Protestant Revivals of the More Recent Period of Church History - Part 2 of 6 by Dr. Charles Harris
Spiritual fervor waned in biblical times leading to the need for periods of revival. The pattern seems to have continued throughout church history. The following contains a brief summary of Protestants during the later period of the history of the Church. The survey recounts the basic historical information on five specific periods of world-wide spiritual renewals over a period of 300 years. These include the First and Second Great Awakenings, The Laymen’s Prayer Revival, The Early Twentieth Century World-wide Revival, The World War II Revival and Revivals of the Later Twentieth Century. Highlights here depict conditions leading to these revivals, events in each period of renewal, and some of the results of these various movements.
The First Great Awakening, 1726-1756
Church history speaks of two revivals under the heading of “Great Awakenings,” though in Great Britain the term of “Evangelical Revivals” was also used. The First Great Awakening of the early and beyond the middle of the eighteenth century began in Germany. From there it spread to the British Isles and the United States.
Pietism in Germany
Cairns says, “The most important factor in bringing about the Great Awakening was the decline of genuine religious experience . . . ” for individuals at conversion (Earl E. Cairns, An Endless Line of Splendor: Revivals and Their Leaders from the Great Awakening to the Present [Weaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. , 1986], p. 31). Through a “half-way covenant,” many had come into the churches with no claim to having been born again. Participants in the movement became known as Pietists. Cairns explains, “Pietists went back to the Bible, the New Birth, and the priesthood of believers in a religion of experience” (p. 52).
The revival had its beginning among the Moravians in Germany. The group had established a community on the estate of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf in the country. Its members centered on prayer to such an extent that their intercessory meetings continued twenty-four hours a day for a hundred years. Among the practical results was the sending out of many missionaries around the world. The Moravians sought to send out one missionary for every sixty believers among them. From Germany the revival spread to the British Isles.
The Welch Revival on the British Isles
Before the Evangelical Revival came to the British Isles, moral conditions there were at a low ebb. Bars offered enough whisky for one to get “drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two,” and even offered a bed of straw to sleep on while in a drunken stupor. Theaters displayed the decadence that was rampant in society. Concerning conditions of the times, Whittaker writes,
The literature of the period would even today be classed mostly as hard-core pornography. Polygamy, fornication, homosexuality, were not considered sinful. Violence was rampant. Gangs of drunken ruffians paraded the streets and subjected women to nameless outrages and defenseless men to abominable tortures (Colin C. Whittaker, Great Revivals [Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1984], p. 50).
At the time, though, the Church was in a weakened condition spiritually. Believers had little concern for those who did not frequent their houses of worship. Breaking with tradition, Whitefield concluded that preachers should take the gospel out to the people, rather than expecting them to come to their meeting houses. Thus he often went to the streets and elsewhere in his evangelistic efforts. Towns and Porter say, “Whitefield attracted listeners to meetings in unusual locations, such as fields, orchards, barns, and riverbanks” (Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever [Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2000], p. 64). Whittaker credits Howell Harris of the Welch revival flame with having “. . . influenced Whitefield to adopt the method of preaching in the open air” (p. 39).
A recurring theme of Whitefield’s sermons was that of regeneration as the only hope for the lost. It is said that he preached no less than a thousand times on the theme. As to the effectiveness of his ministry during those days, Whittaker writes, “Never in the field of divine conflict for the souls of men was so much achieved, by so few, against so many odds, in such a short time, since the days of the Apostles” (p. 55).
Whitefield’s contemporary John Wesley joined in the movement. In the early part of his ministry he visited the Moravians in Germany. Thus as Towns and Porter write, “. . . he used Moravian strategies of evangelism and discipleship training to establish Methodist societies across England” (p. 68). Cairns says this included their practice of using small group or “cell” meetings (p. 79). Since more and more churches closed their doors to him, Wesley followed Whitefield as he engaged in “field preaching. ”Concerning the results of his labors, Whittaker writes, “Quite frequently as he preached, men and women were made to cry out in agony as they came under conviction by the Spirit of God. Sometimes their cries drowned him out, and many actually fell prostrate under God’s power” (p. 57). Whittaker says that during his ministry Wesley “traveled 250,000 miles [much of it on horseback], preached 40,000 sermons, and left about 140,000 Methodists members, as well as some 1,500 traveling preachers (p. 61).
