If We Had Revival

March/April, 2014
Volume 49, Number 2

Brethren Revival Fellowship continues its an interest in promoting revival within the Church of the Brethren. While we would admit that a general revival has not occurred in the Church of the Brethren, we do rejoice that many have re-ignited their faith in Jesus Christ, and have spread that flame into their congregations. We are glad when there is evidence of renewed life at Annual Conference and in the higher councils of the Church.

Brethren Revival Fellowship yearns for a Church of the Brethren where spiritual, New Testament beliefs and practices are lifted up. We pray for sermons that preach the Gospel and the transforming power of Jesus Christ. We hope for Brethren publications where the great truths of the Christian faith and of the Church of the Brethren are taught and encouraged. We look for more conferences that lift up the Bible as the authoritative guide for the church. We endeavor to build congregations with an evangelistic concern for the lost. We pray for revival in the Church of the Brethren. But perhaps even all that would not mean revival. Revival would be a work of the Holy Spirit that would be evident to all who witnessed it.

What would true revival look like? What would be its characteristics? While the popular idea of revival tends toward emotional excess and exuberance, real revival will have the Word of God as its basis, and Jesus Christ as its focus. Real revival may be tested and confirmed through the teaching of the Bible. It’s not about feelings, syrupy-sweet sentimentality, or that tingle one gets when everyone starts singing “Alleluia, Alleluia.” It is manifested in obedience to the Word of God.

Evangelist Vance Havner (1901-1986) had a long evangelistic and conference ministry. He had a keen interest in revival in the American churches. He provokes our thought as to what real revival would look like. While no written article can fully portray the spoken message, this article does impart a bit of the “flavor” of Havner’s style. Read his message with profit.

–Craig Alan Myers

If We Had Revival

By Vance Havner

On the day of Pentecost, when the multitudes saw the early church filled with the Spirit, they asked, “What meaneth this?” (Acts 2:12). You remember that Peter replied, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (v. 16). And after his sermon, his listeners asked, “What shall we do? What does this mean? This is that? Then, what shall we do?” We have tried to reverse the order today. We expect the world to ask, “What shall we do?” But they’ve not seen enough going on in the churches to make them ask first, “What does this mean?” In our desperation, we’ve put on religious extravaganzas and stirred religious excitements and simulated religious ecstasies. But the multitude is not crying out, “What shall we do?”

We’re living in a day of Jesus movements and charismatic movements and great religious gatherings, when “Amazing Grace” is a bestseller and gospel rock packs the auditoriums and the name of Jesus is at an all-time high of popularity, whatever that means. And from every direction, people are asking, “Is this revival? Are we having a spiritual awakening?”

The question is its own answer, because it raises doubt and uncertainty. If we ever have a real revival again, we’ll know it. A genuine work of God is always self-authenticated. It bears its own credentials, and you won’t need a conference of experts to identify it.

There are certain marks of revival. If we were having it, there would be a return to the authority of the Bible as the inerrant inspiration and the Word of God. Some of the brethren battling for orthodoxy today ought to wager on calling the church to repentance, because when the church repents and forsakes its doubt, liberalism doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And the revival that argument could never accomplish comes naturally, or I should say, supernaturally, when men turn to God. R. B. Jones wrote in his book Rent Heavens (2d ed., 1948) that one newspaper during the great Welsh Revival in 1904-5 said, “The revival is largely a protest against the philosophic Christianity that was preached by the ministers whom the Welsh University colleges had trained.” Another paper said one minister greatly used in the revival had been interested in higher criticism and a new theology, but he had a new experience, and the writings of the higher critics lost their attraction for him.

The revival released many from the grip of religious heterodoxy. Orthodoxy itself needs a revival today. Along with a return to sound doctrine, we must get back to spiritual renewal within, or we don’t have a revival. Nothing is deader than the dead orthodoxy of cold fundamentalism. Pharisees were orthodox, but their hearts were not right, and they drew our Lord’s most severe condemnation. The greatest enemies my Lord had on earth were not the bums and bootleggers and criminals. His worst opposition came from folks who went to church, read the Bible, prayed in public, tithed, lived moral lives separated from the world, tried to win others, and were headed to hell. You can have all kinds of points with religion and not be a Christian. Jesus said, “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you,” (Matt. 21:31b). And He said that “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).

