WHY THIS PASSION FOR REVIVAL?
Dr. Arnold L. Cook
The term "revival" meets with the same anemic response as "prayer," "holiness" and even "evangelism" from good respectable evangelicals. "Sure all those timeless values are Biblical good and necessary, but let's find more relevant terms that will grab people's attention in this fast moving 21st century!" "Revival is wrong-headed for people today. If they even understand the meaning of "revival" or "renewal" it's pointing in the wrong direction for our people today." All the "re" words--even refreshing implies we've gone stale.
There is another evangelical wing who are quick to critique our inertia. They see the answer in another direction. Let's address our life style sloppiness to turn to the "fundamental movements" and aggressively evangelize and adhere to rigid standards of morality and Christian practise.
Then there are those of us convinced that God wants to show us our future in "the past." We believe that "revival, renewal, returning, repenting and refreshing" is what the Holy Spirit wants for us today.
Let me share briefly five reasons why I'm passionate about "revival."
I. It's the Heart of God:
Throughout the Scriptures we hear God calling to His people "return to me and I will return to you." In Genesis our first parents sinned and hid from their Maker. God comes looking for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8-11). During the sojourn of His people in Egypt and again in the 40 years in the wilderness, God patiently calls His people back to Himself. Again in of the times of the Kings He patiently endured those leaders who ignored Him but blessed those who "kept His statutes." He let them go into captivity, but again found a remnant who returned to God. Under the new covenant He sends His own son to call out a people for Himself. Sent the person of the Holy Spirit to establish His Church at Pentecost. He started His church with the greatest of revivals--Pentecost. Our God is the God of "revival"--drawing us "live again and again." We only see God running once in the Bible. In the image of the father He runs to receive the "prodigal son." Our God is the God of revival, repentance and restoration
Jesus in His last words to us in the New Testament (Revelation 2-3) calls five of seven churches to "repent" turn back to God and be "revived again."
"Revival" is the very heart of our God.
II. It's the only answer for "Historical Drift"
"Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love." Although I wrote on this subject late in my life of Christian service, I first experienced it in my teen years. After receiving Christ at age 11, I drifted through my teen years. Then I discovered the third person to the Trinity. The Holy Spirit, sent to live the Christian life through us. Talk about a "second touch"--personal revival--fullness of the Spirit--power to live the Christian life. I became part of a "revived church" that sent me off to Bible College.
That imprint of that revival church hard wired me for life with a holy dissatisfaction with the status quo of a cozy, comfortable, cultural Christianity.
I have lived long enough to observe what happens to evangelical churches, denominations and institutions. Over several decades they all drift "away from Truth". Many become simply nominal "Christian churches" and finally die. Others divide and spin off reformed new movements. Still others experience times of "refreshing" and "revival" and which have greatly impeded historical drift. The United Church of Canada and Peoples Church in Toronto, are about the same age. What a contrast over 80 years.
III. It's the Promise of Pentecost:
We all agree that Pentecost was a one-of-a-kind historical event. Peter explained it as the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy (Acts 2:16-21). We also believe it marked the birth of the Church.
But Pentecost also serves as the greatest illustration of the powerful impact of true "revival." It started with the 120 in the upper room, praying, getting right with God and one another in chapter one of Acts. Then God broke in upon them in chapter two with a powerful spiritual awakening--3,000 saved. Then the Church was launched on its missionary mandate.
Note that in chapters ten and eleven of Acts, there's an extension of Pentecost in the house of Cornelius (Acts 11:15). This has been called the "Pentecost of the Gentiles." Joel's prophecy speaks of "pouring out of God's Spirit in the last days" (Acts 2:17). We continue to live in the "last days" of this church era. And the Holy Spirit continues to pour Himself upon His people in revival. Check the records of "revivals." We're prime candidates for another one in our day.
