Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Can we / should we expect revival in our day?

Some say we can't because of the widespread apostasy in the churches, that it's simply not God's will for us at this time. Some say we shouldn't because a revival of the doctrinally weak and experience-driven churches would be a disaster. A. W. Tozer said something along these lines. I've personally feared even to pray for revival because of my experience with the counterfeit revivals that have come down through the charismatic movement, which too many people today identify with revival.

Leonard Ravenhill probably remains the strongest voice for true revival we have, and his books still inspire. Why Revival Tarries is perhaps the most influential. It inspired a young man a few years ago to start a website that is a collection of sermons mostly aimed at revival. I personally have found the 2007 Revival Conference hosted by this site and available on audio on video at the site very inspiring. I don't agree with all the doctrinal positions represented -- some in fact I reject altogether -- and some of the preaching even seemed to me to miss the meaning of the very scripture quoted to support a particular point, but for the most part the preaching strongly calls for reformation of the churches and personal life as foundational to revival and presents a true picture of true revival. And at least in my own personal case I can say this preaching has strengthened me in a way other preaching has not, to the diligent seeking of the Lord He calls us to.

I have to suppose I'd be even more inspired if the speakers were from the Reformed tradition, where the preaching is more reliable, but it seems that, for many reasons, in general the Reformed aren't seeking revival. Some do think we may be having a reformation of sorts with the apparently growing popularity of Reformed doctrine, and this could be the foundation for a genuine revival. I tend to agree with this position. In the late 90s I was very happy to find a Reformed church starting up in my area in a sea of churches of every kind of lamentable doctrinal position. Reformed preaching aims to build us up in the knowledge of scripture and convict us and console us from scripture alone. It typically approaches the Bible book by book and explores each book verse by verse so that its message is fully appreciated. Gradually my local Christian radio has also turned toward Reformed preaching and it's a feast for the hungry Christian who has been wandering in the desert of weak and even false preaching.

Yet I find myself restless again. Something is missing. Dare I say the Holy Spirit is missing? It's a feeling I've had for a very long time. I keep being drawn back to the need for revival. There is nothing in the charismatic churches I could ever want to return to, EXCEPT that they keep alive a sense of the power of the Holy Spirit. However, much of what they impute to the Holy Spirit is false so that looking to them for inspiration is out of the question. On the other hand, in the Reformed context, although the presence and work of the Holy Spirit is certainly desired, solicited, and expected, there seems to be a contentment with the Word preached to a congregation that in my view remains predominantly fleshly. There seems to be an assumption that if the Word is being preached accurately, the Holy Spirit has led it and blesses it. I've come to have my doubts about this. The preaching of the Word itself all too often seems to stay on the level of the letter, rarely reaching the spirit. Sometimes the preaching of one of the "higher life" preachers will be able to convict me through the Holy Spirit of a sin I can recognize, and even give me the strength to face it down, while a similar preaching on the exact same topic from the Reformed camp may not move me, or in fact it depresses and discourages me, because (I've come to think) it is coming from the preacher's own mind rather than his mind as the instrument of the Holy Spirit.

There is also a tendency toward jocularity that jars one out of any spiritual appreciation, at least in my personal experience. All in all there is way too much flesh in the service, despite the strong orthodox preaching, despite the determination to stick to the most spiritual music and so on. Again, I have found that my own struggles to obey have not been strengthened in this environment. Can even the most doctrinally sound preaching be done in the flesh? Alas, I fear it can be. Can the most spiritual music be sung in the flesh? That too. I know there are many sincere and dedicated Christians there, but I do have to say it feels like dead orthodoxy to me.

I do appreciate the point made by Jim Eliff that genuine revival comes as a result of true preaching of the word.

. . . let me make an easily misunderstood statement: Revival, as we commonly understand it, would be ill spent on such doctrinally deficient churches as we find today. This may seem a strange comment to make since I, like many of you, have actually hoped for and preached for revival. But my conviction has to do with the usual, one-sided understanding of revival prevalent in most circles. As A. W. Tozer said, “A revival of the kind of Christianity which we have had in America the last fifty year would be the greatest tragedy of this century, a tragedy which would take the church a hundred years to get over.”

Merely bringing to vibrancy or bringing to life the experience of the believer alone may be extremely useful for dead orthodoxy—orthodox or correct belief without life. But we do not, on the main, have dead orthodoxy today. We have live heterodoxy. Hetero means “other” or “different.” Heterodoxy is divergent or even heretical belief. Reformation is that word we use to speak to the recovery of the correct doctrines and their vigorous application to all of life.

We should not want a revival of experience alone without true reformation.

No, we shouldn't, but there is something odd about Eliff's way of describing revival here. Is it even possible to have true revival in a heterodox or doctrinally deficient church? Would God come to such a church? And what does Eliff mean by "experience?" Is it possible to have an experience of God without a true knowledge of God? But certainly a false revival can come to such churches, so solid discernment is needed. Eliff speaks also of a "flash flood" of Holy Spirit conviction of sin that is short-lived, but this is hardly dangerous -- disappointing no doubt, but not dangerous, compared to a false revival that snares many into demonic deception. (I'm sure the devil can prompt false conviction of sin too, but that's another subject.) But Eliff is certainly right, you can't have true revival without solid preaching.

If we are as close to the very end of the world as I and many others think we are, perhaps we can't hope for a general reformation among the churches. Perhaps those that ARE reformed should be looking for revival, however.

Or perhaps the only solution for those of us who are hungry for revival is to seek personal revival on one's own. This is what I have been doing.