From Your Pastor: Presbyterian Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition

Reformed teacher Robert Davis Smart asks an important and pointed question in the book Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition: “What Presbyterian today is there who prays for the outpouring of God’s Spirit?”[1] Let us prayerfully consider his question. Is there anything particularly unusual about having the words “Pentecostal” and “Reformed” in the same title of a book made up of Reformed scholars teaching on the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in revival? Though the term “Pentecostal” has been abused by well-meaning Christians, it is actually a biblical term that should be used more often by scholars, pastors, and laypersons in the Reformed tradition.

We should be reminded that “Pentecostal” simply refers to Christ, who is the Source of all Holy-Spiritual benefits and blessings for His Church. We who are confessional and Reformed, who seek to be Christocentric (Christ-centered) in our emphasis on the Person and Work of Christ, should understand that “Pentecostal” first and foremost refers to the Source of all power and blessings on God’s people as the Ascended-Enthroned Christ continues His work in and through us to the ends of the world (Acts 2:33-41; Matt. 28:18-20).[2] The book Pentecostal Outpourings is an outstanding book of essays by various scholars, pastors, and teachers in the Reformed Tradition to “promote the knowledge of God, the gospel of Christ, and the great outpourings of the Spirit through a variety of Reformed authors reflecting and applying historical and biblical lessons for today’s Christian leader”.[3]

What are genuine revivals? Revivals are genuine movements or outpourings of the Spirit upon the Church when God does a mighty work above His normal working through the ordinary means of grace (preaching, sacraments). It is important to note that a revival is foremost the “sovereign, extraordinary, saving activity of the Holy Spirit and is characterized by an intense sense of God’s presence.”[4] Yet a revival can be confused with “revivalism”. A revival refers to the genuine and sovereign work of God’s Spirit in contrast to the counterfeit work of man in “revivalism”.[5] To use a popular distinction: Revival is “prayed down”, through humility and faithfulness to God’s means of grace in the Church; Revivalism is “worked up”, through the plans, powers, and techniques of man to produce certain quantifiable results.[6] As Pastor Eifion Evans wrote helpfully, revivalism tends to deny “God’s sovereignty and providential order”, and the essentially “inward nature of regeneration and substitutes an outward profession or response for the evidence of a transformed lifestyle.”[7]

Revivalism has at least three important characteristics: 1) It is man-centered. The focus is a man-centered “decisionism” rather than the preaching of Christ, His Person and work; 2) It is “worked up” through emotions. There is a focus on entertainment, particularly in emotional and sentimental music; 3) It tends toward individualism away from a visible, orthodox congregation of saints. There is a separation from, and sometimes complete neglect of the visible church, the importance of church membership, and the important submission to pastor-elders.

We should note that the experience of God’s love, and true emotions of joy and praise of God are important, and are legitimate responses to revival, but these must always be tethered to God’s Word. The Spirit works through His word. Therefore, the reactions and experiences of folks to the Holy Spirit, like the revival itself, must always be tethered to God’s holy, breathed-out Word. We must see to it that genuine revival never devolves into revivalism. Though there are abuses and misunderstandings, true and genuine revival ought to be sought out by those in the Reformed tradition. In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) commented that

“There is no subject which is of greater importance to the Christian church at the present time than that of revival. It should be the theme of our constant meditation, preaching and prayers.”[8]

The book Pentecostal Outpourings defines a genuine revival specifically as the time when the “presence of God’s Spirit has been experienced by His people in a particularly powerful way.[9] Additionally, a genuine revival represents

The powerful work of the Holy Spirit in which there is recovered a new awareness of the holiness of God among His people. This heightened knowledge brings in a new season of the conviction of sin, which, in turn, leads to heartrending repentance. This lowly humility ushers in an awakened love for Christ. Believers begin to pursue personal holiness. Love for other believers intensifies. The gospel spreads like wildfire. Sinners are brought to faith in Christ, and the church is enlarged and empowered.[10]

Note the characteristics of a genuine revival here. If KCPC experienced a genuine revival, what would it look like? Both personally (individually) and corporately (as a congregation), because of the Holy Spirit’s powerful working, there would be a deeper awareness of God’s holiness and character. This would produce a greater fear, awe, and reverence for God. This deeper awareness of God would cause us to see more clearly the depths of our depravity and need for more Christ, and a deeper repentance. More particularly, a “heartrending” repentance because we would be sorry not merely for the consequences of our sins, but because our sins offend God and hurt others. There would be a deep, spiritual humility that would love Christ more, and desire to be holy, gentle, more like Him. This would cause us to overflow in love for one another, and more of a concern for the souls of men, that would cause the gospel to spread. The church would grow both spiritually and numerically.