The First Great Awakening in the United States
During the same time period spiritual conditions in the Thirteen Colonies in America were similar to those in Europe. Cairns says the “half-way” covenant troubled both areas. In additions, he reports that, due to harsh conditions in the colonies, “People turned grain into a liquid cash asset, whiskey. Consumption of whiskey brought violence and loose living; drunkenness abounded. In many areas there were no churches present to tame the people. Revival was needed” (p. 40). Those who brought it emphasized a genuine conversion experience. Fearing an unconverted ministry, they set up their own schools for the training of pastors for the churches of the movement. At first they were called “log colleges” because they were housed in simple buildings which the title suggests. Some of these later became great centers of learning as, for example, Princeton University.
Though, obviously, many other ministers were involved, noted leaders in this renewal which came to America included John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and David Brainerd. As to the “field preaching” of Whitefield, Cairns writes, “A careful estimate by [Benjamin] Franklin determined that Whitefield’s voice could be heard by twenty-five thousand people as much as a half mile away” (p. 48). Concerning the immediate response to the gospel in the meetings of Edwards, Towns and Porter report:
Some wept out of deep sorrow and distress as they became convinced of their sin. Others rejoiced in the joy of their salvation, overwhelmed with a new love for the brethren. Still others agonized in prayer for unconverted friends and loved ones. There was a deep sense of the presence of God in their midst (pp. 62, 63).
David Brainerd spearheaded evangelism efforts among Native Americans. He reported a great move of God among them in meetings at Corssweeksung, New Jersey. Mighty conviction came upon them. Sensing the awfulness of their sins for the first time, they mourned and wept before the Lord. As a result of their deep repentance and mighty conversion, Towns and Porter write:
Brainerd noted strengthened families and the absence of drunkenness among those touched by the revival as the most obvious results. Their lives now seemed to be governed by a profound concern for honesty and justice, with many of them paying long forgotten debts. Their deep sorrow in conviction was replaced with the fullness of joy as they walked with God in the days following (p. 71).
The Second Great Awakening, 1776-1840
The Second Great Awakening found expression in the British Isles, in continental Europe, in North America, in South Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Again, this revival had its roots in prayer meetings. For example, concerning a move of God at the time in Cornwall, England, Towns and Porter write, “No significant preachers were involved in this revival. Most of the gatherings were simply assemblies for prayer rather than evangelistic meetings” (p. 77). A phenomenal thing about the time of renewal was that sinners began attending the prayer services of the believers. Answering a question as to why this happened, Towns and Porter say, “Some reported being drawn to the churches by dreams and visions. Others actually came intending to disrupt the meetings or to have a good laugh at Christians engaged in prayer” (p. 77). However, the conviction of the Holy Spirit griped their hearts as they experienced wonderful conversions.
"The conviction of the Holy Spirit griped their hearts as they experienced wonderful conversions."
This is not to say that the Lord did not provide preachers for the revival. Circuit riding ministers among the Methodists made notable contributions to the move of God during this period. Of them Towns and Porter write, “The typical Methodist itinerant preacher . . . traveled 200 to 500 miles in a monthly circuit on horseback, had thirty to fifty preaching locations plus classes and received $64 a year. The circuit riders slept in homes, at inns, or in the open field” (p. 78). The frontier preacher, Peter Cartwright, probably remains as one of the best known among such ministers. It is little wonder that Methodist congregations sprang up all along the trails where they served.
The revival also inspired the youth on college and university campuses to seek the Lord. Rationalistic and humanistic thinking had swept such sites as the century turned into the nineteenth. Students, even those studying for the gospel ministry, substituted the wisdom of the world for the Truth of Scripture. Some even went so far as to conduct mock communion services in college chapels. To combat the trend, God raised up Dr. Timothy Dwight who became president of Yale College in 1795. As a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, he knew well what had happened during The First Great Awakening. Both his experience and theological background prepared him for his task. Writing of collegians at the time Cairns says, “College students much admired the French diests’ ideas. Few professed to be Christians, and many were guilty of gambling, drunkenness, swearing, and immorality . . . ” (p. 89).
