On February 8th a chapel service at Asbury University sparked the beginning of an ongoing meeting that has continued for 13 days. It has been called a true movement of the Holy Spirit and a genuine revival. Recently, leadership at Asbury have announced a plan to end the movement and return to normal campus life schedules which have been completely disrupted over the last two weeks.
People have been filling up the auditorium and flooding the campus at Asbury for the last two weeks. Many people, including pastors of churches far and wide are making pilgrimages to Asbury in attempt to catch the winds of revival and take it back to their local churches. The Spirit of God is not a force or some contagious hype that can be caught and relocated into the life of another church. The Spirit of God is God and He moves as he so desires to accomplish the purpose of God’s glory. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent and doesn’t need to be chased down to experience Him.
What’s happening at Asbury has been praised and critiqued. Before you condemn the critique of Asbury, remember healthy critique can be a good thing. It’s healthy for the people of God and if done with the proper motives and through the lens of Scripture as our authority—it exposes error and tests the spirits faithfully (1 John 4:1).
As we study history, we see some truly extraordinary movements of God. In the book of Acts, we see that God moves in an unusual manner at Pentecost (Acts 2) resulting in an explosion of saving grace where approximately 3,000 souls were saved. After a long period of darkness, there was a movement sparked in 1517 that resulted in the Protestant Reformation which had lasting fruit that remains to this very day. It produced the Scriptures in the common man’s language and a robust defense of justification by faith alone. R.C. Sproul explains:
The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age.1R.C. Sproul, “The Spirit of Revival”
From 1734 until about 1749 there was what’s been called the Great Awakening in New England. The Puritans arrived in New England in the 1600s. They were largely Calvinistic and postmillennial in their view of eschatology. About 100 years later, there was another debatable movement referred to as the Second Great Awakening. Most students of church history would agree that America hasn’t seen another unique and extraordinary movement of God since this early period in American history.
This does not stop people from using the term revival to claim an extraordinary blessing or the unique presence of God. This happened with the Azusa Street movement 1906-1915, the Brownsville movement 1995-2000, and now the Asbury University movement. Each of these movements are labeled as revivals. Interestingly, this is not new territory for Asbury. According to their website they have chronicled revivals that have happened on their campus since 1970.
Many people are skeptical when Asbury students are posting messages on Twitter about queer students leading in the revival services.
One of those students prayed from 10pm to 1am on February 18-19 and reported the following:
Another individual published a video of a supposed exorcism taking place in the middle of the auditorium. I couldn’t help but notice how calm people strolled by when demons were supposedly screaming from inside the body of a person in the auditorium. Add to those reports the fact that false teachers like Todd Bentley spent a few days there and was raving about his experience on social media stating “The Holy Spirit lingers and you feel tangible waves of his presence!” The Asbury movement appears to bear corrupt fruit on several levels.
The purpose of this article is not to debate the particulars of the Asbury movement in relation to the charismatic influences or the difference between awakening, reformation, and revival. I think there is a need for those conversations, but that is not my aim in this article. The real question that I want to focus on in this article is this: What evidence do we have from a local church perspective that this moment is a genuine revival? Asked a different way: Would an extraordinary blessing of God lead people away from the ordinary?
Revival Strengthens the Ordinary Local Church
Immediately after the movement of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the Spirit of God led the people to gather in an orderly manner and engage in worship, discipleship, and missions. The emphasis was placed on the gathering of the local church for worship. The remainder of the New Testament is focused on the organization of the people of God who come together from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status in Jesus Christ. Both Jew and Gentile are brought together in the bond of the gospel.
Any movement that claims to be of God that directs people away from the local church and neglects the ordinary means of grace is a fake revival. There are many different ways to neglect the local church, but I would like to focus on two specifics.
The church is God’s plan for the Christian. As president of G3 Ministries, I truly love what happens at a conference or chapel service. I’ve had the opportunity to preach in various settings from large conferences to intimate chapel services on college campuses and in each setting there is a unique opportunity to worship with God’s people. However, that’s not sustainable. It’s not God’s plan for me to stay engaged in a conference or in a chapel service and neglect the local church—regardless of how powerful the preaching or singing may be in the event. Conferences and Christian educational institutions exist for the purpose of strengthening local churches for the glory of God.
When the church refuses to assemble faithfully it impacts the health of the church as a whole. Consider the words of Hebrews 10:24-25. The church is more than brick and mortar. The church body needs one another for the purpose of encouragement and stirring one another up to love and good works. This is simply not possible when the church is neglected. Where do these students attend church? Are they members of a local church? What about the faculty members? Are all of the local churches nearby suffering as a result of what’s happening on the campus at Asbury? Think of the 75-year old couple with grey hair sitting on a pew in a largely empty auditorium a few miles down the street from Asbury. How is Asbury helping them?
