"He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends" (Proverbs 17:9).
Many people have come against the Brownsville Revival over the years. Usually these attacks come from the anti-Pentecostal cessationists who teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit and demonstrations of God's power ceased after the New Testament was completed. People like John MacArthur ignore what the Word of God says about the continuation of the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. They dismiss testimonies of people falling under the power of the Holy Spirit, having visions, receiving healings, speaking in tongues. They ignore the manifestations of the Holy Spirit under the preaching of Edwards, Wesley, Whitfield, Finney, and others throughout church history. However, the latest criticism of the Brownsville Revival comes from a former attendee of the revival named Matthew Oliver. He was also a student at the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry. His article is called WHY I LEFT THE BROWNSVILLE REVIVAL. 1
My Time at the Revival
Before I go any further let me share the story of my five year experience at the revival. First of all, I personally knew Vann Lane before he moved and became the children's pastor at Brownsville Assembly of God. I remember one discussion with Vann right before he left Evangel Temple AOG in Montgomery, Alabama where he told me how hungry he was to be a part of a real revival. Later, Vann endorsed the first book I wrote called GRACE ABUSE which was published in 1998. Vann had a heart for children and revival.
I first heard about the revival in April of 1996 when a relative who lived in Pensacola brought me their local newspaper. I was amazed to read about what was happening at the Brownsville Assembly of God. I knew of Steve Hill before the revival because I read his testimony called Stone Cold Heart. That alone gave me reason to think that the revival might be the “real thing.” Because I had started a new church in Montgomery, Alabama I was very busy and unable to attend. But after hearing some more good reports, I made my first trip to the Brownsville Revival in June of 1996.
I was a little skeptical standing in the mass of people crowded around the front doors of the church (that was before the man with the bullhorn made everyone get in a line). I hoped it would be the “real thing” but I had my doubts from attending a lot of “revivals” and Pentecostal meetings that ended up being more hype than God’s power. But once I entered the sanctuary of Brownsville Assembly of God, I could feel the presence of God. It was the presence of Jesus that I had come to know when I was born again and later baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of supernatural tongues. I even saw a vision of Jesus standing on the platform behind the pulpit before the service began. Then, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, "I am here in a different way. This is what you have been longing to see. This is what you have been reading about."
You see, I spent years praying for a genuine revival and reading about the great revivals in church history. I knew that God could do it again in our time, but I had not a seen a major outpouring where thousands were saved and touched powerfully by Holy Ghost conviction of sin and anointed repentance preaching. Needless to say, the revival did not disappoint me. The presence of God touched me that night during the worship time and especially later when Steve Hill approached me to pray. As he came near me and reached out his hand, I hit the floor under the power of God before he ever touched me. And believe me, I knew it was God because I don’t do courtesy drops and I know the difference between the presence of God and emotions.
After that first service, when I preached in my church and other places, it was very evident that a new and stronger anointing of the Holy Spirit had come upon me. I had been Spirit-filled/Pentecostal for years and I had experienced the presence of God and miracles many times, but that first night at Brownsville Assembly of God I was truly revived and refreshed by the Holy Spirit. I received fresh passion for the Lord and for the lost and backslidden.
From that point on, I spent many days and sometimes entire weeks at the revival and even behind the scenes. As a pastor, I helped at altar calls and had friends who attended the school of ministry (some of which are missionaries to this day). I also bought most of the cassettes and videos of services that I missed and even had some from the school. I read most of Dr. Michael Brown's books long before the revival. And I also read Pastor John Kilpatrick and Steve Hill's books. I attended the revival often and became fully immersed in it. I went because I longed for more of the tangible presence of God and I wanted to learn all I could about all aspects of handling a move of God. And I wanted to share the truth and power that I experienced there with others.
Matthew Oliver claims that he was instructed by leaders to get saved over and over, but through all the services and sermons that I listened to from the Brownsville Revival, I NEVER heard that message. He may have interpreted it that way as a 19 year old, but night after night, I heard Steve Hill say, “If you need forgiveness, then step out and come to the altar.” The song Mercy Seat (that was sung almost every night at the altar call) was another testimony to the messages that Steve Hill preached! And Matthew’s complaint about the ongoing repentance messages of Steve Hill only reveals that he did not understand the ministry of an evangelist or the main purpose of the revival…it was for the lost and the backslidden prodigals. Those repentance messages were not for him to get saved over and over...they were for the thousands of new people who came every night. But I digress.
