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The leading revivalists of the Bible

Revival, church
Congregation with their pastors at a revival. |

Revivalists throughout history have been disliked by many. However, those whose ministry is revealed by the scripture are often referred to as “prophets.” While they serve a similar purpose, in today’s world people calling themselves prophets make some people nervous. Charles Finney, who has been called “The Father of all Revivals,” never called himself a prophet. Yet Finney’s message, as a former lawyer, took God’s Word as a legal covenant to his listeners and proclaimed under a prayer, “God says if you will obey my Word ‘then I will do what I say’!” The result was an estimated 800,000 souls coming to Christ.

Modern-day prognosticators who are popular in some circles seem to be those who believe that they operate in “the Word of Knowledge, and the Word of Wisdom”, often claiming to have insight into peoples’ future. Although God will be their final Judge, some of these individuals have a concerning similarity to the psychics and the clairvoyants of our day.

While predictive prophecy as it relates to individuals and their specific situations are in the book of Acts, proportionately, they are very rare. One example was Peter’s prophecy over Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). A second one was when the Apostle Paul desired to go into Jerusalem, certain New Testament prophets warned Paul against it (Acts 21). A third prophecy in New Testament was one that predicted a coming famine (Acts 11:27-29). While there are multiple end times related prophecies in the book of Revelation, the aforementioned three demonstrate that the biblical use of that gift was unique and limited.

A revivalist is first and foremost called to reach professing believers who are living lukewarm spiritual lives, or who are not seeking God with their whole hearts. The prophets of old repeatedly rebuked the Israelites who were not fully seeking the Lord and were instead mixing in idolatry and worshiping false gods. To me, one of the most foolish statements in the entire Old Testament occurred when Moses came down off of the mountain after receiving the Ten Commandments and found that God’s people had melted down all of their golden earrings to worship a golden calf. When Aaron disingenuously denied responsibility by claiming, “We threw all of our gold in the fire and out came this calf!” Moses’ response to Aaron’s obvious lie reveals that he was a revivalist.

Well-known prophets of the Old Testament, such as Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah, were revivalists as well. Their calling was to “speak forth” the words, often of rebuke, which God by His Holy Spirit gave them. They often warned of coming judgments if the Israelites did not comply. God knows that the fear of judgment can motivate us to put Him first and to seek Him with all of our hearts.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stands tall above all the revivalists of the Bible. His countless teachings trumpeted the heartbeat of the Father, which was to reclaim His children back to Him in all that Jesus did and said. The Apostle Paul comes in second on the list, doing all he could to mirror Jesus’s desire to deliver everyone spiritually. 

There is a reason that the ministry of the revivalist is so rare in today’s world. It is because it is a ministry that historically faces a lot of resistance from the established church at large. Considerable “In house” persecution comes with it, also increased spiritual battles.  Find a person who is a true revivalist, and I will show you a person who knows how to love eternally.  A person who knows how to speak the truth in love is a person like Paul whose credentials are authenticated by the consistencies of his suffering.

Seeking prophetic gifts is popular and all too easy in our day and age. Seeking to proclaim the Gospel to a hostile world, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a daily sacrifice. May the Lord raise up more revivalists in the years to come.

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.

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