The purpose of the Spirit of God is to lead us to Christ (John 16:14). The way God does this is through the preaching of the Scriptures. Paul made this clear in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” In other words, the power of God is manifest in the preaching of the gospel—not merely a group of people hyped up in emotional singing, dancing, and shouting.
The extraordinary movements of the power of God were historically led by faithful preaching. When preaching is neglected, the people will suffer confusion and be led astray by emotions and opinions of people. One local pastor who lives 20-minutes from the Asbury campus decided to visit the campus recently. Pastor Victor Sholar wrote about some of his concerns. He stated the following:
For when you read the book of Acts, you will notice that the Spirit’s power was always manifested in connection with the preaching of Christ. In other words, when Jesus was preached the Spirit moved. When Christ was the central focus, the Spirit acted. Therefore, it’s not music that produces revivals, but the preaching of Christ.
One of the marks of Asbury is that it’s more spontaneous and student led. There is not much preaching taking place at all. The leadership of Asbury have been facilitating and organizing the madness, but this has been mainly student led and as a result, the wisdom of the room is greatly diminished when you have students gathered together to sing and pray. That’s not always a bad thing. Let’s be honest, we need groups of Gen Z students to gather to study the Bible, pray, and sing, but we must aim for balance and maturity. Without older saints leading and faithful preachers expounding the Scriptures, the movement lacks wisdom.
We must always remember that doctrine matters. Robust doctrinal preaching produces genuine change in people and at the end of the day, regardless of your definition of revival, that’s what we need. We need our minds to be renewed, our hearts to be changed, and our emotions to be checked. This happens through faithful preaching. When Peter and the others left the upper room at Pentecost and went out into the streets, Peter didn’t gather everyone’s attention and say, “Hey everyone—we’re going to sing some songs and pray together and share testimonies.” Peter stood and preached a bold and doctrinally rich sermon which resulted in the outpouring of the Spirit and the salvation of 3,000 people.
That same pattern has continued throughout church history. When you survey church history, it’s obvious that when preaching was diminished it resulted in a season of darkness. When preaching was strong and bold, it resulted in great light and health among God’s people. The Protestant Reformation was sparked by a commitment to robust biblical preaching.
Extraordinary Movements of God Direct People to the Ordinary
Far too often we go to conferences and read books that stir our emotions and cause us to long for the extraordinary. We are taught to be radical or to be unleashed or to have passion for God and there are conferences and books that are designed to ignite this excitement in your soul to serve God. Should the Christian life be focused on pursuing the extraordinary or should we be looking for something more ordinary?
The local church is designed to minister to the needs of the people of God through what we call the ordinary means of grace. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (chapter 14, paragraph 1) reads as follows:
The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened. ( 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:14, 17; Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32)
The ordinary functionality of the local church with ordinary elders (not rock star preachers) is designed by God for the purpose of strengthening souls and causing us to be more conformed to the image of God than the image of this present evil world.
Once again, it should be noted that it’s not through the media gratiae (means of grace) that a person earns salvation in any way. It’s through the ministry of the Word that grace comes (Rom. 10:17). It must likewise be noted that once a person is converted, grace is needed on a daily basis. The grace of God is not a one time event, but a daily need from the point of conversion until we all stand in the presence of Christ. Therefore, it’s through the ministry of the Word, the ordinances, and prayer that the Christian continues to be strengthened in the grace of God.
The church of Jesus Christ should be aiming in the direction of Titus 2 rather than Acts 2. God has not promised that another Acts 2 movement would occur nor should the church be aiming in that direction. What the church needs today is genuine discipleship that produces faithful perseverance and contentment in godliness through the ordinary life of the local church. The church should not be looking for a perpetual youth rally filled with high energy, raw emotional outbursts, and disorderly worship. That’s not God’s plan for his church.
Pentecost didn’t lead the church toward Pentecost 2.0. The Spirit leads the church to orderly worship, serious discipleship, and faithful evangelism. The church should never be perceived as “Six Flags Over Jesus.” Sadly, far too many young people grow up in local churches and college ministries that teach them to be looking for a church that feels more like a pep rally for Christ than a biblical worship service.
The Spirit of God never neglects the local church, and if we’re being led by the Holy Spirit our commitment to the local church will not be diminished. The Holy Spirit will lead the people of God to be satisfied with how the Spirit of God works in our hearts and lives through the ordinary means of grace.
|1||R.C. Sproul, “The Spirit of Revival”|