Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Caution: Revival

This is another e-mail I got that I wanted to retain. It concerns false signs of revival.

Although the biblical hope of corporate revival foresees extraordinary blessings in Christ, there are also serious cautions we must heed, even dangers at certain points. It is best to recognize and clarify them now, to be ready to confront them if and when they surface. Some of the cautions include:

Ignorance: A general misapprehension of how God deals with His people on revival, due to our neglect of biblical and historical study of the topic; or due to our blindness to where and how God is currently granting seasons of renewal and awakening within the church. This could create a temporary climate of confusion, chaos, and division in fostering the message of revival, or during an awakening itself.

Shortsightedness: Limited views of the term revival—such as it being an evangelistic campaign, the restoration of individual backsliders, the refreshing of a local congregation, or a duplication of the outward forms of a previous general awakening. This could lead us to a parochial hope that settles for less than God’s best for our generation.

Fantasies: Expecting God to do more than He actually has promised regarding corporate revival. This might lead us to seek manifestations of revival that have no clear biblical warrant, or to spread reports on revival that exaggerate what really happened. Our hope must be in harmony with what God has said and not our own wishful notions. Similarly, it is unhealthy to expect current out workings of corporate revival to mimic the specific characteristics of some previous revival for another generation. Disappointment is likely.

Superficiality: The temptation to seek revival rather than to seek God; to seek the phenomena rather than to seek His presence. The Scriptures and the Spirit always work together. Sound doctrine will always accompany true revival, helping Christians to engage more fully the manifest presence of Christ as the heart of revival. The revival movement cannot be allowed to become primarily testimonial or story-fed, rather than Bible-fed and God-centered.

Irresponsibility: Seeing revival as a panacea, a magic want encouraging us to excuse ourselves from responsible obedience and follow-through in the day-to-day struggles of the church, whether God grants revival or not. Our seeking revival must be accompanied by daily obedience—whether in love, or worship, or outreach, or ministry to the poor—even as we live in anticipation of more to come. We must do what God has clearly told us to do, even while we pray and prepare for what God has promised He will do.

Negativity: Overlooking all the ways God is blessing now; failing to affirm the positive aspects of current kingdom advances; lacking gratitude to God for how many efforts of the church in our generation have effectively challenged and transformed the culture. Above all, we must avoid the tendency to depreciate current, normal, regular ministries of the Holy Spirit measurable, to some degree, in any believing Christian congregation.

Uniformity: Failure to appreciate the balance between continuity and diversity. The danger of division rests in our attempts to gain uniformity in a season of revival without reckoning with this fact; the outward shape of a reviving work is often based on prior conditions within each community experiencing it. These would include; pre-existing needs, the cultural context, ecclesiastical traditions, the age or temperament of those being revived, their previous spiritual experiences, their collective theological grids, and the extent of their current spiritual malaise. Even though there are common themes in every God-given revival—the centrality of Christ, confession of sin, quickening of the Scriptures, increased love, outreach to the lost—still, diversity of experiences must be expected and not be resisted.

Immaturity: A lack of preparedness for the exuberance, eagerness, excitement, and fresh expectations that normally come in seasons of revival. As was true with the awakening in New Testament Corinth, extraordinary experiences of God’s power and presence run the risk of creating temporary disorder due to immaturity or carnal mismanagement of newly unleashed spiritual gifts. But a far greater danger is that fewer of misplaced enthusiasms will drive people to settle for something worse (in the words of J. I. Packer): “the predictability, unexpecting apathy and tidy inertia of a congregation locked in spiritual deadness.

Elitism: Unconsciously justifying attitudes of arrogance or sectarianism on the part of those claiming to be revived. They perceive themselves to be a select group with special favors from God, spiritually superior to those not experiencing the same phenomena, or emotions, or break-throughs, or reformations. This is another place where consensus and collaboration on revival among Christian leaders before revival comes can pre-empt a deadly trend. Guarding our unity must always walk hand in hand with the reformation of sound doctrine and the revitalization of spiritual life.

Nationalism: Expecting revival to salvage and rescue a whole nation when, in fact, It is a work of God promised exclusively for the people of God. Only secondarily does it impact a surrounding community, and only at times does God-given revival spill over to transform a whole culture or nation (sometimes termed a general awakening). Our motivation must not rise form nationalistic passions, therefore, but from our desire for God to get the greatest glory through His church—even if the nation as a whole rejects this gracious hope and undergoes subsequent divine retributions (as happened with Jerusalem in AD 70 despite a revived church in its midst).

Conflict: Entering into the euphoria and wonders of corporate revival without reckoning with increased levels of warfare with the powers of darkness or with persecution due to the impact of revival on unbelievers. Awakening often brings seasons of conflict and suffering. Out of reformation and revival, the church is drawn more fully into the vortex of Christ’s mission among the nations. By manifesting more of Christ to and through the church, revival arouses the antiforces—both human and spiritual—against Christ’s kingdom. Revival sends the church actively into battlefields and harvest fields as we confront, contest, and displace the works of darkness. Suffering is therefore unavoidable and must be expected.

Conclusion: Are these cautions permanent obstacles to consensus and collaboration? Quite the contrary. Actually, sincere discussion by Christian leaders can significantly foster the common ground that will help prepare us to fully embrace together corporate, biblical revival as God grants it. 

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