If we were having revival today, there would be a profound conviction of sin (which I don’t see much of), confession of sin, and forsaking sin. We’ve given the sin issue new names today. We call it “immaturity, arrested development, biological growing pains, and error of mortal mind.” God has become “the big buddy upstairs.” Parents no longer use the word lost. I don’t know when I last heard a father or mother say, “My boy or girl is lost.” I used to hear parents cry out for their children. Now they say, “Well, my Johnny is a good boy.” The rich young ruler was a good boy, but he wasn’t God’s boy. Depravity today is largely a matter of complexes and inhibitions. We leave it for the psychiatrists and not the preacher. Old-fashioned sinners are harder to find today than whooping cranes. I don’t hear many prodigals saying, “I have sinned.” We call fornication “premarital sex,” and adultery is just “an affair?’

Many think nothing of taking the name of God in vain. You don’t have to cuss to do that. You can stand in church and sing, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” If you don’t mean it, you’ve taken God’s name in vain. But taking God’s name in vain has become so common that nobody lifts an eyebrow.

I listened to a discussion the other day by prominent figures on television of matters that nobody ever discussed before except husband and wife in their own bedroom. Yet frank sexuality is getting to be common vernacular. We cannot expect God to take away our sins by forgiving them if we’re not willing to put them away by forsaking them. The Bible says, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). It isn’t enough to confess your sins. You must not only ask God to take them away. You must put them away. There will be no mercy and forgiveness until the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.

If we were having revival, the divorce rate would drop, and houses would become homes again, marriage would be for life, unwed college students wouldn’t be living like man and wife in dormitories, and pornography and nudity and homosexuality and other abominations that are now accepted wouldn’t be acceptable. A man would take his place as head of the home, and a woman would be the heart of the home, as it used to be. Any home with two heads and no heart is a monstrosity. Whatever women’s lib would think of such a movement, it would restore discipline that has disappeared almost entirely from the home and church. Husbands and wives would get along.

Two married folks were in the rest home. The old man thought he’d say something nice to his wife.

He said, “I’m proud of you.”
She said, “Eh?”
“I said, ‘I’m proud of you.”
“I didn’t hear you.”
“I said, ‘I’m proud of you.”
She said, “I’m tired of you, too.”

An awful lot of folks are tired of their spouses today. Are you tired of her? Are you tired of him? I tell you, if we ever have revival, we’ll learn to love each other in all relationships of life as we should.

There’d be an impact on lawlessness and crime. It’s as if the highway department has torn down all the highway signs and left everybody to their own judgment. The lenient courts give the criminal just a slight little reprimand. Infested by the demonized denizens of darkness, the streets are no longer safe for decent citizens. And if we took crimes against each other seriously, there would be reconciliation and restitution among Christians. We would confess our own faults one to another. It doesn’t take much religion to confess other people’s faults.

My Lord said, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Before you bring your envelope to church or your offering, get right with your brother.

Churches are rent today, even conservative orthodox fundamental churches, with the sins that Paul enumerated: envying, strife, division, swellings, whispering, tumults, schisms, variants, debates, contentions, tattling, gossiping, backbiting, and jealousy (2 Cor. 12:20). Husbands and wives, parents and children, and neighbors ought to be reconciled. There are personality clashes on church staffs—sins of tongue, and sins of temper. Zacchaeus needs to come down out of that sycamore tree and straighten his crooked business practices (see Luke 19:1-9). And we still have those hypocrites my Lord blasted when He said, “For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer” (Matt. 23:14).

A revival would mean a decline of worldliness in the church. I don’t hear the word worldliness anymore. Now it is called “secularism.” Nobody knows what that means, so the preacher is off the hook. He doesn’t have to preach on worldliness. But my Bible says, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). Today, even for conservative Christians, anything that sounds like separation from the world is abhorred as though it were the bubonic plague. As the age draws to its close and Babylon shakes up and the harlot rides the beast, the world and the church have been casting eyes at each other, falling in love. The wedding approaches. There was a day when preachers thundered out against specific sins. They tell us today, “Don’t deal in the negatives. Don’t deal in the wicked things people are doing:’ When Jesus talked to the woman at Jacob’s well, he talked about worship, and he talked about the water of life, but that woman was not under conviction until He became specific. “Go, call thy husband” (John 4:16). That’s where the trouble was. She’d had too many of them. It’s not enough to preach on sin. We must name something. Some folks will get mad, but they are not going to come under conviction by generalizations. They are convicted when the Spirit of God through the Word of God names something. Churches now are revising their covenants. I know of a big church that took out all references to any specific sin and put in its place “all evil.” That leaves everybody free to decide what they think is evil.

When we have revival, we’ll fix our eyes on Jesus, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim. There’ll be an outbreak of old-fashioned, original New Testament Christianity. The professing church wavers today between two extremes, rigor mortis on one side and Saint Vitus’s dance [a once-popular term describing body jerks brought on by the disease Huntington chorea] on the other. We are living in a Christless Christianity, a lukewarm Laodiceanism on one side, and on the other a churchless Christianity among those who reject all organized expressions of the church. Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for it. He’s the groom, and the church is the bride. You’re not going to have much of a wedding with a brideless groom and a groomless bride. He’s the head, and the church is the body. I’m not interested in a headless body or a bodiless head.

