June 24, 2020
David and Karen Mains host a throwback interview with Dr. J. Edwin Orr – pastor, professor, author, and foremost authority on religious revivals.
David: Karen, uh, this was a huge privilege for me to be able to talk with people like J. Edwin Orr. Last podcast was Leonard Ravenhill. And there were numbers of these individuals that I was able to converse with on this topic. But I’m aware that revival is not a topic a lot of people are all that excited about.
David: Are you interested in knowing more about past spiritual awakenings around the world among Christ’s followers?
Karen: Well, the man Billy Graham said was an expert on that very topic, revivals of Christianity. That man had several earned doctorates. I think it was actually five. Wrote a number of books on this very topic.
David: Lots of books. That was Dr. J. Edwin Orr. He died in April of 1987. He was 75 years old.
Karen: But three years before that happened, my husband, David Mains, who’s in the studio right now with me, David recorded three Chapel of the Air broadcasts with him. And you, our listeners, will be privileged to hear those programs next.
Intro: Welcome to the Before We Go Podcast featuring Dr. David Mains and his wife, noted author Karen Mains. Here’s David and Karen Mains.
David: Karen, uh, this was a huge privilege for me to be able to talk with people like J. Edwin Orr. Last podcast was Leonard Ravenhill. And there were numbers of these individuals that I was able to converse with on this topic. But I’m aware that revival is not a topic a lot of people are all that excited about.
In fact, I had a man and I think he liked me. He warned me repeatedly, “David, you’re going to have to stop pushing this revival topic down people’s throats. Over time I believe it’s going to cost you your broadcast. It’s not what people want to hear.”
I didn’t know how to respond to the words then, and I don’t know how to respond to that now. But in some ways, I think he was right. It’s interesting to me people like to glorify times of revival in scripture. Those were the best of times and historically. But when it comes to talking about revival, they tend to shy away from it.
Karen: In the contemporary circumstances and the here and now, that’s what you’re saying. They’re kind of wary about the topic.
David: It’s fine to hear it about China or India, but when you get closer to home, there is a backing away. And that’s because revival usually challenges people. Well, it always challenges people as to how they’re living. And that’s true of me as well. I remember when the revival broke out at Wheaton College.
Karen: We met the students there at Wheaton, of course, we live close to Wheaton, and you attended Wheaton College.
David: Yeah, as soon as I heard I had spoken at Wheaton for a week the semester prior to that, so I was very interested in it. And yet, even as I went and sat in the balcony and watched what was going on…
Karen: Oh, these young college students, beautiful, really standing up and confessing where they had been in sin. Oh, my, it makes you teary almost just to think about recounting that. It was extraordinary.
David: It was beautiful because after, as soon as one would finish, that person would be engulfed by seven or eight students praying over them. Yeah, it was a beautiful picture.
Karen: It’s a beautiful thing.
David: But it’s impossible to watch that without thinking, you know, there are flaws in my life and I don’t know whether I should say publicly, this has been sin in my life.
Karen: I wonder if one of the reasons people are afraid of revival is because it’s not in their control. You know, you can’t control it. It breaks out suddenly. I mean, there are things we know that classically lead to revival. And I think that’s why the voices of the past, such as Dr. Orr talking about revival of all things, we need to hear the voices again.
David: And again, I guess I just want to say what a privilege it was for me. This man was a giant. And now to hear his words again…
Karen: …from the past.
David: Yeah, I’m just overwhelmed and I’m so glad that these programs are still available to us, and our hearers can listen to them and not feel that they have to shy away in any way. Here’s Dr. Orr defining with me what revival is like.
If you want to learn about the history of revivals, the man with whom to speak is Dr. J. Edwin Orr. Dr. Orr has traveled to more than 150 countries of the world collecting materials for how many books now, Dr. Orr?
Dr. Orr: Well, I suppose I’ve written about 35. Of which about 15 would be on the subject of spiritual awakening.
David: That’s a lot of books, isn’t it? From your extensive studies regarding the history of spiritual awakenings, I want you, Dr. Orr, to evaluate the present day in terms of a possible revival throughout North America.
