Brownsville Revival – A River Runs Through It
(November 1999 – Volume 5, Issue 11)
On Father’s Day I am lucky to get a card from my adoring sons, so you can imagine my chagrin when I found out that on Father’s Day 1995 a church in Pensacola, Florida, got the Holy Spirit. Up until that time the Holy Spirit had apparently been camping out up in Canada (see paper on “The Toronto Blessing”), but for some unknown reason He decided to move South. Since He did, the Brownsville Assembly of God has experienced “Revival.” Four nights per week, 48 weeks per year, services are held, usually with long lines of anxious seekers wanting to get in. Of course the stats keep changing (so fast that the church’s marquee actually is a McDonalds’ type sign that reads “Over ___ souls saved”). But according to the church’s web site (www.Brownsville-revival.org), over 2,660,000 have attended the Revival and 141,387 have made decisions for Christ. These numbers are misleading however, due to counting the same people over and over. For example, if 2,000 people attended Sunday morning, and the same 2,000 attended Sunday evening, 4,000 would be recorded as attending. Nevertheless, the numbers are impressive.
Evangelist Steve Hill was scheduled to be at the Brownsville Assembly of God for only one night (June 18, 1995), but when he gave an invitation for “refreshing,” a thousand people came forward. Recognizing what he thought was a sweeping of the Holy Spirit over the people, Hill looked at the pastor, John Kilpatrick, and said “More Lord.” At that point Kilpatrick got “more” than he bargained for when he was “hit by the fire of God, and fell to the ground. He lay there for two hours” (The Remnant, June 1998, p. 12. The Remnant is a newspaper devoted to reporting on the charismatic revivals around the world).
This was just the beginning of a bizarre phenomenon for Brownsville and their pastor Kilpatrick, who said that “the glory of God was so strong on me during the early days of the revival that sometimes I could hardly keep my eyes open. When we would go home, my son would have to help me get undressed because of the tremendous glory that God was putting upon my wife and me. I tried to get up early in the morning the next day and go to the office and found myself so drunk in the Spirit that I would go from wall to wall walking down my hall. I hadn’t developed my legs yet to stand up under the glory of God. For months they had to take me and my wife out of the sanctuary in wheel chairs” (ibid. p.2).
Things got more exciting a few weeks later when a nineteen-year-old college student by the name of Alison Ward stood and prophesied: “God is in a hurry. There’s not much more time. He aches and He grieves for your spirit.” As she spoke these words she was shaking so violently that a casual observer may have thought she suffered from cerebral palsy. When she completed this prophesy she fell to the floor (ibid. p. 19; see also The Christian News, Dec. 30, 1996, p. 9).
The Brownsville Revival is reported to be a fulfillment of a prophecy by Word of Faith pastor David (Paul) Yonggi Cho (see Think on These Things, “Word of Faith”). Cho says he gave the following prophecy during a 1991 Seattle Conference:
I became deeply concerned about the spiritual decline in America. I began to pray even more earnestly for revival in these United States. As I prayed, I felt the Lord prompt me to get a map of America, and to point my finger on the map. I found myself pointing to the city of Pensacola in the Florida panhandle (Feast of Fire, John Kilpatrick, p. vii).
The revival at Brownsville duplicates many of the same excesses and bizarre experiences as the blessing in Toronto (see Think on These Things, “The Toronto Blessing”). One interesting claim not already mentioned in our paper on the Toronto Blessing is that of seeing a glory cloud, or the Shekina Glory, often described as a blue cloud or haze. If reports advertised in The Remnant are to be believed, the Shekina Glory is appearing virtually every where these days, not just in churches (op. cit. p. 3,9), but also in private homes after playing videos of revival services (p. 19).
A couple of other interesting things worthy of note are the prayer banner and the Shofar ministries. According to Brownsville’s web site:
In the fall of 1993 the Lord spoke to Pastor Kilpatrick saying “My house shall be a house of prayer.” He then sought the Lord for direction concerning this prompting and was impressed to initiate specific times of intense intercession. The Sunday evening service was set aside for praise, worship and prayer. Nine specific areas were targeted for prayer: warfare, family, schools, souls, ministries, leaders of our country, healing, pastors, and revival. Three additional areas were added later: the peace of Jerusalem, children, and catastrophic events. A banner was made for each of these areas and as the congregation gathered around each of them for intense prayer on Sunday evenings, the banner ministry in our church was born.
The church has kits available, with materials and patterns for other churches to duplicate these banners. Or, they can also send people to churches to give firsthand instruction on how to construct these banners, and to give the biblical basis for using banners. The purpose for the banners is three-fold:
1. To identify and bring focus.
2. To bring the body into one accord.
3. To bring glorious victory to the church.
When my wife and I visited the Springfield, Illinois, clone of Brownsville, we saw the banners displayed on the walls in much the same manner as a Catholic church might display icons throughout their sanctuary. In addition, these banners and others were waved constantly during the three hours of singing and dancing that preceded the sermon. I would be quite interested in learning of the supposed “biblical basis” for use of the banners. I can think of no New Testament instruction that would remotely sanction this practice.
