You are hereRevivalism: Shortchanging A True Relationship With God
Revivalism: Shortchanging A True Relationship With God
by John McPherson
“The biggest [ray of hope for the future of the Western Church] is that the gospel is true. The gospel simply promises that when God’s people turn to Him without condition, repent of their sin, pray and beg Him to work, He does. So I have no doubt that it is entirely possible for major revival to spread in our time. In the worst of times, God has done precisely that. Anguished, persistent prayer for revival must become more central in evangelical life.” – Ron Sider, in “Innerview”, Servant Magazine “The biggest [ray of hope for the future of the Western Church] is that the gospel is true. The gospel simply promises that when God’s people turn to Him without condition, repent of their sin, pray and beg Him to work, He does. So I have no doubt that it is entirely possible for major revival to spread in our time. In the worst of times, God has done precisely that. Anguished, persistent prayer for revival must become more central in evangelical life.” – Ron Sider, in “Innerview”, Servant Magazine
"We praise Thee, O God For the Son of Thy Love, For Jesus who died and is now gone above; Hallelujah Thine the glory, Hallelujah Amen. Hallelujah Thine the glory, Revive us again." - Traditional hymn, lyrics by William Mackay
A couple of months ago, I took the opportunity to send a letter to the editor of Servant Magazine (a personal acquaintance of mine) responding to their interview of Ron Sider published in that periodical two issues ago. One statement I made in that letter probably came across - I realized after the fact - as a little "radical" to say the least. In the letter I said something to the effect that "praying for revival was a spiritually dangerous practice". On further reflection, even though my choice of words may have been a little blunt, I steadfastly maintain that the perceived "need for revival" - and all supplications rendered to God requesting His intervention in this way among His People - are misguided and an actual affront to Him, being in direct conflict with His own expressed means of spiritually transforming those who are His. I’m not sure which “gospel” Ron Sider subscribes to, but it carries a strong scent of human effort and legalism with it.
One of the standard methods of exciting/awakening the enthusiasm of modern Christians in relation to their faith and practice thereof, is to preach on "revival", and the apparent need for it among the morally decadent "church" of today. The combined sense of guilt over personal shortcomings, and one's own inability to ever meet God's standards apart from His supernatural intervention and enabling, prompts the individual believer to prostrate him/herself internally before the Almighty (or that person's sense of Who the Almighty might be), and His representative agency in this realm - the "church". In other words, "revivalism" is a handy tool for motivating continued submission to the demands of the "church" and its various methods of proselytization.
For many Christians, talk of "praying for revival" and the "church"'s desperate "need for revival", amounts to little more than "halo polishing" and a contrived piety consisting, essentially, of a highly polished veneer of religiosity. For others, there is a sense of the desperate moral crisis existing within Christian circles, and the need to somehow eliminate this problem, restoring the rank and file to a higher standard of morality and behavior more becoming those who name the name of Christ. There is a sense, too, among this latter group, that on a very personal level, the natural inclinations and proclivities towards wrongdoing common to all Christians can only be resolved by a "second work of grace" supernaturally rendering the penitent believer utterly impervious to future temptation and sin. For some reason, simple spiritual rebirth and regeneration aren't enough to impart the holiness and righteousness believed to be God's standards for us as followers of Christ today.
Ezra 9:5-11, "At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God. 6 And I said: "O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens. 7 Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day. 8 And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. 9 For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. 10 And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity." Characteristically, futurist hermeneutics (relying heavily on avoidance of true contextual analysis of any passage) govern the interpretation of passages such as these and, critically, the application of it to the spiritual state of Christians today. To make the claim that Christian moral failure today is on par with the idolatry and open rebellion of the ancient Israelites against the God of Israel is utterly too far-fetched to give the idea any serious consideration. The depravity and corruption involved with ancient idolatrous practices may have similarities to the decadence of our modern Western societies and cultures, but within Christian circles, one simply does not find open advocacy of wanton immorality of the most degraded, perverted kind, human sacrifice and so on. In fact, such practices are condemned in no uncertain terms, and the practitioners thereof find no welcome in the communities of Christian believers.