IV. It's Our Greatest Need:
The evangelical church in the West is strong. It has become an influential voice in the Protestant world. It impacts the political scene in countries like the United States. Economically it has become a growing giant. Its subsidiary enterprises are enjoying phenomenal growth in the marketplace. These observations define success in our culture. But from God's perspective nothing has changed. God continues to declare: "The Lord does not look at the thing man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (I Samuel 15:7).
What are our obvious needs of "revival"--times of refreshing"? Everywhere in the church there is need for "the confession of sin;" "granting of pardon," and "the reconciling of individuals and groups of professing Christians." Most Christians acknowledge these needs but fail to respond with repentance and reconciliation--the essentials of "revival".
The New Testament letters are full of admonitions regarding these interpersonal issues of broken relationships. This is the "stuff" that splits churches and families. The non-Christian has no real answers for these issues apart from resorting to ligation. But it quickly catches their attention when they hear and see Christians openly confessing and forgiving one another. Often the local newspapers and other news media pick up on this breaking news, especially when it involves practical acts of restitution with businesses and other non-Christian people.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:7). This is our greatest need. Such honesty and transparency only happens in times of a genuine revival.
V. I've Tasted It:
Finally I'm passionate about revival because I've been privileged to taste it on three occasions and I refuse to be satisfied with anything less.
At age 17 I was drawn by the large crowds of people attending the Alliance church in the small city of Owen Sound, ON. A "no-name southern evangelist" was preaching up a storm. He had come for two weeks and stayed for five. Christians were getting right with God and some 200 persons came to faith in Christ. That left an indelible impact on me. That revived church became our home church for the next 50 years of ministry.
In 1971 we had just returned from South America after two tough terms of missionary service in that volatile country of Colombia. We were weary and discouraged. Where do discouraged missionaries go at such times? "Back to seminary"--everyone seems to think that's a good thing to do: "get refreshed, renewed and retooled" for the next chapter of ministry.
That fall I was scheduled to travel from Regina SK to Saskatoon to speak at a Missions conference. But the week previous I received a call announcing: "Missionary Conference at Circle Drive Alliance cancelled--revival has broken out!" The Sutera twins, Ralph and Lou, were conducting evangelic meeting in a small Baptist church. God broke into the meetings with revival. They moved from large churches to bigger public facilities. Then it moved to our city of Regina. We were impacted by the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit. God used that revival to renew, restore our passion and turn us around and sent us back to South America.
We returned to South America on a special three year assignment to the country of Peru (1975-78). The Peruvian evangelical church had a troubled history with little growth. In the 1960's a ruthless leftist government ruled the country and profoundly impacted the emerging middle class. In the providence of God, in the early 1970s a nucleus of 120 people in a house church were praying for a pastor to lead them. God sent them a man of God. That little church launched into evangelism, two weeks of every month. The heavens opened and thousands were brought to Christ, with a significant impact on the middle class. Large churches were built and filled. A new generation of young pastors were trained. Later they sent their first missionaries. Today there are more than 60 churches, just in that one denomination in the city of Lima, many of them quite large.
What was it like working in that environment of vision, revival, evangelism and growth? We summarize it this way: "We saw, and experienced ministry like we had never seen before or since: I mention only a few: 1) The constant flow of new believers, two to three hundred, coming to know Christ every month; 2) An ongoing Bible Academy held every two weeks of the month discipling new believers: 3) Huge monthly baptismal services: one large church installed two baptismal tanks to facilitate baptizing candidates in pairs): 4) An incredible hunger for the Word of God. A night Bible School was opened. Bible Education by Extension was born impacting the whole country. 5) Missionary conferences became an annual feature each year as these evangelistic churches caught the vision for sending Peruvian missionaries around the world.
What was this? Revival, spiritual awakening? It was both and more!! What an amazing experience! Everything we touched prospered and grew. And it continues to this day. North American missionaries have been reassigned to other parts of the world. But the Peruvian Church continues to grow, impacting that great city of Lima and the entire country of Peru and beyond.
Arnold Cook, Feb. 2, 2011