[Ed. note: this essay has been edited to remove the identity of the author (at his request) and to conceal the identity of the church.]
It is said of Rev. David Cho, pastor of the world's largest church in Soul Korea, that while he was in the U.S. speaking in the early 1990s, he took out a map and aimed his finger at an unknown location. It fell on Pensacola, Florida. Cho made the claim that a mighty revival would break out there, and it would affect America.
On Fathers Day in June of 1995 the revival supposedly began at Brownsville Assembly in Pensacola, Florida. A guest evangelist by the name of Steve Hill from Texas was the speaker. John Kilpatrick was the pastor.
Many strange physical manifestations began to take place. People would fall over backwards in an experience called "being slain in the Spirit." Others would shake, quiver, or twitch. Some would shake uncontrollably as if they had cerebral palsy or Parkinsons Disease. It was said that the "Glory of God" came on them so heavily that their bodies could not handle it.
There are also others who were said to have become "drunk in the Spirit." They collapsed onto the floor or a chair and would lay unable to move for hours. Supposedly they are "drinking in the Spirit" or having "spiritual surgery" where God is changing them and making corrections on their life. It is not uncommon to see some of these brought out of the service in a wheelchair.
It has been reported that teenagers who have "the gift of shaking" cannot control the shaking at home or at school. Some students in Pensacola shook uncontrollably so that school authorities called the church.
I have personally visited Brownsville Assembly and have known many that claim to have experienced unusual physical manifestations while there.
I have been an ordained Assemblies of God minister for over 20 years. Our denominational leaders have put their stamp of approval on this revival and have encouraged many of their ministers to attend Brownsville and bring the manifestations back to their churches. I feel very uncomfortable with these manifestations along with numerous things that are being taught along with it.
I have been an assistant pastor at an Assemblies of God church in the Chicago area for the past four years. The senior pastor has been a strong supporter of this revival and has yearned for the "Pensacola" revival to happen at his church for well over one year. In fact he made sure the church sent every pastor on staff, along with as many deacons as possible, to visit Brownsville Assembly.
He would often say from the pulpit that the "Pensacola" revival would come to [our] church. He talked often about how his experience of being "drunk in the spirit" at Brownsville changed his life. That along with an experience of being "slain in the Spirit" through evangelist Mike Evans during a service in May of 1996, at [our] Church, where he laid on the floor for a long time. These motivated the Pastor to do all he could to bring the "revival" to his church.
A supposed outbreak of the revival began to take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So the pastor promoted a trip there for any church leaders or members to see what it's all about. Approximately 20 or so attended.
There was one challenge: the pastor couldn't create this revival on his own, so he had to bring in an outside evangelist to do it. He got in touch with an "up and coming" promoter of the "Pensacola" revival named Wayne Neal from Springfield, Missouri. Neal had been pastor of an Assemblies of God church when about a year ago he felt spiritually dry and empty. This led him go to the "Pensacola revival." While there he was singled out by Pastor John Kilpatrick and told "God has a special ministry for him with signs, wonders and souls."
Rev. Neal resigned his church and went out as a revival evangelist. Being invited to speak at the Assembly of God church in Bolivar, Missouri, he ended up preaching there for 13 straight weeks. In April of 1997 he came to hold meetings at [our] Church.
The stage was set. Everything was in place for a Pensacola type revival to occurand it did. At the end of each service people began to fall backwards all over the place along with numerous individuals shaking.
Many pastors and professors in the Assemblies of God are uncomfortable with these types of expressions. Granted God can do some things to individual believers that are out of the ordinary. But to mass-produce physical responses at the instruction of the preacher puts man more in control than God. People shouldn't have to visit some place to pick something up and bring it back. If God orchestrates something it will happen regardless of the particular pastor or evangelist.
There is no doubt in my mind that the pastor and church leaders are sincere and believe this is a great and refreshing thing. Yet sincerity does not make it right.
I felt very uneasy about it. Rev. Neal kept saying, "this is God's last revival before He returns. If you don't get in to this one you'll have no others. This one is the River of God. If you question it or fight against it you are coming against Almighty God."
The church leadership was admonished if they wanted this revival to increase and intensify they had to get behind it or get out of the way. Total unity and agreement was requested on the part of all staff pastors and church leaders.