If a revival were going on, there’d be a radical change. Old- fashioned New Testament Christianity would return.

A. W. Tozer of the Christian Missionary Alliance said,

“The present flare for religion has not made people more heavenly minded. It has secularized religion, has glorified success, and eagerly prints religious testimonials from big corporation tycoons, actors, athletes, politicians, and very important persons of every kind, regardless of their reputation, or lack of one.”

Religion is promoted by the same techniques used to sell cigarettes. You pray to soothe your nerves just as you smoke to regain your composure. Books are written to show that Jesus is a regular fellow, and Christianity is just a wise use of the high psychological laws. The meek are not blessed, but the self-important. It is not those who mourn who are blessed, but they that smile and smile and smile. It is not the poor in spirit who are deemed dear to God, but those who are accounted significant by the secular press.

If a revival were going on, we’d be delivered from such popular aberrations as the notion that we must dress like the world and talk like the world and sing like the world in order to reach it for Christ. You don’t have to look like a clown to witness to a circus.

I was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1934 to 1939. This is the oldest Baptist church in the South. It was organized in 1683. Every Saturday night while I was there, I’d go to the rescue mission to preach. I didn’t dress like a bum to make my ministry effective. Even the bums, I think, would have resented that. You don’t have to look like the world to reach the world. They tell us today that we must use the new terminology, that we must be relevant and communicate and have rapport, whatever that is, and that we must study the spectrum, and we must get down to the nitty-gritty. Forget it. They used to call it an “itch” and now they call it an “allergy,” but you scratch just the same.

If revival were going on, there’d be a recovery of modest dress and deportment. Christians would be different in appearance and set a standard for a sex-crazy generation. I know that they say it’s not a matter of what you wear, but rather the state of your heart. But the world doesn’t see your heart. It sees your clothes, and it sees you. I didn’t expect many amens from that part of the sermon. There’s no evidence of freakishness in the appearance of Jesus. He set no weird standards in haberdashery or haircuts. If revival were going on, Christians would attract no special attention either way, but certainly they would be clean and neat and look their best for the glory of God.

Paul told Timothy to look out for three trends. First is the peril of things. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Tim. 6:10). Second, Paul said to look for perils concerning the times (see 2 Tim. 3:1-9). In the last days, perilous times will come, perils concerning the truth. Third, men will turn from the truth to fables (4:4). The best way to judge anything that you’ve got any doubt about is to ask which way it is going, not where it is right now. It may not be bad right now. But ask yourself where you will go if you go with it? We must nip these things in the bud. I know they are only symptoms and not the disease. But any doctor will tell you that symptoms are important. They indicate what the disease may be.

If we were having revival, the sanctity of the Lord’s Day would be restored. What used to be the Lord’s Day is now the “weekend.” Long holidays and four-day work weeks have torn up the picture so that churches are having a rough time. If we extend leisure much longer, I wonder what will happen. Look at the way most people spend their leisure time. One of our major Protestant traditions in its statement about the Lord’s Day says that we should refrain from all secular employment except works of necessity and works of mercy (Westminster Confession of Faith). Well, that’s all right. Sunday football hardly qualifies as a work of necessity, and it certainly is not a work of mercy. If all the preachers and the parishioners whose eyes are glued to Sunday afternoon television were on their knees in repentance and prayer, the revival would be a lot nearer.

Early in church history holy days became mixed with pagan holidays because so many pagans after Constantine became professing Christians. He made it fashionable to be a Christian. Everybody started joining church, and that nearly ruined Christianity. And in order to make Christianity more acceptable to these heathen church members, they mixed the holidays and the holy days. That’s why Christmas is all tangled up with Santa Claus, and Easter with bunny rabbits and eggs. We’ll never get it untangled. The church moved from the catacombs under the ground to the Colosseum where the prizefights were held, and we lost ground we’ve never regained.

There was a day when preachers like Sam Jones and Billy Sunday fought the liquor business. Today, even religious leaders sometimes have a good word for cocktails. And Paul’s advice to Timothy about drinking a little wine for your stomach’s sake is one of the most overworked verses I know of in the New Testament. I look for a great outbreak of stomach trouble among Baptists during the next few years. It is ridiculous to hear these TV discussions on the problem of alcoholism, as experts try to find out what causes it. I’m from the hills of Western North Carolina and there are a lot of things I don’t know, but I always thought the cause of alcoholism was alcohol. I think that makes sense. Now we’re trying to mop up the floor leaving the faucet running, trying to sweep out the cobwebs and never touch the spider. We must do something about it. We must face the issue. This smiling tolerance from the pulpit is a concession to the cocktail drinkers and the country clubbers and the potential alcoholics in the congregation.

