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The Blessings and Burdens of Revival: George Jeffreys: A Revivalist, a Movement and a Crisis, by Neil Hudson

The desire for revival and the unending search for its first signs have formed the prayers and shaped the activities of British Pentecostals.

The years of 1914-34 were the years of Jeffreys’ remarkable success, where, almost without exception, every town and city he visited saw him conducting huge meetings. However, in 1934 he took the controversial step of ceasing to hold revival services with the intention of opening new churches around the country, preferring to revisit the churches he had previously established. This decision had a number of consequences. One was that he became more focussed on the organisational side of church life. He believed that the movement he had birthed had been shaped by his lieutenant, E.J. Phillips, into a system whereby the Spirit had been muzzled by clerical control. With the containing of the Spirit had come a loss of freedom. This concern for a loss of freedom coincided with an increasingly public row provoked by his support for British Israelism. The previously private debates developed into total estrangement between the charismatic leader and his administrative officer. By 1939, Elim’s Ministerial Conference had witnessed the undignified scenes of their leaders attempting to publicly demolish each other’s ministries and characters. By the following year, the estrangement was complete. The movement he had created voted against his ongoing leadership, leaving Jeffreys to publicly fulminate against that which he had brought into existence. He spent his last 22 years attacking the Elim movement for what he saw as their ‘Babylonish control’. The post-war years proved difficult for all evangelists, but the days of Jeffreys’ success had long gone.

However, the years 1924 through 1934 had seen him at the height of his success. The crowds who attended did not merely listen to Jeffreys, but responded to his message and the call to conversion. In 1928, the Daily News, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Daily Herald all contained reports of the 1000 people baptised at the service held at the Royal Albert Hall on Easter Monday3. These baptisms reflected some of those who had come to faith during the provinces during the previous year. Churches were encouraged to wait for the Easter services for their converts to be baptised. The scale of the meetings attracted the national press, whose stories were syndicated to many of the provincial papers. For example, the 1928 baptismal service was reported in the Daily Herald, amongst other national papers, but appeared in at least 53 local papers, in addition to the Indian National Herald.

In 1929, 600 people professed conversion in the evangelistic campaign held in Brixton; of these, nearly 300 were baptised at the Elim Bible College, with 3,000 in attendance.4 The highlight of the following year was Jeffreys preaching in the Bingley Hall, Birmingham. This evangelistic campaign had begun in the 1200-seater Ebenezer Chapel, but out of necessity had moved to the 3,000-seater Town Hall. The services then moved to the Skating Rink, seating 8,000, until on Whit Monday the 15,000 capacity Bingley Hall was booked and filled.5 This was arguably the pinnacle of his British preaching career in terms of popularity. The number of reported converts from the 90 meetings held in Birmingham was in excess of 10,000.6 Brooks reported that in 1934-1935, 1400 people responded in York, 1500 in Brighton, 1500 in Dundee, 1200 in Nottingham, 2000 in Leeds, 3000 in Cardiff and 12,000 in a series of meetings held in Switzerland.7 This resulted in the number of Elim churches increasing from 15 in 1920 to 233 in 1937.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2012, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Neil Hudson is a Pentecostal pastor who has worked in local churches, theological colleges, and is currently working with the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity as a church consultant and trainer. His most recent book is Imagine Church: Releasing Whole-Life Disciples (IVP, 2012).

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