On April 18, 1906, the Los Angeles Times reported a strange new revival occurring in the city. Under the headline that proclaimed, "Weird Babel of Tongues," a reporter from the paper stated that:
"...meetings are held in a tumble-down shack on Azusa Street, near San Pedro Street, and the devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal. (The) night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshipers, who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve-racking attitude of prayer and supplication. They claim to have the "gift of tongues" and to be able to comprehend the babel."
That same day, the great San Francisco earthquake occurred destroying much of that city. As the tremors from the earthquake were felt by those at Azusa Street, a "spiritual earthquake" shook the meeting, which reached near hysteria level. Although the tremors from the San Francisco earthquake were felt up and down the coast, the tremors from the spiritual earthquake spread throughout the country. And over the past century, this earthquake has cause a tsunami that has affected the rest of the world.
God visits the earth with revival and renewal on a regular basis. But God seldom shows up where religion expects Him. Even when Jesus came 2,000 years ago, His arrival was not what was expected. God showed up in a manger, not a mansion. And, as we look at revivals, we will see God rarely poured out His Spirit on organized religion. Religious systems tend to want to control the lives of their adherents. But the Holy Spirit cannot be contained in a man-made box.
God is moving in supernatural ways across the world today. These movements are usually accompanied by spiritual manifestations of every sort. And there is a debate taking place over some of these accompaniments of revival. I am talking about such things as: shaking or trembling, laughing, jerking, crying aloud, running, falling as dead, swaying, drunkenness, etc..
Many turn off and even resist revivals where such phenomenon is occurring. There is a certain mentality that everything has to be a certain way according to our traditions. During the 1st Great Awakening in the 18th century, the ministry of Jonathan Edwards was essentially the epicenter. Some people failed to see the First Great Awakening as a work of the Spirit of God because they said that God is a God of order. They would quote the Scripture, in 1 Corinthians 14:40, which reads: "Let all things be done decently and in order." They would also site 1 Corinthians 14:33, which says "God is not the author of confusion."
I don't know how many times I have heard those statements spoken to me during my lifetime to describe one's opinion of why such-and-such a revival cannot be of God. But, I have observed that what we think is orderly usually is tied to our own personal comfort zone. I have also come to learn that what I think is decent and orderly may not be the same as what God thinks. So, let's look at this topic from a biblical and historical view.
Unusual physical manifestations have been common throughout the history of the church, especially during times of revival. Sometimes these manifestations have occurred in the most unlikely settings.
Let's look at some examples of revival in America and see what went on. Although I don't advocate all that was recorded, because all revivals have evidence of human rather than godly manifestations, it is important for us to investigate these amazing periods of revival history.
During the Evangelical Revival of England in the late 1730s and the early 1740s, John Wesley saw numerous "outward signs" occur during his preaching. On June 17, 1739, for example - while Wesley was preaching in the fields, he was earnestly inviting all sinners, and I read from his journals:
"Many of those that heard began to call upon God with strong cries and tears. Some sunk down, and there remained no strength in them; others exceedingly trembled and quaked: Some were torn with a kind of convulsive motion in every part of their bodies, and that so violently, that often four or five persons could not hold one of them."
John Wesley's meetings resulted in tens of thousands of conversions. The prolific preacher, the founder of Methodism, witness many such strong manifestations.
When Wesley's friend and fellow preacher, George Whitefield, first heard about these signs, he objected strenuously. But on July 7, 1939, just 3 weeks after the account I just read of Wesley in the field, Wesley records in his journal:
"I had an opportunity to talk with him of those outward signs which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objection were chiefly grounded on gross misrepresentations of matter of fact. But the next day he had an opportunity of informing himself better: For no sooner had he begun (near the end of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion. A second trembled exceedingly. The third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans. The fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God with strong cries and tears."
Wesley concludes his journal entry that day with the statement: "From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on his own work in the way that pleaseth Him."
At about the same time, who would have thought that similar happenings would have occurred in a staid New England setting in what is now regarded as one of the greatest revivals in American history - The First Great Awakening? This is exactly what happened regularly in the meetings of Jonathan Edwards.