Now if we were really having revival, it would follow the context of the text that Peter used at Pentecost. Few know anything in the book of Joel except that one text Peter used. Joel was a revivalist. He said, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly” (Joel 2:15). Then he called for everybody to repent. This wasn’t a youth revival. This was for everybody:

Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? (vv. 16-17)

Joel said, “Lord, I’m tired of the world going by saying, ‘Where is your God? Where is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob? Where is He?” The world asks those questions today, but we’re embarrassed to answer. In Joel, all ages were called upon to repent. Those familiar verses we know come after repentance. After repentance old men and young men will dream dreams and see visions and all the rest. All ages will rejoice if all ages will repent (see Joel 2:28-32). When we meet the conditions, God will pour out His blessing.

The question is asked, “Will there again be a great outpouring of the Spirit?” The Scriptures teach that the age will end in anarchy, apostasy, and apathy—anarchy in the world, apostasy in the professing church, and even apathy in the true church—because lawlessness shall abound, the love of most will wax cold (see Matt. 24:12). Men will turn from the truth to fables.

“When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). There may be a quickening of the remnant, but the world goes hurtling on toward destruction. Pentecost didn’t save Jerusalem from judgment. The Spirit is always working. He’s working today in faithful Christians and Bible conferences and revivals and New Testament churches and among a lot of our young people. But there’s no mighty awakening that produces such evidence as I named at the beginning. And I’m more afraid of a false revival today than I am of no revival. We’re in great danger of one that’s going to look so much like the real thing that a lot of good people will be fooled. The Devil is the great imitator. He does more harm as an angel of light than he ever did as a roaring lion. When Moses performed his wonders, Jannes and Jambres were ready to perform a counterfeit. And the Devil scatters the tares among the wheat, and nobody but the angels will know the difference. There’s a wave of simulated religion going around today. Even good people are afraid to say anything about it. The sin against the Holy Spirit lay in ascribing the work of God to the Devil. But today, we’re ascribing the work of the Devil to God. If revival comes in the providence of God, you’ll never regulate it like a stopwatch. You can’t regulate the Holy Spirit. He’s sovereign. One thing is certain, it’s not going to come until the church repents. Repentance is the blind spot in our eyes today.

Whether we ever have a great revival, we can set our own house in order. You can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15c). You can “gird up the loins of your mind” ( 1 Pet. 1:13) and “stir up the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6) and renew the covenant and walk with the Lord in the light of His Word and reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God (see Rom. 6:1-8) and redeem the time because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). Whatever other people do, you can be faithful. But today we’re getting away from setting our house in order.

I close as I began. When real revival comes, we’ll know it. I think of the great Shantung revival in China.

I used to think that a revival started among the backsliders, the Christmas and Easter crowd, the Sunday morning glories that bloom on Sunday morning and fold up for the rest of the week. I thought that’s who you had to start with. Oh, no. Revival starts with the best people. It starts with deacons. It starts with the Sunday school teachers.

The Shantung revival started with Hugo H. Culpepper, who was one of the saintliest men that ever went to China. When God got through dealing with him, you’d have thought he was the worst sinner over there. A missionary was holding meetings, and she’d stand at the door as everybody went out to ask each, “Have you been born again?” She asked Dr. Culpepper, “Have you ever been filled with the Spirit?” He hemmed and hawed and swallowed and hardly knew what to say, good man as he was. God used that missionary lady to start a work in Culpepper. It starts with the best people. If you’re going to build a fire, you don’t start with the backlog, but with kindling wood. God wants to gather a little kindling. That’s what I’m doing today everywhere I go, gathering a few people who will start something for the Lord.

All over this land I see people straining and striving, red in the face and puffing, trying to make revival. I think we’ve missed the point. God said to Joshua when he lay on his face, “Get up” (see Josh. 7:6-15). This was not the time for a prayer meeting. I’ve been in prayer meetings that were a waste of time because the people wouldn’t face sin. God told Joshua that Israel had sinned, and he had to deal with that. Somebody’s got to confess sin. When people are purified, Jesus says, “He that drinketh of this water, from within him shall flow rivers of living water.”

All the wonderful things you read about in the Acts of the Apostles were simply the outflow and the overflow of the inflow of the Spirit of God—just that. When you get the debris out of the way, the water of life will flow, and we’ll have revival.

Taken from When God Breaks Through © Copyright 2003 by Dennis J. Hester. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Vance Havner preached this message at the Moody Week Bible Conference in 1977.