• johned@aibi.ph

Evaluating A Revival Movement

By John Edmiston

The Toronto movement and Brownsville Pensecola have generated an enormous amount of heated discussion amongst Christians. Most of this has been predictable - once the person’s personal temperament and prior theological stance is known. And most have made the error of judging the whole from the parts or the general from the particular. One blessing does not equal a revival and neither does one bizarre manifestation equal a cult or heresy.

This article shall attempt to evaluate revival movements by the following 6 biblical criteria:

1. Are the revival leaders “workers of righteousness” or “workers of iniquity”? Are they characterized by financial greed or good works?(Matthew 23:25, 1 Thessalonians 2:5) Good doctrine or fables? ( 1 Timothy 4:1-8) Deep Christian character or selfish ambition?(James 3:14-18) Are they “law-full” or “lawless” ? (Matthew 7:15-23)

2. What are the long term fruits in terms of Christian character - especially faithfulness, truth, love, mercy, and righteousness.(Matthew 7:16-20, Galatians 5:22,23, Ephesians 5:9, James 3:14-18)

3. Does the movement as a whole display a love of sound doctrine ? What is the movement’s attitude to Scripture? (2 Peter 3:13-18, 1 Timothy 4:1-8)

4. Does the movement have a clear aim? Is it taking people somewhere? Can the results of the movement be built on by later generations? Is it a “house of straw” or a well-constructed foundation for the future? Is it built on Christ i.e. .the historical Jesus of Scripture? (Matthew 7:15-29, 1 Cor 3:10-17)

5. Does the movement have a sound morality ? Does it manage to avoid the twin dangers of moral licentiousness on one hand or overbearing legalism on the other.(Colossians 2:18-23, Jude 1:4)

6. What is the attitude of the movement to the rest of the body of Christ? Is it humble or proud? Is it boastful? Does it separate itself? These tests are probably best applied to the movement as it is affecting your own congregation. It is much more difficult (unless you are very well informed) to judge the movement as a whole and the Bible warns us against such judgments. The “judging” we are not permitted to do is called “krino” in the Greek and it means to judge the person/thing as a whole e.g.“he is absolutely no good”. We are permitted to judge particulars which is called “dokimazo” judging “that was a good action”, “this person has strong faith” “that person has a wrong doctrine in the area of ....” etc. For instance I will not say that the “Toronto Blessing” is absolutely no good but I will say that I have many serious concerns about its leadership and it attitude to other Christians. It seems a very mixed (or even mixed up ) blessing. More on that later. Here are some common ways that people make mistakes in judging movements of God.

  • Believing rumors , unreliable sources and unsubstantiated reports.

  • Making judgments based on one powerful personal experience either good or bad. And applying that to the movement as a whole.

  • Saying that "If people are getting saved it must be of God". This is definitely a good sign but people have been "accidentally" saved by the emotive preaching of some of the worst of heretics. God can use anyone for his purposes. We need to look at how those salvations hold up and the long term result. Jesus indicated this when He said of the Pharisees converts that they were 'twice as much the sons of Hell.." (Matthew 23:15) as even the Pharisees. Conversion was not the goal - loving disciples and mature fruit was. If the fruit of the conversion as a 'son of Hell"then the conversion was not of the right type.

  • Judging the movement by a single person in that movement. "He's a nice person and he believes in XYZ movement so it must be OK". Good people can occasionally make bad judgments.

  • Because a movement is growing rapidly and is "international" it must be good - or must be bad. Both god things like a genuine revival can grow quickly and bad things - like Communism, can sweep across nations. Growth rate is no indicator of truth or falsity.

  • Financial blessing - since I believed in X I have prospered financially. Prosperity can come from many sources - God, the Devil (who offered Jesus great prosperity) and from human ingenuity. It is no indicator of divine favor.

None of the above factors are reliable indicators of a genuine spiritual experience or a true revival. Deep repentance, holiness, sound doctrine and deep discipleship that results in changed lives are a far better indicator.

Is the cross preached?

Are basic Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the inspiration of the Scriptures and justification by faith taught and taught as essential?

Is there a clear commitment to righteousness and truth?

Many revival movements are populist expressions of religious sentiment and not genuine works of God. In Asia, where I work, they may be mixed in with tribal deities, local heroes such as the Philippine national leader Jose Rizal or even with the demonic. This mixed up spirituality can spread like a virus, seem to be a "gospel movement" but in the end turn very sour indeed. In the West the Toronto blessing, which has faded since the first writing of this article, was in my opinion a false revival. Most of the churches that went into it eventually were damaged by it. It was unbalanced, overemotional and had too much emphasis on experiences rather than Scripture in the majority of cases that I saw. It did not seem to result in definite moral development or a greater consciousness of righteousness and justice or ethics in daily life. It was not the great work of God that it was made out to be. For more on it read Andrew Stroms' evaluation

When we examine a revival we need to ask the 6 deep questions about leaders, fruits, doctrine, being built on Christ, morality and attitude mentioned earlier. Lets apply this to the Toronto movement.

Leaders - Rodney Howard Browne was clearly materialistic and said that he was a 'bartender of the Holy Spirit" and that God would slay those who criticized him. This does not seem like sound leadership in the Toronto movement.

Fruits - very patchy, some lives impacted, many made trivial and shallow, some ruined. Overall mildly negative.

Doctrine - almost completely lacking, shallow, blown here are there, insubstantial.

Being built on Christ & the historical Jesus - there was little or no teaching on the historical Christ, his incarnation, life, cross, resurrection, rather it was encountering an undefined spiritual presence. This lack of content about God, this lack of the knowledge of who God is and what He expected from us was a most disturbing part of this movement a I saw it practiced in Australia.

Morality - while repentance was certainly an aspect of many Toronto meetings deep moral development was not. Being drunk in the Spirit was not a state in which one could do much ethical or moral reflection or apply your faith to daily life and business. It has not changed the political landscape or built social institutions - as the genuine revivals under Wesley and Booth and others did.

Attitude - when this article first came out in 1997 I received over a dozen death threats from members of the Toronto movement. The emails were hostile, vitriolic and full of curses. This only confirmed my suspicions. The Toronto blessing saw itself as untouchable, holy, the greatest movement of God. It created "Toronto" and "non-Toronto" churches and significant division in the body of Christ. It openly claimed that God would slay its critics. Such an attitude is neither humble or holy.

Thus I have significant and I believe biblical grounds for being very reserved about the"Toronto blessing" and similar experiential revival movements. In evaluating revivals we must look past the hype and to Christ and the Scriptures.

© Copyright GlobalChristians.Org 1997

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.