A fascinating issue related to revival is the involvement of young people. Many of the revival preachers, such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, and Evan Roberts, were young men when God used them. Numerous great movements of God occurred on college campuses such as Yale, Howard Payne University, Wheaton College, and Asbury College.26 The revival under Jonathan Edwards in Northampton in 1735 began among young people.27 Written accounts of great revivals show that those first stirred by the revival fires were often youth and young adults. Surely this factor provides significant guidance to those who long to see revival come in their day. Rather than demeaning young people in the church or consigning them to the “youth building” while the adults have their revival meeting, churches would be wise to invest heavily in the spiritual nurturing of their young people. Churches that lose their young people and fill their pews on Sundays with gray hair will have a much more difficult time experiencing revival.
What Is the Role of Public Confession?
One of the most provocative aspects of revival is the practice of public confession. Sharing grievous sins in public not only arouses great emotions, but it can also lead to many forms of abuse. Confession can at times be more tantalizing than sanctifying. Immature people can enjoy the public attention they receive as they testify rather than being broken over what they are admitting. The need for public versus private confession is a point of debate. Is it not enough to go to God, against whom we have sinned, and confess our sins to Him (Ps. 51:4)? What is the need of telling everyone else in our church, many of whom previously thought highly of us? Is there something therapeutic or redemptive about God’s people publicly renouncing their sins? Some have argued that public confession tarnishes the church’s reputation in the community. Yet often through times of confession, such as at Asbury College, revival has burst forth in full bloom. J. Edwin Orr observed, “Confession of sins is a neglected doctrine. It only comes into its rightful place in times of revival.”28 Orr also gave this sage advice to those wondering if they should confess their sins publicly: “Let the circle of the sin committed be the circle of the confession made.”29When confessing sins publicly, believers are wise to limit details to the essential facts and to glory in God’s gracious act of pardon rather than in the shameful behavior
What about Sins of the Past?
Another controversial subject that recurs in times of revival concerns past sins. What effect do they have on the present? If a middle-aged woman had an abortion as an unmarried teenager, does that sin still need to be confessed publicly, decades later? During times of revival, people may conduct an exhaustive inventory of every sin they ever committed and seek to confess them in order to be set free. Yet where is the line? Does every unconfessed sin from our past weigh heavily on our soul? Is spiritual powerlessness today the result of unconfessed sin from days gone by? What about past sins we have forgotten? Do unremembered, unresolved sins stifle our spiritual life years later? When we experience spiritual defeat, should we immediately begin reviewing our distant past to determine if our present unpleasant circumstances are the result of a forgotten sin? How does the Holy Spirit alert us to those things He knows we must deal with in order to be set free?
How Do We Deal with Corporate Sins?
What is corporate sin? Consider a church that had a bitter split twenty years ago. Amid much acrimony, a splinter group angrily departed and formed its own church. For decades the two congregations have had no interaction with each other and have made no attempts to reconcile. Now a new generation of church leaders has arisen. They were only children when their parents divided. These second-generation church leaders are sensitive to the fact that God is not blessing their congregations. The questions are: should the present generation repent for sins committed by former members? Do later generations bear the guilt and consequences for their parents’ misdeeds?
Can churches or nations sin corporately; and, if so, how do they find cleansing and release from their sin? Why are some churches plagued by continual scandal and heinous sin while others are relatively free from it?
We know churches that were birthed in sin. The founding pastor was having an adulterous relationship while starting the church. Not surprisingly, an inordinate number of the church’s leaders also committed adultery and ultimately experienced divorce. Numerous new churches have been formed as a result of angry division in a former congregation. Does God bless such churches? If the way an organization begins plays a determinative role in its future, what does this suggest for the many congregations littered across the North American landscape that were birthed in bitterness and unforgiveness?
We know churches that endured repeated scandals among their ministers and church leaders. The founding pastor of the church was eventually fired for adultery, and five senior pastors later the church had to fire yet another senior pastor for immorality. Some churches, it seems, have had immorality, divisiveness, or lack of faith passed on in their DNA. If a church or a family appears to have inherited an ungodly heritage that continually repeats itself, how does it purge itself of its sin?
These are some of the issues we will probe during subsequent chapters. As we have already seen, revival is a complex subject. It is a divine work contingent on God’s sovereignty. As we gain a greater understanding of how God works in revival, we will be better prepared to be His instrument should He choose to revive His people today.
Blackaby, Henry T., Claude V. King, Richard Blackaby, and Anne Graham Lotz. 2009. Fresh Encounter: God’s Plan for Your Spiritual Awakening Revised. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.