I heard and witnessed many alarming things while present at these meetings. Let me share some of them.
1. Manipulation. The people are conditioned to believe that when the "Glory of God" comes they should expect a physical response like falling down or shaking. A passage from 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 is often mentioned to show that when the "glory" falls power is present to knock people over. But in the context of this passage when Solomon dedicated the temple the "fire of the Lord came down...and the glory of the Lord filled the temple... and the priests could not enter the house of God." God made a special appearance to show His blessing on this new Temple. It was a one-time occurrence. It did not happen every day.
Yet people are told to expect a Divine visitation at every service so strong that it will knock you off your feet and cause some of you to shake uncontrollably. The people are being manipulated and worked in to a frenzy.
If all of this really was God why would church leaders relegate it to happen only Sunday through Wednesday? When God did things in the Bible He controlled when something happened or not. Much of this is man's desire to control and manipulate others to think "some great and exciting thing is happening through us come and see and experience it for yourself."
2. Subjectivism. "Do you feel the awesome Presence and Glory of the Lord? I feel it strong now. There is a unique anointing of God's Presence here to do great things." Much of what happens depends on your feelings. If someone says they "feel the power of God so strongly they had to fall backwards or begin to shake" what can you say? It's your word against their feeling. It is subjective to the person alone. If you don't feel anything you are told not to trust your feelings and reach out to God by faith to receive an experience.
Along with this is a lot of emotionalism. The upbeat, loud, fast-driving worship choruses and the words spoken by the evangelist emotionally charges people. It is customary to have frequent outbursts of applause, jumping up and down to the music and dancing. There is a lot of excitement. That is often why it is called a revival. It is said to "bring life to dead churches." Little credence is given to quiet solitude, hymns or liturgy. Most of that is dead dry religion. Feeling, feeling, feeling is the name of the game.
3. Isolationism. The evangelist often speaks against those who would question this "revival." If you disagree you are told you are "coming against God." There is a form of insulation developed to lead the people in a direction not to question any of the bizarre things that might happen. They say "didn't Jesus do strange things? He spit in mud and placed it on a blind man's eyes. He put His fingers in the ears of one deaf and dumb and spat on his tongue. Why should you question some of the strange things going on in this revival? Don't use your mind you can't trust it. Human reasoning can't figure God out."
All of this sounds Christian but it promotes a "cultic" like environment. God has a broad base for reaching out to this world. When you say, "this is God's best way or only way" you are limiting God to your perspective. God can and does use many worship and evangelistic methods to reach out to a lost world.
It is sad that this Pentecostal "revival" has to alienate the body of Christ and isolate themselves against other ways of worship and experiencing God's Spirit. An elitism and exclusiveness is greatly promoted. There is a heavy intimidation acted out. I heard that a woman from [our] Church said her husband doesn't want to come because he feels uncomfortable. She was told it was the devil working on him and she should pray God would set him free to experience all God has for him. The attitude "it's my way or the hi-way" is often promoted.
The evangelist Wayne Neal said that those who had left [our] Church, disgruntled, in the recent past, or those who speak against this revival and leave, "God will zip your mouth as He did to Zacharias the father of John the Baptist."
It was also intimidating to have heard the evangelist say "get in on this move of God now because Jesus is coming back in two months." Then he paused briefly and said "or two years." Obviously he wanted shock value to get his point across how seriously he believes God told him He is coming back literally within the next few years.
4. Manifestations. Early Pentecostal's were called "snake handlers" and "chandelier hangers." Bizarre manifestations have accompanied Pentecostal churches for decades. Why should there be a surprise now? At the turn of this 20th Century many Pentecostal movements were born: The Assemblies of God, The Four Square Church, The Apostolic Pentecostal Church and others were spawned through revivals like Azusa Street in Los Angeles. These people were known as "the church on the other side of the tracks." Most of the churches were small. There was not a big emphasis on Biblical scholarship, Bible colleges or seminaries. It was often said, "for God to use you all you need is the Holy Ghost and the King James Bible."
As the movement began to grow in the 50s, 60s and especially the 70s through the Jesus Movement and the Charismatic Movement Assemblies of God churches began to take off. There was a great emphasis on soul winning, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with "speaking in tongues", and the "gifts of the Spirit." Scholarship and critical thinking began to take place in a deeper way as the Assemblies of God developed nine colleges and a graduate school of theology. (I am a product of an Assemblies of God Bible College and the Graduate school.)
