Monday, 29 December 2014

Will Revival Come?

IN VARIOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD ‘Revival’ conditions are indeed in operation. The term Revival is generally used to describe an unusually powerful moving of the Spirit of God in which great masses of people are spiritually awakened – or re-awakened. Christians may – and should – pray for revival, but no amount of human activity or cajoling can engineer such an event. It is the work of the sovereign Spirit of God alone. He moves where and how He wills (John 3:8). And He will not share His glory with another.

In many parts of the world, there are outstanding revivals taking place. Certainly in ‘black’ Africa, it is becoming apparent that for every child born today, two Africans are becoming Christians. In Brazil also, the growth in the number of Christian believers is exceeding the birth rate. China and Korea, too, represent an increase in their church life that is an amazement to outside observers.

Of course, numerical increase of itself does not indicate a revival. The issue concerns what is happening to the heart. The Psalmist wrote:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my souL pants for you, O God (Psalm 42:1)

In a time of spiritual dryness the prophet Habakkuk prayed fervently, ‘O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years.’ Two kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, instituted reforms during their reigns, and so brought their people back once more to a renewed love of God’s things. Joel was a prophet of revival in his foretelling of Pentecost that lay hundreds of years ahead - for on the day of Pentecost itself the apostle Peter quoted from Joel in his dramatic utterance about God’s Spirit being poured out upon all people - with young men seeing visions and old men dreaming dreams (Acts 2:14-21).

Pentecost was unique, however. The historic coming of the Spirit in power upon the whole church – incorporating Gentiles as well as Jews – was one of God’s six saving actions through Jesus Christ; it was an event that would never be repeated, for the gift of the Spirit and forgiveness of sins were the two great blessings of salvation, promised to all who believed from that time on (Acts 2:38,39). We could no more have a second Pentecost than a second Crucifixion.

But times of Revival? God sends them to awaken His people when spiritual decay has set in, when the church is suffering from a corporate memory loss of its salvation heritage, when nominal belief and ungodly living have taken over – and unbelieving society is left without a witness.

What are the hallmarks of a true revival? It is an apt question, because caricatures and counterfeits are easily created. Christ’s cause has only to be advanced powerfully in society, for the Devil to follow immediately behind! The following questions should be asked about any movement, before describing it as an authentic heaven-sent Revival:
Are Christ and His saving death at the unmistakable centre?
Is personal transformation through the New Birth taking place on a wide scale?
Are deep-seated repentance, practical restitution and a yearning for holiness becoming evident among those touched?
Are the preachers fired up with the wonder and power of the Bible?
Is prevailing, intercessory prayer engaging the churches?

Revivals are needed in history, because - such is the downward pull of the world, the flesh and the Devil - it only takes a generation, and we can be in the situation described by Bishop Butler in the early eighteenth century: “It has come to be taken for granted that Christianity is not so much a subject for enquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious.”

Wednesbury: The society that faced the eighteenth century preachers

But it was the darkest hour before a new dawn, for the Wesley brothers, John and Charles - themselves newly awakened to New Birth by the Spirit of God – lit a flame by their preaching and by their hymns; the result was a blaze affecting London, Bristol, Oxford….and indeed the whole nation.

Seemingly God will select a single individual, a pair of Christian colleagues or a tiny band of ordinary – yet dedicated – disciples, and create ever-widening ripples of spiritual blessing through the boldness of their witness, until thousands are lastingly touched. It happened in America of the nineteenth century, through evangelists such as Moody, Finney and Torrey.

The hymns that stem from spiritual movements are a dead give-away as to their true epicentre. Charles Wesley wrote 7,000 hymns, a great many of which have stood the test of time – and of theological analysis. When God’s people are fired with a new love for the Christ who died for them and rose again, they cannot but sing of the great Gospel truths!

A century after Charles Wesley it was the turn of such hymn writers as Ira D. Sankey and Fanny Crosby to provide the music backdrop to the great movement that began in the second half of the nineteenth century. Through the campaigns of D.L. Moody, more people heard the singing of Sankey face to face in the one year of 1875 than listened to the combined works of J.S. Bach during the entire nineteenth century. Eighty million copies of their hymnbook Sacred Songs and Solos were sold around the world - and the evangelists received none of the resulting royalties.As for Fanny Crosby; she provides a vivid illustration of God’s power to lift people to great heights of inspiration, despite a background of disability. Fanny lost her sight as a result of medical misadventure, when

They touched the world: Ira D. Sankey with Fanny Crosby
(From ‘My Life and Sacred Songs: Ira D. Sankey: acknowledgements 
to Hodder & Stoughton, Morgan & Scott, 1906)

still a baby. But her Puritan background was to serve her well, and she developed an appetite for the Scriptures. By the time she was ten years old, she had learnt by heart the first five books of the Bible, all four Gospels and the entire book of Psalms. Out of this rich store-house of theology poured the songs – 8,000 of them. Hymns such as Blessed Assurance, To God be the Glory and He hideth my Soul in the Cleft of a Rock – these were products of a revived life, and they served the church world-wide.