As a student of the Bible and revival history, I knew the Brownsville Revival would not last more than a few years. The Welsh Revival went on for one year. Azusa Street lasted just over three years. The Hebrides Revival was also three years. Charles Finney’s great revival in Rochester New York was only six months long, but thousands were saved and the effects carried on for many years. Human beings are flawed and simply cannot keep anything pure and yielded to the Holy Spirit for very long. Revival history has proven that over and over.
A few years after the revival waned, I had lunch with Dr. Michael Brown and my pastor at the time. I asked Dr. Brown face to face why the revival ended. He candidly admitted that some religion and politics got involved from the AOG denomination but he never spoke badly of anyone involved. He also admitted that he and Pastor John had some issues but they had worked them out. Obviously these old personality conflicts were resolved a long time ago so there is no need to “dig up old dirt” as Matthew Oliver has done in his article. This kind of tension happens in every workplace and in every church big or small. It even happens in Christian homes between born again wives and born again husbands!
That is why Oliver’s critique of the Brownsville Revival sounds more like gossip and bitterness rather than a needful warning to the body of Christ. I believe my wife nailed it when she said that Oliver’s article is a demonic attack on a true revival because God is about to do it again (though not until some strong judgment hits America and the world). Satan knows that he must discredit the key ingredients of revival to discourage and lead people away from the very things that plundered Satan’s kingdom of thousands upon thousands of souls. That is why Oliver didn’t keep his attack limited to the revival and its leaders; he also attacked the Biblical preaching of repentance, personal holiness, and cleansing your home of accursed objects.
Before we take a closer look at Matthew Oliver's critique of the Brownsville Revival, we must ask some questions like, "Was the Brownsville Revival perfect?” “Was everyone that helped or served perfectly mature in the Lord or perfect in their dealing with every situation that arose?” Of course not! I was there and I saw things that were done wrong in my opinion. Certainly there were things that could have been handled better, there always is. No church, ministry, or minister (including Mr. Oliver) would do everything right if put in a similar situation. Let's remember that thousands of people were showing up every night at the Brownsville Revival. “Could a leader have a battle with pride when crowds are lining up outside his church?” Of course! “Can fatigue and busyness lead to mistakes?” Absolutely! “Do the actions of one zealous usher or some children’s workers destroy the entire legacy of a move of God?” No! “Do these failures annul the mountain of good fruit that came from the revival?” Definitely not!
And how does trashing a genuine revival that led tens of thousands to Jesus and brought hundreds of thousands of prodigals back to the Father bring glory to God? Matthew Oliver claims that he has moved on in forgiveness but if so, why would he drudge up the dirt of things that may have happened in an imperfect, but powerful revival he left 16 years ago? Was it because Dr. Brown irritated him on Facebook recently? Or is he just joining the bandwagon? Sounds more like a root of bitterness to me.
Let's not forget the messy revival crew that Jesus had. In the midst of His perfect ministry (which was over 3 years of revival), His treasurer was stealing, they failed to cast the demons out of one boy to bring healing, they argued and got into strife about who of them would be the greatest, they rebuked a guy who was casting out demons in Jesus name just because he was not part of their group, they wanted to call fire down on a city, at one point they tried to push children away from Jesus, they fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus had asked them to pray, one betrayed Him, another denied Him and cursed, and the rest forsook Jesus and fled for their lives when things got tough. So we see that even Jesus had a messy revival with His apostles making some bad mistakes, getting into pride and the flesh and their actions (mainly Judas) appeared to stop the revival. In fact, someone could have written an expose of Jesus' earthly ministry "WHY I LEFT THE REVIVAL OF JESUS OF NAZARETH."