Students began to think through more of the hyper-faith teachings on divine healing, miracles and prosperity. I myself was a polio victim 45 years ago and use a wheel chair. I've had to struggle firsthand with the doctrine of divine healing. I have come to what I feel is a balanced faith message. But some in my own denomination would disagree with me. The same is true with signs and wonders. Every Assemblies of God church did not have manifestations like "slaying in the Spirit" or "jerking and shaking in the Spirit." But since "Pensacola," more churches want the success and the numbers they've attracted.
The Assemblies of God called the 1990s the " Decade of Harvest." They were hoping to have their greatest growth ever in their history. Sadly enough there was more decline than growth. Sure it's exciting to see that hundreds of thousands of people have come to know Christ at Pensacola. Multitudes have claimed phenomenal experiences with God.
But it is troubling to package it, to copy it and promote it for every church that "wants God." It troubles me to see the abuses and the power of suggestion to manipulate people in to falling over, shaking, jerking and getting "drunk in the Spirit." I see no scriptural precedent or pattern for these happenings.
Wayne Neal said he used to think Benny Hinn was strange with knocking people down with his coat or blowing on individuals to "slay them in the Spirit." Until he began to see groups fall over as he waved his hand.
I am convinced that most of what is happening at Pensacola that I saw and what I have observed firsthand at [our] Church is a by-product of psychological-conditioning, the power of suggestion and mass-hysteria. Most of the people are innocently participating and desperately wanting something visible and tangible from God. Their lives are hurting and humdrum and in need of a life-changing experience. They might feel excited and refreshed now but eventually having to seek an emotional and physical experience continually, will get old and routine.
God's physical touch is offered as a quick fix. Getting into "the River of the Spirit" or asking God for "His fire to fall" in your life is said to change you drastically.
What used to come from in-depth, intensive Bible study, scripture memorization and disciplined living can now be achieved from an experience with God. "Let God knock you over and do spiritual surgery on you while you are lying on the ground. You'll be changed, made new, happier and more joyful if you come up to the altar and receive this experience. Just come forward and drink of this River and you'll never be the same." This is the song of the "Pensacola Revival." I only wish it were that easy for every Christian.
Sure this type of revival will attract crowds. Curious non-Christian onlookers and seekers will come and give their lives to Jesus. Church people will pour in. It's exciting to sing fast, loud, peppy songs. What church wouldn't love to attract large crowds? But the end does not justify the means. Paul said in Philippians 1:15-18: "Some preach Christ from selfish ambition...What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice..."
I am glad souls are getting saved and saints are getting excited. But I feel we must remain true to Scriptural means and methods in doing the Lord's work. Even if that means bells and whistles don't sound with the thrills of a rock concert and the entertainment of a three-ring circus.
I have felt it necessary to resign my pastoral position at [our] Church. I see this "revival" in a different way than the others. I really feel very uncomfortable around the atmosphere caused by people falling over backwards, shaking, jerking, jumping up and down, and other manifestations.
I love to teach and preach God's Word. In fact it's my personal opinion that a greater, longer-lasting change, comes more from sound Scriptural, stirring, solid Bible preaching and teaching, than supposed physical manifestations.
I only hope and pray there is still room in the Assemblies of God for me and others like me. Only time will tell. I had to leave a church I pastored for ten years because of the hyper-faith controversy. Many in the church thought I should be healed from my disability. It became such a big issue I felt it best to resign. When you have a severe physical deformity that causes daily pain and frustration, it makes it very difficult to be in a place where miracles and God's power to heal are constantly promoted. Being only human, there are deep hurts of frustration at the place of feeling terrible, that you've done all you think you can to get a miracle and still nothing happens.
You can come to a place of resolve and accept God's sovereign will, then only to be told "it is God's will you be healed if you have enough faith," or "get in on the real move of God, if you want a miracle. " etc.... A disabled person can only take so much.
Now at [our] Church I am so uncomfortable, because of the "revival controversy," I must resign. Thank God the body of Christ is bigger than one denomination or Christian way of doing things. I pray the Lord will open a door of ministry for me to share my spiritual gifts.
Sincerely, In Christ,
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