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

Many pastors came to find that the search for revival was too elusive.

In particular, a consistently cautious line in Elim was taken against evangelists deemed to be particularly controversial. For example, Elim was unhappy about some of the methods Smith Wigglesworth, a prominent Pentecostal evangelist and healer, employed in his services and for a time would not allow him to minister in the Elim churches because of this. In 1926, Boulton expressed his dismay that Wigglesworth had been invited to the Clapham church. He saw this as a ‘breach of the spirit of comradeship which should exist amongst us a band of workers’.28 The concerns seem to have revolved around Wigglesworth’s style of ministry. At times, he required the minister of the church to repeat things he said. One minister called this practice, ‘absolutely tommyrot’.29 They were also suspicious of his practice of ‘wholesale healing’, whereby all the sick were asked to stand and lay hands on themselves. When he prayed for the sick, he could be very rough; Gee observed, ‘very often he made people run up and down aisles, and even out into the street to “act” faith. His violent laying on of hands would almost send the seekers flying.’30 For acceptance in Elim, all these methods had to be toned down. Henderson wrote, ‘We had a real good time but I believe if he is not properly warned (as I did) he would have carried on and frightened the people’.31

Being a Revivalist was a specific ministry

Throughout the period of the 1920s-1930s, George Jeffreys was the public face of Elim. He was the person that people came to hear, and, for most of this time, was the unifying factor behind the growth of the Movement. However, this meant that the Movement’s success was solely dependent on Jeffreys. From the earliest days Jeffreys encouraged this. In 1925, when some pastors suggested that they should be involved in healing campaigns, Jeffreys expressed concern about any multiplication of healing ministries. He explained that he was concerned lest the emphasis on healing that numerous healing evangelists would encourage would become detrimental to the work as a whole.32

George Jeffreys reacted against the form of spirituality that stressed spontaneity at the expense of order.

Theologically, Jeffreys defended his reluctance to allow others to be in a similar ministry to his own by differentiating sharply between the ministry of the evangelist and the pastor. He believed that healing was a sign that validated the evangelistic message and was a fulfilment of Mark 16:15-20, open to all, regardless of belief or moral standing. However, when the evangelist moved on and the ministry of the church began, as distinct from the evangelistic campaign, there were certain conditions applicable to those seeking healing: these included baptism, taking communion and being obedient to the Lord. If these conditions were not complied with, any benefits of healing would be lost.33 Therefore, a logical conclusion of this position was that the pastor could not simply undertake the ministry of the evangelist. They had different gifts, different spheres of operation and subsequently different expectations of results. This may have stood behind his refusal to allow others to be involved in the itinerant healing ministry.

However, the more likely possibility is that Jeffreys was anxious lest his own opportunities were damaged by too many Elim evangelists and so his theological understanding of his gifts bolstered his belief in his unique position within the Movement.

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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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