Characteristics of Revival

Controversial Revival, Part I

Revival is close to my heart. Based on the number of churches being started, people being saved, as well as the phenomenal outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, signs, miracles, wonders, and people raised from the dead—I believe the Church is already in a world revival. In this article, however, I will specifically focus on controversies that surrounded revivals during the last three-hundred years of Protestant history. There are other revivals I have not included in this article because they have not been recorded in history.

In the 1970s I took a seminary course on revival taught by my favorite professor, the late Dr. Lewis Drummond. I strongly liked the course because I was made aware of the various controversies that can surround revivals. Not one word was spoken about the Pentecostal or Charismatic revivals. I think allowing prejudices to blind us to what God is doing or to deprive students from knowing the whole truth about the moves of God in Church history is sad.

The First Great Awakening (1727-1750) was led by Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, William Tennett, and several others. This revival brought great growth to the Church, both in England and in its colonies. An estimated two million would have to be saved in one year in America alone to proportionately reach the same amount of growth. Despite this, Wesley was locked out of the Anglican Church by one of its bishops. He and Whitefield were accused of fanaticism, emotionalism, having powder up their sleeves that caused people to pass out, and causing division among churches. There were manifestations of falling, crying, roaring, laughing, being filled with the Spirit, weeping, trembling and shaking. James Davenport, another New England minister created controversy by accusing ministers of not truly being born again. Davenport’s meetings were the most subject to extremes, as was his ministry.

The Second Great Awakening (1780-1810) began at Brown University at a time when America was deeply affected by Deism (a belief which denies God’s supernatural intervention in human affairs). It was a time when there were few Christians in any of America’s major universities and when anti-Christian rioters publicly burned pulpit bibles in the streets.

Before the Second Great Awakening, there were only a few new converts and a limited portion of America’s population attending church regularly. This was seen as a low-water mark for the Church. The Brown University revival started with a small group crying out to God and spread to other colleges. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University, was touched in the First Great Awakening and desperate to see another move of God. Though Yale was started to train people for ministry, there were almost no Christians there at the time. But God answered Timothy Dwight’s prayers: Yale was touched by the Second Great Awakening.

A place nicknamed Rogue’s Harbor in Bourbon County, Kentucky was so well known for lawlessness that a vigilante party was created to try and bring peaceful civility to the region. They waged war with the outlaws but lost it. Then at the most hopeless time, revival broke out—bringing the frontier and the rest of the United States a great moral change. Hundreds of thousands were brought into the Church.

The great Cane Ridge Revival began in 1801 among the Presbyterians. The Baptists (who did not participate in the First Great Awakening) and the Methodists soon joined in. This revival’s fruit in Kentucky included doubling the number of Presbyterians, tripling the number of Baptists, and quadrupling the number of Methodists. The Methodists had the most manifestations, later referred to as Methodist Fits. Cane Ridge became the high-water mark of this revival. A doctoral dissertation titled “Cane Ridge: America’s Pentecost” was also written about it.

Within three years one third of the Christians in the South had similar manifestations. Some of the controversial manifestations in people at these meetings included:

– Falling to the ground under the power of God;

– Unable to get up or come back to consciousness for hours or days;

– Jerking so hard it caused a whacking sound like a whip;

– Children preaching in a manner impossible for them; and

– Barking, trembling, shaking, laughing, and becoming filled with the Spirit.

Many key leaders of the Second Great Awakening were touched as young men during the First Great Awakening. Other denominations started as a result, and the Presbyterian Church in the region split between the Old Lights and the New Lights, then the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination was formed.

Circuit-riding Peter Cartwright was saved shortly after Cane Ridge. He became one of the greatest Methodist evangelists in his day. He saw similar manifestations of the Spirit at his meetings and large numbers of people turn to Christ as a result of God’s power on his Gospel preaching.

There is reason to believe that what is known as the Bible Belt was born out of the Cane Ridge revival.

“The Second Great Awakening resulted in the abolition of slavery, the end of child labor, the beginning of the feminist movement, the move for universal literacy, and the reformation of prisons, among its greatest contribution.” – Dr. Elmer Towns of Liberty University

The General Awakening (1825-1840) was most connected with Charles Finney in America and Edward Irving who was instrumental in the origin of the Catholic Apostolic Church in London. For the first time in Protestantism there was full expectation of all the New Testament gifts restored to the Church. Tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, healings, and other gifts manifested during church services. Eventually Reverend Irving was defrocked for his view that Jesus did miracles out of His humanity rather than His deity. (This is known as the Kenotic position based on the Greek word “kenosis” found in Philippians 2 for Jesus, the Son of God, becoming incarnate.)

Similar manifestations occurred in the First and Second Great Awakenings at Charles Finney’s meetings In America, where he led more than a half million people to the Lord. Most notably, people fell under the power of God but they also trembled, shook, roared, cried, and laughed. The most controversial side of Finney’s meetings, however, is due to his newly introduced measures such as hosting an altar call, the “anxious seat” – which later became the “mourners bench – where people under conviction could sit and receive prayerful counsel, and asking women to pray aloud in mixed-sex meetings. (I grew up hearing his measures called “old-time religion”.) Finney rejected the Calvinism of the major revivalists of his day. He was also severely criticized for his Arminian theology.