In his preaching in the chapel at Yale, Dwight confronted liberalism head on, but in a reasoned way. As to the effect of his ministry, Towns and Porter report, “Dwight’s initial ministry led to a limited moral reform on the Yale campus, but it also prepared the school for a more significant change. During a student revival in 1802, a third of the student body professed conversions. It was the first of several Yale College revivals under his leadership” (p. 88). Similar moves came to other campuses, including Dartmouth, Princeton, Williams, and Amherst.
Among the lasting results of The Second Great Awakening was the beginning of the Sunday school movement. With the absence of child labor laws at the time, children worked long hours six days a week. On Sundays most churches in England had no place for them. Robert Raikes devised the method of teaching in educational basics along with religious instruction in the rooms of private homes on the Lord’s Day. Towns and Porter report, “By 1830, the fifteenth anniversary of the Sunday school, 1,250,000 were registered in Sunday school, one-fourth of the English population” (p. 94).
Other results from the revival gave great impetus to the cause of world missions. They included the forming of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Baptist Missionary Society, the London Missionary Society, and the Church Missionary Society. A further extension of its blessings came when William Carey carried the gospel from England to India, Adoniram Judson traveled from America to Burma, and Samuel Marsden went from Australia to New Zealand.
The later decades of the revival witnessed the ministry of Charles Finney in the United States. Since he was a noted attorney, Finney’s dramatic conversion drew the attention of many people. Previously, he publicly announced himself to be an atheist. From his vantage point as an attorney he boldly opposed Christianity. Once a servant of God, though, he used his powers of persuasion and noted speaking ability in turning people to Christ. Reporting on his ministry in Rochester, Gingrich writes:
The leading citizens were the first to be moved, as we noted, with nearly all the lawyers, judges, physicians, merchants, bankers, and master mechanics of the city among the converts. In later efforts in that city his reaching of the lawyers was particularly outstanding. His work in other areas, such as Evans Mills, denotes his effectiveness with the industrial workers and lower classes” (Gerald Ira Gingrich, Protestant Revivals Yesterday and Today [New York: Exposition Press, 1959], p. 37).
Finney employed mass evangelism techniques in the process. Many consider him to be the father of the “altar call” method of inviting sinners to come to the Savior. He also reserved a section of pews near the front in his meetings, which he called “anxious seats,” for those moved with conviction during the course of a service. Towns and Porter declare, “Because of this and other innovative techniques, Finney has been called ‘the Father of modern revivalism’ and is generally considered the prototype of American evangelists” (p. 102). Before his appearance on the scene many ministers felt that revival came basically as a sovereign move with the place and time of His choosing. However, Finney stressed human responsibility for having revival in the land. He declared, “. . . the connection between the right use of means for revival, and a revival, is as philosophically sure as between the right use of means to raise grain or a crop of wheat” (Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion [Chicago, IL: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868], p. 30).
The work of William Booth in England also developed out of this time of spiritual renewal. His ministry led him to establish the Salvation Army. During the period Robert Moffatt of South Africa also rose to fame. He is considered to be the father of missions in Africa. Titus Coan took the gospel to the Hawaiin Islands and witnessed mighty results. The Lord used William Burns to lead in a great spiritual renewal in Scotland and later as a missionary in China.
The Laymen’s Prayer Revival, 1857-1861
The Fulton Street Prayer Meetings
The period of the laymen’s prayer revival had its beginning in the Fulton Street Church in New York City in 1857. The congregation had employed Jeremiah Lanphier to serve as a missionary to the unreached people in the city. He began by scheduling noon prayer meetings for businessmen in the church. Though only six persons responded to his invitation for the first session, attendance gradually increased. Orr writes, “Within six months, ten thousand business-men were gathering daily for prayer in New York (J. Edwin Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening, rev. ed. [London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, LTD, 1964], p. 11). The movement soon spread to other churches and other cities. Spiritually hungry hearts gave their lunch hour break to prayer in the church nearest their place of employment. Businesses accommodated for the daily events by blowing the whistle at 11:55 to begin the period and at 1:05 to end, allowing time for their workers to get to and from the service in a church nearest to them. Noted newspapers, including the New York Herald and the New Your Tribune told their stories.
