In a comment on another page, I wrote:
"Do you know that the revivalists of the past who transformed nations, like John Wesley, and Charles Finney, believed that one should preach 90% law, and 10% grace?"
And I got this reply:
Hey, ya know that would be great if it were the 18th or 19th century for both Wesley and Finney respectively. But it's not. Grace is for today. Salvation is for today. Not yesterday's church fathers, however much you care to elevate and revere them in this day, you're missing out on a world of lost kids whom will not relate, lest they be well trained Shakespearean actors or recent grads with a BA or better in world literature.
This raises an important point for us today.
I know there can be the tendency amongst some of us to revere and elevate the former great revival leaders – Wesley, Booth, Wigglesworth and others. Some might try to emulate (copy) them in the hope of getting the same kind of results. But this approach generally doesn't work, because God wants to pour out His Spirit through people who are ALIVE TODAY, who are different and live in a different age to those former revival leaders. They lived in a different cultural context to us, they spoke English slightly differently. All this has to be acknowledged. So is there nothing of serious value we can learn from them today? This is what I wish to explore.
Jesus and the Apostles are even Further Back in Time
You can't dismiss the teachings of people who are a few hundred years old as if their messages are totally out of date. Otherwise, what should we say about the messages of Jesus and the apostles, which are almost 2000 years old? It is certain that cultural contexts change, and methods of presentation should change. But the truth about God, about Christ, about faith and about repentance and the need for it hasn't changed. To argue that we should stop preaching repentance because today's young people love the world too much to accept the gospel as Jesus and the apostles preached it is foolish. If God requires repentance from dead works from those who would enter life, in the end, we offer young people nothing if we give them a message with no saving power – just because they can accept it easily. Such "ministry" is in fact a ministry of death. It leaves the patient untreated while telling him that all is well.
The question we should be asking about past revivalists is this: is their message TRUE? Or were their critics the ones who had the truth? Did their ministries result in people conforming to the image of Christ, or not? Measured in this way, how were there results compared to those who preach "Free Grace Theology", for example, today? I hope my readers can see the foolishness of measuring God's blessing by numbers and dollars. In those departments, the Roman Catholic church would win easily. The muslims also have a lot of numbers, and a lot of dollars. It doesn't mean that God is with them. What we have to measure ministry effectiveness by, I think, is in terms of how many people who resemble the character and effectiveness of Jesus are produced. That is much closer to what God is looking for.
On the issue of true theology, it is my conviction that John Wesley and the methodists were far more Scriptural than someone like Charles Finney. The latter certainly knew how to stir up men's consciences, but his theological ideas were a form of Pelagianism which ascribed salvation more to the efforts of man than to God. It is a matter for research and investigation as to whether the long term results of Finney's ministry were truly good overall. I for one, would not embrace his theology as being sound. But neither do I embrace the theology of Calvin.
We Must Communicate in Ways people Will Listen To and Can Understand
The New Testament itself could have been written in Classical Greek, but it wasn't. It was written in Koine or common Greek. This was the spoken Greek of the day. The letters and gospels were written with the purpose of EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATING. The apostles did not consider for a moment shrouding the Good News in an aura of mystique by using Old Fashioned Language. In the Middle Ages "Religion" wrapped up the Bible in mystery by insisting it be kept only in the Latin language – something ordinary people could not understand. This did a lot of damage and allowed the Church to put aside the teachings of God and exalt man-made traditions which impeded or prevented the eternal salvation of multitudes.
I am aware that the King James Bible has many positive points to it and things which recommend it, but the archaic Elizabethan language is not one of them. In fact, there are ocassions where the words used then have changed their meaning. So reading the Bible in the KJV is a little like reading it in Latin. People somehow considered that Latin was more "holy" than the vernacular – or common language of the people.
The message of God should be communicated faithfully in ways people can understand. One important point is that people will not understand if they are totally unwilling to listen. This calls for skilled presenters of the truth who are able to make their presentations engaging enough for people to actually listen to.
What does this mean in the 21st century? We should be willing to use the media that people like to use – youtube, facebook, blogs, podcasts and so on. We should also try to use phrases that communicate effectively. I could talk about music here as well, but I don't want to get away from the main point of the article.
What Can We Learn from Past Revivalists?
I believe we should look at the ACTUAL MESSAGE they preached, and also the WAY that they lived, and encouraged others to live. What were the guiding principles behind their life? What was the secret of their power? What were they actually saying? Was what they were saying the TRUTH OF GOD or did God bless their efforts in spite of them being wrong about salvation and what it took to receive salvation from God? These questions cannot be sidestepped simply by saying that these men are no longer culturally relevant to the 21st century kids. The truth of God doesn't change according to the tastes of society. For example, some today teach that you can be saved while holding onto your sins. Revivalists like Wesley and Finney and even more modern ones like Wigglesworth taught the opposite. Who is right? Who has the true revelation of grace from God?
When we look at Wesley's message and life, we need to realise that he was also considered very radical and maybe even heretical in his day. He frequently rejected the teachings of people he called "Antinomians" referring to them as people who "speak evil of the law" and "judge the law". These were the people who believed that Christ's death and resurrection gave us the possibility of being justified by faith and grace while at the same time choosing a lifestyle contrary to the plain declarations of Scripture. According to the Antinomians, the freedom of the gospel was the freedom to practice sin and still be right with God by the merits of Christ. So you can be a thief, an adulterer, a blasphemer and possibly also have zero commitment to any local church and still be "saved". This is a popular viewpoint today also. When John Wesley began his ministry, there were more who held the Antinomian position within the Church of England than those who believed as he did that "without holiness no man will see the Lord". So if it was down to a vote by numbers, the Antinomians would have won even then. But the question is, "Which message did the Holy Spirit actually bless?" I hope you will agree that it was Wesley's message, not the message of those who believed in secure salvation by grace in sin.
Here are some quotes of Wesley:
God loves you; therefore love and obey him. Christ died for you; therefore die to sin. Christ is risen; therefore rise in the image of God. Christ liveth ever more; therefore live to God till you live with him in glory. So we preached; and so you believed! This is the scriptural way, the Methodist way, the true way. God greant we may never turn therefrom, to the right hand or to the left. (John Wesley the Methodist, The Methodist Bookd Concern, 1903)
The righteousness of Christ is necessary to entitle us to Heaven, personal holiness to qualify us for it." Bonnie Sako, Anthology of Religious Thought, Allegheny Puglications, 2001
"Do you so believe? Prove your own self by the infallible Word of God. If you do not have the fruits, effects, or inseparable properties of faith, you do not have faith." The John Wesley Reader, by Al Bryant, Word Books, 1983
Wesley said "I see the necessity of preaching a full and present salvation from all sin." Darius L. Salter, America's Bishop: The Life of Francis Asbury. Nappanee, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 2003. (146)
Was Wesley right? Or didn't he understand grace? Or was it that he had a far greater understanding of the true meaning and power of grace than most of us have today?