Dr. Orr: I would say from my more recent travels, there seems to be more prayer this past five years than I’ve known for 35 years, which is a very encouraging sign. But of course, there are certain handicaps. Some people don’t know what the word revival means. I talked to a man in Griffin, Georgia, and I said, “The country is in such a mess. Don’t you think we ought to pray for a revival?” He said, “Yes, but closer to the time.”
I said, “Well, run that past me again.” “Well,” he said, “We always hold our revival in August. What’s the good of starting to pray until July?”
That’s a misconception, but it’s a great hindrance, especially in the Bible belt.
David: Yes. Yes. Could you give us from your studies any discernible pattern to revival, how it normally develops? Is it possible to talk in those terms?
Dr. Orr: Yes. I think that although the promise was given to Solomon for the nation of Israel, the outline there is true and applies to God’s people in any given country, not only United States and Canada. “If my people called by my name shall humble themselves,” that comes before prayer, a humbling, a taking of the responsibility and blame. And then pray, then seek God’s face, God’s plan and so forth and turn it from any known sin. “Then God does hear from heaven and forgives our sins and heals” our community.
David: So, there’s in some sense an identifying with the problem as Christians even participating in it. And then there’s a turning to the Lord in repentance. Is that what I’m understanding?
Dr. Orr: Yes. Most decidedly.
David: How would you say that you could name encouraging signs then that might begin to develop in North America that would indicate something good is on the horizon?
Dr. Orr: I’ll give a typical example. I’ve spoken four years running now at national conferences for the Southern Baptist. I’m an outsider. I mean, I’m a brother, but not a Southern Baptist. But this has been an entirely new development in that great denomination. The manager of one of those great conference grounds said 10 years ago, it was unthinkable to have a national conference on prayer for revival. Now there seems to be a turning to God in Southern Baptist circles. That’s typical of what’s happening in the denominations. Of course, they prefer to call it awakening because they use the word revival for these efforts of evangelism.
David: Do you see in your own ministry tears as people listen to you talk about revival? It seems like tears are so often a good sign of revival.
Dr. Orr: I see a deep moving, really deep moving. But the seed has to be sown, has to bear fruit that way. I don’t think we’re at a place of repentance yet.
David: Talk about the place of prayer. You mentioned that before. Has there ever been a time of genuine revival without God’s people turning to prayer?
Dr. Orr: I haven’t known of any. I will say this, that sometimes some people will pray for years. Evan Roberts prayed for 11 years. But then once revival begins, people catch up on the time factor. They hear of revival in neighboring state, or some neighboring community and they quicken their prayers. And sometimes experience results without having to go through the 11 years of agonizing.
David: But somewhere somebody’s paying that price, it seems like.
Dr. Orr: That’s right.
David: You said before that the Southern Baptist talk about awakenings as opposed to revivals. Do you ever try to come up with a different term than revival just because of maybe the bad freight the term bears?
Dr. Orr: I’m trying to redeem the word. Every time I speak or lecture on a subject, I, first of all, ridicule the common American use of the term, you know, revival every Monday or revival every night, except Monday, that type of thing. I pour a scorn on that because it’s a ridiculous idea. But down in the Bible, they talk about real revival. I said, “Well, is the other unreal?” And I think it is unreal to call a revival whether you’re revived or not. I just was reading about Moody. Moody didn’t like to be told he was conducting a revival meeting unless revival occurred. But I talk about the outpouring of the spirit. That’s the point. It’s not a side stepping. It’s a pre-stepping. No man can organize an outpouring of the spirit. It is exclusive work of God. And the result is the reviving of the church. The result is also the awakening of the people.
David: You said you’re redeeming this word revival. I like that very much. Could you tell us how you define the term as you use it revival?
Dr. Orr: Well, I think you can do it both etymologically and scripturally. Scripturally, first in the Old Testament, the word is “qadash” and “chayah.” Both are translated revive. One means to restore. The other means to bring to life again. And in every case, it applies to people already in relationship with God.
