Friday, 28 June 2013

Are We in Revival? – Wales 2013


Ever since the Cwmbran Outpouring [1] started people have been speculating whether this is revival; whether this is “it”, the one we have been waiting for. It has prompted much discussion as to what revival really is, and it is clear people have different understandings of the word. Only yesterday Melanie Fields preaching at Victory Church felt she had to point out that the word “revival” is not in the Bible, which of course is true. To me one of the most wonderful things about a work of God is that our words are inadequate to describe it, pigeonhole it, or even easily compare it to things he has done in the past. Our God always surprises, amazes and leaves us in awe as to who he is. Perish the day we think we can understand what he does! So it is not surprising there is a big discussion about what revival is, and whether we are in “it”.

As for me I have preferred not to use the word about the current Cwmbran Outpouring, because my experience there has been dominated by Jesus, his presence and his glory. Trying to give it a label adds nothing to that experience; it is more than sufficient to taste heaven on earth. However my Church Growth Modelling project does use the word revival heavily, largely because of the way it has been used in the past 300 years, so I feel some sense of duty to unpack the word in terms of what is happening now in Wales, and of the events that have led up to this.

God does not just pour out of his Spirit for our enjoyment; they are primarily given for his glory. And his glory does not last a moment; it is being worked out over days, months, years and even centuries. I have no doubt the Cwmbran Outpouring is a phase of something else God is taking us to, and when we look back and get some glimpse of his purposes for his church, and his world, it then becomes helpful to have labels, like the word “revival”. The proviso is that we must not let those labels get in the way of what he wants to do in our lives, or use them to try and bring him down to our size.

Some Definitions

In my church growth modelling I have used the three terms, renewal, revival and awakening. However the key expression in the Bible is “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” which is an act of God where he brings powerful life into people. It is used about Pentecost: And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17). It is also used of later incidents such as with a group of Gentiles: And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also (Acts 10:45). It is clear this is something that God does to individual people, either directly, or mediated by other people such as by speaking, hand contact or baptism [2].

The definitions I use are:

Renewal. This is where God pours out his Spirit on people in the church, on believers. They become alive to spiritual things, experience the presence of God, set on fire, and as such church becomes more alive to God. Generally this work stays in the church and does not immediately get channelled into mission and conversion, though it may bring about church reformation. The specific example in mind was the early days of charismatic renewal, 1960s, 1970s. There must also have been an element of renewal in the Protestant Reformation. Renewal is a “spiritual infection” inside the church. Of course some of the church people, the believers, may well have been converted in the process of being renewed. In my models “believers” are people who belong to church, I make no attempt to identify their true spiritual state – too unmeasurable!

Revival. This goes further than renewal, as God pours out his Spirit on people in the church and makes them witnesses. Now they pass the “spiritual infection” on to those outside the church and conversions take place. God’s presence breaks out from the confines of the church. These Christians “infected by revival” are called enthusiasts in my models. The 1904-5 Welsh Revival is a classic example where the enthusiasts quickly contacted people outside the church, and the number of conversions mushroomed as many of the new converts became such enthusiasts themselves. However from 1903 through most of 1904 there was a renewal phase where the work was largely confined in the church.

Awakening. Following J Edwin Orr [3] this is where God does a work in the people outside the church, the unbelievers and makes them open to spiritual things, that is they are open to the witness of the enthusiasts, though some may well get converted without any human agency. A great example of this is in the Isle of Lewis revival 1949-53. Here the churches frequently found that after church meetings were over many of the community had been drawn to the outside of the church, under conviction of sin, without anyone having said anything to them, let alone shared the gospel with them [4].  In an awakening the presence of God is right in the community, blurring the distinction between what is “in church” and outside it. The “revival infection” knows no boundaries.

Now people may use some of these words differently, and some of their meanings may overlap. However I will not get bogged down with that. What God does is bigger than the word. Indeed “revival” is often used as a generic name for all the ideas mentioned above. In particular the word revival is especially appropriate when the impact is so big that it makes the work a sign as to how great God is. Melanie Fields made this point yesterday in the Cwmbran Outpouring, and this view was extensively taught by the late Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones [5]. So I will use the word “revival” as a summary of all three definitions when they act as a signposts to God’s majesty and power.

