What I Wish I Had Known Then

Chapter 47 of Memoirs of Jesus Freak

Although awakenings were mentioned in Church History classes at seminary, I did not learn much about them then. I wish I had known that they had beginnings and endings, that they were unusual and not normal, that they were completely a work of a sovereign God, and that they were not always wonderful and joyous events from beginning to end.

Oddly, it never occurred to me that I was involved in an awakening while it was happening. It is not that I was a brand new, right out of the box, Christian. My conversion was in 1963, I had preached occasionally before I got to seminary, was pastor of a church, and had a couple years of seminary under my belt. The trouble was that when the conversions and miracles began, I thought it had to do with my faithfulness and boldness to be a witness. Yes, I thought it had much, though not all, to do with me, that somehow I was specially used of God. The false view I had of myself and what I was seeing made for a kind of personal pride and a judgmental attitude toward others who were not as “sold out for Jesus” as I was. 

“Normal times versus awakening times,” is language I borrow from David Martin Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray, two of the most knowledgeable people on this sort of thing. They distinguish between the two, emphasizing that most of the time for most Christians, we experience normal times. We plan, pray, and preach for an outpouring of God’s Spirit, but such efforts cannot produce or guarantee it. Charles G. Finney taught exactly the opposite. Due to the seeming success Finney is reported to have had at the tail end of the second awakening in America, 1825 and on, most evangelists who came later tried to copy him. The essence of Finney’s ideas is that revival depends upon Christians. Even in the midst of the JPM, I thought this was correct. Ifsomeone had worded it as, “Philpott, do you think you can force God’s hand?” I would, of course, have said, “No.” The fact is that I was never confronted with such a challenge, so I did not think those thoughts. The prevailing attitude was that people were responsible for revival. 

This leads straight to the question, just who is in charge? On the other hand, who would argue that humans are? The concept of a sovereign God who will do what He will when He wants was essentially foreign to me. I recall an evangelistic campaign by Southern Baptists called, “I Found It.” I was then pastor of Excelsior Baptist Church in Byron, and local Baptist associations all over California were holding Billy Graham-style, evangelistic, outdoor meetings. We pasted “I Found It” bumper stickers on our cars, went door to door, handed out flyers, conducted long prayer meetings with fasting, and promoted the program as best we could. This was in 1968, right when the JPM was under way, and I was fully behind it. The advertising paid off, or rather, it sparked a negative response, as cars started sprouting bumper stickers that read, “I never had it,” “I lost it,” and “I am not looking for it.” The results were rather dismal and disappointing, and we wondered why. 

“The glorious times” were not completely apparent to me during the JPM. My memories of the conversions and miracles are somewhat over-shadowed by the devastation that followed. It is difficult to account for this. Why is it that God would allow for the dark sides of awakenings to compromise the outpouring of His Spirit? Jim Jones, The Way International, The Family, Manifested Sons of God, and many others—what about them? There were also the divisions between those who spoke in tongues and those who didn’t, and between those who submitted themselves to the Shepherding Movement and those who didn’t. 

The wild fire that looked innocent enough at first continues to haunt the Christian community now. It is only when I look back on America’s other awakenings that I begin to understand. Without question, the first two awakenings saw all kinds of serious mischief emerge during them and following them. This is without dispute. 

What Is this Phenomenon? 

There is a spiritual war going on. Whether the devil attacks or counter attacks is unknown. But the reality of the warfare is entirely clear. The same scenario is observed in Scripture. Martin Luther’s great hymn, “A Might Fortress is our God,” says it succinctly. Luther, leader of the greatest awakening the Church has ever known in its history outside the Bible, fought the devil and won some battles but lost others. Perhaps what we observe in the JPM is simply how it is in spiritual warfare. 

Another thing I have learned that I wish I had known then: I am vulnerable to deception. I am most at risk when I suppose I am above it all. It is abundantly evident to me that I must keep close to Jesus and His Word. I want to be sure that what I hold to be true is clearly stated in all of Scripture—Old Testament,

1 In regard to the Old Testament, I want to see collaboration in all three of the major sections, Torah, Prophets, and Writings.Gospels, and records of the early Church like Paul’s, John’s, Peter’s, James’, and Jude’s letters. In addition, I value the traditions and consistencies of the Church throughout its history. 

Rightly or wrongly, I am not impressed by those who say, as we often did, that they are “sold out for Jesus.” The Children of God used that phrase a lot and convinced many young Christians that the churches they were involved in were luke warm at best. Members of The Family, on the other hand, were so on fire they left everything behind, sold their possessions, and hit the road to win others. Some of this is biblical, but it was taken to extremes and used as a kind of guilt weapon to upset the lives of vulnerable people. 

I am not going to buy into a claim that God is doing something new in the last days. Prophets are proclaiming new revelations, supposedly confirmed by miracles and success in attracting large followings. We have had enough of the Mohammeds, Joseph Smiths, Russells, David Bergs, and so on. 

Jesus Christ is God become flesh, full of grace and truth. That is enough for us. 

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