Then as far as the dictionary definition is concerned, the word came into the English language about 1702, revival. Of course, the word revive was in the language already since the Bible was translated. But our revival was defined as “an awakening in or of religion,” and evangelical religion was understood. Then the word revivalist came in about a hundred years later, defined as “one who participates in or promotes such revival.”
And then the word revival is in the state of religion prevailing and such. And that’s standard definition in dictionaries to this day. But in American dictionaries there’s been a second choice added since about 1930. It says “A: an awakening in or of religion, B: also a week of meetings, especially in the South.”
David: So, actually that is a legitimate use of the term. It’s just not the use that you want when you talk about revival.
Dr. Orr: Well, I think it’s not a legitimate sense because you see it’s so often referred to evangelism there’s no reviving it at all. I mean I talk to people like when you re-furnish a house it has been furnished before. If you re-paint a wall it’s been painted before. The word revive always suggests something in addition to something that’s already taken place.
David: So, basically then, you’re saying that revival preaching is geared to the Christian primarily as opposed to the non-Christian.
Dr. Orr: Exactly.
David: That’s interesting. I think you would say that it’s in God’s heart to send revival. What barriers might there be that we put up that would prohibit him from doing so?
Dr. Orr: Well one is unbelief and other is prayerlessness. And other of course is allowing sin and the worldliness to come into the life of the church. I think that that’s a tendency even after great revivals. There’s always a cooling off and a running down. The effects of revival may continue for 40 years. Revived individuals. But as far as the general body is concerned the movement does slow down. That’s a natural consequence.
David: Certainly, seems like that’s the pattern in scripture, doesn’t it? It’s almost like one generation has a very difficult time passing it on to the next generation because God blesses the people and then the children don’t understand the reason for the blessing. And they begin to look at what they’ve been given as opposed to the Lord.
Dr. Orr: I think it was David du Plessis who said God has no grandchildren.
David: That’s an interesting statement and it certainly pertains, doesn’t it? Again, drawing on your study of the past I think you have four earned doctorates is that correct?
Dr. Orr: Well, that’s what we call classified. No, I’m more than that but I did my doctorate first at Northern on the subject of revival. And I went to Oxford after the war. I have a doctorate from UCLA, and I’ve got two others overseas.
David: Oh, my. I think that’s thrilling and it comes out very quickly when I begin talking to you just and listening to your vast knowledge on the field.
Dr. Orr: I tell my campus crusade friends, some who introduced me, hold on a moment you introduce some sergeant. You don’t say this man’s been sergeant five times. You want to… what’s wrong with the guy?
David: Well, I’m glad it came out because I think it adds credence to what we’re talking about. I want you to draw on your study of the past again and describe what revival might look like if we were to experience it today in our land.
Dr. Orr: I was asked a question the other day about the relationship with the electronic church to revival. I said it may be a means of spreading good news if it comes. But it will never take the place of movement of God’s Holy Spirit in bodies of believers. Also, another thing is this, and this would be borne out by say the feature of the Canadian prairie’s revival of 1971, the afterglow. In other words not by stereotype invitations. That’s for evangelism. But through continuing on in the presence of God and everyone free to speak. There’s a moving of God’s spirit that way. But the meetings will simply continue on as afterglow with open testimony. And that’s typical of the Welsh revival. They’re unstructured meetings with people expressing things. And it took me right back to the outbreak of revival in Hamilton Ontario in 1857. There was only one message given by Walter and Phoebe Palmer and then the body of believers took over. It became open meetings after that. Now then, you get complaints. Some people complain about the Welsh revival. There wasn’t enough preaching. The Welsh people said “…we were preached at to the utmost, but we’d never obeyed the word, and this was our obedience to the word.” So, I would say that that’s one of the first features. Open meetings, where there’s prayer and confession and restitution, reconciliation and the like. I’ve seen it on the mission field myself.
David: Is it typical in these meetings where one moves to confession that there’s emotionalism or is that unfair?