In Isaiah 57:13-16, we read the following: "13 When you cry out, Let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry them all away, A breath will take them. But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, And shall inherit My holy mountain." 14 And one shall say, "Heap it up! Heap it up! Prepare the way, Take the stumbling block out of the way of My people." 15 For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones. 16 For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; For the spirit would fail before Me, And the souls which I have made." Again, the subject of "revival" is broached within the context of Israelite idolatry. The very term "revival" involves an "awakening or quickening of something or someone that is dead". The Lexicon definition of the term is, “to live, have life, remain alive, sustain life, live prosperously, live for ever, be quickened, be alive, be restored to life or health”. While this article is focused on the sense of “quickening and revival” attached to this term, there are abundant instances of its usage to mean “life” or “living” in very general terms. The context very much determines the sense. Psalm 71:20 is a good example of the usage of “chayah” in terms of “quickening” or “restoring life”. ” You, who have shown me great and severe troubles, Shall revive me again, And bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” While there is a Messianic, prophetic element and innuendo apparent in this text, the surrounding context indicates that the Psalmist was pouring out his heart concerning his circumstances in this life, and his anticipation of God’s restoration of his fortunes and life to a place of prosperity and peace. Verse 21 expresses this focus quite clearly, “You shall increase my greatness, And comfort me on every side.”
Do believers today believe that they are truly spiritually "dead" as a result of moral failure? The idea that we are somehow accountable to God in the same way that the ancient Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant were is both spurious and an abuse of the historical/textual context of Scripture.
In Psalm 80: 8-19 we read the following, a clear usage of “chayah” (revive) in the context of historical Israelite idolatry, divine punishment, retribution and subsequent restoration as a result of their repentance. 8 “You have brought a vine out of Egypt; You have cast out the nations, and planted it. 9 You prepared room for it, And caused it to take deep root, And it filled the land. 10 The hills were covered with its shadow, And the mighty cedars with its boughs. 11 She sent out her boughs to the Sea, And her branches to the River. 12 Why have You broken down her hedges, So that all who pass by the way pluck her fruit? 13 The boar out of the woods uproots it, And the wild beast of the field devours it. 14 Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts; Look down from heaven and see, And visit this vine 15 And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted, And the branch that You made strong for Yourself. 16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down; They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance. 17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. 18 Then we will not turn back from You; Revive us, and we will call upon Your name. 19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!” How tragic that modern Christians so desperately seek to identify with the ancient Israelites and their utterly imperfect relationship with the God of Israel, that they attempt to view their relationship with God today in terms of being under His divine wrath over pagan, idolatrous practices. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. The Roman Catholic Church encourages and fosters this kind of false guilt and it’s carried over into Protestantism, historically, from the very earliest days of the Reformation. One need only read the writings of John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, to recognize this sense of cringing, groveling, self-abasement. This is hardly a manifestation of the image of God as He desires to see it evidenced in His People. NO Christian today (or for the last 19 centuries) has violated his relationship with the God of Israel the way those ancient Israelites/Jews did, particularly in light of their commitment to YHWH under the Mosaic Covenant. Thus, this plea for “revival/restoration” in Psalm 80:18,19 has, essentially, NOTHING to do with the Christian spiritual experience today. Revivalists, unfortunately, would have us believe otherwise.
