Life After Revival: Where Do We Go from Here?
We are seeing some extraordinary things these days with the advent of revival coming out of Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. It is thrilling to read of the experiences of these students, as well as many others, and rejoice in what’s happening in their lives. In a time when there is so much perverseness and darkness abounding in our nation, this evidence of God’s sovereign activity among these young people brings hope and inspiration for all.
As much as I rejoice in the spiritual awakening we appear to be seeing at the moment, I wonder about the longer and lasting impact it will have in the lives of those experiencing this. We know that God isn’t just interested in our having a temporary spiritual rush or high. He is in the business of permanently transforming our lives into the image of Christ. Revivals are really jump-starters for the long-term journey which ultimately leads to our completion in Christ.
Many will remember the exciting times of the 1970’s when the Holy Spirit was poured out in a very special way. We experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit with many manifestations erupting from the mainline Pentecostal churches and flowing across all denominational lines. This glorious manifestation of the Spirit created both joy and anxiety in many mainline churches who previously failed to recognize the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit as expressed in the early church and recorded in the New Testament. Since most non-Pentecostal churches had little or no experience with Holy Spirit baptism and speaking in other tongues, they were ill prepared to guide and nurture those of their congregations that were having this experience. Consequently, a great many of those swept up in this movement turned to parachurch organizations such as Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship and Women’s Aglow in order to find acceptance, encouragement and fellowship.
It remains to be seen what the response of mainline denominational churches will be this time around. So many Christians observing this spiritual phenomenon want to treat it as a passing anomaly, as something that catches up the less mature and that it will simply run its course. Ideally, all those impacted in this outpouring are coming into a whole new level of relationship with the Lord and will continue in their maturation unto fullness in Christ. However, experience and history remind us of the unreality of that hope. Research has shown that less than 10% of those who make commitments at evangelistic crusades are any different in their beliefs and behavior one year later. In a 1990 interview with PBS, Billy Graham stated his belief that only about 25% of those who answer the call for salvation actually become Christians.
Of course mass evangelism crusades are not exactly the same thing that is transpiring right now on these college campuses. However, there is enough common ground to warrant our looking into why decisions for Christ in these circumstances appear to be so short-lived by the overwhelming majority of those responding. In the outpouring of the ’70’s, we saw how quickly so many were putting the emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and on what they were experiencing rather than on their relationship with the Lord and on translating what He was doing into running the race that was set before them.
I want to insert an observation at this point which may have some bearing on how we perceive and interpret this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the purest sense of the word itself, I don’t believe characterizing what we are seeing as a revival is exactly accurate. Strictly speaking, revival describes the returning to life that which previously had life. So, in terms of a spiritual event, revival would be describing a resuscitation to a prior known relationship with Christ. Revival basically gets things back to ground zero. Frankly, I believe what we are witnessing now is far more significant than revival. I believe we are seeing people experiencing new wine. This is not simply semantics. These are two very different concepts. We are witnessing God calling us to new heights in Christ.
When Jesus began his ministry, he was not endeavoring to revive Judaism; he was introducing an entirely new reality with respect to one’s relationship with God. It was called new wine. Jesus’ miracle at Cana was a foreshadowing of the gospel of the kingdom he was bringing forth. The ruler of the feast recognized the superior quality of the “new wine” he was given. We are hearing wonderful testimonies from these college campuses. We are seeing young people weeping before the Lord in brokenness and repentance. There are reports of healings and people are totally absorbed in worship of Jesus. They are experiencing the manifest presence of God like never before and they, like David’s cry in Psalm 27, simply want to dwell in His presence continually. The question now is, when the swell of the Holy Spirit subsides, will there be a spiritual superstructure in place for all those endowed through this experience that will help them, as Christian in his journey, progress to the Celestial City?
Social media has already reflected comments suggesting participants’ reluctance to return to church as they have known it. They have tasted the new wine and are sensing the need for new wineskins. In the ‘70’s, believers in the non-Pentecostal churches who were baptized in the Holy Spirit embracing the speaking in other tongues and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit were dubbed Charismatics. Although some were able to reconcile their experience with their present church, many were frankly encouraged to find another church home. Their new-found relationship with God became a threat to their existing situation. Jesus constantly faced the same conditions during his earthly ministry as did the Apostles following Jesus’ ascension.