Ministerial leadership in such meetings was virtually absent. Towns and Porter report, “The meetings themselves were very informal―any person might pray, exhort, lead a song, or give a word of testimony, with a five-minute limit placed on each speaker” (p. 123). Even so, prayer remained the main item on the agenda. A noted outcome of the meetings was the conversion of sinners. Whittaker reports that in one a written request came to “pray for my unsaved husband” (pp. 82, 38). Within minutes a half dozen men stood to declare they were sure to be that person. Their repentance and conversion soon brought many more to Christ. As a result, Towns and Porter write, “Newspaper reports throughout New England reported there were no unconverted adults in many towns” (p. 123).
The Ulster Prayer Meetings
At about the same time the prayer services began at Fulton Street Church, four men started a similar meeting in a village schoolhouse Neal Kells in the Ulster Province of Ireland. As in America, the small beginning gradually grew to sizeable attendance as the services spread far and near. Cairns says, “This revival, which began in Ulster in 1857, brought an estimated 1 million to Christ, with 100,000 in Wales, 300,000 in Scotland, and 400,000 in England. This million amounted to about 3 or 4 percent of the population. As in America, the key was prayer by the laity” (p. 171).
It was during this time that Charles Spurgeon built his 20,000 seat tabernacle in London. In the same period Hudson Taylor began his noted work in the China Inland Mission. C. T. Studd left China for Africa. Andrew Murray’s ministry developed in South Africa. Both Germany and some parts of Russia experienced revival. The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship had its beginning at this time. The Student Volunteer Movement arose with a goal of reaching the world during that generation. As Towns and Porter note, “In many ways, the Laymen’s Prayer Revival still bears fruit down to our own day through the continuing ministry of countless organizations that are dedicated to reaching out to young people around the world” (p. 138).
Again, conversion of sinners marked the meetings. Those coming to Christ apparently experienced genuine change in their lives. Towns and Porter say, “According to civic records, crime was greatly reduced in 1860, and judges in Ulster found themselves on several occasions with no cases to try. In County Antrim, it was reported that the police had no crimes to investigate and no prisoners in custody” (p. 125). Whittaker reports, “A large distillery in Belfast was put up for auction―the trade had so fallen off. In the Connor area two pubs had to close because the owners had gotten converted, and a third closed for lack of trade” (p. 93).
The Early Twentieth Century World-wide Revival
The Welch Revival
A youthful student named Evan Roberts was moved by God to seek for a revival in his native land of Wales. Even before his call to preach, he faithfully attended intercessory services in his home church. Whittaker reports, “For thirteen years Roberts was always in the prayer meetings” (p. 105). When he began his ministry twin themes in his messages dealt with the need for repentance and the need for every believer to individually experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Cairns says four points often characterized his message. He writes, “The people were admonished to put away unconfessed sin, to give up doubtful habits, to obey the Spirit promptly, and to confess Christ publicly” (p. 196). As the revival spread through the land, an estimated number of converts there was a hundred thousand. Concrete results in the form of genuine conversions testified to the reality of the renewal. Towns and Porter write, “The changed lives of the converts resulted in reductions in crime, drunkenness, and gambling, along with increases in honesty, truthfulness, and chastity throughout the nation” (p. 53).
The revival spread throughout the British Isles so that the membership in Protestant churches increased by as much a ten per cent. The movement crossed over into Europe. Finally, it served as a catalyst for the twentieth century revival in North America. Joseph Smale, pastor of a Baptist church in Los Angeles, heard of what was happening there and went to personally witness it. Upon his return to his congregation he began to promote earnest and extended prayer for a similar movement in the United States. At about the same time a mighty move of God came to China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. It also came to Korea, Burma, and India as well as Africa and Latin America.
The Korean Revival
Towns and Porter say, “In what have come to be called the ‘Dawn Meetings,’ many Koreans still gather every morning at their churches at five o’clock for prayer. Friday nights are devoted to all-night prayer meetings” (p. 46). Cairns says, “The Korean church has always been a praying, Bible-believing church which earnestly studies the Bible, prays, gives, and witnesses” (p. 203). It is little wonder that reports claim that from one fourth to one-third of the people in the nation are members of a Christian church. Estimates are that some 15 percent of the military are believers.
