"Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth." (Psalm 119:88)
Fourteen times in the Book of Psalms the traditional English Bible translates a Hebrew word "quicken" which fourteen other times in the Old Testament is rendered "revive." That word means to bring back to life, and refers to the restoration of physical, emotional, or spiritual health. Eleven of the places where it is translated "quicken" are in Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. Nearly every one of the 176 verses in that psalm makes some reference to God's written Word. Sometimes it is called "the law of the LORD," or at least the verse uses the word "law." Other times the Word of God is called "his testimonies" or "precepts." Some verses speak of it as "thy word" or "thy statutes" or "thy commandments" or "thy judgments," but the psalmist is speaking of the scriptures all the way through. Verse 88 calls God's Word "the testimony of thy mouth."
Psalm 119 is about the transforming effect the Word of God has on the life of a young man who is seeking to be holy. The key to the whole chapter is verse 9:
"Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word."
As already noted, this psalm includes a number of references to revival, including several prayers that the Lord "quicken" (revive) the psalmist. In each of these prayers a connection is made between revival and God's Word. In some of the prayers, the Word is the object or goal of the reviving, and in others it is the agent or means of the reviving.
When the Word of God is the object of revival, the psalmist is asking to be revived (restored to spiritual, emotional, or physical health or life) in order to obey God's Word.
"quicken thou me according to thy word." (verses 25, 107, and 154)
"quicken thou me in thy way." (verse 37)
"quicken me in thy righteousness." (verse 40)
"quicken me according to thy judgment." (verses 149 and 156)
When Psalm 119 refers to the Word of God as the agent of revival, it teaches that the Word is used by God to produce the revival!
"thy word hath quickened me." (verse 50)
"I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me." (verse 93).
Again and again, spiritual revival is connected with the Word of God, and particularly with obedience to the Word. The young man wants to obey God's Word, and he needs to be revived in order to do it. He prays for the revival (quickening) he needs, and God uses that very Word to give him the revival he seeks.
The Bible does not contrast allegiance to divinely-revealed truth with spiritual experience, or separate obedience from revival. It puts the two together. The experience of real revival produces allegiance to the truth. Remember that the Lord Jesus said men must worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24). Doctrine and experience are not rivals; they are partners. The Holy Spirit never draws us away from objective truth; Jesus named Him "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17). And so revival and fundamentalism go together. Revival involves spiritual experience, and fundamentalism involves obedience to the Word.
- Fundamentalism and Revivalism
Let us not be confused by all of the incorrect definitions given to the word "fundamentalism" today. Fundamentalism, in the history of American Christianity, is a grassroots movement that began in the early twentieth century among the great evangelical denominations. It was a reaction against the rise of "liberal" theology in the church organizations, and it insisted on defining Christianity in objective, doctrinal terms. The true Gospel teaches certain fundamental truths, and any denial of any of these fundamentals constitutes, they said, the rejection of the Gospel. Liberalism had crept into academic institutions and prominent pulpits of the major denominations during the last half of the nineteenth century. It was produced on one hand by the acceptance of the theory of evolution, resulting in the rejection of the traditional, face-value understanding of the Bible. This abandonment of biblical literalism combined with the development of the new "social gospel" message (which concentrated on the salvation of society as opposed to the salvation of individual souls), and gave us liberalism. Liberalism then gave the churches a new mission which did not require faith in the Bible as infallible or faithfulness to orthodox theology. Liberal theology was popular among the leadership of the churches as the new century dawned, but it had not been accepted in the pews or by many less prominent preachers and scholars. When the teachings of the liberals became known to the rank-and-file, fundamentalism arose. To deny the accuracy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ, or the reality of regeneration is to abandon true Christianity, the fundamentalists proclaimed. The liberals are not Christians, and do not belong on the church payroll!
Early expressions of the fundamentalist reaction included the publication just before World War I of a series of essays called The Fundamentals, which defended the historic Christian faith and was widely distributed among Christian workers across the country. Then came the formation of such organizations as the World's Christian Fundamentals Association and the Baptist Bible Union. It sparked the "fundamentalist-modernist controversy" which raged in the 1920s and the early '30s in the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations. Fundamentalism was important to America's religious, cultural, and political history, and both the movement and its effects continue to this day.
Fundamentalism did not actually include what we will call revivalism as a necessary tenet. Certainly some of the early and many of the later fundamentalists would not agree to be called advocates of revivalism. But it is a fact that the first fundamentalists, the ones who supported and forwarded the movement, were largely products of revivals. Fundamentalism arose out of two nineteenth-century developments among evangelicals in our country: the premillenialism of the Bible Conferences and the revivalism of the evangelistic campaigns. Premillenialism is not a necessary facet of fundamentalism, but most of the prominent fundamentalists were premillenialists. And most of the influential fundamentalists favored what we will call revivalism.