The 1858 Prayer Revival began in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and spread to New York City when a businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, called for an hour prayer meetings at noon. Thousands attended and revival broke out, as these noon prayer meetings spread throughout the nation. Each week between February and June that year 50,000 souls were added to the Church with a population of 30 million in the U.S. Soon two million souls were added to the Church in two years. By 1865, a million souls had been saved in Great Britain with a population of 27 million.

William Booth started the Salvation Army shortly after the revival broke out with its concern for social ministry to the poor and the broken. This would be the period of American evangelist D.L. Moody and gospel singer Ira D. Sankey’s greatest success. Methodist writer Phoebe Palmer began her ministry of helping people receive sanctification. The great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon was filling his church in England. British Protestant Christian missionary Hudson Taylor began the China Inland Mission. Missionaries David Livingstone and Mary Slessor focused their attention in Africa. Street preacher Gawin Kirkham started The Open Air Mission of London. Lord Shaftesbury focused on ministering to the young, poor, oppressed, and orphanages were started.

The Holiness-Pentecostal Revivals (1875-1907 ) are not usually associated together because the Pentecostal Revival is said to have caused division among some of the twenty-three new denominations that formed in the U.S. between 1893-1900. Both groups experienced similar manifestations: falling, shaking, trembling, roaring, crying, laughing, being filled with the Spirit, visions, and dreams. In 1901 at Topeka, Kansas, Charles Parham would be the first to connect speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Evangelists R. A. Torrey and Charles M. Alexander had a successful round-the-world preaching trip with special emphasis on Asia, Australia and New Zealand. They saw thousands come to the Lord from 1902 to 1903. They were present when Reverend Seth Joshua had a direct influence on the ministry of Evan Roberts, a leading figure of the Welsh Revival (1904-1905).

The Welsh Revival was controversial because of its emotional nature as well as its emphasis on testimonies and worship rather than more on the Word of God. People experienced falling, shaking, trembling, roaring, laughing, and being filled with the Spirit. The Welsh Revival was also instrumental in the beginning of other revivals. The pastor of a large Baptist Church in Los Angeles visited this revival, then revival broke out in his church when he returned home. Pentecostal preacher Frank Bartleman became one of the early leaders in Pentecostalism in the U.S. at this time.

In 1905, encouraged by the report of revival in Wales, a revival broke out among a girls’ home (or orphanage) in India. Tongues, visions, raptures, being filled with the Spirit occurred. Also in 1905, news of what God was doing in Wales and in India caused the pastor of the Jotabeche Methodist Church in Santiago, Chile to become hungry for more of God. At the suggestion of one of his janitors, he called for key leaders of the church to fast and pray for a revival of Pentecost. Soon the Spirit fell upon this church with tongues, prophecy, trembling, shaking, falling, and bold street preaching. Both the pastor and his church were kicked out of the Methodist denomination because of the controversy of these manifestations. In spite of this, they quickly outgrew Chile’s mother Methodist Church and later became the largest church in the world.

In 1906, the Azusa Street Revival broke out in Los Angeles under the leadership of African-American holiness preacher W. J. Seymour. After Wales, this became the hot spot for revival. People at the Azusa Street Revival experienced tongues, prophecy, visions, dreams, falling under the power of God, shaking, laughter, trembling, and seeing a visible glory cloud come into the room. People were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Many came from all over the world to receive from and experience God then carry the Pentecostal message back to their countries. From herein Pentecost spread to Europe. So much controversy took place that some early Pentecostal preachers were chased out of towns and some attempts were even made to tar and feather them. Holiness movement and other well-respected leaders of the day mocked what was happening. Phineas Breeze, the leader of the newly formed Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, rejected Azusa Street and its message of tongues as the necessary and initial sign of baptism in the Spirit. The Nazarene denomination removed the word “Pentecostal” from its name so as to not be identified with the new Pentecostal movement. Pentecostalism all over the world by and large was rejected by the Evangelical denominations, with Germany making one of the strongest declarations against it.

In 1907 the Pentecost revival broke out in Pyongyang, Korea. Today much of the Church in Korea has been influenced by Pentecostal prayer, worship and belief. For a long time, and during my lifetime, David Yonge Cho’s church was the largest church in the world with over 800,000 members.

There has always been controversy surrounding moves of God. I believe each of the revivals mentioned in this article were not “multiple revivals” but the evidence of one great worldwide move of God.

Another great move of God which spread around the world and renewed a great missionary movement occurred close to the middle of the twentieth century. This revival was much greater than originally understood by those involved in it. There were three different streams that contributed to this mighty river of revival. One stream was the Latter Rain Movement that broke out in in 1947 in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. There was controversy regarding this move of God. It involved the teaching and practice of prophetic presbyteries for the impartation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and confirmation of people in their positions in local church as well as some being sent to the nations through prophecy.

Another controversy related to the teaching regarding “the manifest sons of God” which stated that the present generation would be alive when Christ returns. Some leaders of that revival believed they were “the manifest sons of God” (See Romans 8).


In our next issue, I will finish the subject of noted historical controversies surrounding revival and my hope for revivals of the future.

Bless you as you enter the Spring season with rest in Christ. I pray you will be restored and refreshed like never before in the days to come.

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