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RVWD – Is the Word Revival in the Bible ?

RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life.

The way the word revival is proliferated by many who call themselves Christians, you’d think it was on every other page of the Bible. A word search reveals that variants of it (revive, revived) occur periodically in the Old Testament in most translations. Revival itself I found one time in one translation. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words translated as revived in a couple of places. In Phillipians 4:10, Paul is expressing gratefulness at being remembered again (anathallo). There does not seem to be any indication that it is because of a spiritual “revival” subsequent to their original spiritual birth. The other cases involve life after being dead (anazao). For the prodigal son (Luke 15:24), it is obviously metaphorical, but still meaning restored to life. The other reference is, more horribly, speaking of the revival of sin (click here to read some more about sin) as Paul recounts how knowledge of God’s law made him aware of his depravity and the need to be free from this state (but never stop reading in Romans chapter 7; always continue on the chapter 8!). Neither of these have to do with the church having multiple deaths and resurrections.

In the New Testament, the references to believe, born again, and encourage are much more common. I’m not saying that we need to limit our language usage to the exact vocabulary in the Bible. (Thee’s and Thou’s, anyone?) If that were necessary, God would probably endow all Christians with an immediate understanding of Hebrew and Greek, or at least have made a commandment about learning those languages. Instead, I am questioning the more recent application of the word revival (usually attributed to Charles Finney, a historical figure of debatable reputation). The concept of “holding a revival” often looks more like business marketing, and/or a method of emotional manipulation. It is one thing to have true emotions due to repentance and reconciliation. It is another to attempt to stimulate emotional reaction by a good speech, soon to be followed by taking donations. It seems presumptuous, too, to think a “revival” can be ordered or conjured up. It reminds one of the priest of Baal dancing around the sacrifice trying to call down fire with their emotional frenzy. And, as Moses was shown, God’s presence doesn’t always look like what we expect.

With the many references to growing and maturing as believers in Jesus Christ, I would be more inclined to think Christians have growth spurts, learn to use newly developed muscles, and need periods of rest and recovery. All of this would occur naturally under the guidance of God’s spirit in them, as He completes His work. His spirit is given to every believer. Maybe people get quiet and rest confused with lack of spirituality? Possibly mistakes are viewed with legalistic severity that has never understood grace? And it could be that a religious organization is trying to justify its existence and increase its appeal by providing “consumers” with “spiritual stimulation,” which actually only God can give to each person’s heart.

Besides misapplication of Old Testament scenarios to current religious habits (the law, sacrifices, regular visits to the temple, needing a priest), the cases of Sardis (Revelation 3:1) and Laodicea (Revelation 3:20) are sometimes cited as evidence that church revival is to be expected. I see two main problems with this:

  1. Those messages to 7 churches are uniquely obscure. The language is reminiscent of prophecies in Daniel, being quite descriptive, but rich in allusions and metaphors. If someone says for sure to know what they mean, I am skeptical.
  2. There are more places in the Bible that refer to the church as the body of Christ. I have a hard time picturing His body as needing constant revival. He came back to life once. It is done.

I am not denying that individuals or groups of believers need encouragement. But to be regularly “calling” the “church” to revival, year after year, generation after generation, seems to me to distrust the work of God’s spirit. Or to be searching for the wrong thing because, dare I say it, there never was a real spiritual birth in the first place. If you know who you are in Christ, don’t let others distract you from living in the confidence of that, saying you need to show more “signs” of (emotional?) spirituality. You are already alive in Him.



  • Ben

    To quote “And it could be that a religious organization is trying to justify its existence and increase its appeal by providing “consumers” with “spiritual stimulation,” which actually only God can give to each person’s heart.”
    That seems very accurate – although obviously some people can help others to understand scripture. Often sermons did feel like a message that MUST stimulate you in the way the preacher intended.

  • lauraimprovises

    yes, I was trying to convey the difference between offering encouragement and trying to be the type of stimulus that can only come from the Holy Spirit. :-)

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