A couple of weeks ago I went to hear Rolland Baker speak at a nearby church. Rolland and his wife, Heidi, are the founders of Iris Global, an organization that has planted over 2000 churches in Mozambique and expanded its operations to around 20 other nations. These are two amazing people. They and their ministry teams have labored for years through incredible hardship, brought untold numbers of people to Christ, built hospitals, healed the sick, transformed communities, and generally accomplished more for the kingdom of God than I could ever imagine doing. Their work in Mozambique stands as one of the most fruitful missionary movements of recent history.
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Rolland speak, and his comments really gave me pause. He was quite insistent that there is nothing–literally nothing–we can do to bring about revival. Rather, revival is entirely the sovereign work of God. We human beings can only hope to participate in what God is already doing when revival happens, and it most often happens among the poor and oppressed.
God may prepare a people, Rolland said, through various trials such as took place in Mozambique before and during the emergence of Iris Ministries. When Rolland and Heidi moved there, it was the poorest country in the world. Its economy and infrastructure had been entirely devastated. When people become desperate enough, they will become hungry for God. They will desire God more than anything else. At that point, when they are truly open to receiving, when all the “stuff” that keeps them from God has been peeled off of their lives, God may pour out the Spirit in revival.
By this rationale, while God can do anything, it is unlikely that revival will break out in the United States. We are too comfortable. Most of us are not desperate for God. We may love God and even be quite devout, but most of us do not truly understand the depth of need and our utter powerlessness to save ourselves. (Rolland, if you happen to read this, I hope I’ve represented your ideas accurately.)
Rolland certainly knows a thing or two about revival, having been so instrumental in the revival in Mozambique. He is also the grandson of missionary H. A. Baker, who wrote the mini-classic, Visions Beyond the Veil. This book recounts a series of visions of heaven and hell experienced by orphans Baker worked with in China.
Though Rolland’s roots are in the Pentecostal movement, his theology is heavily Calvinistic. His wife, Heidi, leans Arminian. I’m with Heidi. Rolland’s perspective seems highly deterministic to me. Is it in fact true that we are utterly powerless to bring about revival? I sure hope not. I’ve been praying for, writing about, and teaching about revival and renewal in North America for years now.
No, we in the United States are not desperate like the people in Mozambique were (and many still are). Neither were John and Charles Wesley, though, when they began the work that would spread revival across England, into America, and throughout the world. The Wesleyan revival, in fact, is still going on today in places like Africa, Vietnam, and Cuba. The England of Wesley’s day had not been economically devastated, but it was in a period of deep spiritual lack. The church had lost much of its vitality. John Wesley in particular began to organize those who wanted to “flee from the wrath to come” into small groups called class and band meetings. Members of these groups would check in with one another, encourage each other, confess their sins, and hold one another accountable. He broke with tradition and respectability and began to preach outside of the church building. He insisted on a strict notion of scriptural holiness that would seem exceedingly rigorous to most North American United Methodists today. He held his preachers accountable for the content of their preaching. One point where Wesley’s view aligns with Rolland Baker’s is in the belief that affluence hinders revival. Wesley was worried toward the end of his life that the people called Methodists were becoming too comfortable.
Without Wesley’s efforts, would this revival have ever happened? We cannot say for sure. In time, I believe it would have. God will not be without witnesses. Even the stones will cry out if those who claim to follow Jesus are silent (Luke 19:40). As things did happen, however, the Wesleyan revival took shape in a particular way, in a particular place and time, because of the efforts of particular people (most of whom were not in fact named “Wesley”).
Can we help to bring about revival and renewal by tarrying in prayer, as my friend Jason Vickers suggests in his book, Minding the Good Ground? In The Logic of Renewal, Billy Abraham discusses a wide array of programs intended to bring about church renewal and revival, some of which have seen far more fruit than others. Where there has been fruit, can we attribute it in any way to the program that preceded it? This is actually a rather difficult theological question to answer.
I do believe, though, that God responds to our prayers. When people cry out to God, I believe God listens, and if we persist in prayer, if we seek to live in keeping with Scripture, if we walk in humility and confess our sins, I believe God will respond. It might take years. It might take decades… but God will respond.
I’ve seen revival in action. I’ve seen it among Methodist churches in Cuba and Vietnam. I just returned from Brazil on a trip led by Randy Clark where we worked with Baptist Churches to facilitate Spirit-filled renewal and revival. One night, forty-three people gave their lives to Christ. We who were ministering cannot take credit for the work of the Spirit in those who came to faith. We were simply willing vessels who asked God to use us. But God did work through people, people who could have said “no” to the call to evangelize.
On the next episode of “Plain Truth: A Holy-Spirited Podcast” (available here if you don’t have iTunes), we’re going to talk about revival and renewal, and whether these things can happen in North America. I hope you’ll check it out. Let me know what you think below!