A while back, a former student wrote to ask me to elaborate on a comment I had made in a Church History class.
What I had said in the class is that “No revival in church history has ever started in a church headquarters.”
The evidence for this assertion is in one sense negative. I have made the comment in several places and no one has been able to come up with an example to prove me wrong. Church denominational headquarters often devise “renewal plans” and “renewal programs,” but the reality is that these almost never seem to result in real revivals.
The positive evidence for my assertion comes from the many examples in church history when Christian faith was vibrant, attractive, and spreading rapidly:
- Jesus’ first followers came mostly from the backwater of Galilee, while He was rejected by the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
- Christians evangelized the Roman Empire starting in the remote province of Palestine rather than in Rome or Athens.
- Northern and central Europe were initially evangelized by Arians, who had been expelled from the mainstream, government-recognized church in the Roman Empire.
- Northern Europe was further evangelized by St. Patrick and the monastic movement spreading out from Ireland in the remote northwestern corner of Europe – not by missionaries from Rome.
- The Protestant Reformation started in the small provincial town of Wittenberg, not Rome.
- The Anabaptist leaders, who helped spread revival among the lower classes in the 16th century, were mostly untrained artisans.
- The evangelical revivals of the 18th century were started by a lower-ranked clergyman named John Wesley; his Methodist revival movement was later expelled from the Church of England.
This is not to say that there are no examples of rich, powerful, and well educated people who have been devout Christians. But, as Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 1, their numbers are relatively few: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”