Dr Charles Taylor was a well-known linguist, Bible teacher, author, and Christian magazine contributor. His Ph.D. researched the Bantu Nkore-Klga language in Uganda.
I was privileged to receive a blessing
through the work of God
in the East African revival
It is almost impossible to record faithfully the details of a true work of God. This is because the people involved in the work itself are so taken up with the move that they have neither the time nor the inclination to consider recording the events. Those outside the move are often antagonistic and have no desire to probe further into the matter. Or they may just be biased and will tend to distort what they see. In all this there is also a great deal of human fear.
Looking for Lasting Results
Because of these things, the best source of truth is almost certainly the word of someone who was at the centre of the movement, recalling it sometime after it began. For example, we can generally rely on the report by Jonathan Edwards of the revival that took place in his church and the surrounding areas in the 18th century as recorded by him about six years later, when, as it were, the dust had settled and the lasting results could be seen.
I was privileged to receive a blessing through the work of God in the East African revival, which began in 1936. I didn’t arrive until 1952, but by that time the results were obvious. When my family and I arrived, people, including missionaries, were still divided. There were those ‘inside’ and those ‘outside.’ We felt happy to be on the inside, and were remarkably blessed. I lost the fear of man, which had been a problem for me up to then.
The East African revival was not Pentecostal or charismatic, but it was what one might term a revival of repentance among Christians and also towards unsaved people they had wronged. There was a clear cut difference between ‘revived’ and other Christians. Worldly business people would employ ‘saved’ East Africans in their homes and businesses, because they could completely trust them and rely on them to work hard.
The best test of a movement of this kind is the same sort of test the Bible gives us for the genuineness of a prophet’s word. Does the fruit correspond with the promise? In Jonathan Edwards’ case he stated that changed lives were the best confirmation that it had been a work of God, plus the fact that the work was continuing. In East Africa the work was still ongoing twenty and more years later.
Blessings are for God’s Glory
I would like to evaluate some of what has been happening in the light of Scripture, bearing in mind also what God has done in past revivals, particularly drawing on the reports of Jonathan Edwards who, as an intellectual, could hardly be biased towards the emotional events he witnessed in New England!
The word ‘blessing’ is currently being used extensively, especially in connection with the move in Toronto. I was struck by the fact that the first reference in Scripture of this word is to God’s assurance to Abram that he will be a blessing to others. This reminded me that blessings are not to be sought for their own sake, or for our own satisfaction, but really for the glory of God.
The word ‘bless’ itself comes earlier, in Genesis 1, where it shows God’s attitude to his newly created humans and animals (v 22,28). He provided them with all necessary and pleasant objects and made life attractive for them. Blessings are not just scattered around in an indiscriminate way. In most cases they are conditional on obedience. John 7:37-39 is regularly quoted these days and clearly says that in order to receive Holy Spirit blessings of rivers of living water, we have to come to Jesus.
I’m not sure who it was that first gave this revival the label ‘laughing revival’, but I see it as unfortunate in that it stresses what is really a side-issue. Perhaps it was the media, in which case it means that those who were blessed didn’t see the laughter as of great significance in itself.
The Bible contains only 40 references to laughing and laughter, whereas there are 169 references to weeping. The most positive reference I could find concerning laughter was in Psalm 126:2, where it is the accompaniment to release from captivity. The kind of laughter I have witnessed in connection with the present move has been a sort of ‘laughing with glee,’ undoubtedly triggering some kind of release.
In our local churches most leaders are wisely saying that the important thing is the inner spiritual blessing, so that’s a healthy sign.
Distinguishing Marks of Revivals
As we look at the history of revivals we find that in most of them there have been strange phenomena, just as the first Pentecost was accompanied by great joy and by tongue-speaking, then a quite unfamiliar phenomenon for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The moves in England and America in the 1730s both involved occasional outbursts of laughter, as recorded in Wesley’s Journal and in Edward’s accounts. Both leaders allowed it but tried to keep it under control.
Because Jonathan Edwards went to some trouble to evaluate the New England part of the revival, it is helpful to note some of his considered remarks about revivals. What follows is a summary of Edwards’ The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Holy Spirit of God. Firstly, nine aspects he said we should not be disturbed about.
* Unusual events
* Physical phenomena
* An increase in speaking of God.
* An increase in ‘ecstasy and imagination.’
* The fact that some just imitate others.
* The fact that some are unwise and ‘unorthodox.’
* Some interference by Satan.
* Some small amount of bad doctrine and practice.
* A trembling fear of hell.
Some of these objections were made by unbelievers. And here is a summary of what he regarded as positive signs:
* The Lord Jesus is magnified.
* There is strong conviction of sin.
* An increase in regard for Scripture
* An increase in truth and honesty.
* Love, unselfishness and humility increase.
Finally, the marks of the 1735 revival itself were:
* It was widespread.
* All ages and types were affected.
* People were convicted of the reality of the truth of God.
* People’s behaviour changed completely.
* People subject to phenomena were sincere and did not lose their reason.
* There was an increase in desire for others’ salvation.
It was also recorded that the phenomena decreased as people became more established in the faith.
The Present Move
Can we apply any of this to the present move? First, we should not be unduly disturbed by phenomena, imitations and irregularities. We should look for the positive signs. As regards comparisons with 1735, and also with the East African revival, one thing that always seems to me to be a mark of God’s activity is that when a move comes, it is found to have started independently in places far removed from each other. In older times, communication was not so good as now, so nowadays this criterion is harder to apply.
In at least two local churches to the north of Sydney, many children in their attached Christian schools were affected independently of the events in the churches. It’s too early to look at behaviour changes or a renewed evangelistic thrust. However, in at least one case I know of, the laughter has accompanied a real character change for the better.
Should we then accept everything that comes? I suggest we follow the biblical advice: ‘Test all things; hold fast what is good.’ (1 Thess. 5:21 NKJV).
* Let us ensure that appeals to the Holy Spirit do not eclipse the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit typically prefers to stay in the background.
* Let’s not confuse feelings with the genuine touch of the Spirit. Should the mind be switched off?
* Experiences can even be consciously ‘faked’. It may happen now, and such things, if perceived, should be dealt with.
* Should we promote the term ‘drunkenness?’ The world may use it, but remember, a drunk is out of control. Peter denied the allegation!
I note with pleasure that lack of balance is being adjusted by wise leadership. Two generations ago Christians were over-intellectual and needed emotional outlets. Today, both in churches and in the world, cold rationalism is unpopular. Our present danger is to look to experience alone to solve problems. We still need a renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2).
May the Lord be allowed to exercise his control over his people!
(c) The Australian Evangel, May 1995, pages 37-38, PO Box 336, Mitcham, Victoria, 3132. Used with permission.
© Renewal Journal 7: Blessing, 1996, 2nd edition 2011
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