Revival Fire | John Wimber

By John Wimber

Last October I led a 300member team throughout the British Isles to conduct five major conferences and 35 regional conferences. In all, over 50,000 people attended the sessions, whose themes included prophecy, church growth, issues facing the ’90s, and holiness.

Though in the past I have conducted series of meetings in Great Britain, extraordinary circumstances surrounding this visit created high and unusual expectations. In February of 1990 at the “Holiness” conference in Anaheim over 9,000 people from all over the world heard Paul Cain prophesy that revival would begin in England. He said, “The first shot [of revival] is going to be fired when John [Wimber] comes to England the next time.” He was referring to our scheduled October meetings.

Paul Cain’s words quickly crossed the Atlantic to Great Britain and the the five cities to which we were scheduled to host conferences: Cardiff, Wales; Edinburgh, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Harrogate and London, England. Many British church leaders were full of hope and faith for revival, though some took on a “waitandsee” posture. A few were openly skeptical.

Today, in the wake of the meetings, many Christians are asking if revival happened.

The question is straightforward and reasonable, though its answer is more elusive than I thought it would be before going to Great Britain. For the question itself raises two others: What is revival? and What specifically did Paul Cain prophesy regarding the English revival? I’ll answer the latter first.

WHAT DID PAUL CAIN PROPHESY?

Paul Cain first prophesied an English revival on the evening of August 5, 1989, at a Vineyard pastors’ conference in Denver, Colorado, which was recorded on tape.

In the audience that night was John Mumford, pastor of the S.W. London Vineyard in England. Though Paul Cain had never met either John or his wife Eleanor, on Saturday evening he called them out by name and spoke several remarkable words to them. Then, as he was closing he added,

“… and I believe that revival will probably find its starting point somewhere in October there [in England], when the Lord will just start to move throughout London and throughout England.”

Later Mumford told me that he “initially assumed Paul Cain meant revival was coming in October 1989.” When October came and went with nothing happening, he wondered if Paul had missed on his dates. “Still,” he told me recently, “because Paul has a reputation for such high accuracy I decided to suspend judgment on the word.”

In January of 1990, pastor David Parker (from the Kansas City Metro Vineyard) visited London. John Mumford showed him the verbatim transcript and asked him if he could explain Paul’s revival prophecy. David didn’t hesitate when he saw Paul’s words, “There you are-Paul is very specific about dates and times. If he had meant 1989 he would have said so.”

Later, on March seventh, John Mumford recounted his experience to a group at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Chorleywood, England. He believed that he had received revelation from Paul Cain, but he (Mumford) had added a false interpretation (that revival was coming in October 1989) and application (if it didn’t happen, it wasn’t a true word). Unknown to Mumford, tapes of his talk were widely distributed.

During July 1113 of last year Paul Cain and I spoke to 1,000 leaders at Holy Trinity Bromptom Church in London (for a report on those meetings, see Fall 1990 ES, pp. 2831). Our purpose was to introduce the prophetic to British church leaders in preparation for our October meetings.

On Saturday, July 14, after the conference was over, Paul Cain, John Mumford, several other associates and I met with a small group of leaders who had expressed significant reservations about our October plans. During the afternoon meeting someone brought up John Mumford’s Chorleywood teaching, wondering whether Mumford wasn’t rationalizing away the possibility that Paul Cain’s prophecy was off the mark. The implication, he thought, was that Paul Cain got it wrong.

Before Mumford could respond Paul Cain said, “I stand by every word I prophesied to John Mumford on August 5th.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “Thus saith the Lord: Revival will be released in England in October of 1990… Tokens of revival will come in October 1990.”

I was stunned. I had never before heard Paul introduce a word with the phrase “Thus saith the Lord,” and I assumed-correctly- that he was speaking with great authority. Suddenly the words that he had spoken in February took on greater urgency and importance. “Paul,” I said, “what do you mean by that? Do you mean revived people or revived churches? Or both?”

“I mean both.”

In summary, Paul Cain prophesied: (1) That the “first shot” of revival would come to England in October 1990; (2) That “tokens” of revival would be the first fruits of a greater revival; and (3) That it would affect individuals and whole churches. All of which leads to a more fundamental question.

WHAT IS REVIVAL?

“Revival” is a term that Christians understand in different ways. Perhaps this is because such strong images-good and bad-come to mind:

• Jonathan Edwards’s preaching of the most famous sermon in American church history, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”-and the remarkable signs of repentance and faith that followed.

• Frontier preachers at camp meetings whipping their crowds into emotional frenzies and imploring them to “walk the sawdust trail.”

• Elmer Gantry fleecing overflowing crowds of gullible and uneducated believers who return night after night for more.

• Mass evangelistic meetings like Billy Graham Crusades in which nonbelievers come to Christ.

All of these scenes leave powerful emotional impressions that are difficult for some to overcome, and which frequently distort the true meaning of revival. They create barriers to our understanding the full meaning of revival.

I think it’s difficult to understand a powerful experience which few of us have personally had. According to most historians, there hasn’t been a revival of significant proportions in North America, Great Britain, and Europe in over 50 years! (There have been some pockets of revival, but none that turned into a true awakening.)

REFRESHING LOVE

But Scripture and church history do provide some clues about revivals. Most serious theologians and past leaders of revivals are in basic agreement on the definition of revival:

• J. Edwin Orr, probably the greatest authority on revival in this century, says, “The best definition of revival is ‘times of refreshing… from the presence of the Lord.”‘

• Charles Finney, who led the l9thcentury Second Great Awakening, says that revival is a “renewal of the first love of Christians” in which believers are awakened and sinners converted.

• Stephen F. Olford, who had a great influence in Billy Graham’s life, says revival is that “strange and sovereign work of God in which He visits His own people, restoring, reanimating and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing.”

