At the Gate: Revive Us Again!

Sitting at the gate, I see the nature and purpose of revivals. In seminary, I took a course about revivals. The focus was on revivals in the Bible, with extra time given to those in Isaiah 6 and Acts 2. Some attention was given to revivals in subsequent church history. We learned that revivals always have personal and collective dimensions—individual and institutional impacts. When revivals are assessed, both aspects must be included.

Revivals change individuals. We refer to this as conversion, re-commitment, etc. When revivals occur, people affected by them may look back upon them for the rest of their lives. They will say, “It was there…it was then that I _______.” In revival, we give thanks for every good and perfect gift that God gives to individuals.

But if that is where our assessment of revivals ends, it fails to take into account the second factor. Revivals change communities/institutions. As Timothy Smith showed in his landmark study, revivals always ignite fresh waves of social reform. [1] They draw the circle wider, moving communities into greater inclusion where they “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God “ (Micah 6:8). In the Wesleyan tradition, this is social holiness

In the seminary course, the professor zeroed in on both aspects of revival, showing how people were changed (Acts 2:41-44) and the Christian community itself was transformed (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35, 6:1-7). The depth and breadth of collective change is seen in the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian community (Acts 10 and Acts 15), and in the counter-cultural dynamic of radical inclusion (Galatians 3:28).

From my course in seminary, I learned that when revival breaks out, if it is genuine, it will change people…and…communities. If it does the first thing without the second, it does not mean God did a partial work; it means that we dammed up the flow of God’s Spirit short of its intended, complete work. Changed lives are the commencement of changed communities. When we say, “Do it again, Lord,” we must mean both individual and institutional change. When we sing, “Revive us again,” we must mean the “us” part. Institutions where revivals occur must be changed along with the individuals who are changed during them—changed in deeper and wider ways, in ways that increase inclusion in the Body of Christ.

[1] Timothy L. Smith, ‘Revivalism and Social Reform’ (Abingdon Press, 1957). It remains in print today in a variety of formats.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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