The Church is in dire need of reformation and revival. This should go without saying. But these be the days when things that need to be said aren’t being said and things that merit no airtime consume the airwaves.
To be clear, when I say that we need reformation and revival I do not mean that we need to add another ring to an already crowded circus. I concur with the late A.W. Tozer who once remarked, “If revival means more of the same then the last thing that we need is revival.” What we need is a return to a living confidence in the extraordinary power of the ordinary means of grace—preaching the Word, praying the Word, and seeing the Word in the sacraments.
It is one thing to recognize that we have a problem. It is something altogether different to start preparing our hearts to do something about it. This is where it often gets rather tricky. Sometimes the medicine is worse than the malady. When we begin treating the ailment we open the door to a whole new set of problems and temptations. One of them is to begin thinking that if we just start “preaching hard,” then reformation and revival will come instantaneously. But there are other issues as well, undergirded with the foundational understanding that none of them are really in our hands at all.
Although the Church is in desperate need of reformation and revival, we must begin with the recognition that we have no control over whether or not God will grant it to us. The central reason that the glory has departed from the Church has been our unfaithfulness to the central biblical truth that God is God and we are not. Consequently, we cannot consistently pray for revival as long as we continue in our man-centered rebellion against Him. All “revivals” organized and put together by man are nothing but religious enthusiasms—tub-thumping and arm waving enthusiasms.
But as we prayerfully wait on God, asking Him to restore and reform His Church, there are certain things that can be done now. Elijah could not, in his own power, make the fire fall from heaven, but he could prepare the altar, and that is what God had him do. So like him, we must be busy with preparation. Below are a few of the areas requiring such preparation from the pulpit. These are the stones that must go into the altar, and it is important that they be stones that men have not chiseled. They must come straight from the quarry of God’s Word.
First, there must be a return to the doctrines of sovereign and efficacious grace. Jesus did not come into the world in order to give men choices and possibilities. He came to bring salvation to the world, not a chance at salvation for the world. The cross, as many preach it today, receives whatever efficacy it has from the decision of the listener. This, of course, is not the cross of the New Testament.
There cannot be any powerful preaching of the cross as long as our underlying doctrine of the cross is impotent without the sinner’s contribution. The modern evangelist operates on the assumption that the cross is powerless to save until the sinner puts in his share, making a “decision” or a “commitment.” This thinking is lay-away religion. That is, Christ paid the down-payment but expects us to take up the monthly installments–with interest added in. Such an assumption is dishonoring to God, and it is not surprising when churches which tolerate such man-exalting puffery turn into a haunt of goats and jackals. But God is gracious and omnipotent; it is possible for dry bones to live, and for ruins to be restored. The prayer that this would happen is a prayer for real reformation.
Consequently, a precondition for such reformation is a simple and child-like affirmation of the sovereign election of the Father, the efficacious redemption by the Son, and the resurrecting call of the Spirit. We must repent of our idolatrous preferences—so-called common sense over Scripture, and human reason over the gospel—and we must repudiate the idea that man is in any sense a contributor to his own salvation. The gospel will not be preached in power until the gospel is recovered in its purity. And the gospel will not be recovered in its purity until we can, without embarrassment, say that salvation is, from beginning to end, a work of the Lord. It is Christ who saves, and not we ourselves.
There must also be a return to eschatological optimism. The modern evangelical church careens from one Second Coming scare to the next. But there is a job to do before Christ comes again, and that job is the evangelization of the world. The nations are to be brought to obedience and submission to the Lord Jesus.
Of course this is not something that we do on our own for Him. Rather, it is something He accomplishes in and through His Church. Obviously, the task cannot be done by us in our own power; it must be through the Spirit’s work as a recovered gospel is preached in plain power. But as the Spirit works in His people, one of the things He will overcome is the pervasive defeatist assumptions we have about evangelization. We assume that reformation cannot come, we assume that the Church cannot be restored, and we assume that the Church is destined for cultural impotence and spiritual irrelevance.
As long as we believe that the Church is destined to be defeated and cling to the conviction that the Antichrist is just around the corner with a nuclear missile, through our unbelief we attempt to reject the Spirit’s work in us. But Christ’s death was efficacious, and Christ died to save the world.
This means that the day is coming when the Church shall be greatly empowered, and China will be brought and laid at the feet of the Messiah. The Church will be restored, and Europe will be turned from her whoredoms. The Church will return to the faith of her fathers and the Jews will have their heart of stone taken away and will be given a heart of flesh—and then the blessing of the Gentiles will really begin. There shall be glory, all flesh will see it together. The living water will flow out from under the threshold of Ezekiel’s Temple, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Third, there must be a return to hard work in doctrinal and theological study. This point is related to the first two. The modern evangelical has a “convenience store” theology. We don’t want to buy anything unless we can consume it easily in less than 60 seconds. We want easy answers, quick solutions, and as one wit well put it, sermonettes for Christianettes.
Peter tells us that there are difficult things in Paul’s letters—difficulties which ignorant and unlearned people twist to their own destruction. These are things which God wanted the Church to understand, otherwise He would not have revealed them to us. The key to understanding these things is humble, diligent, prayerful study. The modern Christian attitude exalts man-centered ignorance—knowledge without study, and wisdom without books!
Our generation of Christians may not not be stupid, but we are ignorant and lazy. We must return to the Scriptures with a mind to work. And as we do so, we must remember that the time required for growth varies considerably between the mighty oak and morning glory. Let patience have her perfect work…