Correct definitions are always important in understanding religious history. Here are two we must understand in order to consider revivalistic fundamentalism:
- Fundamentalism: Theology that defines Christianity in terms of its essential (fundamental) doctrines. Fundamentalists are naturally militant and separatistic because they insist that only those who affirm these doctrines (the infallibility of the Bible, the deity of Christ, His blood atonement, His bodily resurrection, and justification by faith in Him alone) may be regarded as Christians.
Revivalism: The approach to Christian spirituality that regards revival as the work of God that restores believers to spiritual health, bringing them back to the level of consecration and faith required in the Bible for the fullness of blessing. It affirms that God will revive His people when they meet His conditions.
A clearer understanding of these terms is gained when we define contrasting terms:
- Evangelicalism: Theology that believes in the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel (See above). Fundamentalists are evangelicals, but many evangelicals today are not fundamentalists because they do not insist that the fundamentals are fundamental to the Christian Gospel. In other words they think that one might disbelieve one or more of these doctrines and still be a true Christian.
Anti-Revivalism: Opposition to revivalism which acknowledges revival, but views it as a sovereign act of God for which believers should not seek or pray. It says that God revives His people as He wills, without reference to any faith, repentance, prayer, or obedience on their part. There are no conditions on the basis of which God promises to revive us.
There have always been both revivalistic and anti-revivalistic fundamentalists. Today the anti-revivalists want to contrast revival and revivalism. They say that revival is good, but any effort of men to obtain it is wrong. Revival, they insist, comes down from God and cannot be worked up by men. But no reputable and reasonable revivalist of the past or present has taught that spiritual renewal can be worked up by human emotion or persuasion. They have always preached that real revival is prayed down and gained from God by turning the heart. See what the Bible says.
"Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you . . ." (Zechariah 1:3)
"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. . ." (James 4:8)
There can be no doubt that the early fundamentalists were mostly people who believed that God is willing to revive His people when they are willing to turn wholeheartedly to Him. They enthusiastically embraced revivalism.
Revivalistic Hope Among Fundamentalists.
Historian Joel Carpenter asserts that the revivalistic doctrines which characterized the so-called "Keswick" movement of the turn of the century "permeated North American fundamentalism" in the early days, and had "proven especially attractive to the. . . generation who laid the foundations for fundamentalism."1 These teachings were formulated as the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was examined very seriously during the eras of the great American national revivals. Various teachings in regard to the work of the Spirit were developed and advocated by different groups. Distinctively Wesleyan holiness doctrines were formulated and promoted by the Arminians. Charles Finney and his followers in the traditionally Calvinistic bodies taught their own version of revivalism. The original Keswick movement (named for the place in England where conventions were held that featured these views) found the middle ground between the second-blessing, perfectionist doctrines and the Reformed views of sanctification. All of this talk about the ministry of the Spirit arose because of the powerful work of the Spirit that many experienced during the revivals. No one could deny it. Men were studying the Bible seeking to explain it! The teachings that were given the "Keswick" label came from the New Testament doctrine of sanctification by faith. Victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil, is accomplished by faith in Christ and His triumph at the cross, the empty tomb, and at the right hand of the Father. Those who depend on Christ for this victory experience the power of His resurrection through His indwelling Spirit. These truths most of the first fundamentalist leaders believed.
A good number of the essays in The Fundamentals expound revival truths, especially those later published together as Volume III, such as
- THE DOCTRINES THAT MUST BE EMPHASIZED IN SUCCESSFUL EVANGELISM by L.W. Munhall,
- PASTORAL AND PERSONAL EVANGELISM by J. T. Stone,
- THE SUNDAY SCHOOL'S TRUE EVANGELISM by Charles G. Trumbull,
- THE PLACE OF PRAYER IN EVANGELISM by R.A. Torrey, and
- CONSECRATION by H.W. Frost.
Some of the writers also expressed appreciation for the powerful revivals that had taken place in several regions (notably Wales and Korea) a few years before.
However, as the fundamentalist movement developed over the decades, some changes in regard to its views of revival took place. By the end of the 1920s, the fundamentalists had lost the battle to remove the liberals from the church organizations. The Northern Baptist Convention decided to stop all the fighting and leave the liberals in their places. The Northern Presbyterian Church decided to discipline and expel the fundamentalists for causing trouble. In the 1930s, Bible-believers were making up their minds about whether they would "come out" (II Corinthians 6:17) of the denominations that were tolerating liberalism and form new separated fellowships, or stay in the old bodies and try to maintain a testimony for the Gospel within them. Some started distinctly fundamentalist denominations, like the Bible Presbyterian Church, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, and the Evangelical Methodist Church . Others started para-church ministries that worked with both come-out and stay-in churches. Many others chose to overlook the problem of working with men and institutions that deny the Faith, and just continued their affiliation with the mainline denominations.