Even stranger is the blowing of the Shofar. According to an ad placed in The Remnant (from which you can order your very own Shofar for a mere $139.00) and from information available at Brownsville-type churches, the Shofar (or ram’s horn) has many purposes. In the Old Testament it was used to usher in the biblical festivals of Israel, including the Sabbath, and to inspire the people to amend their lives and repent. The sounding of the Shofar symbolized freedom and liberty, proclaims the anniversary of the creation of the world, is a reminder of the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai (and is a reminder of the Second Coming of Christ), and was also used to bring up the Ark (the glory of God). It is a sound that is supposedly guaranteed to confuse and chase Satan away. I gather that it is the latter two purposes that have captured the interest of these people. Rather than being confused and frightened, I am certain that Satan is laughing his head off. As for the glory of God coming down at the blowing of the Shofar, the problem should be self-evident. The revivalists are confusing the Old Testament dispensation with the New. God’s glory has already arrived in the form of the Holy Spirit residing in the hearts of His people (I Corinthians 6:19). The presence of His glory is not on call, awaiting the prayers of His people, or the sounding of a horn. A biblical understanding of these facts transcends the Shofar issue, for the coming, or falling, of the Spirit upon the people is fundamental to this revival. Unless you believe that in some manner the power and glory of God can be summoned to fall on people, you have no manifestations. Without manifestations you have no crowds of people. Without crowds of people you have no revival. My, how the misunderstanding of a relatively minor and simple doctrine can make a major difference.
Like Toronto, Brownsville is known for “carpet time.” Earlier Pentecostals referred to this as being “slain in the Spirit,” which involves being bowled over by the power of God, lying in a daze on the ground, or at times acting out various manifestations such as jerking, laughing, crying, speaking in tongues, etc. For those of us who are confused on how to implement and maintain a “carpet time” ministry we have the good fortune and privilege of ordering instructional manuals (via the Brownsville Revival Product Catalog, or from their Web site). The following are some instructional guidelines:
Pray only 30-45 seconds for each person. Watch your catcher for a signal if you are praying too long. Pray the following prayers: “More Lord, Sweet Jesus, More healing, More peace, More of Your love, You are the bride of Christ, give him/her a refreshing from the Lord, etc.” Keep phrases soft and simple. Do not raise your voice (Prayer Team Manual, pp. 9-10).
“Catchers” (those with the “ministry” of catching those “slain in the Spirit”) have some guidelines as well:
When you walk behind a person, gently touch the shoulders to let them know you are there in preparation to catch them. Remove your hands afterward. If the person falls, hold your hand on their back just above the waist — not under the arms. Do not touch the person while they are receiving prayer . . . look for open areas before you begin to pray. This will avoid falling on others. Please do not block the aisles. If an individual is in the aisle and they are ‘slain in the Spirit.’ They should be laid uphill” (p.10).
Coming from a movement that is highly critical of the “organized church,” this is an amazing amount of structure involving a supposed sovereign, spontanious outpouring of God.
Speaking of organization, the leaders at Brownsville are anxious to transplant the revival. Up until recently the primary method of doing this was through pilgrimages to Brownsville. But if some cannot make it to the revival then the revival can be taken to them. Thus beginning in February 1999, the revival has been taken on the road in a series of meetings called “Awake America.”
John Kilpatrick boasts: “This is not a Brownsville thing, this is a God thing. We have seen all kinds of people here, Mormons, Baptists, Jews, Episcopal priests, Catholics, and Methodists. That’s when you know it’s God and not man” (The Remnant, p. 12). If all of these people were coming to Christ we might be more inclined to rejoice, but that is not the case. Mormons come as Mormons and leave as Mormons; the same is true of Catholics and Jews, etc. People are not coming to hear the gospel, they are coming to experience the manifestations. The result is a unification along experiential lines rather than doctrinal.
By way of example we might recall that the Toronto Blessing originated in the sphere of the Word of Faith and Vineyard churches, those representing the “New Charismatics” or the so-called Third Wave of the Holy Spirit this century. The Brownsville church is an Assembly of God, or old-line Pentecostal denomination that sprang from the “first wave of the Holy Spirit.” Now many are taking the “Revival” back to their denominations and thus influencing the Old Charismatics, or the second wave (see Think on These Things, “The History of the Charismatic Movement”). By way of verification of all this is the March 1999 issue of Charisma (the most popular magazine in the Charismatic world). The lead article had to do with the infiltration of the Brownsville Revival within the ranks of the Southern Baptist Convention. Considerable disruption among Southern Baptists has taken place, as many who have tasted of the “Revival” find that they now have more in common with this extreme fringe of the Charismatic movement than they do with their own denomination. It is interesting that Charisma gives considerable credit to Henry Blackaby and his book, Experiencing God for opening the door for acceptance to this phenomenon.
The Assembly of God itself is highly divided over the revival, although Thomas Task, the general superintendent of the denomination, “gave a full endorsement of the Revival in Pensacola and said the Brownsville Assembly of God has done more to change the direction of the Assemblies of God organization than any other organization” (The Remnant, p. 2). Task believes the revival to be the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit (see “The Murky River of Brownsville,” by G. Richard Fisher, a publication of Personal Freedom Outreach).
The metaphor of a river is a favorite of the Brownsville people. They believe that “a river is flowing,” a river of the power of God. Those who are wise will jump into this stream and flow with the Spirit. As a matter of fact “many believe this revival will never be used for historical purposes because this is the final move of God” (The Remnant, p. 4).
But one must be careful when jumping into an unknown stream. I did that once as a young man and just about drowned. When people are claiming phenomena the likes of which are never found in Scripture, when the Word of God is constantly distorted, when doctrinal error is prolific, great caution had better be exercised by even the best swimmers. Rather than leaping into an unknown current, the Scriptures caution that the spiritual “appraises all things” (I Corinthians 2:15), and warn us to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:21). When the child of God tests these muddied waters in the light of Scripture he will stay on the solid rock (Jeremiah 5:30-31; 14:14 and 16:12; Deuteronomy 13:1-3; Matthew 7:22,23).