Dr. Orr: It depends entirely on people’s inhibitions. There are human factors. For some people think that confession is the work of the Holy Spirit. No, no. Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. Confession is our response. And it depends on our education, inhibitions, culture, and all the rest of it.
David: So, it will take different ramifications depending on where it happens. I remember reading in your book about the revivals in the early 1800s. How in the Eastern Ivy League schools it was very different than what happened out on the prairies, in the camp meetings.
Dr. Orr: That’s right.
David: I presume it’s hard for the spirit to touch people who have been hardened without them responding to some degree emotionally.
Dr. Orr: That’s right. When I came to the States first in 35, I remember a lady getting up in one of my meetings. On Orange New Jersey who say, “It’s interesting to hear about revival. But don’t you think it’s fair to tell the people there won’t be another revival until the Lord comes and that will be among the Jews?” Of course, I don’t hold that view at all.
David: I’m glad you don’t. And your life has influenced many lives including mine for which I’m grateful. As a writer and historian Doctor Orr is your concern primarily academic?
Dr. Orr: Not at all. I would say that it has become academic because of the necessity to prove the case to scholars.
David: Amplify that a little bit more. Don’t scholars believe in revival having value?
Dr. Orr: I would say that there has been a steady campaign of denigration of revival this past 50 to 100 years.
David: Were there abuses that brought about that mindset or what?
Dr. Orr: No. I think Satan does not like moving to the spirit of God. And I was asked about a certain well-known man who perhaps we regarded as one of the chief opponents of the whole subject. Somebody said, “How do you account for him?” Well, I said, “I think of warm wood and screw tape.” That particular department of denigration?
David: Yes. Well, I am grateful for all the work that you have done as you have chronicled revival around the world. Let us look at the world through your eyes Doctor. Where is revival presently being experienced?
Dr. Orr: I would say one of the prime examples today would be in Nagaland. Nagaland of course is north of Mizoram.
David: That’s a great deal. I know exactly.
Dr. Orr: Northwest of Burma, northeast of Bangladesh. It is a self-governing state of India. Now, the missionaries got in there in 1872 and after 100 years they had won about 100,000 active church members. They wanted to celebrate their centenary. So, of course, they decided to have a Graham campaign. But the Indian government would not give Billy Graham a visa. The question was raised in Parliament and Mrs. Gandhi said, “I will not give India a bad image by refusing a visa to a man as well like Billy Graham.”
So, he is given a permit for a very short visit and the Nagas were disappointed. However, they set aside 1973, prayer for revival in every church. 1974, consular training and anticipation of it. 1975, missionary considerations. And 1976 the movement began. Now, I told you that there were 100,000 active members in 1972. Today, 212,000.
Now that’s the evangelistic outreach of the revival. I was invited there. You may, it’s too long a story to tell you how I would get in, but I was able to wangle a permit too. And the first time I’ve ever spoken in such a vast meeting that I couldn’t see the people beyond the 20th rule because of the fog in something the Himalayas. But I was asked there because they are having the problems of success. During the outpouring of the Spirit in 76 there were 12-year-old boys who prophesied in the name of the Lord. Today some church members when they want something done, they prompt their 12-year-old boy to get up in a church meeting to speak. That’s an abuse of things.
There were people who danced for joy, for sins forgiven. Now some people say if you don’t dance in the meeting you’re not filled with the Spirit and so on. But that movement is really a successful movement. It’s probably a classic revival movement.
David: And Nagaland now that’s not an advanced culture at all.
Dr. Orr: No, in one sense yes. The missions have been so successful that the standard of education is higher among the Nagas than the rest of India.
David: Isn’t that fascinating? And that’s really part of the history of revival where society has improved as a result of the moving of the Lord.
Dr. Orr: First time I heard a Naga choir they sang a song that gripped my mind so much that I brought the song to this country. How great thou art. They were the first I ever heard sing that.
David: Isn’t that fascinating. Now is there an ebbing of the revival flow there through these abuses or does it continue to go strong?