The Manchurian Revival
As to the results of the revival in Korea, for example, Towns and Porter write, “One of those touched by the Korean revival was a Canadian missionary serving in China, Jonathan Goforth. He returned to Manchuria as a carrier of the revival. The movement was marked by public confession of sin and by prayer. Concerning the first of these in the ministry of Goforth, Towns and Porter explain, “He never asked anyone to confess publicly, yet public confession of sin was common in the Manchurian Revival. He simply concluded his message with the statement, ‘You people have an opportunity to pray’” (p. 50). Concerning the content of the confessions, the writers say, “The list was long: idolatry, theft, murder, adultery, gambling, opium smoking, disobedience to parents, hatred, quarrelsomeness, lying, cheating, gambling, fraud, division, misappropriation of funds” (p. 50).
The Pentecostal Movement
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, German philosophies adversely influenced theology to the extent that it drained the ministry in many churches of its vitality. The new theology became known as Modernism. It cast doubts on the inerrancy of the Bible and thus the trustworthiness of Scripture. Its teaching declared that sin was more societal than individual. Thus “salvation” must come through a change in corrupt institutions. Such teachings led to the rise of the social gospel.
As a reaction to these conditions, segments of the Christian Church in the United States began to seek for a revival in the land. They laid much of the cause of the nation’s problems at the door step of its religious congregations. The charge was that both pulpit and pew were lifeless and devoid of power to influence the country for good any longer. They failed to witness the fire in the ministry of preachers, the fervor of believers in worship, and the earnestness of prayer at the altar which they had concluded to be characteristic of biblical Christianity. What they wanted was a restoration of New Testament beliefs and practices. They thought the world was near the time for Christ’s return to earth. To prepare people for that, the need for apostolic activity in the Church was most evident to them.
In reaction to the formalism which had developed in the mainline denominations, the movement which sprang up had a strong emphasis on the need for genuineness at conversion for the believer. For them nothing short of an experience of spiritual crisis could count as real salvation. By contrast, the more formal churches came to emphasize salvation through education for the young and social as well as political reform for the adult population. This “nurture” theology called upon the Church to work toward the removal of evil through social and political action. Holiness groups protested this approach.
As their title suggests, Holiness advocates also laid greet stress on the need for believers to demonstrate the reality of their conversion by living a sanctified life. They began to promote a “second definite work of grace” for the born again in the form of an experience of sanctification. For some of them, this meant the eradication of the tree of the sinful nature of man, root, trunk, and branches.
Holiness preachers also declared that divine healing was in the atonement, and thus available for all believers. Early gospel ministers who preached doctrine, included A. J. Gordon, and A. B. Simpson. This teaching became a prominent part of theology, both amongst holiness and pentecostal people.
Paralleling the rise of the Holiness Movements was that of Fundamentalism.
Among the catalysts behind its appearance was an intent to counter the modernists’ denial of the trustworthiness of Scripture and the denial of the reality of its miracles.
From the day that a group of church leaders published the Five Fundamentals as basic to their theology, Pentecostals identified with them. Pentecostals had already been preaching with them the inerrancy of the Scriptures, the virgin birth of Jesus, the substitutionary atonement in the death of the Christ on the cross, the physical resurrection of Jesus and eventually of all believers, and the imminent, physical return of Christ to earth.
Rather than being radical, then, Pentecostals were indeed fundamentally orthodox in their basic theology.
Rising largely out of the Holiness groups were those segments of the revival which later became known as Pentecostal people. Their distinguishing characteristic was the teaching that those who genuinely received the baptism in the Holy Spirit spoke with unknown tongues as an initial, physical evidence of having known the experience.
Prior to the full-blown expression of the Pentecostal Movement were several instances of those who spoke in unknown tongues in religious meetings. However, the teaching became the focus soon after Charles Parham opened Bethel Bible College in the fall of 1900 in Topeka, Kansas. Late in the year of 1900 Parham left the campus of his school on a short trip for ministry elsewhere. He reports that before he left he assigned the students the task of searching Scripture in efforts to discover what the evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is. Upon Parham’s return, with one voice his pupils reported that it was speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance. In time, this, then, became the distinguishing feature of the Pentecostals. The first to receive the experience on January 1, 1901, was Agnes N. Ozman.
At the close of the short-lived Bethel Bible College, the impetus of the Spirit’s new work in the lives of Parham’s group propelled them forth to evangelize across the country. Their efforts led them eventually to Houston, Texas, where their leader opened another school in December of 1905. Among its students was the pastor of a Negro Holiness church in the area, William J. Seymour. He later became the leader of the great revival center at Azusa Street in Los Angeles.
