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

This was a radical departure from Jeffreys’ own understanding that a church that was essentially healthy was already in a state of revival. For the majority of Elim pastors, however, revival had become a technical phrase, and something that, although longed for, was seen to be almost unattainable. Although this difference in the understanding of revival was a comparatively minor issue, it is significant that Jeffreys’ specific background had led him to certain expectations of church life, which were not replicated in the majority of churches.

Revival was not to equated with spiritual emotionalism

Since the presupposition was that God wanted the church to be in a state of revival, if revival did not happen after prayer had been offered and evangelism undertaken, church members could become discouraged.

One of the eye-witnesses to the Welsh Revival wrote, ‘Three-fourths of the meeting consists of singing. No one uses a hymn book. No one gives out a hymn. The last person to control the meeting in any way is Mr. Evan Roberts. People pray and sing, give testimony; exhort as the Spirit moves them.’23 This style of worship continued after the initial social impact of the Revival had waned. Indeed, impressions of Jeffreys’ early evangelistic services emphasised a similar spontaneity. An eyewitness account of services led by Jeffreys in 1913 stated, ‘The meetings are left perfectly free and open, and the Holy Spirit just seems to bear us along – prayers, singing and speaking all interspersed. No-one is asked to speak or sing. We all do as we are moved and yet there is no confusion, no extravagance.’24

It was this abandonment of ecclesiastical organisation and liturgy that led some of the traditional denominations to set themselves against the new Pentecostal teaching.25 However, discomfort at the excesses of early Pentecostal spirituality was not confined to those from traditional churches. Although George Jeffreys’ early services had appeared to be spontaneous and free from any control, he reacted against the form of spirituality that stressed spontaneity at the expense of order. In particular, early Elim reports of Jeffreys’ conducting of services sought to establish the credibility of Elim by stressing his emphasis on solemnity and orderliness. The Elim Evangel masthead eventually included the words, ‘It [Elim] condemns extravagance and fanaticism in every shape and form. It promulgates the old-time Gospel in old-time power.’26

Jeffreys was clear-sighted in his understanding of the work of the Spirit, and was willing to stand against any emotional excesses. He recognised that the emphasis on emotionalism would not ensure successful evangelism and he became renowned for his commitment to order and dignity. McWhirter, one of Jeffreys’ early co-workers, wrote an article praising Jeffreys’ willingness to confront excesses. He contrasted Jeffreys’ policy in Elim with groups that concentrated on ‘power’, but actually ‘seldom got further than “a good time”’.27 He claimed that Jeffreys demonstrated that ‘sound reason was not incompatible with the exposition of the Full Gospel, nor decency and order with the procedure of services. In fact he rescued the (Pentecostal) Movement from fanaticism’. As a result the Elim Movement had become widely known for its ‘sanity, solidity and service’. He concluded his laudatory piece by suggesting that Elim would be acknowledged ‘as the part of the Pentecostal Movement that led the way in sobering by doctrine and balancing by practice the greatest evangelising factor of the age’. The extent to which any of these statements may be accurate is not as important as the fact that this was the image that Elim had of themselves and wished to portray to others at this time.

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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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