In times of true revival in church history, it was not the opposition to the revivals that were as problematic as the so-called “friends” of the revival. One tremendous problem of revivals in church history has been the problem of a counterfeiting of the Spirit’s holy work.[11] Revivals have been criticized in church history because of emotionalism, and because personal testimony time could replace the preaching of God’s Word, and sound, biblical exposition.[12] Furthermore, revivals could be too “emotionally driven” and downplay the good of denominational distinctions, “watering down” theological truths.[13] Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), sometimes called the “Theologian of Revival”, was mightily used by God’s Spirit as a minister of the First Great Awakening in North America (ca. 1730s-40s). Edwards is remembered for faithfully defending revival on two fronts: (1) The rejection of fanaticism (or “friends” of revival) and, (2) Anti-revivalism (“opposers” of revival, or those suspect of all revivals). Edwards’ revival theology was to encourage ministers and churches to seek God for more “outpourings of the Spirit”, and to defend this as a Presbyterian credenda (something believed and confessed) and agenda (something done, or lived out).[14] Edwards rightly warned critics of genuine revival when he said, “To oppose a genuine revival is to oppose God Himself”.[15]

Against both counterfeit fanaticism and anti-revivalism, Edwards wrote that a genuine and true revival could be recognized by a few important characteristics:

  1. Christ-centered: True revival makes much of Jesus Christ, not a focus on self;
  2. Humble, Other-worldliness: True revival operates against Satan, the world, and the flesh;
  3. Use of Means of Grace: In true revival there is a higher regard for Scripture and preaching;
  4. Witness and Seal of the Spirit: The Spirit of truth witnesses to genuine revival’s validity;
  5. Personally, Congregationally, Culturally Transformative: A change of heart evidences itself in love to God and others (this has societal and cultural implications).[16]

Prayer is of utmost importance for revival. The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. Prayer, because it is a weapon common to all who are friends of truth and holiness, is one sphere in which Christians can present a fully united front against Satan.[17] Jonathan Edwards wrote concerning the importance of prayer:

When God is about to bestow some great blessing on His church, it is often His manner in the first place, so to order things in His providence as to show His church their great need of it, and to bring them into distress for want of it, and so put them upon earnestly crying to Him for it.[18]

Edwards’ pastoral-theological instinct was “simply to prayerfully seek and expect from God ‘outpourings of the Holy Spirit’ as the central means of spreading Christianity until the Consummation”.[19]

We ought to pray for revival as Reformed folks at KCPC. In fact, without true and genuine revival, we can never be continually reforming as we necessarily need to be doing! The main point of this fine book Pentecostal Outpourings is that both true reformation and genuine revival should be part of the Reformed church experience. Let us at KCPC be characterized by faith and prayer, and particularly faith in prayer, and more particularly faithful prayer to God for the Sovereign working of God’s Spirit. True revival will never depend upon techniques and the self-centered works of men. We must seek God for outpourings of His Spirit, while remaining ever faithful to the preaching of God’s Word, and the means of grace He has graciously provided for His church to accomplish the mission He has given us. Let us pray and wait upon God to bring revival. Let us be full of hopeful expectation, while acknowledging God’s sovereign Spirit and perfect timing.  Further reformation will hopefully come through revival as we pray that God’s Spirit would be pleased to grant us His power and grace.

As God’s people at KCPC, let us prayerfully and discerningly remember that though Pentecostalism and revivalism are counterfeits, and therefore not from God, we do not want to overreact to the terms Pentecost, Pentecostal, or Revival, and so prejudice ourselves against, or perhaps oppose the legitimate and genuine work of God’s Spirit. Let us remember the warning of Edwards that to oppose true revival is to oppose God. Yet let us seek a true Christian experience rooted in God’s Word, bathed in prayer, filled with the Spirit, and let us desire the pure fruits of the Holy Spirit as we live out our lives. Let us be thankful to God for revival, as we wait upon the LORD through faithful ministry and prayer.

Let us pray for revival, dearly beloved! Only God can grant genuine revival to us, our larger presbytery, denomination, and other faithful, Gospel-preaching churches in our community. Amen and amen.

 

In Christ’s love, and for a Presbycostal Revival and Reformation! Amen and amen.

Pastor Biggs

 

 

[1] Robert Davis Smart, Michael A. G. Haykin, Ian Hugh Clary, eds. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), Kindle Loc. 3545. Note: I also used the Kindle version of this book. Location numbers rather than page numbers will be used in footnotes if I’m referring to Kindle version.

[2] Perhaps “Presbycostal” would be a helpful term?

[3] Ibid., x.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] Kindle Loc. 2787.

