A month ago, Matt Wakeling wrote provocatively about the pitfalls of thinking about revival. Responses have been written by Elle Cronin, Ollie Ip, and Yannick Christos-Wahab. I’ll weigh in here so that my blog’s readers can also enter this conversation.
The success of gospel missions will be seen in repentance under the judgement of the Lord of hosts:
Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Woe to them that carry on in idolatry and in the worship of false gods. That is the way of death, and nations who follow it are like Sodom and Gomorrah, doomed to die. But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. A dead world is one that serves dead things, but a revived world is one that keeps an awed silence before the holiness of the glory of the Lord.
So we should not give up the Lord’s vision of a whole earth that worships him. This is the natural end to which creation is ordered, and anything short of this end is not enough. Nevertheless, Matt and Mrs Cronin have a good point, that we must remember that God is already everywhere working, and that the Father has set his choices unalterable, and the Son has already died for the sin of all men, and the Holy Ghost has been working right from the Fall to teach men virtue and give them faith. Let us not forget, then:
Whilst a number of traditional denominations in the UK report a struggle to keep numbers, church plants from various ‘Christian: Other’ denominations are continuing to grow and blossom. I think leaders and congregations can see true revival every week when someone new asks for prayer, or just a coffee and a chat. There is a sudden, heart-felt change, a breath of life, that may indeed set off a domino-effect in others. It might not. God is still there.
A nation is not revived, a community is not revived, unless its members are filled with the Spirit. Yet one person filled with the Spirit is through faith a member of the catholic Church, and his regeneration cannot be understood or even complete without the life of the holy Church. Let us not neglect that God works in the little things, the despised things, but let us also remember that the whole world, for whom God’s only-begotten Son died, is naturally meant (by God’s command) to serve as his holy priesthood. And mankind is by nature organized into many kinds of households: families, consociations, and nations. Let him deny the piety of national revival who denies the truth of Psalm 85:
Wilt thou be displeased at us for ever : and wilt thou stretch out thy wrath from one generation to another?
Wilt thou not turn again, and quicken us : that thy people may rejoice in thee?
Shew us thy mercy, O Lord : and grant us thy salvation.
The Lord has not finished dealing with families and nations, nor has he stopped blessing children for the sake of their faithful parents. His faithfulness is real. Though we do not understand it, nor elect for ourselves how he will accomplish his ends, we can and must pray for it to be manifest. Let us beg the Lord, not because we or our fathers have the merits – for we have no such merits – but rather because the Lord is pleased to work through the natural bonds of family while also grafting those into his Church who have never been Israelites.
Let it not be in hypocrisy, but in sincerity and truth, that we seek to serve our families and our nations and to build them up in godliness. The word of God itself demands that we seek for them the peace that only the Holy Ghost confers; but let us trust in the merits of Christ and the persuasion of his Holy Spirit, not in the earthly power and glory of all that tickles the ear and impresses the eyes. In other words, let us be chaste.
The empire of God is not found in the colonial hand of Rome, but instead our citizenship is in heaven. The glory we shall look for, the glory of which the knowledge is to fill all the earth, is to be found when the Lord Jesus Christ shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. As they used to say in the coronations of the Holy Roman Emperor, ‘Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat’: Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ gives the orders. For his everlasting glory, though his rule is also in the ministry of the civil power and the grave and learned rulings of godly bishops, we are to look not in the pomp of the world but in the leaven-like work of the Spirit. That alone is a sign of the righteousness that endures to everlasting life. Lift up, therefore, your hearts.
God has used the Roman, British, and American empires for his purposes, just as he has used the Assyrian and the Babylonian and the Persian. There have been good kings and bad kings, God-fearing kings and wicked kings. Yannick rightly draws our attention to the social advances effected through a Christian culture. (And, honesty, would anyone prefer the vile and anti-Christian culture of ISIS?) As Ollie says of the term revival, ‘what is needed is the word’s rehabilitation, such that “revival” is not seeking for a once “Christian” nation to be revived into the image of it’s [sic] former self, but for a broken creation to be revived into the image of the Kingdom of God.’ That is, if our vision is only for the nation to look respectable once again, our vision is too small. God was not contained in Rome, Britain, or America, for not even in ancient Israel was his kingdom contained. It is natural to look at nations and pray for nations – what else do overseas missionaries do? – but our eyes need to be catholic enough to look at Christ’s commission and the Holy Ghost’s emission for the whole world, and to count all other glories loss in comparison with the treasure that will not die.
Taking the bigger view, Ollie points out, ‘He is bringing the Kingdom, which is is something more than just evangelism and discipleship (neither of which I am devaluing in the slightest), but extends to include the ending of systemic injustice on a grander scale. War. Poverty. Sickness.’ So great and so profound are the systematic changes God calls for, and so inextricably bound with things particular to this life, that we who are honest about these changes cannot call them anything but Christendom. The Kingdom of God is no less than that. But it is more.