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Playing Revival

Editorial By David Kowalski

Not everything that looks like revival is revival. A group of people can learn to act in the manner they think revival looks like and then claim to be “in revival.” This phenomenon was particularly common in churches during the late 1990’s. I had the opportunity to personally observe and investigate this phenomenon in one church during that time. I have come to call the false phenomenon “playing revival.”

playtimeFor almost any real phenomenon there is an outward simulation that humans indulge in as playtime during childhood or in acting at an older age. As a child, I frequently played “army.” My playmates and I went through all of the outward motions of real soldiers. My three children have all been active in drama at some time in their teens and twenties. One daughter had a part in a play about Helen Keller. The actors skillfully simulated scenes from Keller’s life but Keller was not really there.

Many people in the Body of Christ do not seem able to distinguish between real revival and play-acting, in which we go through all of the outward motions of revival and interpret any sense of God’s presence or any display of his gracious gifts as evidence of the reality of our make-believe status. In their hearts children know their play is not real. So do grown actors. Sadly, many Christians do not.

While we must seek for genuine revival, play revival does much harm even though it may at first draw large crowds, bring many people to the altars, and stir up great excitement in the congregation. To distinguish the “revival” from ordinary Christianity, leaders may emphasize the extraordinary and bizarre elements of the services, pointing to these as evidence of revival status.

Wanting to be spiritual and “in revival,” many of the people in the congregation will manifest the coveted, unusual “manifestations” any time they sense God’s presence. Unfortunately, the bizarre and artificial nature of such “revivals” tends to discredit real revival in the minds of thinking Christians. These play “revivals” also become a laughing stock to many unbelievers.

Eventually, some congregations that play revival tire of “working up” excitement and manifestations, and begin to question the nature of the “revival.” Crowds diminish and excitement fades. The lasting legacy of the “revival” is that sincere but cautious people are less likely to participate in genuine revival movements, and the church as a whole is discredited in the minds of outsiders.

Other congregations that play revival move on to the more and more spectacular kinds of phenomenon when they become bored with "regular" revival. It is at this point that such churches are most vulnerable to the flesh and the devil. Their addiction to excitement causes them to lose their discernment and sometimes carry them into dangerous, spiritual territory.

“Satan will keep men secure as long as he can; but when he can do that no longer, he often endeavors to drive them to extremes, and so to dishonor God, and wound religion in that way." – Jonathan Edwards

A real revival speaks for itself and bears permanent fruit in the church or location where it manifests. The church I investigated had 400 people in attendance and made many false claims about such things as numbers of people saved, water baptized, and physically healed. While several hundred were said to be saved during one year, the number of disciples added to the church that year was more realistically under 5. One man who was said to be healed of cancer died at his home in a distant state shortly afterward. I preached at the church and found that those who had "fallen" all over the floor would get up and go to their seats the moment I said I would preach.

I believe the root difference between real revival and play revival is in the hearts of participants. Real revival is sent by God to the mature who seek Him and pray. Play revival is worked up among the immature who glory in the excitement of being part of something supposedly special. Play revival is a mark of immaturity just as playtime is a mark of childhood. And concerning that church I was referring to, it now has about 15 people in attendance.

"Our constant danger, human nature being what it is, is to admire and emulate the spectacular rather than things of solid worth....We like miracles; we like inspiring oratory; we like to, in some sense or other, 'move mountains.'  We are not so prone to inquire as to the ultimate results from the miracles or the inspired oratory in the spiritual or moral realm: neither do we always ask ourselves just why the 'mountains' should be removed, or what lasting benefit their removal would bestow. We tend to like the spectacular for its own sake." – Donald Gee

"There are some people who insist on going through all sorts of calisthenics in their religion...I am not criticizing them...The thing I am concerned about is that you might take noise for power." – Hyman Appelman

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

Written by David Kowalski

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This post was last updated: Jul. 29, 2013