Dr. Bill Bright made the following statements in an article on revival, “As a new believer in 1945 I read a statement that had a profound influence on my life. It was by Sir James Stewart of Scotland, a famous New Testament scholar. He said: "If we could but show the whole world that being committed to Christ is no tame, humdrum, sheltered monotony but the most thrilling, exciting adventure the human spirit can ever know, then those who have been standing outside the church and looking askance at Christ would come crowding in to pay allegiance to Him. And we might well expect the greatest revival since Pentecost.” That statement has greatly influenced everything I have ever written or spoken for more than 50 years…When you get down to it, church is not going to save us. Religion is not going to save us. Christianity is not going to save us. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus -- the Christ, the Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Word made flesh. He is the one who died for us. He is the one who lives within us. He is the one who transforms us. If we could faithfully and consistently communicate the true person of Christ and the reality of life in Him, many unbelievers would gladly turn to Him. We have a duty to know what we believe and why we believe it so we can share the gospel. Peter says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). In recent years, the church has often discarded many fundamental principles because it fears looking foolish in the world's eyes. But it is foolish not to present the whole gospel. As the church recommits itself to the authority of God's Word, and proclaims Christ, revival will come.” Tragically, even though Bill Bright acknowledges that “the church is not going to save us, religion is not going to save us, Christianity is not going to save us…” – he remains devoted to the principle of recommitting oneself to a corporate sense of “self” as a believer in Christ Jesus and follower of His teachings. James Stewart, likewise, in his efforts to remain consistent as a futurist, viewed Pentecost as a time of “refreshing/quickening” and a template for Christian experience in general, ever since. Sadly, this sense that people need to come “crowding into church” in order to “pay allegiance to Christ” ( in Stewart’s words) stands as an obstacle to the very vital, intimate, dynamic relationship with God these men so desperately sought. Embedded in their thought patterns and words, one senses the frustration of individuals who realize they haven’t achieved the superior, transcendent perspective and inner reality they believed was theirs to be enjoyed in some measure in this life. As long as Christians continue to chase their own tails through the rigmarole of “revivalism” and the emotional hype fostered by the “church”, mysticism rather than Truth will govern their hearts and minds. Futurists, of course, are particularly prone to this sort of skewed perspective and distorted understanding of God and His Kingdom.
There are two Greek equivalents for this term: “anathallo” and “anazao”. It is used in texts such as Rom. 14:9, “For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” The term for “lived again” is “anazao” (anazeisen) or “revived”. Within the context, of course, we see an element of Christ’s unique, historical “quickening” which really has no application, directly, within the milieu of everyday life for the modern Christian. We are not “quickened” in the same sense that Christ was, here, as a means to spiritual and moral betterment in our everyday lives, nor is this text contextually presented as an example of an experience Christians should strive to emulate. Paul also uses the same term to refer to the “revival of sin” in his life under the power of the Mosaic Law, in Rom. 7:9. This, of course, carries a far different sense (indeed an opposite one) to that which the modern revivalist would like to infer from its usage. Thus, it doesn’t always carry with it a positive sense.
What does God’s Word really tell us concerning growth in God’s image and likeness? Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” Psalm 37:23-31, “23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. 24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. 25 I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. 26 He is ever merciful, and lends; And his descendants are blessed. 27 Depart from evil, and do good; And dwell forevermore. 28 For the Lord loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. 29 The righteous shall inherit the land, And dwell in it forever. 30 The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, And his tongue talks of justice. 31 The law of his God is in his heart; None of his steps shall slide.” Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” And finally, Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Proverbs 2:10-15 puts the case even more forcefully, “10 When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, 11 Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, 12 To deliver you from the way of evil, From the man who speaks perverse things, 13 From those who leave the paths of uprightness To walk in the ways of darkness; 14 Who rejoice in doing evil, And delight in the perversity of the wicked; 15 Whose ways are crooked, And who are devious in their paths” . Those who seek a higher plane of existence as Christians and a closer relationship with God, need look no further than His Word and a renewed commitment to internalizing it. It’s not quite as exciting as a supernatural “revival” or “Pentecost experience” (even though artificially generated), but the long-term rewards are divine.
As Preterists, we must eschew any involvement with revivalism and its attendant spiritual “shortcuts”. We need to devote ourselves to the manifestation and dissemination of God’s Wisdom and Truth, graciously and unapologetically. Only as our fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven come to recognize the emptiness of their fruitless search for “revival” and “spiritual quickening”, will they be delivered from the inevitable discouragement and depression involved with their false pursuits and efforts, in pursuit of a false agenda and means of pleasing God.
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