Faulty Theology & Bitterness Lead to Contradictions
As I read Oliver's article, his contradictions and errors were glaring. It amazes me how Mr. Oliver talks about love and choosing the way of love while he chooses to expose the transgressions of the Brownsville Revival. His attack against the preaching of repentance and his erroneous idea that love does not correct people or point out what is wrong are just a couple of his serious problems. I was even more troubled when I explored his blog site and discovered the bad theology he has fallen into since the Brownsville Revival. For instance, he has a blog post defending the heretic, Yoga-pushing, universalist Rob Bell and his book Love Wins.2 Oliver was much more kind and tolerant of the false teacher Rob Bell than he was to the leaders of the Brownsville Revival. Unlike Rob Bell, Brownsville never denied Jesus as the only way to heaven or that hell is real and eternal so why would Oliver attack Brownsville and defend Rob Bell?
In another post, Oliver endorses Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling as good for kids. He stated, "I remember when J.K Rowling and the Harry Potter books hit the stands. Christians were boycotting them for years. Some still are. Why? I was a children’s pastor at the time, and parents used to say that it would open their children up to witchcraft and sorcery. First off, Rowling came out as a Christian. I know many Christians don’t buy that, but she doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone. Second, our children have a desire for the supernatural that is exposed to them by their very nature of Christ in them. They will have a longing for it, period. I want my kids curious, interested and desiring to move in the supernatural. This is my guarantee, my God has the good stuff."
But here is what Good Fight Ministries said about Harry Potter’s influence on children and MTV admitted it, "When we (GFM) produced our documentary on Harry Potter, we warned of an ensuing occult revival as a result of such nefarious productions. While many claimed that Harry Potter was somehow safe, the tragic result was a mass recruitment of our youth into Wicca and other godless, neo-pagan, occult constructs. Incredibly, the evidence is now glaring amidst a neo-pagan revival… even MTV acknowledged that our ministry and others who had provided such warnings proved to be correct!
In an MTV news report that cited a study conducted by the City University of New York, it stated that, 'Wicca is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States.' MTV also admitted the following:
'A surprising number of young witches MTV News spoke with also said that they became curious about their faith through misguiding pop-culture fare like the camp Neve Campbell vehicle "The Craft" and the "Harry Potter" series. (Guess a few conservative Christian groups were right about that one.)'
There you have it! MTV is now admitting that movies like the "The Craft" and "Harry Potter" have proven to be gateways to the occult, even admitting, 'Guess a few conservative Christian groups were right about that one.'
Such a tragic revelation should give any parent who is concerned about the eternal destiny of their children great concern. May God grant us grace and diligence to be wiser and better equipped in regard to what we allow our children to be subjected to in popular culture. There is no doubt that Hollywood is transforming many once innocent children into narcissistic, demon worshipping, wand wielding, neo-pagans, who have been led to believe that they can be little gods who can manipulate the forces of the universe like Harry Potter."3
Matthew Oliver doesn’t seem bothered that Harry Potter is influencing children to dabble in Satan’s side of the supernatural world and even make it their religion. This one blog post alone shows his incredible lack of discernment and good judgment. Oliver is okay with Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling and even defends her claim of being a Christian declaring, "...she doesn't have to prove herself to anyone" but he has issues with and points out the wrongs that happened at the Brownsville Revival. Once again, Matthew Oliver ignores Scriptures for his own feel good version:
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:15-20).
So yes, Matthew Oliver, J.K. Rowling does have to prove herself to be a Christian by her fruits. And when you compare her fruit with the fruit of the Brownsville Revival, you really get a clear picture that Oliver has some twisted views. The Brownsville Revival led many to repentance and true salvation in Jesus Christ while J.K. Rowling's books and movies have led thousands into witchcraft and pagan religion!
Rebellion Is Witchcraft
Now let’s take a closer look at Matthew Oliver article. In it he tells the story of his poor (rebellious) brother being repeatedly asked to remove his hat inside the church and then finally being removed because he refused to comply with church rules. I noticed that a couple of times Oliver glorifies rebellion as an acceptable thing because they are of course from California. “The leader was appalled that I would dare question him; who was I to challenge his authority? (I was from California, didn’t he know!) So I questioned and I challenged.” Apparently, Californians just can’t help but question authority and be rebellious. Should the usher change the church rules for Oliver’s brother? No. If his brother could not do something as simple as remove his hat then he probably would not be comfortable submitting to God’s authority either. The world is full of rules/laws, if we are caught breaking the speed limit then we are issued a ticket and receive a fine. I wonder if you can escape the ticket next time if you just tell the police officer that you are from California. I don’t think so. Maybe the usher his brother encountered at Brownsville had powerfully experienced the presence of God and had reverence for God and His House. Maybe the usher wasn’t mean or legalistic but was instead operating in the fear of the Lord. And maybe Matthew Oliver should afford the usher the same benefit of the doubt that he gives Rob Bell and J.K. Rowling.