In describing one of the meetings in his church, Edwards writes the following:
"The affection was quickly propagated throughout the room; many of the young people and children…appeared to be overcome with the sense of the greatness and glory of divine thing, and with admiration, love, joy and praise, and compassion to others that looked upon themselves as in a state of nature (being unsaved); and many others at the same time were overcome with distress about their sinful and miserable state and condition; So that the whole room was full of nothing but outcries, faintings, and the like."
During the Autumn of that same year, Edwards writes that:
"...it was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions, and such like, both with distress and also with admiration and joy…… It was pretty often so, that there were some that were so affected, and their bodies so overcome, that they could not go home, but were obliged to stay all night where they were."
We know, from the journals of Jonathan Edwards, as well as other records from that time, these kinds of manifestations caused a number of conservative Christian ministers to criticize Jonathan Edwards, and describe his meetings as works of the flesh or of the devil. Some in Edward's day were certain that these kinds of manifestations proved that the work in question was not from God.
This doesn't sound a whole lot different than the criticisms of today. And yet, these revivals and others saw tens of thousand saved, and they dramatically changed the course of our nation.
Cane Ridge, Kentucky
Moving to the early 19th century, and the Second Great Awakening in America, I want to now take you to Cane Ridge, Kentucky. In 1801, a crowd of 12,500 gathered from several states for a camp meeting. Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians preached all over the ground. Listen to the description of one day's event by Methodist circuit rider James Finley:
"The noise was like the roar of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers, all preaching at one time, some on stumps, others in wagons and one standing on a tree which had, in falling, lodged against another...
I stepped up on a log where I could have a better view of the surging sea of humanity. The scene that then presented itself to my mind was indescribable. At one time I saw at least 500 swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens……
As to the work in general there can be no question but it is of God. The subjects of it, for the most part are deeply wounded for their sins, and can give a clear and rational account of their conversions."
Charles Finney was essentially the epicenter of the Second Great Awakening. Finney saw a least 500,000 conversions in the course of his ministry. He describes himself as "baptized in the Holy Spirit" and said that his own experience was accompanied by a "bellowing out" of the unutterable gushings of his heart.
Peter Cartwright was another 19th century circuit-rider preacher who saw many thousands of converts. In his own autobiography, he said, "I have seen more than a hundred sinners fall like dead men under one powerful sermon." He also went into detail concerning some unusual manifestations that occurred.
"Just in the midst of our controversies on the subject of the powerful exercises among the people under preaching, a new exercise broke out among us, called the jerks, which was overwhelming in its effects upon the bodies and minds of the people. No matter whether they were saints or sinners, they would be taken under a warm song or sermon and seized with a convulsive jerking all over, which they could not by any possibility avoid, and the more they resisted, the more they jerked. If they would not strive against it and pray in good earnest, the jerking would usually abate. I have seen more than five hundred persons jerking at one time in my large congregations. Most usually, persons taken with the jerks, to obtain relief, as they said, would rise up and dance. Some would run, but could not get away. Some would resist; on such the jerks were generally very severe."
As we have discovered, no awakening has ever been tidy. Each major revival contained manifestations such as falling, shouting and trembling, among others. So what does the Bible say. Can any of this be within what God considers "decent and orderly?"
I think we will find in the Scriptures that the ministry of the Holy Spirit will sometimes produce physical reactions in people. These biblical reactions can vary from trembling, shaking, trances, and physical collapse. When the Holy Spirit is manifested in a powerful way, the physical response by humans may be unusual.
But what about those verses that speak of things being done "decently and in order." And also, how are these manifestation measured against the Passage that tells us "God is not the author of confusion?"
I want to start our biblical study of this topic by going to an unusual proverb.
Proverbs 14:4 NKJV
Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.
I grew up on a farm with milk cows. Every evening, the cows were rounded up and brought to the barn. Each cow stuck their head into a manger, where grain and straw was waiting for them to eat. It was at this time the cows were milked. We were a small farm and didn't have any of the automatic milking machines. It was always done by hand. And by the time we were finished, there was a manure mess behind each cow. After the milking and the cows being led outside, we had to clean up the place. That manure became fertilizer for the following growing season.
This proverb tells us that oxen are going to mess up the barn. That was the high cost the Old Testament farmer had to pay in order to have animals available to help in planting and harvesting. If you want the benefits of farming, there are going to be times that the barn is messy.