The Last 50 Years

So what has God been doing for the last 50 years or so? Was the Welsh revival of 1904-5 the last outpouring to hit this land or is there continuing evidence of his revival work? Have there been signs of God’s power to bring life to his church and convert people since then? What I will attempt to do is argue that Christianity in the UK and the USA has been in various phases of revival since 1960.

The significance of 1960 is that it is the date when an American Episcopal minister, Dennis Bennett was baptised with the Holy Spirit [6]. What was unusual was that this was a phenomenon associated only with the Pentecostal church that had crossed over into a mainstream Christian denomination. He almost certainly was not the first such person to be affected, but he became the most significant because of the attention it drew to this charismatic work among non-Pentecostals. This is a useful starting date for what became know the Charismatic Renewal which has moved through Christianity from the 1960s to this day. Remember one way of looking at a revival is a sign of God’s glory, and this movement has certainly been a sign to many of who God is and what he can do.

The movement spread through all denominations of Christianity, with Anglicans such as David Harper, Michael Green and David Watson being at the forefront in the UK. There were charismatic gifts and healings in the established church! In parallel many new churches started, notably the Restoration churches with people like Bryn Jones, Gerald Coates and Terry Virgo. They often met in houses at that point but were having a growing impact on the church.  A number of these early charismatic pioneers had been influenced by the reformed preacher Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who had preserved the older teachings on the work of the Spirit that had otherwise dropped out of fashion in the 20th century. As such the charismatic renewal had a strong element of reviving the things had been better know in the “days of the revivals” of the 18th and 19th centuries [7].

The work spread slowly through the 1970s, though the impact of the Jesus People in the USA drew massive attention to this move of God, even getting on the cover of Time magazine [8]. But in the 1980s the renewal became far more visible, new churches were springing up every week, annual teaching festivals were taking place, and the worship culture of the churches was changing with new songs appearing faster than they could be learned [9]. Even though older leaders were passing newer ones, such as John Wimber, were replacing them. His Vineyard Movement brought many traditional evangelicals into the charismatic work of the Holy Spirit [10].

Each time the work slowed, another move took place. Revival tends to come in peaks and troughs. God does not get tired, but we do! Then in 1994 the Toronto Blessing occurred, and the whole debate about “was this revival” opened up. But God had been renewing the church and using it to make converts since 1960. By my definitions above it had been in revival for over 30 years! There was no shortage of places to go and get revived! If the events that came from Toronto were of God then it was a peak in an ongoing work, not something new [10,11].

A quick pause for breath. The accusation could be made it this point the church cannot be in revival because it has declined steadily since the war years. It is true church as a whole was (and still is) declining in the UK, but not the parts that were being renewed. They grew, some transfer growth, some conversions. The aggregate figures for church are a poor measure of a work of God, and revival rarely ever affects the whole church.

Back to 1994, and one of the churches affected by the Toronto Blessing was Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican church in London. From that point on their Alpha Course started its phenomenal growth. Exported to churches of many denominations this is arguably the most effective evangelistic enterprise the church has ever seen in the West. To date over 3.3 million people have been through this course in the UK, and many conversions have taken place, as well as people brought into charismatic experience [12]. Yet again this fits the definition of revival.

Many other events have occurred since in Pensacola, Smithton, and most recently Mobile Alabama. But even more significant has been the way that charismatic renewal has fed back into the Pentecostal church it started from, making them in the USA and the UK some of the strongest and liveliest parts of the Christian church, and I suspect where much of its near future will lie.

I must admit from about 2007 onwards I had thought charismatic renewal was really running out this time, but far from it. As the events at Cwmbran are showing, yet another peak in a mighty 50-year work of God is occurring. It is the gathering of much that God has done over those years, intensified to a degree I think most have us have not experienced before, and it will clearly be a catalyst for what God will do next. In a few years time we may look back and see that Wales in 2013 was not a peak but merely the start of a much bigger awakening that God is bringing.

Impact of Past Revivals

I did not really need to start at 1960; I could go back further. How did Pentecostalism itself come about? It was the culmination of many renewal and revival movements of the 19th century, with the final spark being lit by the 1904-5 Welsh revival [13]. The same Welsh Revival sent missionaries all around the world and set off revivals in Korea, India and East Africa to name a few places. In Korea I was once thanked by someone for “bringing Christianity to his country”, just because he knew I was Welsh! And I have had similar experiences in the rural churches of Uganda. It is humbling to see how God spreads his fire throughout the world.