Seymour’s introduction to the Pentecostal experience came from his meeting of a Spirit-filled lady who had worked for Parham in Topeka, Kansas. He was drawn to her after hearing her speak in tongues in a church service of African-Americans in Houston.
Towns and Porter report: "When he met with Lucy Farrow, the woman who had spoken in tongues, he learned she had recently worked as a governess in Topeka, Kansas. Her employer had been a man named Charles Fox Parham, a white preacher who ran a Holiness Bible school, Bethel College, in the same city. Parham had introduced her to the experience he called ‘the baptism of the Holy Ghost’ which led to speaking in tongues” (p. 36).
It was a bit later that Seymour became a student in the Parham school in Houston.
Neeley Terry, a Californian lady visitor in Parham’s meetings in the Houston area, was instrumental in Seymour’s move to the west coast in 1906. Through her efforts the preacher received an invitation to minister in a Holiness church in Los Angeles. In time Seymour rented a vacated and dilapidated Methodist church building in which to house his meetings. People from many denominations and several countries of the world attended. Conversions, Holy Spirit baptisms, and divine healings for physical bodies multiplied. The meetings continued night and day for a period of three years. People came from all over the nation and around the world to spread its influence. However, even before the time of this spiritual awakening in the United States, other parts of the world were already experiencing religious renewal.
The World War II Revival, 1935-1950
The Los Angeles Revival, 1949
A crusade Billy Graham conducted in Los Angeles in 1949 instantly projected his ministry before the nation, and the world. He went to the city to conduct the evangelistic services under a tent for three weeks at the invitation of 200 churches. However, the meetings continued for seventy-two nights. J. Edwin Orr assisted the evangelist in the campaign, though much in the background. In a life-changing experience, just before the meetings began, Graham committed himself to an unshakable faith in the trustworthiness of the Bible.
Among the converts in the crusade was Stuart Hamblin, a noted radio personality in the area. He later composed a song remarkably expressing the story of his regeneration, “It is No Secret What God Can Do.” Another convert was Jim Vaus who worked with Mickey Cohen, a local Mob boss. The surrender of these two to Christ, along with thousands of others, gained the attention of the press. Randolph Hearst, owner of two newspapers in the area, instructed his staff to publicize the meetings. Others news media far and near picked up the stories and shared them with the whole country. Indeed, as Towns and Porter note, “Billy Graham’s crusade in Los Angeles led to much bigger things than the planners had envisioned, and it helped to spark revival around the world” (p. 151).
The Revival in China
Despite some rather severe persecution, the Lord had been doing mighty things in China in the decades prior to the Communist take-over in the country. Then, as Whittaker reports, “When Mao came to power in 1949 it is estimated that a staggering fifty million people were liquidated by the Communists―many of them Christians. ”He continues, “All missionaries were banished, all churches were disbanded and declared illegal, as the Communists sought to remove all traces of Christianity” (p. 175).
However, God turned what Satan meant for harm into good. As Whittaker notes:
"God turned what Satan meant for harm into good."
"Communism may have unknowingly facilitated the evangelization of the nation by breaking the stronghold of the religion of paganism, weakening the rigid parental control of pagan parents over children, and in facilitating communication by decreeing that Mandarin Chinese was the official language in the country" (p. 175).
Then by the late fifties believers began to earnestly seek the Lord for revival. In places they gathered for prayer as early in the day as 3 a. m. In response, miracles came. Conversions increased. A house church movement developed to total a half million or more. Present estimates are that China may have a hundred million believers by now. At least Whittaker concludes, “China, the world’s largest nation, containing almost one fourth of the world’s population, is almost certainly the scene for the greatest revival of them all” (p. 171).
Revivals of the Later Twentieth Century
The Baby Boomer Revival, 1965-1970
One of the sources of the Baby Boomer Revival was the beginning of the Charismatic Movement. In it the Pentecostal revival moved into mainline denominations. Another source was that of the sudden appearance of the Jesus People, beginning on the West Coast.