Revival and growth are often messy. We should keep in mind this proverb, and remember that where there is life, there will be evidence of life, and life can make things messy. Anytime the miraculous breaks in upon us, we need to expect that there will be those questioning its authenticity. This happened to Jesus himself.
In Luke 4:16-20, Jesus messed up the religious barn. He exposed the anti-supernatural mentality among the religious community. And the criticism today of the supernatural also comes from within the church. Jesus was in His home church in Nazareth. He was asked to read the Word of God. He reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 NKJV.
1 "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD...
So far, so good. But then Christ closes the book and says, "Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." The people there - mostly his own relatives - were not ready to admit the supernatural. Undoubtedly they had all heard about the miraculous birth. The very next verse, we find them asking, "is not this the son of Joseph?" And in asking this, they rejected his divinity. He was not the son of Joseph - but of Mary and the Holy Spirit.
This verse does not speak of any specific manifestation, but it does show us how prone the religious establishment is to question the miraculous. Today the same mentality denies supernatural works through the body of Christ. Miracles, signs and wonders are still too often an offense to religion.
Let's look at people's response to God in the Bible. Let's search the various mannerism that were evident when God stepped into their world. As we do, we have to admit that there are times when the bodily manifestations are not generated by God's presence. Because human beings are not perfect, they can generate responses that are just that - human. There is also the possibility that the devil may try to deceive people through such antics.
Laughter and great joy
It should come as no surprise to us that tears and laughter are possible under the power of the Holy Spirit. True worship and joy can follow deliverance.
Psalms 126:1-2 NKJV
1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."
Job 8:20-21 (NKJV) adds:
20 Behold, God will not cast away the blameless, Nor will He uphold the evildoers.
21 He will yet fill your mouth with laughing, And your lips with rejoicing.
Although these verses don't instruct us specifically in the use of laughter by the Holy Spirit, you can't get away from the fact that freedom from the bondage can produce great joy. After all, salvation is a "rescue." Jonathan Edwards, in this book Religious Affections, told of many instances during his meetings, when people would burst into laughter, and moments later be melted into tears when the Spirit fell.
Shaking or Trembling
Trembling has been a regular occurrence when God steps into people's lives. God's Word includes numerous incidents where people trembled under God's power. And trembling can be either mild or convulsive. It was not at all unusual for the people of the Lord to tremble in his presence. In fact, the Lord expected that response from his people. He said as much through the mouth of his prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 5:22 NKJV
22 Do you not fear Me?' says the LORD . 'Will you not tremble at My presence,
Habakkuk 3:16 NKJV
16 When I heard, my body trembled; My lips quivered at the voice; Rottenness entered my bones; And I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble.
Individuals were known to tremble under conviction or at their conversion. In Paul's day, Governor Felix felt the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, and trembled.
Acts 24:25 NKJV
25 Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you."
Trembling and quaking were common among the American Awakenings. That is how the American Quakers received their name.
Fainting or Slain in the Spirit
Falling under the power of the Spirit has occurred in most all the revivals. It also occurred in the Bible a number of times.
Ezekiel 3:23 NKJV
23 So I arose and went out into the plain, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face.
The Bible records 6 times that Ezekiel fell as dead before the presence of the Lord.
A very common response to the presence of the Holy Spirit is what is called "slain in the Spirit." This occurs when a person loses their physical motor control and fall to the floor or ground. In Revelation 1:17, we see the apostle John "falling as dead" when he sees the Lord. In Acts 9:4, we find Saul (later Paul) knocked to the ground by the light of God's presence.
This response quite often occurs when a pastor or evangelist lays hands on a person, but I have seen it happen where no hands touched the person. This was very common under the ministry of Charles Finney and others. The first time I was slain in the Spirit was about two weeks prior to my baptism in the Holy Spirit. It happened on the platform at Lighthouse Temple in Eugene, Oregon, under the ministry of J. Philip Jackson from New Zealand.
Drunkenness or Euphoria
This appears to be evident on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:13-15 NKJV
13 Others mocking said, "They are full of new wine."
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.
15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.
Like alcohol that will sometimes cause a person to do what he otherwise would not do, the Spirit also may cause you to do things you would not usually do. Some people experience a sense of dizziness or euphoria when they experience the Holy Spirit.