This was a time of discouragement among the fundamentalists. Carpenter says that some adopted a new approach to the challenges they faced through a new application of the premillenial interpretation of the Bible. "Premillenial" means that one believes that the Kingdom of God on earth will not come until the King (Jesus Christ) comes. Jesus must come again before (pre-) the Kingdom (millennium) comes. Premillenialists rejected the "postmillennial" doctrine so widely accepted in the nineteenth century that the church would bring in the Kingdom by gradually purifying society all over the world until mankind finally bows as a whole to the rule of Jesus Christ. Then the King would come. Social-gospel liberalism fit will into postmillennial eschatology, just as fundamentalism arose naturally out of premillenialism. Premillenialists did not expect things to get better and better. In some ways, they were sure that things would get worse and worse (II Timothy 3:13). However most early premillenialists believed that the worsening of the world would not prevent the coming of great revivals. Revivals could be expected right up to the setting up of Christ's Kingdom. But in the '30s, some of their leaders openly despaired of this possibility, and began to teach that the defilement of the churches along with the moral decline of the world had already made widespread revival impossible. 2
The New Evangelicalism.
Not all of the fundamentalists took this less hopeful view of revival. There was a real difference between them on this issue. And another issue divided them, too. Many of the revivalistic fundamentalists were cooperating in the 1930s and early 1940s to organize great revival campaigns like those of the past. Because of the failure to expel the apostates from the denominations, the issue of separation from heresy arose to trouble them. Some could see that faithful Christians must separate from the false teachers by leaving the inclusive church bodies. However, many evangelicals had not come to this conclusion, nor taken this kind of action. So now the question was, What should separated fundamentalists do about the brethren who had not separated themselves from the apostasy? God's servants must not fellowship religiously with the liberals, but could they cooperate in spiritual endeavors with those who were still in fellowship with the liberals? The controversy over this issue eventually led to a split among evangelicals that renamed many as "New Evangelicals" while retaining the name "fundamentalist" for others. The New Evangelicals at first approved of cooperation between separated and non-separated brethren, and eventually they also approved of cooperation with the liberals. Their representative organization was the National Association of Evangelicals, their most famous figure was Billy Graham, and their main publication was Christianity Today. They became committed to the stay-in position, advocating infiltration instead of biblical separation.
The way the two controversies among fundamentalists in the '30s and '40s (revivalism and separatism) affected each other is both interesting and important. Unfortunately most of the revivalistic fundamentalists joined the New Evangelicalism. These were great men, many of them, but somehow they did not see the connection between revival and commitment to the commandments of God. Of course, the New Evangelicals never saw the great revivals they sought, certainly for the very reason they had veered from traditional fundamentalism: they failed to divide the light from the darkness (note Genesis 1:4).
The Continuation of Fundamentalist Revivalism.
But not all of the revivalists abandoned fundamentalism. Several notable men continued to raise the banner of contending for the Faith, while also seeking revival. Maybe the most important of them was John R. Rice. As a widely-used evangelist and the editor of the "revival weekly," The Sword of the Lord, Dr. Rice was a strong voice for revivalism from the 1940s until his death in 1980. He said in 1948, "Many people think that a revival is like lightning, it just strikes where it will and you cannot foretell where it will happen. Now, that is not true. Revivals come wherever God's people get ready and have a revival." 3 Of course, this typical statement of John Rice reflects the classic definition of revivalism. But Rice remained a true fundamentalist and promoted revivalistic fundamentalism through his many books and publications, and also in the numerous (and some of them large) Sword of the Lord Conferences around the country.
Yet the fundamentalist movement was certainly not taken over by revivalism in the middle twentieth century. The old idea that no great revival can come before Jesus comes had many adherents, and there was a quiet division among them over the issue, even as fundamentalists seemed to unite against the New Evangelicalism. In February of 1950, Dr. Rice delivered a series of addresses at Bob Jones University which were published in a book entitled, We Can Have Revival Now!, that gave compelling scriptural arguments in favor of the revivalistic viewpoint. His contention that revival can be experienced by Christians if they will meet the conditions reflected the conviction of many, while others were skeptical of this optimistic view.
Revivalistic fundamentalists differ on some points, but they agree on these:
- That revival can and should be sought on the basis of conditional promises in the Bible.
