In the last few years one of the most
significant changes in my theology has occurred in the area of revival. In
charismatic circles the solution to most if not all of the church’s woes is
revival. While it might be difficult to find a consistent approach to
encountering revival or even a theology of revival there are a few common
themes. It is thought that if we pray the right way, or have the right
anointed leader, or have attained enough spiritual authority revival will come.
Spiritual authority is a concept that shifts from group to group. Some
believe that there is a hierarchical governing authority to everything flowing
down from apostles to prophets to pastors to elders to men to women and finally
children. Others also believe that through a spiritual process individuals
or groups gain more authority to break down oppressive spiritual
strongholds. For revival to come they must go through a continual process
of empowerment and refinement. Leaders must strive to achieve a level of
prophetic clarity so they can hear God accurately and speak powerful
words. When they reach a certain level they will be able to pull down the
spiritual strongholds that hold a particular geographic area captive. The
strategy employed to do this is called
mapping. When this is successful the spiritual bonds that keep people
from Christ are broken, the Holy Spirit floods out and people flood back in to
How this looks in the real world is sometimes far from the ideal. In all
my years of observing such groups the spiritual breakthrough has never
arrived. Some maintain that it is still coming. There have been
where spiritual activity seems to explode and gains widespread attention.
I was part of church that was heavily influenced by the “laughing revival” that
ended abruptly amidst allegations that the pastor was dishonest and speaking
maliciously of people who left the group. However there has been no
appreciable difference in church life as one would expect to see in a revival
Most outside observers question the authenticity of groups who pursue revival,
or claim they are participating in one because there are often strange things
happening commonly called manifestations. Some of these strange things
include spontaneous laughing, falling down, barking, mooing, roaring and yes
like a rooster .(You really need to check out the previous link to get the
full force.) To be fair these manifestations are controversial and aren’t
embraced by everyone.
As one who was once neck deep in these groups I can say they are often spiritual
elitists. A popular belief is that God is restoring truths back to the
church through each great revival or reformation. They would say Luther
restored the gospel, the Anabaptists restored something else, the Methodists
another, the Pentecostals another and so and so on. Their group is
naturally the vanguard of the church going boldly forward while other
denominations are stuck refusing to embrace the truths that other movements
restored after them.
Many of those who consider themselves to be on the vanguard form independent
ministries that focus on specific issues like national reconciliation, spiritual
warfare, or intercession.
I started to lose my interest in these groups because of the following:
Every group was convinced that their city/leader/movement has some sort of
prophetic destiny to play a special role in the great worldwide revival that
happens just before the tribulation of the end times.
Spiritual mapping has scattered support in scripture and is inconsistent with
the recorded practices of the New Testament church. Paul clearly maintains
that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. There is no record he
organized prayer vigils in cities with prophetic destinies in order to bind the
strongman before he came to preach the gospel. He proclaimed the cross of
Christ and tangible displays of God’s divine power accompanied him. Today
many of the people that walk in supernatural power keep it captive in small
enclaves of Christians.
The most powerful movements in the church that resulted in tangible change in
the lives of the people involved grew slow and steady. The early church
had a revival type of experience in the very beginning but after that the early
church would have to have grown about 8-12% a year to grow as large as it was
when Constantine came in to power. The church in China grew from 2 million
to 60 million in 30 years. A growth rate just above 10%. Revival as
it is commonly experienced may inspire some Christians to a deeper more fruitful
life but by themselves they don’t change the world.
These groups are literally buffeted by every wind of doctrine. There is
way too much focus in coming out with the newest divine revelation and so little
on being biblically and theologically grounded. Some resist theological
grounding because they are afraid to quench the Spirit. There seems to be
an unquestioned assumption that if someone can speak an accurate prophetic word
that God would naturally inform their theology. Sadly this is not the
case. Ask any 10 of these types of leaders to define apostle and you’ll
end up with many different definitions. Solid teachers are listed along
with prophets in scripture but they are in short supply in these groups.
I think the overwhelming message of the Spirit these days is “clean up
your act and get your show on the road”. It is a terrible mistake to hide
behind safe walls in sheltered enclaves waiting for something to happen. I
think the impetus behind an obsessive focus on intercession and spiritual
warfare could be a terrible deception designed to keep spiritually empowered
Christians away from the rest of the world.
I believe the most powerful vehicle for building the kingdom of God that we can
employ is the local church. As a simple church advocate I’d say the local
church can be something very small and relatively unstructured and still be a
church. I’ve lost a lot of faith in independent ministries and para-church
organizations. It feels odd for me to say this because the best influences
in the first 10 years of my Christian life were para-church ministries. I
really think all these smart gifted people that are frustrated with the inaction
of the church need to find their way back. Things like evangelism,
teaching and discipleship work best in a community of believers that are
actually committed to each other.
Some might think I would oppose a revival if one actually occurred. I’m
not against it because a true revival will be the work of God. I believe
it has become an idol in some elements of the Christian church. Our focus
on what we want God to do (through us usually) has distracted us from stepping
out in faith and doing what we know we are supposed to do. I don’t believe
God would bring a flood of people in to a church that is already full of people
indistinguishable from the world.