Unquestionably, there have always been excesses and abuses related to every sincere and legitimate move of God. However, we would be remiss and misled if we allowed ourselves to define a Holy Spirit led move of God by the occasional excesses of a few. We need to be discerning and remain open to all that God is inspiring. Jesus made it clear when he spoke of putting new wine into new wineskins. He was up against religious leaders totally ensconced in the old order. They had no way of fitting into their protected structure the kingdom realities that Jesus was bringing.
So, where do we go from here? We have myriad young Christians experiencing an exciting outpouring of the Holy Spirit and we are facing the dire possibility that they will lack the spiritual encouragement and direction necessary to turn this into a precious pilgrimage unto completion in Christ. I want to suggest three initiatives which I believe would serve to usher them forward in their walk with the Lord. I am speaking here, not about a church program, but rather of what these young people need to take responsibility in for themselves. These initiatives would be like foundational blocks helping to enable their continuing spiritual progress. These initiatives are leadership, discipleship and fellowship.
Given what they are experiencing, they need to connect with someone of proven maturity in Christ who thoroughly comprehends the dynamics of what is presently transpiring. Someone of this caliber may or may not be found in their present church scenario. If that is the case, then it is imperative they look outside the local situation and find leadership that can bring godly wisdom and encouragement to bear. This kind of leadership doesn’t always have to be someone present in person. There are times when guidance and nurturing can come through Internet resources, through reading the proper material, or through Internet communication. Our spiritual journey doesn’t have to be entirely a pioneering one. Walking a path someone else has blazed can be very enriching.
Discipleship in the church today is what I would consider an almost overworked but under-comprehended concept. Most all evangelical churches offer some form of what they would consider legitimate discipleship training. This is usually carried out through a classroom format. In the classroom environment, discipleship is basically reduced to a methodology. This kind of approach assumes or treats the participants as if they were spiritually all on the same plane and that they were all at a level of receptivity to embrace the same principles and traits simultaneously. I don’t believe you can mass produce discipleship.
Discipleship is training that is inspired, ordered and induced by the Holy Spirit. It is precisely tailored to each individual exactly matching one’s present state of spirituality and one’s readiness to embrace and walk out what the Holy Spirit is offering. However, all of this is a moot issue predicated and dependent on an individual’s response to “the call.” Until one answers the call of Jesus to follow him, discipleship is a non-issue. Until we, like Levi and the other disciples, get up, leave everything and follow Christ, discipleship is a non-issue.
It is interesting, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer clarifies in his venerable work, The Cost of Discipleship, that the first response to Jesus’ call is not one of belief but rather of obedience. Bonhoeffer puts it this way: “The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.” Jesus made it so plain. If we want to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow. Additionally, Jesus let people know up front that there was a cost in the following (please refer to Luke 14:25-34). He capped off his parables in this chapter by saying, “So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me.” This biblical brand of discipleship, in my long experience, is very weakly addressed in the church today. The new wine we are seeing today out of Asbury and other institutions demands biblical discipleship.
The third initiative or building block as mentioned above is fellowship. Like many other scriptural principles, over the centuries the concept of biblical fellowship has suffered from a depreciation of content that has left it with a rather shallow meaning. Coming out of the pew on Sunday mornings and chatting with friends on our way out is nowhere near what is described in Acts 2:42 where it says the believers “…continued steadfastly in…fellowship.” Unless we recapture the significance and depth of biblical fellowship, we will not be able grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord nor become the church Jesus is coming for.
It is worth reminding, salvation isn’t principally about escaping hell and gaining heaven. It is all about fulfilling the eternal purpose of God, the fullness of Christ in all things. Our growing up into the full stature of Christ is integral to that purpose. We can only accomplish this through our relationships in the body of Christ. The fellowship spoken of and demonstrated in the New Testament demands far greater commitment and intimacy than the casual relationships we typically experience. Traits such as humility, accountability, openness and transparency, being teachable and correctable, having servant hearts, and manifesting only edifying conduct are essential qualities defining biblical fellowship.
Bringing new wine believers into this kind of spiritual environment is paramount to their continued development in Christ. Their hearts have been wonderfully awakened to want more and more of Jesus. If they are not surrounded by and integrated with others of like passion, they will wilt on the vine. I believe those experiencing what we have witnessed in Wilmore at Asbury as well as many other venues will need to gravitate to new wineskins. I believe we are going to see many new expressions of the church rising up in homes all over this country. This should never be taken as a threat to established traditional churches but rather embraced as an opportunity for self-examination in the faith with a willingness to adjust anything God might call for that would bring them into an even greater relationship with Him.
Where we go from here has everything to do with how faithful we are willing to be. May God be glorified in our responses to all he has called us to.