Editor’s note: This article was first published Feb. 28 by Bill Elliff on his website’s blog. Elliff is the founding and national engage pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. He also serves on the Prayer Task Force at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
The extraordinary movement that has happened at Asbury in the last weeks has had many commentators. Thousands are beside themselves with joy and hope, for they sense that God is answering their prayers (some who’ve prayed for decades.) But there are many skeptics also, and some who are adamantly opposed and unbelieving about this unusual activity of God.
One man recently remarked to a friend of mine that he didn’t believe in the concept of “revival” and movements of spiritual awakening. And furthermore, that he didn’t need it. He was very content with what he received at church every Sunday and was fully satisfied with the simple, routine life of normal Christianity.
THE WAYS OF GOD
I understand what this man is saying. My life has been fueled and built day by day for 71 years by meeting each morning with Christ through the word and prayer, submitting to His leadership, regularly repenting, gathering with other believers for growth and worship and ministry, preaching His life-changing Word of God, and hearing it proclaimed. The God-given means of spiritual life are what develop us all.
But to not believe in the extraordinary, unusual movements of God, indicates one doesn’t understand the ways of God in Scripture and human history.
When God manifested Himself in human flesh, He used the miraculous to accelerate faith and glorify Himself. Study the story of Jesus forgiving and healing the paralytic lowered through the roof to the feet of Jesus by his friends, (which I read in my daily reading this morning).
And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them. (Mark 2:12-13)
Notice the end result of this supernatural work of God through His Son.
- They were all amazed.
- They were glorifying God.
- They commented that they had “never seen anything like this before.” It was unusual and extraordinary.
- All the people were coming to Him (the crowd grew).
- And Jesus was teaching them (the gospel extended). An opportunity for an even greater witness was realized.
All of these results are what every true believer should long for in every generation, unless, of course, their Christianity was more narrow. If the only thing that they were concerned about was their own personal religion and not the rapid expansion of Christ’s kingdom on earth. God used the extraordinary and unexplainable in Jesus’ ministry not only to bless people in need, and to validate His Son, but to glorify Himself and advance His kingdom.
HIS WAYS IN HISTORY
To not believe in extraordinary seasons of revival and spiritual awakening is to be unaware of our Bibles and church history. It seems one should be careful before coming to such a conclusion and making such statements (which could affect the fragile faith of others and perhaps cause us to miss something God intends). Look at American history alone, and you will see at least five unquestionable seasons of spiritual awakening, mercifully given by God every 30-60 years.
- The first Great Awakening in the 1730-1740’s in which 15% of the population of America came to faith in Christ. The pastors of several towns said that they could find no adult in their town who had not become a believer.
- The second Great Awakening in the early 1800’s. One reputable historian says that this extended season of revival shaped America more than any period in American history. Churches, schools, hospitals, and religious organizations were begun and tens of thousands saved, providing a course correction to the nation and the rapid advance of the gospel.
- The 1857-1858 Prayer revival in which 50,000 people were gathering for prayer every workday at the noon hour in New York City alone. Reliable records tell us that 10,000 people a week were added to church membership every week for two years. Out of an American population of 30 million, 1 million came to faith in 24 months.
- The Welsh Revival of 1904-1905, which dramatically impacted America and many nations around the world. 100,000 people came to faith in this small principality slightly smaller than New Jersey, and the revival spread to “the rest of Britain, Scandinavia, parts of Europe, North America, India, the Orient, Africa, and Latin America.
- The Jesus Movement of the early 1970’s, which was dramatically catalyzed by a similar movement in 1970 at Asbury, a chapel service that extends seven days. The records of one of America’s largest denominations (Southern Baptists) show that more students came to Christ in 1970-71 than any period before or since.
Such seasons are the necessary, habitual work of God. We can deduce this is true because God keeps repeating such movements! It is necessary because of the church’s tendency to fall away, losing our first love. Study Christ’s words to the churches in Revelation.
There is an undeniable Biblical and historical cycle of the church falling away, God bringing His needed judgment and discipline, the church coming to desperation and a united, repentant cry (a rising tide of prayer,) followed by extraordinary interventions from heaven as God revives His people and brings spiritual awakening among the lost.
There have been broad reports of excesses that happened at Asbury that are simply not true. I was sitting in the room for five of the 16 days. I have talked with the leaders and observed their humble, wise leadership. This continuous, 16-day movement was marked by extreme humility, fervent prayer, overflowing worship, simple, Biblical preaching (every night), and glorious testimonies of changed lives. And, it seems to be continuing on many campuses and churches, and we all pray that it will.
It would not surprise me if any revival had some excesses (most do), but the accusations coming from many regarding Asbury are usually from those who were not there. Every true revival and awakening in history has had some excesses. Revival can be messy because we are messy.
But does the presence of some excesses mean that a true movement of God is not happening? G. Campbell Morgan, the brilliant and godly pastor of Westminster Chapel and predecessor of Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of the Welsh revival:
“In what seemed supreme confusion, one was conscious of splendid order … It was a meeting characterized by a perpetual series of interruptions and disorderliness; it was a meeting characterized by a great continuity and absolute order.”
Others commented that the Welsh revival was marked by …
“The sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in all His operations, the possibility of Spirit-filled assembly, confidence in the inspired Word of God, the power of earnest, united prayer, and the power of sacred song—these were the marks of this revival.
Another observer summarized (the Welsh Revival):
- Honor to the Holy Spirit as a presiding presence.
- The plain preaching of Christ and of sound gospel doctrine.
- The prominence given to prayer, individual and united.
- The dependence upon God, rather than upon men.
- The absence of stereotyped program and set method.
- The readiness for blessing by a willingness to remove obstacles.
- The direct dealing with the unconverted.”
EXAMINE EVERYTHING CAREFUL
Paul reminds us not to quench the Holy Spirit or despise (treat lightly, flippantly) when God speaks. He also wisely reminds us to examine everything carefully, hold onto the good, and reject what is false (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20). I have seen some supposed “revivals” that did not seem to follow Biblical patterns and were primarily fueled by excesses. In my humble opinion, what has happened inside Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University does not in any way fall into this category.
Examine what God is doing now carefully. But not from a proud, judgmental heart. Don’t judge the whole work of God—which we all pray would sweep our desperately needed nation and world and bring renewal, reformation, and gospel harvest—by any excesses on the fringes. Don’t be guilty of using one supposed excess reported as a proof-text for your concerns.
Our great passion should be to help the next generation see that the Church for which Christ died is not a dry, lifeless organization. Our children have been walking away from such churches in droves, and the culture shows the loss. But let’s personally repent and cry out so that they will see a church alive with the supernatural power of God. Let’s pray they will be able to echo the benediction of Paul.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-23)
 Conversation with Mark Noll of Regent University and previously of Notre Dame with Bob Bakke
 “The Second Great Evangelical Awakening,” J. Edwin Orr, Chapter 2
 “The Flaming Tongue,” J. Edwin Orr, pg. 28
 “The Flaming Tongue,” J. Edwin Orr, Pg. 14, 20
 Ibid, Pg. 20