Monday, October 23, 2017

Do We Need Revival?

I meet with a group of believers, more than one of whom prays regularly and passionately for revival.

Often these requests go beyond the local level and become a bit denominational in character. Occasionally they are even more sweeping, taking in all of evangelicalism, or perhaps the church throughout North America.

I’ve always found the term “revival” a little awkward, and I now realize why: notwithstanding our hymnology, “revive” is an Old Testament word and “revival” is really an Old Testament concept.

The Old Testament Faithful

The requests for revival in the pages of scripture that believers occasionally appropriate to themselves are in fact the prayers of the Old Testament faithful with respect to their almost invariably corrupt Jewish nation and its perpetually flagging religious commitment. They are the prayers of a people under law experiencing the judgment of God that resulted from breaking it.

And no wonder, because the ongoing presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit was something even the most attentive student of the Law and the Prophets could only anticipate and would never experience. Their prayers are a cry that God would take that which was dead and cause it to live again. Of course they were in constant need of revival!

An Alternative to Revival

While instructive, the prayers of Jewish saints for revival cannot be models for ours. Their desire for a renewed influx of divine energy and presence into their often dead, legalistic religious world and nation has no precise parallel in church life.

This is because, once given, though he can be grieved or quenched, the Holy Spirit is never taken away from the believer. And where even one believer in the most dissolute, messed-up church genuinely desires fellowship with Christ and opens the door to him, the Lord promises to come in and to reciprocate. This is not to say that a church cannot undergo judgment, because we have plenty of examples of that to which we could point. It IS to say that our position in Christ is not really analogous to that of a perpetually disobedient nation under law.

Now of course an individual local church can be said to “die”; we have such an example in Sardis. But the Lord’s very next words to that same church are “wake up”, suggesting that it is the Christians in Sardis that need to respond to the word of God, not God that must be appealed to in order to breathe new life into their gathering. It’s not an infusion of new energy from outside that is required. That necessary life is already present.

So instead of telling the Corinthians — arguably the most dysfunctional of all the New Testament churches about whom we have any significant amount of information — to pray for revival, Paul tells them this:
Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
On the Subject of Restoration

Bible Hub gives a nice overview of the various available translations of the Greek phrase rendered “aim for restoration” by the ESV.

There are versions that lean toward the idea that the Corinthian church had specific problems that needed to be worked out, something very evident from the first twelve chapters of the letter:
  • strive for full restoration
  • be restored
  • set things right
Then there are those versions that take this instruction as having to do with encouragement to more general Christian growth, something that could be applied to all believers everywhere:
  • be made complete
  • become mature
  • grow to maturity
  • keep on growing to maturity
  • be perfect
  • be perfected
  • be made perfect
Whichever reading you choose to adopt, to me the message is essentially the same, and that is this: We ought never to become complacent about where we are in the Christian life, either corporately or individually. Anything less than perfection, completion, maturity or full restoration falls short of the Lord’s desire for us.

That doesn’t mean such things are easily attained. Paul’s earlier letter to the same church acknowledges that disagreements between believers occur. There are several interesting analyses online expressing different opinions about what Paul meant by “there must be divisions among you”, but whether he was being sarcastic, ironic or simply calling it as it was, it is a fact that modern churches are places where new believers meet with mature believers (and, sadly, believers who have failed to mature), frequently in the company of unbelievers who are either seeking God or sometimes even actively trying to subvert his work.

That gives considerable occasion for differences of opinion and many reasons why maturity and completeness among the people of God will involve some serious spiritual elbow grease.

However, here Paul reminds the same believers that each one who genuinely belongs to the Lord ought to continually aim for something better. To the extent that each of us pursues maturity, completeness and restoration, there is a better chance that the group of Christians with which we meet may do likewise.

Revival or Restoration?

Many among us are in need of an increase in our maturity level and few of us would dare describe ourselves as “complete”. And beyond any doubt, a church needs full restoration when natural differences between Christians have been allowed to fester and become longstanding issues, or when sin has crept into the lives and practice of believers.

But to cry out to God to rekindle some kind of fire in our hearts corporately so that we can have an impact on our communities when we are neglecting the scripture, harboring secret sins in our personal lives, arguing in an ungodly way with our fellow believers or doing any of the other things Paul cites as problems in the Corinthian church is, frankly, a lost cause.

The Old Testament saints prayed as if revival was something only God could bring about, mostly because it was. But Paul doesn’t list restoration, maturity or completeness among those things Christians ought merely to endlessly request in trembling tones at midweek prayer meetings, as if their absence is indicative of some inexplicable reluctance on the part of God to bless his people.

Paul instead lists these things among those we ought to AIM for. If comforting one another, agreeing with one another and living in peace are normal parts of church experience, striving for maturity should be right there with them as things we DO, not things we passively wait for the Lord to accomplish for us.

Christians pray for revival because they are convinced there is something lacking in their personal or church life, and maybe it’s not always spiritual fireworks they’re after.

Maybe what’s missing is maturity, completion or restoration.

1 comment :

  1. Your Particular Gifts

    It is written in praise of the Church (Ps. 44:10) that she is surrounded with variety; and a gloss on these words says that the Queen, namely the Church, is bedecked with the teaching of the Apostles, the confessions of martyrs, the purity of virgins, the sorrowing of penitents. — ST, II-II, Q. 183, art. 2 What are the states of God’s union?

    When Thomas completed his study of the virtues common to all, he began his treatises on things of God pertaining to some people and not to others. After explaining the need to examine the gratuitous graces and the differences between the contemplative and active life, he noted: “A third difference corresponds to the various duties and states of life, as expressed in Eph. 4:11, And He gave some apostles; and some prophets; and others some evangelists; and others some pastors and doctors; and this pertains to diversity of ministries, of which it is written (1 Cor. 12:5): There are diversities of ministries.”

    While the Church is one, she is perfected in her unity by people playing many different roles. Though God’s own perfection is simple and uniform, (173) it exists in the universe “in a multiform and manifold manner, so too, the fullness of grace, which is centered in Christ as head, flows forth to His members in various ways, for the perfection of the Church.” (174) States of life may differ in terms of their approach to spiritual perfection (beginners, the proficient, and the perfect); in terms of the actions or duties of those in various states, such as married people, secular priests, or members of religious orders; and in terms of the order of ecclesiastical beauty seen in the hierarchical arrangement of the offices of the Church.

    From: Vost, Kevin. One-Minute Aquinas: The Doctor's Quick Answers to Fundamental Questions. Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.