That a conditional promise assures us that we can expect God to respond when His people respond to Him.
That the responses to God bring His response in revival include repentance from sin, faith exercised in beseeching prayer, and commitment to His program to evangelize the world.
That revival among God's people is essentially a return to New Testament Christianity.
That New Testament Christianity is very powerful whenever it is tried, and will bring an awakening among the unconverted to the need of their souls.
That conviction among the unconverted resulting from revival among the saints can be expected to bring Book of Acts results: conversions and persecutions.
That revival waits on us, because God already wants to grant it.
That revival in the New Testament era includes restoring the right relationship of believers to the indwelling Christ, Who is the Holy Spirit.
That a right relationship to Christ and His Spirit produces the blessings promised by our Lord in John 13-17.
That it is the duty of Christians to seek revival when the churches are clearly in captivity to the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Many of the fundamentalists were still revivalistic when the 1960s arrived, but not all.
It was in the '60s and '70s that new issues divided fundamentalists and exposed more distinctly the differences they had over revival. Many would say that revival preaching brought on revival in some quarters of the fundamentalist movement. It must be said that a growing number of fundamental churches (especially independent Baptists) adopted the revivalistic approach in the 1960s, with the primary emphasis being given to evangelism, and with high standards of holy living (mainly as taught in The Sword of the Lord) being upheld. These churches were growing when other churches were either stagnant or declining. Many preachers were won to the fundamentalist position in this period of revival and success among the fundamental Baptists. However, certain aspects of the so-called "soul-winning church" approach, advanced during this surge of revivalism, were severely criticized by fundamentalists who had not adopted it.
Some said that promotional methods used by many of the growing churches to draw crowds smacked of pragmatism. Some criticized Dr. Rice, who was considered the leader of the soul-winning church movement, of being weak about the doctrine and practice of biblical separation. Some thought the emphasis on seeing large numbers of conversions was misplaced. As a result of these criticisms, the 1970s saw an open split among the fundamentalists, with revivalism residing mostly (but not entirely) with the Sword crowd and diminishing greatly among their critics.
Then in 1980, Dr. John R. Rice died. About ten years later, a preacher friend of mine made this statement (which I still regard as insightful): "When Dr. Rice died, everybody got loose!" By this he meant that several of the strong leaders with large churches who had gathered around John Rice and The Sword in the '70s headed out in different directions in the '80s, taking a following of their own with them. Now the revivalistic fundamentalists found themselves in a number of different "camps." Some were in a re-forming Sword crowd, others in the Jerry Falwell circle, some in the Jack Hyles network, some in the strict Baptist Bible Fellowship camp, others in the "progressive" BBF group, some in the Bob Jones camp, and many not really connected but listening to everybody. And also the critics of revivalism increased in some of the fundamentalist groups.
The critics were saying that the evils of the New Evangelicalism actually arose out of revivalism, that revivalism is the mother of compromise! Revivalistic and anti-revivalistic fundamentalists had less and less in common as the twenty-first century arrived. Their differences resulted in disharmony and trouble in more than one of the organized preachers' fellowships that characterize the movement. Well-meaning leaders have worked hard to restore harmony to the fundamentalist organizations, but their work has been difficult and often disappointing. Some dare to say that the time may have come for some healthy division to occur. When Christians affiliate on the basis of past association or personal friendship instead of doctrinal consensus, there is always friction until and unless they divide and re-affiliate based on allegiance to truth. We learn from the book of I Corinthians that alliances based on loyalty to men can be carnal. Truly spiritual fellowship is always based on the truth. There is often more Christian love in deciding not to work together than in forcing ourselves to cooperate when serious disagreements divide us.
Another factor that is pulling revivalistic fundamentalists away from their critics is the rise in prominence of stricter Calvinism in several fundamentalist camps. It is true that some of the great revivalists of history have been Calvinists, even five-point Calvinists, but a misapplication of Calvinistic theology has repeatedly worked against even them. Jonathan Edwards, Christmas Evans, and Charles Spurgeon were Calvinists who nevertheless held the view that revival can be sought and obtained. Yet their leading opponents in the pursuit of revival were Calvinists that wrongly applied the concept of God's sovereignty to the occurrence of revival. As anti-revivalists, they insisted that prayer and repentance not be regarded as means to revival. Revival only comes as a sovereign act of God. And they fought the revivalistic Calvinists with a vengeance! It is this same viewpoint that has been resurrected to oppose revivalism among fundamentalists today.
The Need for a Renewal of Revivalistic Fundamentalism.