So when people ask me “why did the 1904-5 Welsh Revival end”, I say it just changed its phase. In reality it brought 100 years of worldwide Holy Spirit revival, renewal, awakening and massive revival growth. God knows what He is doing! There are no mistakes, no accidents, the different phases of what we call revival are just God unfolding an amazing plan of fulfilling the great commission through his church. I am so thankful he gave this sign in 1904 that has given us such hope for the greater revivals to come.

Wales 2013

 So when I am kneeling on the floor of a converted warehouse in the valley of crows[14], oblivious to all bar the presence of Jesus, I know I am part of a plan of God sweeping throughout history, a plan that is extending the Kingdom of Jesus until it “stretches from shore to shore”. If the word “revival” is a useful word for those times when God draws significant attention to this work, such as we are clearly experiencing at present, then I am happy to run with that. Revival is not just a repetition of Pentecost, but also a pointer, a sign, to what it will be like when Jesus reigns throughout the earth and will finally return in glory. This is the Christian hope, that the worldwide success of the gospel will be realised by such repeated outpourings of the Spirit [15]. When we look at what God has done in history, what he is doing now especially in this corner of South Wales, and what he is about to do, it is utterly awesome and breathtaking in scope. “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God!”

References and Notes

[1] See Victory Church http://www.victorychurch.co.uk/.
     My previous blogs

[2] James Dunn, makes the case that “the Spirit poured out”, “baptised with the Spirit”, “received the Spirit”, “filled with the Spirit”, “Spirit comes upon”, “Spirit is given”, “Spirit falls upon” are synonymous in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke uses different names for the same thing. The greater the intensity the more terms Luke throws at it. Thus Paul’s and Peter’s preaching have just one, the incident in Ephesus has two, Samaria uses three, Cornelius and his Gentile friends are described with five, and all seven are used of the day of Pentecost! Revival has many names. But in all the incidents the Spirit is mediated differently; Pentecost is direct from God, but in most He is mediated through people. JDG Dunn, (1970), Baptism with the Holy Spirit, SCM.

[3] J Edwin Orr, (2000), The Outpouring of the Spirit in Revival and Awakening and its Issue in Church Growth, British Church Growth Association, reproduced by Church growth Modelling, with permission.

[4] A Woolsey, (1974), Duncan Campbell, Hodder and Stoughton.

[5] DM Lloyd-Jones, (1986), Revival, Kingsway Publications.

[6] Dennis Bennett, (1974) Nine O’clock in the Morning, Kingsway Publications. 

[7] P Hocken (1997), Streams of Renewal, Paternoster. T Saunders and H Sansom, (1992), David Watson: A Biography, Hodder and Stoughton. T Virgo, (2001), No Well-Worn Paths, Kingsway Publications.

[8] RM Enroth, EE Ericson and CB Peters, (1972) The Jesus People, Eerdmans. See also
http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/the-jesus-movement-turns-40/ for a picture of the cover of Time magazine from 1971. The “official” period assigned to the Jesus people is 1967-1979.

[9] A Walker, (1989), Restoring the Kingdom, Hodder and Stoughton.

[10] B Jackson, (1999), The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard, Vineyard International Publishing.

[11] M Poloma, (2003), Main Street Mystics; The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism, Altamira Press.

[12] Figures on the Alpha Course: http://run.alpha.org/facts%20and%20figures. In other parts of the world the Jesus Film has had a massive impact, especially in church planting. I would guess the people reached is larger worldwide than the Alpha Course, but I am not sure how that could be measured.

[13] For some evangelical Christians in the USA the 1904-5 Welsh Revival was seen as the revival to usher in the end times and Christ’s return. Some church leaders from Los Angeles visited Wales in order to take the fire back, and leaflets from the Welsh Revival were distributed in various parts of the USA. Also of significance was the correspondence between Frank Bartlemann who became an early Pentecostal pioneer and Evan Roberts. F Bartlemann, (1980) [1925], Azusa Street, Logos. V Synan, (1997), The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, Eerdmans.


[14] “Cwmbran” is Welsh for "Valley of the Crows". Victory Church meets in a converted warehouse.  
[15] IH Murray, (1971), The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, p.99.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this well thought out assessment of the past 100 years. Very Hope filled. I'm looking forward to experiencing what's going on at Victory church later this month.

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