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Forgotten Power: The Lord’s Supper and the Biblical Pattern of Revival


Editor Note: The editors of the Pneuma Review are aware that Dr. De Arteaga’s views on sacraments will not be universally received among our readers. This guest essay is printed to encourage thought and discussion. Please add your comments below to join the conversation.


Revivals without the Lord’s Supper

As we have seen,* by the time Charles Finney began his revival ministry in the 1820s, the model of the Word and the Lord’s Supper as a vehicle for revival began to diminish. With the revival ministry of Dwight Moody (1837–1899), Finney’s innovation of revivals without the traditional sacraments was solidified as the evangelical pattern. Since then no major evangelist has incorporated the Lord’s Supper as part of the revival cycle—although a few have urged immediate baptism after the conversion experience.

Was the elimination of the Lord’s Supper and its replacement with the altar call a Spirit-inspired development, or was it an unfortunate mistake? The noted Christian historian Iain Murray has recently said a loud Yes to the second question in a thoughtful and provocative book, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism.1 Murray argues that evangelicals should return to the revival methods that stressed prayer and personal repentance rather than the emotionalism of an altar call. We have pointed out how the abuse of the altar call, especially when combined with the doctrine of eternal assurance, has contributed to the blight of American antinomianism (ch. 2*).

* This is chapter 13, “Reflections on the Biblical Pattern of Revival” taken from FORGOTTEN POWER, THE by William L. De Arteaga. Copyright © 2002 by William L. De Arteaga. Used by permission of Zondervan. Read the review.

Nevertheless, it is also true that the era since the 1830s has been the most revival-rich in church history. The revivals of the current age include the great Finney and Moody campaigns, and their tradition has continued through such figures as Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. The Pentecostal revivals, which include the Azusa Street revival and the Pentecostal movement, the charismatic renewal, and the current wave of revival (Toronto/Pensacola), follow the pattern of avoiding the Lord’s Supper as a revival event.

In truth, contemporary evangelists such as Billy Graham and Reinhard Bonnke have, in sheer numbers of conversions, outpaced all of the traditional sacramental revivals of history. It is hard to see how, for instance, the current Bonnke revivals in Africa could accommodate any sort of communion service. In a recent revival campaign in Benin, West Africa, the Rev. Bonnke and his ministry team attracted 640,000 persons during their six-day campaign and received 200,000 responses for salvation. The ministry team was overwhelmed by that response, as they had brought only 120,000 copies of their discipleship booklet, Now That You Are Saved. Thankfully they coordinated with the area Christian churches to assure that those who made a decision for Christ were channeled into active fellowships.2

To criticize that many of the persons who make the altar call at such events eventually backslide is to miss the point that many others do in fact become mature Christians. The current rapid expansion of Christianity in the Third World would not have been possible without the new sacramental form of the altar call. Further, most mature evangelists, such as Graham or Bonnke, go to great lengths to cooperate with local churches to assure that the convert’s discipling follows the altar call.

Don’t criticize people that respond to altar calls at mass evangelism events because some of them will backslide, many do become mature Christians.

All of this raises an important question: Is the association of revival and the Lord’s Supper now obsolete? Should the great Scottish revivals and the Wesleyan revival be seen as charming chapters of church history that have little relevance for the modern church? Is the fact that God now seems to be pouring out his grace of revival mostly through evangelists who do not use the Lord’s Supper during revival or even teach about it as necessary for the new believer make this sacrament obsolete as a revival tool?

Reinhard Bonnke preaching at the 2005 Crusade in Jos, Nigeria.

If Christianity were ruled by statistical analysis, we might indeed conclude that such is the case and indeed declare the altar call the new sacrament of evangelization—end of argument. However, Christians must always look back to the biblical evidence as a “reality check” and affirmation of current practice. In fact, both the Old and New Testament revivals have a strong sacramental component that is too often overlooked by modern readers, who look at the biblical data through contemporary, nonsacramental categories. Looking carefully at the biblical witness will help locate the divine plan for the role of the Lord’s Supper in revivals.


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Category: Church History, Summer 2003

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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