Dr. Orr: No, you see why I mentioned the abuses. If the devil can’t stop revival, he will stampede it. And the leaders of the churches mercifully didn’t oppose the movement although they saw certain weak features. But the movement is reaching into other areas, into Burma and all the states surrounded by it.
David: Go through the world in your mind just real, quickly and what other areas know revival in a special way right now?
Dr. Orr: I would say the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Bishop Festo Kivengere visited the Solomon’s for the Sachi Evangelical Mission which is Plymouth Brethren and Baptist. But he encouraged them to pray. They thought they were having revival. They were having such good meetings, but he said “No, no. A lot more is to come yet.” He said that was his experience of the East African revival. But through the visit of a Maori evangelist, Murray Thompson was his name in the 70s, there came this remarkable movement in the Solomon Islands. And there it’s not judged by church growth because already the whole population was related to churches. There would be Methodist villages and Roman Catholic villages, Anglican villages and so forth. But church attendance has been phenomenal since. It just happened before independence and my friends who are Solomon Islanders prepared them for nationhood.
David: You have written a book on this have you not?
Dr. Orr: I’ve written a book called Evangelical Excellencies which has some paragraphs in this.
David: Yes. What factors do you see in places like this that contribute to revival that are different say than our own country?
Dr. Orr: Well, Alan Tippett who is a church growth expert in Australia, he points out that on the mission field there are two conversions. There are conversion of heathen people from idols to serve the living God, but they still don’t know the scripture. Then maybe after a period of indoctrination they become thoroughly scripture acquainted and the Holy Spirit begins to work among them as among believers in other parts of the world. I would say that’s the main difference.
David: Now revival is a very extensive topic. We can talk about revival in the world or in a nation or a large metropolitan area certainly a church a family, but I want to reduce it down to its very limit here just in terms of being intensely personal. Help us understand how someone can know revival individually. Describe what it looks like on a personal basis.
Dr. Orr: I think that personal revival is when an individual gets right with God. It presupposes he does know the Lord his Savior. But he comes under conviction of his shortcomings whether it be prayerlessness or a bitter critical spirit or whatever. But it essentially issues in the experience of Romans 12 and 1 where he presents his body a living sacrifice. Now the verb present is in the infinitive there. It’s a point of action. The best translation of that would be in the C.B. Williams translation which is carried over into the amplified version: “to make a decisive dedication of his whole personality to God.”
Actually, it’s in the verb so it would be dedicate decisively your whole personality to God. He lets God have all there is of him. Then he becomes, shall we say, subject to the filling of the Holy Spirit. I shudder to hear of people who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit without any holiness of life.
David: So that, you’re saying that even though this has happened it’s not a cure all. It is a continuing process of the spirit being given control of a life.
Dr. Orr: Well you see the Westland emphasis is a crisis of commitment and the Calvinist emphasis would be a growth in grace. Keswick emphasizes a crisis with a view to process.
David: That’s fascinating. And so, it’s continuing revival in that sense. In your own personal life, it seems like you’ve studied revival so long, isn’t it possible with a subject like this to grow sour on it after a while? And how do you guard against this in terms of your own walk with the Lord?
Dr. Orr: Well, I feel of course the big factor is the sovereignty of God. God calls people. There’s a verse which I stir up the gift to which you had with the laying on of hands. And actually, my call to the ministry was in the subject of revival. The very first band of workers, although we were young evangelists, we called the revival fellowship in Ireland. And I find I just go back to where I was before. Now it so happened that in 1933, which over 50 years ago, I came into new experience with God myself at that time. It meant putting things right with God and seeking to be filled with a spirit. And I believe He answered prayer. But there was a long apprenticeship after that. I went out on a bicycle, and I didn’t see many results. But then in my lifetime, I’ve seen times of revival so that I can speak from experience. But it’s a case of just renewing of one’s vibes.
David: On a constant basis, isn’t it? Share with us if you don’t mind, how you pray for revival in terms of your personal life. Maybe you’ve answered that already but also as it relates to the world.