[6] Kindle Loc. 1239.

[7] Ibid., 19.

[8] Ibid., vii, from forward by Steve Lawson.

[9] Kindle Loc. 707.

[10] Ibid., vii.

[11] Kindle Loc. 806.

[12] Kindle Loc. 1128.

[13] Kindle Loc. 1144, 1216. In fact, it was the excess, emotionalism, watering down of theological truths, and undermining of the local church and her ministry in some of the so-called revivals that caused the Presbyterians to split between Old and New School divisions in 1837. Old School Presbyterians who opposed revivals were concerned about what they observed to be merely city organizing and marketing and celebrities being used with revival techniques outside the authority of regional presbyteries, and incorporating a mixture of theologies and an element of entertainment. As a pastor who would be theologically and ideologically characterized as an Old School Presbyterian, I nevertheless, believe true and genuine revivals are most important for the church. We should be concerned about the counterfeits, but seek for the authentic and genuine revivals of God’s Spirit.

[14] Kindle Loc. 3150.

[15] Kindle Loc. 4109.

[16] Kindle Loc. 4099.

[17] Kindle Loc. 2049, 2109.

[18] Kindle Loc. 4147.

[19] Kindle Loc. 3116.

From Your Pastor: The Spirituality of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Our godly forefather, Jonathan Edwards, wrote his classic The Religious Affections[1] to both define and defend genuine revival and the true, Holy-Spiritual wrought spirituality that should flow from it. What are the characteristics of a true and genuine spirituality that Edwards listed that must be present in true conversion, and that believers can expect in the Christian life? I have listed them below, adding scripture references, and my own pastoral comments.[2]

Edwards’ 12 points on genuine spirituality can be helpful in urging us on to high aspirations in our spirituality, as well as to also help us to exam ourselves to reach assurance in our faith (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-11; 2 Cor. 13:5). Let me encourage you to take each of these before the Throne of Grace, and be honest with Christ from your heart. God desires and delights in “truth in the inward being. Whatever need we have, He provides a Mediator for us full of grace (Psa. 51:6; cf. John 1:14b; Heb. 4:16).

 

  1. The Indwelling of the Spirit: “Be filled with the Spirit”. All genuine spirituality or revival (personally or corporately in a congregation) begins with God; He alone is sovereign and grants the Spirit according to His good pleasure (Luke 11:13; John 6:37, 44; Acts 16:14b). The faith that the Spirit gives the elect in regeneration is “an ardent (enthusiastic!) thing,” says Edwards (Eph. 2:8-10). The greatest gift Jesus gives to believers is His Holy Spirit. Edwards wrote that “the sum of the blessings that Christ bought by what He did and suffered in the work of redemption” are found in the gift of the Spirit. Father, grant that I truly know you through Jesus Christ, and give me your Holy Spirit as you have promised (John 14:21, 23; 16:13-14; Acts 2:33-36).

 

  1. True Love for God: “Do you love me?” Genuine spirituality loves God more for who He is (His character), and not merely for what He has done for us in Christ (His redemption). Both are important, but we love God ultimately because He is love and beautiful in Himself, lest He merely become a “means to an end” (cf. John 6:26-29). We shouldn’t love Him merely for saving us, but because He is great and greatly to be praised! We should grow in our love for His holiness, His steadfast, covenant love, His perfections, His Aseity (or glorious self-existence!)—all of the glorious attributes that reveal our glorious God! (Rom. 11:33-36). Father, grant me a holy vision of your beauty and holiness through the Spirit as Isaiah experienced (cf. Isa. 6:1-9).

 

  1. A Spiritual Sight: “Open my eyes…” Genuine spirituality brings a new way of perceiving reality. A love for holiness, for the things of God. We sense the glory and beauty of God more deeply, and His love for us in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:17-18; 3:17-19). We can “taste and see” that the LORD is good (Psa. 34:8). Father, illuminate my eyes and give me the sight to see your beauty and the beauty of holiness and righteousness.

 

  1. An Enlightened Mind: “Whatever things are true…” Genuine spirituality bring a love for the truth as God reveals Himself in creation, conscience, and especially in Holy Scripture (John 17:17-19; Rom. 1:19ff; 2:14-16; Phil. 4:8). Father, my God, and king, grant me a deeper love for your truth—especially Biblical-Theological truth.

 

  1. Deep-Seated Conviction: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness…” Genuine spiritual brings not merely a love for truth, but a deep conviction, zeal, and boldness to confess it, to obey it, to teach it (Acts 4:29, 31; 5:29; 28:31; 1 Thess. 1:5; Heb. 11:1; Matt. 16:17; John 6:68-69).

