The Wonder of the Church: Part 1 – Falling Short?
5. Problems with Religion & Revival
Matt 16:18 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Isa 8:20 (NKJV) To the law and to the testimony!
Where next? Other challenges? Well, there are two worrying extremes of which we ought to be aware. A consideration of Samson will help us focus. Now Samson was born and lived in a time described in Judg 13:1 “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.” Now I am not saying that the church is like Israel were back then. That description more aptly fits what is happening generally in the West at the present time. I have best heard Samson described as a ‘carnal charismatic’. That simply means he was someone who was out for personal pleasure while moving in the power of the Spirit. (It is interesting to note that God used him for His purposes, by His Spirit, despite his carnal appetites! That is not to be used as an excuse for our own worldliness though.) Now there are two ‘extremes’ if I may put it like that, whereby the ‘believer’ disregards the apparent call to holiness.
The Nominal ‘Believer’: The first of these is the person who purports to be a Christian but who has never, to use Jesus’ language, been ‘born again’ (see Jn 3 and a later study). These are people who ‘attend church’ but who know little if anything of the life of God in their lives. They are ‘religious’, apparently devout and even pious, regular church attenders for whom the words of the preacher mean little but words. They have never yet been convicted and so have never repented and never made a profession of faith, receiving Jesus as their saviour and as their Lord. In fact, words such as ‘born again’ and ‘repentance’ and ‘salvation’ are considered by them to be the language of religious zealots, the ‘over-enthusiastic’ or even the ‘super-spiritual’. Prayer is for formal times, during liturgy, before meals, at funerals and so on. Bible reading is for church services.
These people need to be confronted with the truths of the New Testament and the realities of the Christian faith. If Sunday morning messages are gentle little homilies, happy little talks rather than the robust declaring of the Gospel and the call of God to the holy life, ‘religion’ remains convenient; it also tends to remain out of the boardroom and workplace. Having been an observer of the diverse church over the years, I believe there are many who fit the descriptions of this paragraph and for that reason, apart from the others we have considered so far, we need to be quite clear in our minds what is required of a believer, what it is that makes a person a Christian, part of the Church, and the sort of life they are called to.
In Days of Revival: Now it may appear bizarre at first sight, to be considering revivals as the second of the two extremes that I referred to, but as we will see, we must consider what happens so often. The student of revivals know that they are not the same as an evangelistic meeting, which has often been a description in the States, but a revival is a sovereign move of God in power where conviction falls on individuals and crowds sovereignly, a mighty move of God. The charismatic movement in the back quarter of the twentieth century was not a revival. A revival is a sovereign work of Almighty God, a time when God turns up in sovereign convicting power. I have used that word ‘sovereign’ more than once because observing the revivals in the Church era of the last two thousand years, that is the primary characteristic of it, as God brings mighty conviction to men and women in numbers that they are sinners and need the salvation that He has provided through His Son.
Now in all my reading of the years of revivals, one of the sad things that is often observable about a revival is that it is of a limited period. It may be a few months or a few years or even a few decades. The fact that it is a sovereign move of God does not mean that the wills of men and women are completely subjugated. History shows that there can be a diminishing of fervour, there can be competition among leaders, indeed there can be a falling from grace, as incredible as that sounds under such circumstances. Another characteristic that can appear is that teaching becomes sublimated into narrow channels to do with the Spirit and the focus can become experience-orientated at the cost of doctrine. The key is to always ensure Spirit AND word, life and experience, and power enhanced by teaching and the word.
Now as I have said previously there may be signs on the earth of revival coming and I know one well-known prophet has prophesied there is coming in our time, not far off, a worldwide outpouring of the Spirit in revival power. Certainly let’s pray for that, for our world certainly needs it. Yet we have to acknowledge what I said earlier, that the Lord does not force revivals to go on and on and on. The lessons come and yet humanity still seems to have a way of forcing itself to the surface, and so initial excesses are accepted and even welcomed, which means men often love the experience and love the power, so that other aspects of living a holy life are lost along the way. Now I don’t want this to sound depressing, simply to help us face reality so that, in so doing, we may prolong such times by seeking that balance I just referred to in the previous paragraph.
Lesser Moves: You may read the two paragraphs above and respond, “Surely not! Surely that cannot happen when God moves in such sovereign power?” There are three answers to that. First, read the history of Israel in the Old Testament and you see a people who managed to get it wrong again and again, despite the powerful presence of God in their midst, especially through the Exodus period. Second, check out Paul writing in his first letter to the Corinthians and you see a carnally charismatic church. Flesh and Spirit. Third, do you own reading of historic revivals where there has been a mighty outpouring of the Spirit, and make sure you read on to see what happened and how the power was dissipated, and see the human goings-on, that we can only speculate caused that to happen.
But there have been lesser moves of God in our times and I have referred before to the Charismatic movement which was really precious, and the Toronto Blessing movement which tended to be more hilarious than precious, but they both passed. I have also been in a part of the world where revival had been for over thirty years and we can only say that the present church life there was near lifeless and no longer Spirit led. Sad.
Word AND Experience: When Isaiah used that famous phrase, “To the law and to the testimony”, (Isa 8:20) he was saying, revert to God’s word and the experience of God. We need both; we need the power of the Spirit to impel us forward and we need to word of God to keep us on a right track. In these days when we so often try and make everything so easy, and in the process teaching goes shallow, we need to regain the truth of God’s word that comes through exposition, not dry formal teaching but the truth declared with life under the anointing of God. Awareness of these issues should put us on our guard for the days ahead and act as a challenge to continually be alert to see that we maintain the life and vibrancy that has been known previously.