Fanning the Flames of Revival - How Do You Define "Biblical"

I was writing when the phone rang. A dear friend, the pastor of a large church was calling to ask my opinion about the unusual manifestations of the Spirit that have taken place within the atmosphere of previous revival services.

Perhaps you’re also curious about, and maybe even a little uncomfortable with, the idea that the Holy Spirit might manifest Himself in unconventional ways that don’t always follow a biblical precedent.

As I reminded my friend, we must exercise caution when evaluating what is of God and what is not. A little more fear of the Lord wouldn’t hurt any of us; a false angel of light still spreads his wings and overshadows much of what is called Christianity in our land.

But too often, we rely on rumor when testing spirits, forgetting that satan frequently masterminds the dissemination of false rumors.

And, sometimes, even fear triggers knee-jerk condemnation, especially when the Holy Spirit acts in ways that are new to us. We tend to shy away from things we don’t understand. Read carefully the book of Acts. God moved so spectacularly in the early church that many skeptics missed Him.

In our day, Christians test movements of God by asking if they’re “biblical”. But how you answer that question depends on how you define “biblical”. And therein lies the heart of the controversy.

For some people, a biblical revival is one that replicates events recorded in the Bible. For others, including me, a movement of God is biblical if it operates in harmony with the character of God and the principles found in His Word.

Have you noticed? The Bible never instructs evangelists to ask prospective converts to bow their heads and close their eyes and repeat a sinner’s prayer? And yet, most evangelists—including Billy Graham—would call this practice “biblical”.

What’s more, the Bible never sets a precedent for offering Sunday school classes, and youth programs, using wafers and grape juice for communion, or even preaching from a pulpit. Jewish rabbis sat down while teaching in the synagogue! Are these things “biblical”? Yes. Can you find chapter and verse for them? No.

Much of what we accept as biblical is not described in the Bible, but is nonetheless in harmony with the character of God and His Word.

America has experienced at least three major revivals since this country was founded, but does that mean God will follow an identical pattern today? Given His power and creativity, I’m expecting God to lead us into new expressions of revival, unlike anything we might expect.

Yes, the unknown is intimidating. But I have a greater fear. I fear missing a genuine move of God. Revival could be taking place all around me, but if I’m looking for something different—something I’ve been taught to expect—I might not see it.

That’s why a narrow definition of “biblical” activity can be so dangerous. Instead of asking “Is such a manifestation of God ever recorded in the Bible?” we ought to be asking, “Is this manifestation in harmony with the character of God and the principles He sets forth in Scripture?

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were unable to make this distinction. They loved the Scriptures more than they loved the Christ of the Scriptures. We must be careful not to fall into this trap.

On the other hand, we must also attune ourselves to the danger of esteeming the Word too little. So often Christians neglect this priceless gift, not out of laziness or apathy, but out of fear.

Well-meaning, ecclesiastical professionals and teachers have rightfully warned believers of the dangers of misinterpreting Scripture. But many Christians have taken this warning too far. Afraid to search for truth for themselves, they rely on “professional” interpretations.

Above all else, the world needs men and women who have a blazing love for God’s mighty presence. I pray that you are one of them!

Originally published in the March 1998 issue of Reaching Higher