 

  1. Evangelical Humility: “Humble yourselves before God…” Genuine spirituality produces a deep humility. Our greatest issue, Edwards wrote, is that we struggle with pride. Spiritual pride is the major reason for serious blockage of the Spirit’s working in the Christian life (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:6; Rom. 12:3). Edwards wrote, “Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ.” A truly spiritual person is aware of deep self-righteousness within them, and sees its own poverty and need for the grace of God (Rom. 7:19-21; Rev. 3:17). Father, grant me the humility of the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:21; 2:6-8). Father, grant me humility as I walk before you; like the Lord Jesus, grant me a willingness to die to self, and contentedness to be overlooked and forgotten.

 

  1. Roots in True Conversion: But God, rich in mercy…made us alive in Christ…” Genuine spirituality doesn’t necessarily know the exact date of one’s conversion, but knows that it has taken place, and can determine at least the time period in which they were born again and made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1-5; John 3:3-8). We should ask: “Has true conversion taken place in my life?” Sin’s dominion has been broken in conversion, and there are roots of this in the past, and present fruits to some degree (Rom. 6:11-18; 8:9-11). Father, let me have assurance that my present state before you is rooted in true conversion.

 

  1. Christ-like Gentleness: “…For I am gentle and lowly in heart…” Genuine spirituality possesses increasingly the “lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ” (cf. Isa. 40:11; 42:3; Matt. 11:29; 2 Tim. 2:19-25; James 3:17). Edwards wrote, “Christian boldness and zeal are indeed a flame, but a sweet one.” Father, grant me the gentleness of Jesus, while being bold and zealous for the truth.

 

  1. A Tender Heart: “How can do this…and sin against God?!” Genuine spirituality has a tender heart towards God. Edwards describes this tenderness before God “like a burnt child that dreads the fire.” Increasingly, we fear hell less, and fear sin more. Increasingly, we fear with a deep dread offending God our Father who has shown such kindness to us. We fear less the consequences of sin (though we hate these, too!), and more the offense sin brings to God (Gen. 39:9b; Matt. 26:41; 1 Pet. 3:8). Sin is a destroyer—and the Evil One seeks to use it to kill and destroy our lives, and our communion with God (John 10:10; 1 Pet. 5:8). Father, grant me a tender heart like you have. Let me hate sin as you hate sin. Let me never offend you.

 

  1. Balance and Harmony: “…Walking in the fear of the LORD and the comfort of the Holy Spirit…” Genuine spirituality brings a balance and harmony to Christian lives. There will be holy fear and joy that will be realized at the same time (Acts 9:31); there will be suffering and persecution and a fearless thrill to be honored with Christ (John 16:33; Matt. 5:10-12); there will be sacrifice and self-control with complete contentment and satisfaction (Phil. 4:13; Titus 2:11-14); there will be a zeal for the truth, but a humility about the truth (2 Tim. 2:22-25; Acts 18:25-26); there will be withdrawal for prayer and communion with an availability when needed (Mark 1:35-38; 3:7-10; 6:46ff). Father, grant me a balanced heart.

 

  1. Holy Breathing and Panting After God: “As the deer pants after the waters…” Genuine spirituality possesses a desire to know Christ better. There is a hunger and thirsting after righteousness found in Christ (Psa. 42:1; 119: 131; Matt. 5:6; 2 Pet. 1:5-9). The more one knows Christ, the more one wants more of Him—less of oneself—a deeper breathing and panting for a holier life. There is a deeper satisfaction that fills the believer as they seek Him (Psa. 131; cf. John 6:34-44). Father, grant me a holy hunger!

 

  1. Fruitful in Christ: “Whoever abides in me…bears much fruit.” Genuine spirituality is fruitful; it possesses the Fruit of the Spirit (John 15:1-15; Gal. 5:22-23). This fruitfulness is manifested in three ways: 1) It seeks to live according to God’s commandments; 2) It seeks to be zealous for good works in the church and the culture; 3) It perseveres by faith in dependence upon the Spirit of God. Works do not save us, but we cannot be saved without them (John 15:13-17; Matt. 5:17-19; Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; 3:8). Father, let me glorify you in my good works; let me adorn the gospel truths that I know through by working, fruitful, obedient, and persevering faith!

 

After prayerfully meditating upon these, do you need to be born again? Do you need revival in your present condition? Christ stands full of the Spirit at God’s right hand ready to give the Spirit to all those for whom He gave His life. Need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Does KCPC need an outpouring of this powerful Spirit? Let us ask the Father for this great gift in Christ our Mediator. Amen and amen.

 

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

 

[1] Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959).

[2] The Scripture references I have used are not necessarily those used by Edwards, but texts that seemed to support the truths he wrote about.