Next Oliver bashes the Brownsville children’s ministry for not doing things his way. He basically calls the people at Brownsville snobs for not allowing the children from the Saturday ministry to join in with the children in the Sunday ministry. As a pastor I have seen many people come along with “a better way” of doing ministry. Of course these people have never actually led a church or a ministry at all and have zero understanding of the logistics and issues that arise. Many churches around the country have multiple services and ask their members to pick one so they will be able to accommodate everyone. I don’t see Oliver criticizing them. If the children’s ministry at Brownsville had 400 children in attendance each service then I think they may have already had their hands full! Once again, Matthew Oliver takes a jab at Brownsville when he may not have fully understood the logistics of large scale children’s ministry at the ripe old age of 19. I have ministered to children from low income areas and they require a lot of supervision because many have been exposed to things a child should not experience. The Brownsville staff had just as much of a responsibility to the church children as they did the community children so they did the best they could for both. Praise God the Brownsville children’s ministry reached out to the community. Shame on Matthew Oliver for spreading such trash, even if his accusations are accurate they seem to originate out of bitterness from his 19 year old emotions.
Oliver says, “Let’s be honest, how many times can you hear a repentance message?” Well, if you are a Christian the message of repentance should not bother you. The notion that Oliver was required to get saved over and over just proves that he didn’t really get what was going on at the revival. Oliver stated, “And Steve Hill. Talk about a preacher. His preaching was powerful and GOD WAS ON THIS MAN. I could spend many words and pages waxing eloquent about his ministry,” but then goes on to imply that Steve Hill constantly preached the wrong message in the section titled Getting Sick of Repentance. This alone should set off the warning sirens for anyone who has read their Bible and understands the importance of the doctrine of repentance in the New Testament. In fact, one of the leaders and intercessors of the great Azusa Street Revival, Frank Bartleman wrote, “I received from God early in 1905 the following keynote to revival: ‘The DEPTH of revival will be determined exactly by the DEPTH of the SPIRIT of REPENTANCE.’ And this will obtain for all people, at all times.” 4
Contradictions abound in Mr. Oliver’s article. He implies that the world did not find love at the Brownsville Revival, yet he admits that many were born again there and touched powerfully by the Holy Spirit. I personally saw many run to the altar, shedding tears of joy and peace as they found God's love, mercy and forgiveness. And I heard Steve Hill preach many messages on the love and forgiveness of God. Steve Hill always preached the cross of Christ, His resurrection, and the need for faith and repentance in order to be saved (as did all great revival preachers). Steve Hill, Pastor John Kilpatrick and Dr. Michael Brown preached many sermons with tears in their eyes and love in their hearts. Were they perfect? No, they were human. But did they stay faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God? Yes they did! And God honored their stand and their hunger with an outpouring of His Spirit that touched millions around the world. People are still getting saved and coming to repentance through the videos and recordings of those services at the Brownsville Revival.
Matthew Oliver accuses Brownsville of making him a “legalistic mess” and then shares the story of how Dr. Michael Brown used fear tactics to control the students in the Brownsville School of Ministry. Everything that Oliver comes against Brown for is actually Biblical…I guess Oliver just doesn’t agree with the entire Bible. Oliver says that Brown took the podium and wrongfully accused students of “secret sin” but what he said prior to that is that the staff knew some students had been involved in sexual sin. How is that wrongfully accusing students? Was Oliver privy to the information Dr. Brown and the staff had? Did Oliver know the private life of every single student? It is the responsibility of leaders running Christian schools to hold their students to a standard of moral purity. I remember years ago the leaders of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City had this issue and had to take action to combat it. Any time you gather male and female students together you will have to confront these issues so why does Oliver vilify the Brownsville School of Ministry for this? Oliver calls discernment “Holy Ghost manipulation” and then once again explains how he would do it better.