Dr. Orr: Evan Roberts once said to me, “Always pray for vision to match your faith. A man may have all the faith in the world, but if he doesn’t have vision, he cannot apply it.”
I’ve never forgotten Evan Roberts saying that. So, I think vision is one of the important things. A vision of what God can do. You see, if a person doesn’t believe there’s going to be a revival before the Lord comes, he won’t see revival. He just is not a believer. There are two factors taking the promises of God.
I’ve never forgotten Armin Gesswein saying that he met an old Methodist preacher in Long Island when he was a Missouri Lutheran pastor. And he asked him, “What’s the secret of your prayer life?” He’s always pleaded the promises of God but then asked God for vision. The vision so that you may apply it. One of my favorite passages that write the vision make it so plain that he who reads it will start running. That’s been my call. So, it’s been a renewing thing. And when I get back to my original call, I feel a renewing power of the Holy Spirit.
David: Do you hear people who are responding to your call telling you that?
Dr. Orr: I was preaching. I preached one Sunday a month for a pastor who has 7500 church members on Sunday mornings. And I asked him, he wanted to videotape my talks. I asked him why he was so kind. Well, he said I heard you in college and it turned my thinking around. I get encouraged by that. When you’re over 70, it’s encouraging to find where it’s been an ongoing thing with other people that you never suspected would turn out that way.
David: What would be a promise of God that you’re claiming for this country as you go back to Scripture in your mind?
Dr. Orr: Well, I just think of the one that applies to all countries and that is “If my people called by my name shall humble themselves and pray, seek my face turn from the wicked ways and I will hear from heaven will forgive their sin will heal their land.” That is a promise that God made to the nation of Israel. But it applies to the people of God in any given country whether it’s Norway or Madagascar.
David: Or Canada. Or the United States, as well. Has all of your creativity gone into this one topic Dr. Orr?
Dr. Orr: Not altogether. I did have a ministry in the Air Force during the war which wasn’t a revival ministry. And it led to ministry in universities and colleges where I developed a kind of evangelistic apologetics. But apart from that, my main interest has been in revival.
David: Let’s talk about revival as it relates to a local church. When we speak of revival in a given church, what are we not talking about?
Dr. Orr: We’re not talking about a week of meetings for the grandisement of the membership or evangelism. We’re talking about a week of meetings for the deepening of the spiritual life.
David: When you say deepening of the spiritual life, do you mean perfection of the spiritual life or not?
Dr. Orr: Both perfection and deepening in the sense. I use the word deepening in the sense that people who have been shallow in their Christianity will become more profound.
David: Are you using the word perfection in the sense that all of the problems of the church will be solved if they experience revival?
Dr. Orr: Not all of the problems but a great number of them.
David: I like the way you say that very much. Can you either define for us or picture what revival in a local church would look like?
Dr. Orr: Well, in one sense, if any congregation of God’s people were to obey the light that they presently have they would enjoy a measure of revival. In that sense Finney is right and he says, “Revival is nothing more than the right use of the appropriate means.” But I don’t believe it’s a matter of just simply organizing choosing dates. I think Finney’s illustrations are rather on unfortunate just as a farmer chooses a day to plow the field and chooses a day to sow the seed and chooses a day to reap the harvest so you can choose the time to have a revival. I don’t believe that. I believe you’re dealing with a person, the Holy Spirit. But in one sense any church that put things right to the extent of their knowledge would enjoy a measure of revival. But as far as ongoing revival is concerned, I think there are other factors come into play.
David: Okay, share a personal experience from your long ministry Doctor Orr. Or will you believe a local church actually knew genuine revival and you were there to see it?
Dr. Orr: I remember in, I think it was probably 1950, in a Lutheran church in Lynwood, California, the pastor and his wife were hungry for a measure of blessing in their own souls. And hungry for something in their own congregation. And they did a rather, shall I say risky thing, inviting a Baptist preacher to come and preach in a Lutheran church. But the ministry God blessed and by the Wednesday we were continuing on until 10, 11 at night with the full church.