These leaders emphasize the Spirit’s refreshing, the restoration of first love, and fresh blessing. Like the valley of dry bones that the Lord breathed upon and which come alive in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 37), revivals are times in which God pours out his Spirit on spiritually dry Christians, and they live again.

“Revival,” writes historian Earle E. Cairns, “primarily applies to believers and results in a deeper Christian walk, witness, and work, both at home and abroad.”

TWO STAGES OF REVIVAL

Past revivals have tended to come in two stages. The first stage is internal-affecting the church-the second is external-affecting the community. Based on Paul Cain’s words, we should have expected the October English revival to start in the church, primarily among believers. And that is exactly what happened: the church was touched by the Spirit of God, and individuals and congregations were revived.

But it was only the beginning. Tokens of revival. The first stage- the internal stage-of what God wants to do. In fact, a closer look at how revival usually comes will help to understand where we are going.

I believe the first stage of revival-the revival of the church- comes in three phases. The first phase was the most prevalent last fall, though all three phases were evident in the meetings.

First, there is a call to return to the Lord, usually accompanied by supernatural signs. No Christian leader can doubt that the Western church has been in spiritual decline for over 50 years. We are at a point of spiritual and moral crisis.

Something has got to change, or else God’s judgment will come as surely as it did time and again on Israel in the Old Testament when they strayed from God. Charles Colson wonders if God is bringing judgment on a corrupt society and church so that “out of the ruins he might raise up his own church, pure and whole.”

God is raising up men and women to call his people back to their first love, to soften their hearts and repent from sins too numerous to recount. This call has many facets, though the most significant are the urgent need for a wholehearted dedication to Jesus, and to the unity of all believers.

The call to repentance and dedicated lives is a call to holiness. Billy Graham says, “Every revival that ever came in the history of the world, or in the history of the church, laid great emphasis on the holiness of God.”

At all five of our major conferences there was a call to holiness and a remarkable response. At several sessions during each conference, but especially in Edinburgh, Scotland, the participants expressed deep repentance and a renewed desire for God’s presence and prayer.

What made the preaching particularly effective was that it came with a demonstration of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. God’s hot breath-remarkable prophetic words and healings-was felt in the preaching of his word.

Signs and wonders were experienced at all five of the major conferences and many of the regional conferences. However, London stands out from the rest. In the Wednesday evening session my staff estimates that over 4,()00 (out of 6,000) came forward to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. In my entire ministry I have never seen a greater response to the word of God from Christians.

Second, there is a call to unity, the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer “that all of them [all Christians] may be one … that the world may believe that you [the Father] have sent me” (John 17:21). This isn’t the call for a new denomination or organization; it’s the call to a oneness of heart and mind that overcomes jealousy, envy, and strife.

It’s significant that the strongest response to the call to unity occurred at Harrogate, which was the “pastors only” conference. Hundreds of leaders verbally repented from denominational rivalry that had for years divided them from other Christians and weakened the body of Christ. Their repentance was public, and it produced reconciliation and heartfelt prayer.

With repentance comes the last phase of church revival, the fruits of repentance. At all the conferences we witnessed some signs of a renewed commitment to prayer, Scripture study, and evangelism, though it’s too early to comment on their longterm affects. Actually, these fruits are the avenue to the second stage of revival.

IN THE COMMUNITY

The second stage of revival is external, spilling outside of church boundaries into the surrounding community. This happens on two planes. First, the Holy Spirit moves horizontally, which is geographic extension. Revival can affect a whole city, as it did in the Rochester, New York, revival of 1830 and 1831. It can affect a whole nation, such as the Welsh revival associated with Evan Roberts from September 1904 to June 1905, and the American revival led by Billy Graham from September 1949 to April 1950. Or revival can be worldwide, such as the global awakening from 1900 to 1945.

Revival also moves vertically- touching all socioeconomic levels. When revivals go throughout the social order they bring radical social reform. The Second Great Awakening in the United States laid the foundation for the abolition of slavery. J. W. Bready says the “reformation of the soul” is the “soul of reformation.” Priority may be given to spiritual needs, but the meeting of material needs inevitably follows true revival.

The second stage is ignited by the return of prodigals to the family of God. When they see the flames of repentance, holiness, and dedication in the church, they are drawn back home like moths to a flame. Sons and daughters are reconciled with their parents; husbands and wives are reunited in the Lord; lost brothers and sisters are redeemed.

In England we saw a few prodigals return, drawn back by the supernatural power of God and the witness of his grace in their old Christian friends-parents, children, associates.

As more prodigals return and pockets of revival spread throughout the house of God, the fire of revival reaches a flash point. When fires burn hotter they come to a point that they literally suck in everything around them. That’s what happens at the height of the second stage of revival. Large numbers of prodigals pour back in, and with them they bring their secular friends.

This is the last and perhaps most glorious phase of revival, a time of incredible harvest, church growth, and social reform. The fire of revival runs wild in classrooms and boardrooms, courthouses and jailhouses, governors’ mansions and homeless shelters. The most hardened of sinners repent and turn to God, bringing with them husbands and wives, parents and children.

I wish I could say that England is experiencing this stage of revival today. There are already reports of extraordinary conversions, but it is too early to see much more than the tokens of revival that Paul Cain said would come.

Nevertheless, last October the Holy Spirit lit a fire of revival in England. It touched families. It touched whole congregations. And it surely touched me-and I’ve been running like a scalded dog ever since, intent as never before on seeking “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

I’m also committed to seeing the flames spread, so I’m fanning them through prayer. Why don’t you pray with me for England and for yourself?

“Will you not revive us again; that your people may rejoice in you?” (Ps. 85:6)