When the tide of destructive modernist German theology threatened to undermine the faith of millions of believers on every continent, the saints of God were kept intact by the hymns – at a time when Evangelical scholarship had yet to find its feet.

But there is a revival song which I have heard all my life – for I was born in Kenya during a revival; a movement that swept East Africa in the 1930s and 1940s – and up to the present day. The song has been sung as a testimony throughout Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Congo and even in the Sudan:

Tukutendereza Yesu,
We praise you, Jesus;
Yesu Mwana Gw’endiga;
Jesus the Lamb;
Omusayi gwo gunaziza,
Your Blood cleanses me,
Nkwebaza omulokozi!
I thank you, Saviour!

The East African Revival probably started in June or July of 1929, under a beautiful acacia tree on Ndera Hill, ten miles from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. An English missionary doctor, Joe Church, sat there, physically and spiritually exhausted. His trusted African friends were Simeoni Nsibambi, Blasio Kigozi and Yosiya Kinuka. A devastating famine had swept Rwanda, and thousands had died. The famine seemed to be symptomatic of a famine of the Spirit, for nominal Christianity characterised the great majority of the churches.

As Patricia St John wrote, ‘The site of the spreading acacia tree seemed like holy ground to be claimed for God’ (Breath of Life, Norfolk Press). Later, as the revival began, a church was built around the acacia tree.

Nothing spectacular happened, to begin with. Simeoni and Joe sat and read the Bible together for three days – and caught a new vision of the person of Jesus Christ. They sensed a blessing – a liberation – and began to share what they were learning. There were things in their lives that needed putting right. Before long, others were aware that something had happened to Simeoni and Joe.

Yosiya Kinuka caught the vision and was transformed overnight into a passionate evangelist. Blasio Kigozi became a flame that blazed with incredible fervour until his premature death from fever – but he left an indelible mark on the church of Uganda.

Then in 1932, William Nagenda was converted. Irritated by the Gospel songs he heard outside his government offices in Entebbe, he burst open the door, and found Simeoni and some others.
“Why are you carrying on like this?”
“Ah,” came the enigmatic reply, “We only wish you knew!”Nagenda strode away angrily, but the words challenged his thinking, and at midnight he turned in prayer and faith to Christ. A new evangelist had been born, whose voice was to be heard across Africa and all over the world. William Nagenda was to be joined by Festo Kivengere. They were:

Joe Church, William Nagenda and Festo Kivengere joined by Claire Lise De Benoit - their supporter and host - on a visit to Switzerland

surely among the most effective evangelists that there have ever been. I
was privileged as a boy, and then a man, to know Joe, William and Festo. Joe was simply ‘Uncle Joe’ to me as a boy. Festo was easy to know, with his bubbly personality and love of life. William was somewhat unfathomable – and it was unnerving to realise that he could read your thoughts! But no one was ahead of him as a humble lover of Christ.

Others came into the picture, including Erica Sabiti – who was to become Uganda’s first - and saintly - African archbishop…. and when you met him, it was like meeting Jesus.Through song and personal testimony, through bold preaching and public witness - and often in the face of strong opposition and downright hostility – the East African church became transformed, There was no organisation; all was spontaneous and of the Spirit. Unbelievers in the hills would be convicted of their sins in the middle of the night, and would come running to the church. Old feuds would be mended, stolen property would be restored, and people were becoming followers of Christ by the thousand.

Kabale, South-West Uganda – a great centre of the East African Revival

Marked features of the Revival were, first, that it stayed within the established churches; second, that those caught up in it were unashamed and bold in their witness; third, that it was anchored in the central truths of the Gospel – and fourth, that it had an ethical dimension. Sin mattered, repentance was vital, holiness was imperative, and Christians should walk in the light with one another, with honesty. And…. there was a Devil nearby!

“The Devil is not afraid of people singing and jumping for joy in times of revival!’ declared Festo Kivengere. “He doesn’t say, ‘Stop jumping,’ because he knows they enjoy it. All he says is, Jump a little higher – and the higher you jump, the more ‘spiritual’ you are!

“The wind of heaven has come, and people shake. I’ve seen people fall down, Then the devil comes very easily and says to the people who shook, ‘Now to experience the power of God, you have to shake!. If you don’t shake, you haven’t got it.’ So you can find brethren fighting over whether you should shake, shout, jump, or act in a particular way.”

Always it is the centre of the Revival that has to be guarded; the preaching of the Cross, the Person of Christ and the response of repentance and faith. “Please don’t speak about the Revival,” urged Willam Nagenda repeatedly, “Let us talk about Jesus.”

Millions get touched, when the Spirit of God is moving in power. Could it happen in the materialistic West? Will Revival come?

Old Bishop Butler could have wondered the same, when he saw the state of England’s morals in the eighteenth century; the courseness, disease, the workhouse and perhaps, above all, the curse of gin. But England had its revival none the less. Stoned by the mob at the start, John Wesley found himself feted fifty years later, and local city mayors would proclaim a holiday when the celebrated preacher rode in to town.

Don’t say “It cannot happen today.” The important question is Are you and I revived? There is a prayer that many before us have prayed; let us make it our own!O God, send a REVIVAL - and begin it in me