David: Were you preaching that long?
Dr. Orr: Yes. Well, I would preach and then turn it over to the people. They would respond and be having questions and testimonies and a general open meeting following that particular pattern. There was such revival that it’s standed into evangelism. He took in 1400 new members in the next year.
I’m glad it happened that way. I’m not a statistic collector. I don’t go around saying so many were converted in our meetings and so forth. I’m far happier to see an ongoing revival like that. And that lasted quite a number of years.
David: That’s thrilling. You mentioned the pastor. Is the pastor usually a key in terms of revival in a given church?
Dr. Orr: I believe so. I think if the pastor set against it, there will be no revival. And the people may have to pray that either God will change his heart or remove him.
David: Now historically, has this been a pattern where oftentimes ministers have opposed the working of God in revival?
Dr. Orr: Oh yes, because sometimes pastors feel that the element of confession that comes into revival may expose their lower standard of Christian living.
David: Is confession usually a normal part of revival?
Dr. Orr: An essential part. But I don’t believe in indiscriminate confession. I’ve always given it to the maxim, let the circle of the sin be the circle of the confession.
David: I think I need you to define that further. Say exactly what you’re telling us.
Dr. Orr: Well, if a person sins secretly, let him put it right with God who alone knows about it. If your sin privately and it’s hurt someone else, he ought to put it right with the person that he’s hurt. He doesn’t need to tell the choir about the raw he had with his wife. He needs to put it right with his wife. But then if his sin is known openly, he ought to put it right as far as it is known.
David: Okay, now how did you say that back at the beginning about the circle again?
Dr. Orr: Let the circle of the sin be the circle of the confession.
David: Okay that’s very, very, helpful. If you were to preach a revival series, we’ll say that we’ll call it that anyway in a given church, where would you begin? What themes would you pick up just to lay a base for what you’re talking about?
Dr. Orr: I would preach first on the first word of the gospel. It’s the word repent and that means to change. It doesn’t mean to feel sorry. The word metanoia means to change their attitude. I preach on repentance as the first word of the gospel. Then I speak in what way they have to change. We deal with the subject of sin. One typical way, for instance, if you take the standards of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord spoke, you shall not commit murder, but I’m telling you don’t lose your temper with your brother.
That’s a strange comparison. But you see bad temper is murder in the heart. In other words, it’s not enough, not to commit murder, but don’t have any murder in your heart. It’s not enough just not to commit adultery. We don’t have any adultery in your heart.
The standards for Christians are higher than the standards for the world outside. So, preach on sin, preach on the law. I mean, I like the Lutheran emphasis there, law and grace, but then to preach on forgiveness and confession and all the rest, leading up to total commitment, which is the crisis of sanctification.
David: Would you say one of the signs that revival is desperately needed is the lowering of the standard of righteousness in the church today?
Dr. Orr: Yes, of course. It’s a wider problem than that. George Gallup told me the other day that the number of people who claim to be born again has risen from 46% to 53% of the population. I quoted this to 50,000 people in the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, and some started to applaud.
They say, “I don’t believe this. I have lived in the same house for 35 years in California. You couldn’t kid me that more than half my neighbors are born again.” Then George Gallup today has brought out a new comparison that there isn’t much difference in the lifestyle of the church and the community today.
David: That sounds like ancient Israel, doesn’t it?
Dr. Orr: Yes. So that I would say that the problem is not merely the local church. I’m going to say something else in case we miss it. Someone asked me, a member of a very prominent denomination, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God started with us?” I said, “I don’t think he would.” I said, “It’d be nice if he would,” but I said, “You’re about the least ready to share it with anyone else.”
And there’s a factor. Some pastors think revival means success for me, success for my church. But God’s concerned with all the churches in the community. That’s why I like to see *** go around and get pastors of different denominations to pray together.
David: That’s very interesting. So, there’s almost a necessity of coming together of the various churches and of putting aside one’s personal agenda and one’s own reputation and holding up of the kingdom or the broad base of the work.
