I’ve been thinking a bit about this idea of revival, and what it would look like, and it is making me wonder if we really want it. There have been a number of events and phenomena called “revival” over the years, and if we generalize and say revival is “a renewed interest in spiritual things,” then many of these would qualify. However, if we take a look at revivals in the Bible, I think we’ll find that things aren’t quite as romanticized as we perhaps imagine them to be.
Let’s start with the New Testament (maybe I’ll get ambitious some day and do a “Part 2” with the Old Testament), and begin with Acts 2. Peter preaches and we’re told that three thousand people are baptized. I have heard people say, “Wow! Three thousand people! Wouldn’t it be great if three thousand people were saved at our meetings!” I’ve said the same things, but then I started wondering what that looked like.
First of all, how do we baptize three thousand people? And where? I wonder if the disciples would think it makes sense to baptize these people in the same place where they were baptized — the Jordan River. The map in the back of my Bible shows that the Jordan River is several miles from Jerusalem; did they all trek out for a baptism? And how did they baptize three thousand people? With 120 followers of Jesus in the upper room, and three thousand converts, that’s 25 baptisms per person.
Ok, but let’s suppose that of those three thousand people, some don’t want to be baptized by just anyone; they want to be baptized by Peter, or at least one of the twelve. This could slow things down a great deal. (One more thing: I doubt three thousand people could each have clearly heard Peter speak in the square that day, and completely understood why they were being baptized. The disciples may have had to perform a short interview with each one, just to make sure the person was there for the right reasons. Who knows how long this actually took, or whether it all happened in that one day.)
Ok, now that we’ve baptized everyone, what do we do with them? In Acts 2, many of these people were travelers, not residents of Jerusalem. They were there for Pentecost, and so were staying at inns or with friends or whatever. However, they no doubt wanted to stay in Jerusalem to learn from the apostles. So we read that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, attended temple together, and ate in each others’ homes. The record shows that they were glad, generous, and had favor with everyone, but it also shows that there was favoritism and selfishness — in short, they were like any other group of new believers. When someone comes to Jesus today, we know that although the person is redeemed, there is still quite a bit of maturing which must take place. The person needs to be taught, needs to repent of certain sins, needs to make restitution or reconcile with others, etc.. Can you imagine if your “small group” consisted of 25 brand new believers, many of whom did not live in your town, who knew hardly anything about Jesus or his message, but who were excited to live in your house and eat your food? Welcome to revival!
Well, enough of Acts 2. Let’s go on to Acts 10. Peter is preaching to the house of Cornelius, and the record shows that while he was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on the listeners. How did Peter know the Holy Spirit fell? Because they were speaking in tongues! How would you like to be preaching a message, and right in the middle of your three-point sermon, people started standing up and speaking in tongues! Others jump up and start praising God, even before your altar call! Now, people don’t normally jump up and interrupt someone they have specifically invited to come and speak. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that those who were doing the interrupting were perhaps a little beside themselves, or at least excited. Bring on the water, it’s time for more baptisms! Of course, these were Gentiles, who may not have heard of or understood baptism, so it may not have been as easy to accomplish this as with the Jews in Jerusalem. Maybe that’s why Peter had to “command” them to be baptized.
Ok, so now there are a bunch of Gentiles in the mix, and the Jewish apostles have to figure out what to do with them. The idea of Gentiles receiving the message was an absolutely new doctrine to them, so the apostles had to change their thinking. And when I say “new doctrine”, that is an understatement. It absolutely flew in the face of anything they had heard or seen in their lives as Jews or in the ministry of Jesus. It is probably not possible to overstate the magnitude of this event.
If we were to have a revival in our church/culture/society, what kinds of new doctrines would we discover? Or do we assume that we have a full understanding of how God works? I am not so bold.
So while we pray for revival, let’s be prepared to what revival brings. If God brings three thousand people to faith in our meetings, I think we’ll need a lot more chairs.