Apologetics Index
Controversial Renewal and Revival Movements

Controversial Renewal and Revival Movements

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This Article:
What Renewal Is   What Renewal Is Not   Distinguishing Between Good And Evil   Problem Issues   
What Draws People To These Movements?   Are There No Genuine Renewal And Revival Movements?   

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What Renewal Is

Renewal is a natural and necessary part of the Christian life (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:22-24; 2 Peter 1:2-11). Those who are led by the Spirit will not live according to the flesh (Romans 8:11-15), but will instead be renewed (Romans 12:2)and thus show the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).

(Galatians 5:22-23 NNAS) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23} gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

The process by which the Spirit produces His fruit in our lives is called sanctification. It brings about spiritual maturity, evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit. Peter writes:

(2 Peter 1:2-9 NNAS) Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; {3} seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. {4} For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. {5} Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, {6} and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, {7} and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. {8} For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. {9} For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.

Those who lack these qualities are said to be "blind or short-sighted." In fact, James says that the faith of those who do not show the evidence of that faith - in word and in deed - is dead (John 15:1-17; James 2:14-26). To be of any use, dead faith must be revived (given new life).

What Renewal Is Not

In recent years, some movements have redefined the term "renewal" in such a way that it bears no resemblance to the sanctification process described in Scripture. Their "renewal" produces uncontrolled emotions, is marked by all manner of suspect manifestations, and is accompanied by extra-biblical and un-Biblical teachings and practices.

These movements, which variously label themselves as "revival," "renewal," or "refreshing," have spread through numerous churches in many parts of the world. Known as the Toronto Blessing and Pensacola Outpouring (or Brownsville Revival), they cite their popularity as evidence of God's work. However, upon examination it is clear that the "renewal" they bring does not promote or result in spiritual maturity, but rather the opposite.

Scripture indicates that spiritually-mature Christians are no longer "... infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14 NIV). But as the resources provided here indicate, these so-called "renewal movements" produce such spiritual infants - even among those who formerly were growing in maturity. Lacking discernment, they again need to be reacquainted with the elementary teaching:

(Hebrews 5:12-14 NIV) In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! {13} Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. {14} But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Distinguishing Good From Evil

Distinguishing good from evil is a command of Scripture:

Do not quench the Spirit;
do not despise prophetic utterances.
But examine everything carefully;
hold fast to that which is good;
abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NNAS

The NIV puts it as follows:

Do not put out the Spirit's fire;
do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Test everything.
Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NIV

Many proponents of the controversial renewal and revival movements claim that to put teachings and practices to the test is akin to quenching the Spirit. But that is not what the Bible says. It says that keeping the Spirit's fire alive, and paying attention to prophetic messages, should go hand-in-hand with testing. Note that Paul wrote this to the Thessalonians, who earlier had not done very well when compared with the Bereans:

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Acts 17:11 NIV

All teachings and practices ought to be tested by Scripture. For the Bereans that meant searching what we now know as the Old Testament. For us it means applying both the Old and the New Testaments (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). After all,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16 NIV

That there is plenty to test is clear:

Problem Issues

These are some of the problematic teaching and practices promoted within the controversial renewal and revival movements:
  • Experience Over Scripture. The acceptance of any and all manifestations has continually led to the devaluation of Scripture. Proponents claim that "God is doing a new thing" and this new thing can not be tested by Scripture because "it is not (or not yet!)described in Scripture." Others twist Scripture to try and justify certain manifestations.

  • False Manifestations The Bible clearly describes manifestations of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). But rather than encourages these manifestations - which the Bible says are given "for the common good" (:7) - they promote all manner of esoteric practices, many of which have clearly have occult and pagan roots.

  • False Teachings. Including acceptance and teaching of Latter Rain heresies, such as the re-establishment of prophets and apostles who (according to many) will have authority to speak words on a par with Scripture, and believing that Christians need to subdue the world before Christ can return.

  • Spiritual pride. Dividing the sheep into those "in the river" vs. the "hard to receive" and the "Pharisees."

  • "Demonizing" critics. Teaching that those who criticize do so because they have a "religious (or Jezebel) spirit," are "Pharisees," are "outside the faith," and - according to some - "in danger of being killed by God."

  • Wrong Emphasis on spiritual warfare. Including being overly focused on angels and demons. Also the belief that those "in the river" will go to war with other Christians.

  • Lack Of Ministry. When doing "carpet-time" is more important than doing the Lord's work (see Luke 4:18-19), you're not having renewal or revival. Instead, you're just being selfish.

  • False ministry. Much that passes for "ministry" within these movements merely emphasises feel-good experiences. In addition, there is much manipulative ministry (see, for example, the "Golden Sword" prophecy and its application)

  • False prophecy. Ranging from immature (and unchallenged) interpretation of dreams, weather patterns, and "words", to full-blown "Thus Says The Lord" prophecies furthering someone's agenda rather than originating with God.

  • False signs. From the inexplicable appearance of "gold" teeth to reports of angels, "angel feathers," "gold dust," people oozing "olive oil," clouds appearing inside churches, etcetera, these movements go from experience to experience - always failing to test whether what is claimed to come from God does indeed originate with Him, or is evidence of what Scripture refers to as "counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders." (2 Thessalonians 2:9)

What Draws People To These Movements?

The vast majority of people who get drawn into these movements are sincere Christians who are looking for a closer walk with Jesus. Many were unsatisfied with the dryness of their previous churches; others with their lack or slow pace of spiritual growth, and yet others with their inability to translate their faith into a personal love of Jesus.

Some are drawn by the promise of spiritual power or esoteric experiences. Some buy into certain teachings, and some are carried along by their emotions.

Naturally, many are also drawn to the exciting, vibrant and heartfelt worship that has become a hallmark of these churches. Many report a renewed love for the Lord. And most truly believe that they are part of "the last revival," the "manifestation of the sons of God," or the "only true Church."

Whatever the reason, if the teachings and practices of these movements militate against Scripture, they are to be rejected as unsound, aberrant, and even heretical.

Are There No Genuine Renewal and Revival Movements?

History records a number of revivals - movements that sparked renewal among Christians, and in which many non-Christians, drawn by the Holy Spirit, accepted Jesus as Savior. Throughout the world, such events are still taking place as the Spirit guides. In evaluating those events, note where the emphasis is put. Is there a concern for the lost? Is Jesus being magnified? Is Scripture taught? Or do offbeat manifestations, vague prophecies and odd teachings and practices get top billing?

Renewal takes place when we remain in Jesus:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. {2} He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. {3} You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. {4} Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. {5} "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. {6} If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. {7} If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. {8} This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. {9} "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. {10} If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. {11} I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. {12} My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. {13} Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. {14} You are my friends if you do what I command.
John 15:1-14 NIV