Revival summaries – Middle Ages to Reformation

Flashpoints of RevivalRevival Fires

Summaries about revival
from Flashpoints of Revival
and Revival Fires

Revivals in history
Revivals were often ignored, minimized or opposed for many reasons:

  1. Some historians wrote for predominantly secular purposes, so ignored significant Spirit movements.  Josephus referred only briefly to Jesus and his troublesome sect.[i]
  2. Many historians wrote from the perspective of the established church, which often opposed and suppressed revival movements.[ii]
  3. Strong impacts of the Spirit constantly initiated new movements which criticized and threatened the established order, so these movements were opposed, their writings destroyed and many leaders martyred.[iii]
  4. Authentic revival movements were often regarded as heretical, and their leaders killed, as happened with Jesus, the leaders in the early church, and throughout history.
  5. Some Spirit movements became cults with heretical teachings, and so brought disrepute on the whole movement and suspicion concerning charismata, especially prophecies, so they were opposed and suppressed.
  6. Excessive enthusiasm or fanaticism in revival movements have brought these genuine Spirit movements into disrepute and so generated more opposition.
  7. Personal and historical accounts of impacts of the Spirit have been systematically destroyed during subsequent historical periods, often burned as heretical.
  8. Leaders and adherents of revivals have often been occupied with other pressing priorities such as ensuring their own survival rather than recording their history.

[i] Jopsephus gives one brief paragraph reference to Jesus (including later Christian editing) in his section on Pilate within his voluminous accounts of The Antiquities of the Jews:
“There was about this time a wise man named Jesus – if it is lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of the type of men who enjoy hearing the truth.  He drew many of the Jews and Gentiles to him; he was the Christ.  When Pilate, at the suggestion of the Jewish leaders, condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold, along with many other wonderful things concerning him. The tribe of Christians named for him still exists today” (1988, Josephus, Barbour, p. 61).

[ii] The excesses of Montanism, for example, brought it into disrepute and for centuries it was regarded as heretical.  Wesley acknowledged the Montanists’ authenticity, as do recent historians, while also noting their fanatical and schismatic tendencies.

[iii] The Reformation period provides many examples, such as the burning of the works of Hus, Savonarola, Wycliffe, and the reformers, many of them suffering martyrdom.


The Middle Ages – to 1500

Some highlights:

—Before Constantine the church spread rapidly in spite of, and even because of, persecution.  The witness of the martyrs influenced many people.  After Constantine the Holy Spirit continued his work in the church and the world, often causing strong opposition as in the New Testament.
—Irenaeus (d 195), a student of the Apostle John’s disciple Polycarp, led a considerable spiritual awakening in Lyons in southern Gaul where in addition to his Episcopal responsibilities he learned the local language and his preaching was accompanied by gifts of the Spirit, exorcisms and reports of some raised from the dead.
—The Montanists, or the New Prophecy movement, flourished in Asia Minor from 150-400s.  This movement included a revival of prophecies and of acknowledged prophets including women, a challenge for Christians to forsake worldly attitudes with stricter living standards in Christian communities, and a strong belief in the second coming of Christ with the ideal society soon to be established in the New Jerusalem.  Montanus spoke in tongues and began prophesying at his baptism, and taught that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were still available.  The lawyer-theologian Tertullian (c 150-223) became the most famous convert to Montanism when he joined that movement early in the 200s.  The movement came into disrepute because of excesses, particularly in prophecy, but it became a strong challenge to the lax state of the church at that time.
—Gregory the Wonderworker (c 213-270), converted through contact with Origen (c 185-254), became bishop of his native Pontus and appears to have led a strong movement of conversion till most of his diocese was Christian.
—Monastic orders were devoted to serving of God and people, often in protest to laxity and nominal Christianity in the church.  Many of these leaders led strong spiritual movements including various miracles, healings and exorcisms, although caution is needed in distinguishing between fact and subsequent fiction.
—Augustine of Hippo in North Africa (354-430), strongly influenced the church and society through his writings.  His work The City of God included a chapter entitled “Concerning Miracles Which Were Wrought in Order that the World Might Believe in Christ and Which Cease Not to Be Wrought Now That the World Does Believe.”
—Patrick (389-c 461) told of the conversions of thousands of the Irish, initiating active Celtic missionary activity including subsequent evangelism by Columba (521-597) in Scotland and Columban and others in France, Switzerland and northern Italy.  By 600 Augustine of Canterbury and his missionaries saw thousands accept Christianity in England and it was reported that they imitated the powers of the apostles in the signs which they displayed.
—Peter Waldo and the Waldensians in the 1100s began reform and revival movements which challenged the church and impacted society.
—Francis of Assisi in the 1200s called people to forsake all and follow Jesus.  Many did.  They influenced others in society.
—John Wycliffe and his itinerant preachers, the Lollards, made a powerful impact on England in the 1300s.  They aroused strong opposition leading to many becoming martyrs.
John Hus in Bohemia and Savonarola in Italy led strong reform movements in the 1400s which brought revival but led to their martyrdoms.  Hus was known for his unblemished purity of life and uncompromising stand for truth in a decadent society.  Savonarola fasted, prayed and preached with prophetic fire which confronted evils of his time, filled the churches, and brought honesty into much of civic and business life.
—Gutenburg’s printing press invented in 1456 made the Scriptures widely available.  This helped spark the 1500s Reformation with leaders such as
—Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland initially calling for freedom of conscience though later denying this for others,
—Martin Luther in Germany proclaiming justification by faith alone based on the supreme authority of scripture, and
—John Calvin in Geneva emphasising the awesome sovereignty and grace of God.
—Radical reformers, such as Felix Manz the first Anabaptist martyr, were killed by some of the reformers in those days of heated religious conflict.
—John Knox fearlessly called Scotland to repentance amid the intense political and religious fervour of the times.

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