Jeremiah 23:9 NKJV
9 My heart within me is broken because of the prophets; All my bones shake. I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine has overcome, because of the LORD , and because of His holy words.
Weeping is another manifestation in response to the intangible presence of the Lord. When Ezra was reading the book of the Law to the people, they began to weep spontaneously as they heard the words of the law (Nehemiah 8:9). Their weeping was not the result of hysteria or psychological manipulation.
Casting out Demons
There is another category of the work of the Spirit that frequently, though not always, produces a wide range of physical manifestations. I am referring to the casting out of demons, This may be in the form of shrieks and convulsions, among other things.
Mark 1:25-26 (NKJV) tells us:
25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"
26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.
The same thing is found in Mark 9:25-28.
Now let's look at such action with regard to being decent and orderly. I believe God may use what we call chaotic as a means to bring order. Watching a person writhing on the floor while he is being delivered of a demon may not appear very orderly to an audience. But if the person is truly delivered from that demon, the result will bring God's order into that person's life. Maybe we need to rethink what it is to be "decent and in order."
So, what are we to think about this physical manifestations occurring during times of revival? Are they of God or not? Can we have these and still be decent and orderly?
Down through history, people have tended to either completely accept or completely reject all such phenomena. According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit's ministry will sometimes produce physical reactions in people. But, do all such displays come from the Holy Spirit's presence?
If we take all possible physical displays that have occurred during a revival, they can probably fall into one of three different categories.
1. Some are best explained in terms of human responses to the excitement of revival. This can be true in both the human physical and emotional dimensions.
2. Others are more directly the result of the impact of the Holy Spirit. This is the miraculous dimension.
3. Still others are explained in terms of evil forces which oppose revival. This is the demonic dimension.
The Scriptures certainly allow that these manifestations may be legitimate reactions to a genuine work of God. But the Bible does not teach they are always genuine. In my experience, most physical manifestations have fallen into the first two groups. I have, personally, only prayed for one person who it was supposed to be oppressed by the devil. And I would caution us not to throw out the good with that which is not. We need not fear the demonic, because the power of Christ is greater. We do need to take care we don't quench the Spirit. The Bible does support the fact that physical reactions to the work of the Holy Spirit may occur in a wide variety of ways.
Having said all that, I must hasten to add this very important caveat. The Bible tells us that the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is to point to Jesus Christ. That means it is not the physical manifestation that is most important. Manifestations may be a blessing and an indicator of the Spirit's presence. But I would also say that the Holy Spirit can do powerful works in the absence of such manifestations.
Jonathan Edwards said:
"Neither a negative nor a positive judgment should be based on the manifestation alone because the Scriptures give us no such rule."
But Edwards did support that we should not restrict their occurrence.
Your "falling under the power" of the Holy Spirit may be a genuine expressions the Spirit resting upon you. But the Holy Spirit may not benefit you in the least if God does not have His way with how you live once the phenomena is over.
Suppose we were to see a man who was an alcoholic, a wife-beater and a God-hater shrieking at the top of his voice and then falling down motionless for 24 hours during a revival meeting. What if that man arose never again to drink or to hit his wife, but rather began to love her as Christ loved the church and loved God and His Word? As bizarre as that might seem to us,... we would have to conclude that the Holy Spirit had been at work in his life. That's because neither the flesh nor the devil produces love for God.
When God is pleased to give physical manifestations today, we should accept them from his hand, but we should not make the mistake of glorifying them. The manifestation is merely a reaction to the Holy Spirit's work. If we attach great significance to the manifestations, people will equate the manifestation with the work of the Spirit and even view them as a badge of spirituality.
But an equally significant mistake would be to try to suppress the manifestations. Imagine a person under intense conviction by the Holy Spirit for his sins that he has a acute sense of the torments of hell and is trembling as a result. Now imagine the immense folly of approaching a person like that and telling him to snap out of it. If we attempt to suppress a real physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit's work, we are in danger of putting out the fire of the Spirit in that man.
Manifestations are often responses to the Lord's presence. At other times, God uses manifestations to break our pride. In any case, we should pray for wisdom and discernment - and the grace to do as Paul instructs:
"Test all things; hold fast what is good." (1 Thess. 5:21)