Dr. Orr: I could illustrate that during the times of revival in 49 in California. There’s a pastor came down from the San Joaquin Valley and to one of the minister’s prayer meetings. “This is what we need.” He went back to his hometown and sent out notices by postcard to all the pastors, say there’d be a minister’s prayer meeting on Thursday mornings. Nobody showed up.
Then he called them all individually. He thought he hadn’t been pressing enough. They all began with one consent to make excuse. The best excuse was one fellow who said, “I’ve got a good sermon and prayer, but I’m too busy to come to your prayer meeting. I’ll come and give it sometime though.”
David: Yes, it’s a while.
Dr. Orr: But he thought, “Well, I’d better start with someone.” So, he thought, this was a Presbyterian. He thought, “No, the Baptist man’s a good man, but a bit narrow-minded. I’ll go along and see him.” So, he went to greet the Baptist pastor and said, “I’ve come to pray with you.” There was no way out of this. So, they prayed together. But the next week they got in the Nazarene and then the Episcopal Rector and all 17 ministers.
Then they started night evangelistic meetings on Saturday nights. And they had bigger attendance in the population of the town. But this is what the Presbyterian minister said. He said, “I was talking to that Baptist the other day and he said, ‘you know, brother, before the Lord revived my heart, when I met someone that didn’t see the truth of believer’s baptism, and the way the Baptists teach it, I treated him like a heathen and a tax collector.’ But he said, ‘the Lord revived my heart. Now I’m quite willing to let him be wrong.’”
David: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. From your studies, Dr. Orr, is there any group in a local church that kind of characteristically is touched first by the spirit, like the young people or the women or the older people or whatever? You could go back in your mind in your studies. I’m wondering about this.
Dr. Orr: I find that as far as being touched to pray, it’s often the older ladies. But I find as far as the first movement’s concerns, always the young people.
David: So, it’s the younger people who respond to the message.
Dr. Orr: It’s part of the scripture, your sons and your daughters will prophecy.
David: That’s really true. As I think back even in Jonathan Edwards’ ministry, isn’t it? It’s the young people of town who first began to respond to what he was saying.
Dr. Orr: Some people say to me, but it was Peter that did the preaching. I say, if Peter said, this is that which is spoken of by the prophet Joel, your sons and your daughters shall prophecy. That must have been happening at Pentecost.
David: That’s interesting. How close to revival do you picture the average American or Canadian church been?
Dr. Orr: I think they’re far away. I do think there are signs of a movement. But most don’t know what the word means, and they don’t know what price to pay. But there seems to be a wishfulness. And I think, I find in my studies of revivals that before God sends a general revival, maybe even 10 years before, there are little local revivals break out, which demonstrate what he can do. And also raise up a leadership for the general movement yet to come.
David: That’s interesting. Now, are you seeing that 10-year cycle begin or not?
Dr. Orr: I think it’s begun.
David: So, that means there could be good things ahead, but at the same time, you’re reserved to be able to say too much right now. Maybe it’s too early to call the game, huh?
Dr. Orr: Well, it’s just that I don’t think a lot of them have started even yet. How far too many pastors worship success rather than revival?
David: Yeah, Lord, help us in that area. It’s very much a part of the day. I don’t doubt what you’re saying at all. How would a genuine revival in the churches of the United States and Canada affect the rest of the world and what God is doing in other countries?
Dr. Orr: We mustn’t forget that we’ve got a very large missionary force from North America, probably the bulk of the missionary force in the world. So, it affect through the missionary enterprise. But on the other hand, God is capable of working quite independently. I suppose one of the great centers of revival today would be the province of Hunan in China, where latest word, what I have heard is that they’re sending pastors and missionaries to all the provinces in China. There’s been such a movement in Kaifeng and around that way.
David: It’s incredible. I never even heard of such a thing. Now, I don’t have any time to pursue it, but this is in mainland China.
Dr. Orr: Yes, in the province of Hunan.
David: My sincere thanks to Dr. J. Edwin Orr for these visits.
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