The time has come for revivalistic men to examine what it is that ties them to fundamentalists that oppose revivalism. It is an important difference that divides us, and it is a theological difference. We run into it all the time. Why will we not just let them go their way, while we go ours? Division does not necessarily mean complete separation or ill-will. On the basis of fundamentalism we can get together on many projects. We can respect and honor one another for the right things we say and do. But many of our conference gatherings ought to be separate because either of our positions on revival are compromised when we try to have them together. Christian colleges should eventually take either the revivalistic side or the opposite so that pastors don't send their Timothys away to be ruined. There is much reason today for revival-minded Christians to get together, but our gatherings must be clearly revivalistic if the prayer and preaching at them are to do any good. What the other side is saying undermines what we are saying, and we have no reason to bring our people under their influence. The time has come for our focus to be on revival again, and with this renewed focus there will be changes in what we do and with whom we do it.
Certainly there are obstacles even to revivalistic fundamentalists getting together. We run in different circles, some of them new circles that have formed very recently. But we need to find each other, and revivalistic fundamentalism needs to become a distinct and visible movement itself. We disagree at least somewhat on some issues, but we agree on the basics of revivalism, and we ought to find a way to overcome our differences so that we can unite in seeking revival.
One important issue is the debate over the text and translations of the Bible. Most revivalistic fundamentalists hold for various reasons to the traditional texts in the original languages, and to the King James Version in English. However. other revivalistic people still question the absolute reliability of the traditional text because, following the example of past fundamentalists, they accept the theory of modern text criticism. However it is amazing how consistently fundamentalist preachers of the past and present have deferred to the traditional text, even while technically accepting the critical theories. Some of the most important revival texts (such as Matthew 17:21) are disputed by the critics but are used again and again by revivalists, including those who say they accept textual criticism. The truth is that revivalists will have no trouble getting together if they stick with the King James Version and do not press the text issue unnecessarily when they are with each other.
Another obstacle to cooperation among revivalistic fundamentalists is the issue of church music. Quite consistently we oppose so-called Contemporary Christian Music as carnal and worldly, and therefore unacceptable. The disagreement comes in identifying particular songs and performance techniques as CCM. "That's a CCM song!" "No, it's not!" However the discord disappears when the music is kept on the conservative side. Let's defer to the men on our right when we get together. Remember that singing is to please God and not necessarily men. Who thinks that many of the old revival songs and hymns offend God? Great meetings for the cause of revival will occur again when revivalistic people learn to defer to the more cautious among them (see Romans 14:3)
A more serious disagreement that divides revivalists involves what has been called "get-lost preaching." The concern is over the belief system behind many sermons that have been preached by certain fundamentalists which seem to be directed at convincing some professing Christians that they are not really saved. Of course, some of those who profess to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior have actually never believed on Him. We all remember that Jesus said,
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21-23).
However the get-lost preacher addresses the problem by focusing on people's works. The idea conveyed is that true believers will always behave in a certain way. Failure at living the Christian life is presented as proof that a person who professes Christ does not indeed possess eternal life. It is interesting that the chapter in which the words of Jesus appear that tell of those who call Him "Lord" but will finally be lost begins with the admonition,
"Judge not" (Matthew 7:1).
It is also interesting that the lives of those who will hear,
"Depart from me, ye that work iniquity,"
will be characterized by outwardly good deeds ( "wonderful works"), the very "fruit" that get-lost preachers demand as proofs of real salvation. Anyway, many think that this approach is wrong, and that it brings works into the plan of salvation, thereby ruining it. This issue cannot be ignored. It must be studied, discussed, and debated. It will hinder evangelistic cooperation until it is resolved biblically because it involves the very heart of revival. Any disagreement over salvation and assurance will block alliances for the promotion of revival. But on the basis of genuine agreement some (and I hope many) revivalistic fundamentalists can work together to bring God's separated people back to Him.
VII. The Hope for Revival.
The twenty-first century has begun with amazing possibilities that we will see powerful revivals again. Revival truths that our spiritual forefathers heard and preached a hundred years ago are being taught in fundamentalist churches and conferences again. A renewal of revivalistic fundamentalism is very important to the experience of revival in the future, and we are seeing such a renewal. The importance of it is in rejoining Christian experience to Bible truth. Fundamentalism without revivalism is and will be ineffective. Revivalism detached from fundamentalism will go astray. The need of individual Christians, local churches, and of God's family in general to be revived in our time is both great and obvious. That need will not be met by carnal methods, compromise with the world, or doctrinal laxness. It will be met by the God of truth when those who stand for the truth earnestly seek His face!
Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 81.
Ibid., p. 111.
John R. Rice, "If My People" (article in The Sword of the Lord, vol. 15, no. 10, 6 March 1953, p. 2).