Key Restorations In God’s Redemptive Story (The Last 500 Years)


God is working progressively in history, never doing everything at once. There are ebbs and flows, seasons where foundations were laid to prepare for the next progression. The early Church in the first century began well, engaging in cross-cultural mission that produced a quickly spreading mission movement to the unreached (Gentiles) in the Roman Empire. Yet, the subsequent centuries found the Church slipping, reflecting the worldly and political systems around them.

This article traces the gradual recoveries (restorations), from AD 1500 – 2000, of what was lost during the previous centuries of spiritual decline. During this 500-year period, God has been accelerating His redemptive purpose through the intertwining of revival and mission movements, together empowering the Church to progress in its redemptive calling.

Dr. Ralph Winter has helped the body of Christ immensely with a grid to interpret mission history since 1792. 1 Winter highlights three successive “mission eras” of modern Protestant mission history, each bringing new strategic focus to the mission endeavor. The first era from 1792–1865 to the coastlands; the second era from 1865–1935 to the inland peoples; and the third era from 1935 to present to the unreached, hidden peoples.

Using Winter’s grid as a foundation, we add a few additional historical movements over the last 500 years to glean from. We briefly touch on four revival eras and four accompanying mission eras, both contributing key restorations toward the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose.

Revival Era # 1 – The Protestant Reformation (AD 1517-1648)

The Protestant Reformation, understood against the backdrop of the Middle Ages Catholic Church that lost its way, groping in spiritual darkness, proved as Paul Pierson describes to be a “re-contextualization of the Christian faith in the new emerging Europe of the 16th century.” 2 God was mightily intervening, restoring specific areas of faith that had been lost, prioritizing core elements of the gospel long sidelined.

Mission Era # 1 – The Moravians (early 1700’s)

Since the 1700s, the widespread restoration of the Great Commission has been growing in camps across the body of Christ. The famed Moravian movement, starting in 1722, paved the way for the modern mission movement launched by William Carey in 1792. The Moravian community at Herrnhut (the Lord’s Watch), in Bavaria (modern day Germany) is a representation of core principles of effective mission mobilization movements.

Revival Era # 2 – The First and Second Great Awakenings (1730’s–1840’s)

The Moravians and their deep spirituality were the precursors to the First (1730s–1770s) and Second (1790–1840) Great Awakenings in the US and England, which influenced the launching of the first Protestant mission societies. The era was characterized by powerful preaching, crisis conversions, understanding the new birth and experiential salvation.

These two significant revival movements were the first, since the early Church in the New Testament, to experience widespread salvation and spiritual awakenings. 3 It is difficult to calculate the enormous influence of the First and Second Great Awakenings and the mission and reform movements that came out of them.

Mission Era # 2 – The Coastal Peoples (1792-1865)

The First and Second Great Awakenings are the backdrop of the impact, devotion, and message of what Kenneth Scott Latourette called the “Great Century of Missions,” 4 when the Kingdom of God would spread with such focus that cross-cultural laborers would be found on every continent by 1900.

William Carey, and others he inspired during Ralph Winter’s first era of Protestant global mission from 1792–1865, landed, lived, and ministered primarily along the coasts of Asia and Africa. There were so few of them, and the needs were so great, that trying any ministry beyond the coasts was next to impossible.

Revival Era # 3 – The 1800’s

During the 1800’s, the hand of God continued to progressively restore areas lost and forgotten over the centuries. This included significant revival movements through William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army, the famed Keswick movement in England, Andrew Murray and the revivals in South Africa, the revivals of Charles Finney and many more.

The predominant restoration of these revivals was deeper spiritual life in Christ. Whereas the Great Awakenings of the 1700s restored the experiential nature of conversion, the revivals of the 1800s emphasized growth of the inner life of the believer.

Mission Era # 3 – The Inland Peoples (1865–1934)

The revivals of the 19th century empowered believers to respond to His purpose of redemption being made available to all humanity. This included discerning that God wanted His people to reach the inland peoples of many countries in Asia and Africa. Doing so had not been considered prior as William Carey and his generation focused on the coastlands alone.

God opened a window of clarity to His Church in this era related to mission strategy that would progress deeper into geographic countries than ever before. About forty new mission structures were organized during this era that focused on the “inland peoples,” progressing beyond the coastal areas.