Noted in the early part of the phenomenon was the ministry of Chuck Smith, pastor of a Pentecostal church. God gave him great success in reaching the youth of the counter-culture. Towns and Porter write:
Eventually, the church acquired a Christian communal house where those converted could live and be discipled. No more drugs and free sex. The house taught them discipline, soul winning, and ministry. The first hours of every morning were given to Bible study, the afternoons to beach evangelism, and the evenings to rallies and evangelistic Bible studies” (p. 158).
As Smith’s church grew to one of the largest in the nation, the Jesus People Movement spread through various centers all over the country.
The Mega-Church Revival Movement, 1969
While engaged in his research for his book on the largest Sunday schools of the nation, Towns concluded that each of the congregations he visited was, in fact, experiencing revival. Signs of it registered in every sanctuary he attended. More than just an emotional stir, he witnessed concrete evidence of a genuine move of God. Afterwards he wrote, “These churches were single-minded in their purpose to win the lost and teach them the Bible. Thus they were the cutting-edge leaders for the mega-church movement; they became the role models for size, and they taught the churches of America how to grow” (Elmer Towns, Ten Largest Sunday Schools [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], p. 160).
The Asbury College Revival, 1970
Asbury College also experienced a great move of God during this period. J. Edwin Orr went to the campus of Asbury College to speak on the subject of revival. In one of the lectures he recounted the story of an earlier revival on the campus of the college. In the question and answer session which followed his address, a student enquired if the earlier revival had produced lasting results. The noted missionary and author E. Stanley Jones shared the podium with Orr during those days. Since he was a product of the previous spiritual renewal period at the school, Orr requested him to respond to the question. Inspired by the meetings, students and faculty began to seek the Lord for another move of the Spirit among them.
A few months later it came, beginning in a regularly scheduled chapel service. Towns and Porter report:
Throughout the auditorium, students began kneeling in their seats or in the aisles. Some turned the first row of seats into an altar, crying out to God to meet them as he had met so many others. It quickly became apparent to those present that chapel would not end on time that morning. Indeed, that fifty-minute chapel service went on to last 185 hours” (p. 168).
News of the revival spread to other campuses and churches so that the renewal accompanying it provoked similar experiences across the nation and around the world.
The Revival in East Timor, 1965
Church leaders in East Timor, Indonesia, especially those of the Timor Evangelical Church, turned to earnest prayer at the low ebb of the spiritual tide in the land. Towns and Porter say:
Many church members clearly had a very limited understanding of essential Christian doctrine. Promiscuity and drunkenness were common among professing Christians. Magic and sorcery were widely practiced. According to some estimates, perhaps 90 percent of the Christians routinely used the services of local shamans. Many also used charms, part of the fetish worship they had never fully abandoned when they had embraced Christianity (p. 171).
A mighty move of God came in response to believers’ prayers. Many people were delivered from these practices. Widespread reports of various miracles and healings, circulated throughout the area. Whittaker writes, “The miraculous confirmation of the gospel has been a major factor in the phenomenal growth of the church in Timor. In the first three years of this revival some two hundred thousand converts were added to the churches” (p. 57). Some declared what happened there returned the Church to the days of the Acts of the Apostles. Church growth in Indonesia during one fifteen year period was estimated to be at the rate of two hundred percent. From there the revival found its way to other islands in the regions. In time it even had an effect on believers in the Western world.
I have presented a brief summary of revivals among Protestants during more recent times of the history of the Church. The survey recounts the basic historical information on five specific periods of world-wide spiritual renewals over a period of some 300 years. These include the First and Second Great Awakenings, The Laymen’s Prayer Revival, The Early Twentieth Century World-wide Revival, The World War II Revival, and Revivals of the Later Twentieth Century. The overview has depicted conditions leading to these revivals, events in each period of renewal, and some of the results of these various movements.
Cairns, Earl E. An Endless Line of Splendor: Revivals and Their Leaders from the Great Awakening to the Present. Weaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1986.
Finney, Charles G. Lectures on Revivals of Religion. Chicago, IL: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868.
Gingrich, Gerald Ira. Protestant Revivals Yesterday and Today. New York: Exposition Press, 1959.
Orr, J. Edwin. The Second Evangelical Awakening, rev. ed. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, LTD, 1964.
Towns, Elmer. Ten Largest Sunday Schools. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975.
Towns, Elmer, and Douglas Porter. The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2000.
Whittaker, Colin C. Great Revivals. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1984.