Fear of Revival I — Controversy and Change

If we find a revival that is not spoken against, we had better look again to ensure that it is a revival.  —Arthur Wallis: In the Day of Thy Power

A major reason why so many pastors and church leaders shy away from seeking a revival is because they know it will bring a tremendous amount of controversy and change, which they are reluctant to deal with.

The revival at Pentecost is a classic example of what problems revival will bring. From that initial outpouring at Pentecost until now, revivals have been controversial, disturbing and confusing. They often look better from a distance–like in Africa, or in history books. Up close they look, sound, and become very messy.

Noisy outbursts of strange behavior such as speaking in tongues may cause huge crowds to come and see what is going on, even before any preaching begins (Acts 2:6).

Preachers may have to explain that they and their friends are not drunk as everyone thinks they are (Acts 2:13-15).

Hundreds or thousands of brand new Christians may suddenly invade your church with all the problems and possibilities they bring (Acts 2:41).

People in authority may object violently to these disturbing developments, especially if they involve healing in Jesus’ name without any doctor present, and thousands more believing in Jesus ‑ without even a New Testament to guide them (Acts 4:1‑4).

Those are the messy and wonderful problems typical of revival.
–Geoff Waugh: Revival Fires

Another reason why pastors and church leaders would prefer revival come to churches, other than their own, is because they don’t want their people, or their security disturbed, as Mills explains in his book Preparing for Revival:

We are afraid of disturbing people today. You must not have their emotions stirred, you must not have people weeping in a meeting, you must not have people rolling on the floor under conviction of sins (or jumping as they did in Wales, or being prostrated by the Spirit, as occurs frequently in times of revival). Keep things orderly, we say.

Ian Malins, in his book Prepare the Way for Revival, gives the below seven reasons why pastors and church leaders fear revivals:

1. Fear to confess publicly that they [and their church] have wandered and grown cold.

2. Fear of change.

3. Fear of disorder.

a. Everything must be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).

b. Sometimes we confuse order with peace, quietness, and a controlled program, and think there is confusion when these are absent. Jonathan Edwards considered it no more confusion than if a group of people should meet in the field to pray for rain and then be disturbed from their praying by a heavy shower. The criticisms that fell on John Wesley, George Whitefield, and many past revival movements have sometimes been based on the wrong understanding of order. The stories of past revivals are full of descriptions of people weeping, shaking, crying out, falling down and sometimes becoming deeply troubled. Such events can threaten us and cause fear, because they are strange and unfamiliar. If we think that revival must be “decent and orderly” (and define this as meaning quietness, human control and predictability), then we do not understand what revival is and cut ourselves off from what has happened in nearly every revival in history.

4. Fear of Emotion

a. We should not be afraid of emotion but emotionalism. Emotions are the natural feelings that arise within us in response to what is happening around or within us. But emotionalism is the stirring up of emotions in order to make people respond in certain ways. When others try to stir or control our emotions, this can lead to all kinds of extremes.

b. Jonathan Edwards was convinced that nothing of spiritual importance ever took place in a human heart if it was not deeply touched by such Godly emotions.

5. Fear of Excesses

Yes, there will be fleshly imitations during a revival. Yes, there will be Satanic counterfeits. Yes, there is also the genuine move of the Holy Spirit that appears at times very excessive! It is important to realize that revival is never pure. The river of God will always stir up mud along the banks. There will always be those who go to fleshly extremes and bring dishonor on the whole. And there will always be critics who make much of this! We must judge a revival by its center, not its extremes. The following questions could be asked when judging a revival:

i. What is the fruit?

ii. Is there faithfulness to the Word of God?

iii. Is there deep sorrow over sin and a turning away from it?

iv. Are people’s lives being changed?

v. Are they more in love with Jesus than before?

vi. Are they hungrier for His Word?

vii. Have their hearts been set on fire with a new love for Jesus?

viii. Is there a deepening desire for holiness?

ix. Do they have a new desire to serve God and win others for Christ?

This is the center of any true move of God. If we focus on the failures of people touched by revival, we may miss the real thing.

6. Fear of Error

a. This is why biblical teaching and discipleship training are so important before and during times of revival. John Wesley, during the revival in England, made sure those awakened by revival were joined into small discipleship groups.

b. Revival brings the fire, but the Word of God provides the fuel to keep the fire burning.

c. Without the Word of God revival can quickly die or leave people with spiritual anemia or malnutrition.

7. Fear of Losing Control

a. Any pastor should rightly oppose extremes and errors in revival movements, but not opposition to the genuine work of God itself.

b. Do pastors or other church leaders feel that their position or place of importance is being threatened? That was the reason why religious leaders crucified Jesus and persecuted the early disciples. And this is one reason why revivals have always caused argument and opposition, right up to today.


Robert Evans, in his book Fire From Heaven, indicates that another highly probably reason why some pastors don’t want to make a big issue out of revivals is that revivals have become discredited. People who are interested in revivals are pushed onto the fringe in many denominations and churches, or are forced to leave. If there is a person who begins to talk about a genuine God sent revival, they are “considered to be decidedly odd, and to be someone who is pursuing a useless pastime, unworthy of serious consideration.”

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