Revival Era # 4 – The 20th Century

The 20th century was marked by tremendous spiritual revivals that, unlike all their predecessors, became global. The restorations during the 20th century revivals focused on the Holy Spirit’s ministry to and through believers and the gifts of the Spirit. This emphasis was intended by God to bring the global Church back to her book of Acts origin.

Revival commenced in 1904 with the great Welsh revival (1904–1906), quickly followed by the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles (1906–1908), called the catalyst of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, impacting every continent.

Each successive revival in the second half of the 1900s helped integrate the ministry, gifts, and manifestations of the Holy Spirit into the overall body of Christ in a way never experienced before. There was a corporate rebaptism that transpired during the 20th century, recommissioning His global Church to embrace her core identity and take the gospel to all ethnic peoples.

Mission Era # 4 – The Unreached Peoples (1934–Present)

If the second era opened up the previously unconsidered concept of the interior, inland peoples, the third era went even farther. The first two eras focused on geographical areas—reaching coastal peoples and then inland peoples—while the third era shifted to identifying “people groups,”- cultural and sociological categories of people sharing culture, language, leadership structure, customs and worldview. If Jesus gave the Great Commission to reach all individual “ethnic people groups,” then mission strategy had to change from its previous geographical focal points.

Foundations of Focused Mobilization

Mission mobilization, as a focused entity of the overall mission movement, took a great leap forward during this era as mobilization tools were developed and distributed more widely than ever before. The “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course, developed by Ralph Winter was started in 1974.

The AD2000 and Beyond Movement with Luis Bush in the 1980s and ’90s fueled the imagination of the global Church with the possibility of “a church for every people and the gospel to every person.” The Kairos course was launched in 1994 providing education in cross-cultural mission to a growing number of people annually.

Where Are We Now?

Based on the almost unbroken, century-by-century progression of revivals and subsequent mission advances over the last 500 years, what is the Spirit saying today?

Winter’s eras highlighted target strategy used in each progressive era to reach peoples—coastal peoples, interior peoples, and finally a cultural, linguistic breakdown of ethnic peoples. There is no better strategic understanding than the concept of “ethnic people groups” for how people are corporately reached for Christ.

While Winter’s three eras focus on the target people, they overlook “who” was doing the sending. In the first three mission eras, Germany (Moravians), Great Britain, the USA, and Canada were the primary mission senders.

With Winter’s third era targeting unreached peoples, particularly later in the era (the last fifty years), a massive new trend of “who” is sending has emerged, seemingly implying a shifting toward a very different mission era. Today there are more non-western message bearers (alternative term for missionary) than western.

For this reason, some mission leaders suggest we have moved into another mission era—not in geographical or cultural people focus (as Winters’ eras brilliantly highlight), but in the Great Commission emphasized across the whole global Church.

For the first time in history, we have a truly global Church, empowered by the doctrinal and experiential restorations of the last 500 years. God has positioned His global people today for massive spiritual breakthrough among all ethnic peoples. We are truly moving toward redemptive fullness at the end of the age.

To rightly accomplish this a key restoration happening right before our eyes is the slowly growing emphasis on mission mobilization across the global Church. Understood as more than mere recruiting of laborers, a broader outlook on mobilization helps churches globally grasp the centrality of the redemptive purpose of God. This emphasis is only going to grow in the next years and decades.

*Author’s Note – This article has been adapted from the author’s book titled Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity. The book seeks to lay foundations of a Biblical missiology of mobilization while providing a practical framework to mobilize and equip the global Church in mobilization. The publisher, IGNITE Media, has given permission for portions of the book used in this article. Find more info about the book at RethinkingMobilization.com

1 Ralph Winter, “Four Men, Three Eras,” Frontier Mission Fellowship, 4 – http://frontiermissionfellowship.
org/uploads/documents/Fourpercent20Menpercent20Threepercent-
20Eras.pdf.
2 Paul Pierson, The Dynamics of Christian Mission: History Through A Missiological
Perspective (Pasadena: WCIU Press, 2009), 135.
3 Wes Adams, Revival: Its Present Relevance & Coming Role at the End of the Age (Grandview:
Fusion Ministries, 2010), 98.
4 Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, 1081.

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