Something remarkable is happening in Wilmore, Kentucky.
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, as daily chapel was wrapping up at Asbury University, a private Christian college in Wilmore, one student stood up and continued speaking. That small act led to other students staying in chapel and not leaving as they normally would. Over a week later, that chapel service is ongoing, with people flocking from around the world to join in what is increasingly being described as a “revival.”
What is going on? In a Feb. 15 interview with Tucker Carlson, Asbury Student Body President Alison Perfater described the phenomenon this way:
On the deeper side of things, what’s been happening here since Wednesday is there’s a young army of believers who are rising to claim Christianity, the faith, as their own, as a young generation and as a free generation, and that’s why people cannot get enough.
Indeed, it’s a marvel to see, and an inspiration and encouragement to anyone of faith. I know that as a 50-something Baby Boomer, I have not felt so discouraged about the world in my entire life as I am now. I could list all the reasons, but then we’d be here all day, and anyway, you know what they are.
But after several years of empty churches and livestream services and now churches struggling to keep their doors open because people haven’t come back, I am heartened by the images of people of all ages coming together for worship rather than for riots.
That said, I would like to caution the Asbury worshipers. Human beings, sinners that we are, have a dangerous propensity for taking God’s good gifts and turning them into idols. We do this all the time. Instead of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, we chase after any number of other things that in and of themselves are good but that can become a hindrance if they replace the proper object of faith.
These might be the building where the church gathers, the pastor, the musical soundtrack, the style of worship, our friends at church, even our own supposed righteousness in being part of a church. When any of those things take precedence over Christ Himself, we have lost our way. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
This Sunday, Feb. 19, much of Christendom (including my own church body) will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus went up the mountain with His apostles Peter, James, and John and was there “transfigured,” his face shining with a bright light as the voice of His Father was heard to say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). As I wrote here three years ago, Christ’s transfiguration “is a pivotal event that vividly highlights Jesus’ divinity and marks a decisive turn in His ministry as He begins His journey to the cross.”
Headed Down the Mountain
What is going on at Asbury University does not in any way approach the significance of Christ’s transfiguration, but it is certainly a “mountaintop experience” for those who are taking part in it. The challenge will come when they leave and the event finally ends, as eventually it must. The temptation will be strong to keep this “revival” going indefinitely (especially with the world watching) and to feel, once it ends, that Christ is no longer doing amazing things among His people.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Christ’s work among us does not depend on our doing — whether in the form of a multi-week revival, a beautiful church, powerful preaching, or the best music. Christ will claim His kingdom regardless of our frail, human efforts. What comfort there is in this!
Dear people of Asbury, I tip my hat to you. The world is talking about you, which means they are talking about God. Maybe someone reading your story will be inspired to go back to church this weekend — or go for the first time — to see what God’s Word might offer them.
But for all of us who place our trust in Christ, we must not lose sight of where the true power lies. It is not in a once-in-a-lifetime revival experience or any single decision or action of our own. It is in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead for our salvation. Each week, as we attend services in our own congregations and hear that Word and receive God’s gifts, we are strengthened for another go-round in this tired, mixed-up world. We might, like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, wish to stay ever in worship:
And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (Matthew 17:3-4)
But in the same way that Peter, James, and John had to go down the mountain, we have to leave our churches and return to daily life, and so also will those who are now participating in the Asbury revival. Nourished by God’s Word, we all must descend the mountain to serve our families, friends, and community in the vocations to which we have individually been called: mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, church member, neighbor, coworker, and citizen. What comfort to know that Christ goes with us every step of the way.