He goes on to call the Biblical principle of not bringing accursed objects into your home “closed-minded thinking.” He makes fun of the books and manuals that the leaders produced and calls it “nonsense.” I guess Oliver had a better way to deal with the logistics of hosting thousands of people a night (mostly new comers) and making sure it was not chaotic. And then he calls Pastor John Kilpatrick a “superstar” and implies that he was a snob by saying, “He never said hi, never talked to me, and he never asked how I was doing. He was a superstar.” Where is the love Oliver goes on about? Doesn’t love believe the best of people? Could it be that Pastor Kilpatrick was a bit preoccupied with the responsibilities of the revival, his staff, his family, etc? Oh but that’s right, Matthew Oliver would handle everything and everyone much better than the people at Brownsville did.
Matthew Oliver expresses how grateful he is to the leaders of Brownsville as he throws them under the bus sixteen years after he left there. His article is filled with rebellion and that is why so many Christians will identify with it and embrace it. We live in a culture of rebellion. Statements like, “They were good foot soldiers because they agreed without questioning anything from leadership” reveal Oliver’s distaste for submission to authority which is a Biblical principle. Oliver was rebellious at the age of 19 and is obviously still rebellious and truly believes that he could have run the Brownsville Revival better because all we need is love. He says, “The world is not waiting for one of these ministries to all of a sudden get it one hundred percent right. The world is not waiting for one ministry to master it above all the rest. The world is waiting for love. And love is not pointing out what you are doing wrong and where you are missing it”…as he points out what the leaders at Brownsville did wrong and how they missed it (pause for laughter). And he is DEAD wrong if he really believes that love does not point out wrong and bring correction!
As Oliver begins closing out his article he says, “When I read articles about people leaving IHOP or Bethel and what they went through or what they are going through, my heart goes out to them, I have been there and I know just a sample of what they are going through. Then when I read them blasting or bashing those ministries, my heart breaks, because we have so far to go. I know the reaction, and I know how we try to justify our actions by “bringing the truth” or “opening peoples eyes.” It is because of this I have written.” Could it be that Mr. Oliver really doesn’t recognize that he just bashed and blasted the leaders of Brownsville? He says that he is still Dr. Michael Brown’s friend. As the old saying goes, with friends like that who needs enemies!
Why I Still Love the Brownsville Revival
Unfortunately for Matthew Oliver, unless he repents he will never be in the center of a true revival because God opposes the proud and He said rebellion is the same as witchcraft (hmmm, maybe that’s why Oliver is so fond of Harry Potter). Oliver gave us the list of offenses he accumulated at Brownsville so let me share why I still love the Brownsville Revival:
- It was a genuine revival or outpouring of the Spirit of God that was birthed in prayer and a desire to draw closer to God.
- It lifted up Jesus as the ONLY Lord and Savior. The cross of Christ was preached and the message of repentance brought many out of sin and compromise. Many thousands were truly born again and filled with the Holy Spirit.
- The presence of God was manifested and tangibly felt there night after night by both believers and unbelievers for years. And thus, many dry and lukewarm Christians were refreshed and revived.
- The leaders tried to keep it pure while they also tried to stay open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. And overall they did a pretty good job for as long as they could.
- They never became seeker sensitive or watered down the message or the worship or the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit to gain a crowd. Nor did they fall into the false doctrines of universal salvation or universalism that is now taking over the church. They preached that one must believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him to be saved from an eternity in hell.
- They believed and flowed in the healing power of Jesus and the other gifts of the Spirit, but those things were never the main focus of the revival. They focused on reaching the lost sinners and bringing prodigals home and they trusted the presence of God to draw people to Him in the services.
- The anointing of God at the revival was transferable to those who were hungry and willing to repent. You could leave there and the glory of God you received would touch others in other places. I saw this when I went to preach in prisons, on the Island of Mauritius, in Dublin, Georgia, and in my own church.
- I still love the Brownsville Revival because the Lord told me once that those who bash the Brownsville Revival will not receive the next move of God either. Revival history shows that almost every move of God was somehow connected to the one before it. And if a person cannot discern or receive the moving of the Spirit in a previous true revival then how can they receive Him in a new one where He will do similar things?
- I still love the Brownsville Revival because it reminds me that God can use imperfect men and women to touch His people in a mighty outpouring of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And that gives me hope that maybe He can use me or someone else to bring another great revival before Jesus comes.