evangelist Steve Hill to monitor the revival. As Hill preached, people by the thousands fell to the floor, many writhing and shrieking, shaking and manifesting behaviour which would have alarmed any passing unchurched or unbeliever, if not terrify. Even here in my home town, we had a taster of all that in our church during the late 1980s. I sat there as still as a statue, pondering why the Holy Spirit hadn't "slain" me as he did to others around. It had no bearing on the experience recorded in the second chapter of Acts, or anywhere else in the New Testament. The only resource I had was the Bible, and I used it to evaluate the genuineness of such a phenomenon. It was even reported that the building was cleansed from any demonic presence prior to the start of each service, something which has no parallel in the entire Bible whatsoever.

Brownsville Church, Pensacola.

But most disturbing of all, were manifestations within this revival which were clearly demonic. One example, here recorded, is what Steve Hill commented on a young man writhing on the front platform:

God put it on him...caused him to fall to the ground and experience "birth pains"...he's giving spiritual birth to you...he's dying for you...he's dying so you might have life.*

Was that young man dying so the rest might have life? In other words, was the Atonement re-enacted all over again, despite that not only blatantly contradicting Romans 6:10, Hebrews 9:28, and 1 Peter 3:18, but he wasn't even Jesus Christ himself?

This is clearly the spirit of Antichrist! God would never act on opposition of his own Word. The word "antichrist" literally means "Instead of Christ." The young man was attempting to atone for the rest present in that auditorium instead of Jesus Christ. But despite of saying all this, I do believe that there were some genuine conversions among this emotional fraud. As was in Charles Finney's Pelagian revival - some were genuinely saved. God is indeed merciful, and no matter how fraudulent a meeting, service, or revival may be, the true grace of God will have his hand in it, nevertheless.

As it might be expected, the Brownsville Revival fizzled shortly after, leaving the Elders disputing among themselves and one, I believe, was even fired from his post. The church went into debt by many thousands of dollars due to their inability to pay for such a huge building. The congregation dwindled from thousands to just merely two hundred, and limping along to this day.

I have highlighted these three "revivals" because my friend Jon is praying for revival right here, in our hometown, and he has been praying for it with patience and perseverance for many years. I have accepted that the 1949 Outer Hebrides Revival was a genuine awakening. People by the masses were convicted of their sin, a Psalm was read out to them, and they believed, committing themselves to the Lord. But for the other two, they were deeply flawed, and both ended with a very pitiful state of affairs. Furthermore, Jon is fully acquainted with all three "revivals" dealt with here. He should be really careful with what he is praying for!


* Dave Hunt, Occult Invasion, Harvest House Publishers 1998, P. 524.


  1. Thank you Frank, I have read a little about Charles Finney, but I clearly need to dig deeper into understanding about Arminianism, Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. We do need to be mindful of these things, we are warned several times in scripture to beware of false doctrines and wolves in sheep's clothing pedaling their false wares. Thank you for this post.

  2. Dear Frank,
    What an excellent article on true revival and false revival. May God give us wisdom and discernment to know the difference, as well as to distinguish false from true teachings and teachers. But as our pastor has said, God's Word will never return to Him void, and He can use Scripture quoted by even the most misguided preacher or televangelist to touch hearts. May all believers pray for true revival in our churches and nations.

    2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

    God bless,

  3. Frank, the top notch theologian and part time window cleaner!!! This is an excellent post, mate, and one I tend to fully agree with.

    The point is, are these things more emotional than spiritual, or completely just wishful thinking? If they fizzle out almost totally, then I suggest that they are false. But as you say, I think these things take place on a more individual level. Things that attract mass crowds of people attract a crowd mentality. Not something I like at the best of times. I have an affinity with you, I am quite the outgoing type but the core of my being is quiet and rather thoughtful. Great post.

  4. Great post about a serious problem, Frank.

    I have long been concerned about how many so-called revivals are nothing more than an effort to manipulate people's emotions, and actually hinder spiritual growth, while making people think something great has happened.

    Many pastors claim tha tevery church should have a revival every year. In th enatural world, if a person had to be resuscitated on a regular basis, we would think the doctors were not finding the real problem, adn that is equally true in the church. Too often the modern church works more like the drug addict, who periodically demands another fix of his drugs.

  5. Yes, another fix of drugs is exactly it! The consumer society demanding God acts on demand, as we pay our coin...