Saturday, March 9, 2013

Motherhood, Apple Pie, and Revival

I Believe in Motherhood and Apple Pie
Maybe Not Revival

Not the Extraordinary but the Ordinary

Jonathan Edwards
Attend a conservative Presbyterian Church for a few weeks, and you will almost certainly hear the word “revival.” Ministers preach the need for revival, pray for God to send revival, tell stories of past revivals, and hope for future revivals.  

It would appear there is universal agreement that revival is Biblical, salutary, to be longed for, and key to a future for God’s people. Revival is indispensable for the health of the individual and the church. Revival is necessary for the reclaiming of the culture and probably the survival of the nation.

George Whitfileld 
As Calvinists we know that we cannot produce a revival by setting aside a week for special meetings, having cottage prayer meetings, bringing in lively preacher, having all bow their heads and close their eyes, singing “Just As I Am” twenty times, and asking people to raise their hand and/or walk the aisle to accept Christ or rededicate themselves to him.

We are convinced that revival can’t be worked up. But we hope maybe it can be prayed down. We have been told that that Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for instance, greatly desired revival, described it, and prayed it would come, but died without ever seeing it. There has been no revival, except in isolated areas, since the end of the Second Great Awakening, unless one counts the Jesus Movement. We still hope we may yet see it in the United States in our lifetimes. But right now it looks like we are losing ground. Revival seems far away for us  as individuals and churches. And, if we and our churches are not revived, what is to become of our culture and country?

Charles Finney
Though there seems to be unanimous agreement that revival is what Martha Stewart would call “a good thing”, from the back of the room I sheepishly raise my hand and say, “I’m not so sure.” I know this is like expressing misgivings about the glory of motherhood and the delectability of apple pie, and that I will get classed with real grumps like D.G. Hart and Scott Clark, but I can’t suppress my questions about revival.

Here are some questions:

Would we Christians be focused as we are on revival had it not been for the 17th and 18th centuries First and Second Great Awakenings?

Are we reading back into certain Biblical texts (e.g. Psalm 85:6, Habakkuk 3:2) and events (e.g. 2 Kings 22, 23, the response of Josiah to the discovery of the Book of the Law) the sorts of things that transpired in those two Awakenings? (It is of interest to note that the only time the word “revive” is used in the New Testament in the ESV and NIV is Philippians 4:10 where Paul speaks of the Philippians reviving their concern for him, probably in the form of offerings. The KJV uses “revive” in the New Testament at Romans 4:9 of sin and at Romans 14:9 of the resurrection of Christ.)

Are we really longing, hoping, and praying for a repetition of the experiences of and the effects on believers, churches, and communities that we are told by participants and later advocates occurred in the two (especially the first) Awakenings?

Why did the Apostles, facing as they did in certain congregations (e.g. Corinth), not include in their letters exhortations to seek and pray for revival?

Why don’t we long for and pray for reformation with the fervency and frequency we do for revival? Did not the Reformation have longer and more far reaching effects than the Revivals?

I am not suggesting that we should look back with longing on the historical events of the Reformation or the Revivals and then pray for one or both to be repeated. But it is worth considering some differences between the Reformation and the Revivals. The Reformation focused more on the objective while the revivals focused more on the subjective. The Reformation was more about the ordinary while the Revivals were more about the extraordinary.

The Reformation engaged the re-forming of doctrine, worship, church government, and morals. The Revivals tended to diminish the importance of right doctrine and eventually introduced error. The Revivals denigrated the place of ordinary worship and the introduced novelties into worship. The Revivals were indifferent toward the authority and government of the church and created para-church organizations. The Revivals elevated experiences of the heart over the practices of a life.

Revivals, like all things that emphasize and rely on experiences, are not sustainable. Experiences are about feelings, godly or otherwise. Feelings by nature and necessity fade and fluctuate. When one relies on experiences he is setting himself up for disappointment and disillusionment. Experiences are like romantic love. You can’t build a lifetime marriage relationship on romantic love, nor can you build a lifetime relationship with God on even the sweetest frame.

Perhaps I can suggest a more excellent way. Have confidence in ordinary worship and the ordinary means of grace, the read and preached Word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the public prayers. Encourage the ordinary Christian life lived by ordinary observant Christians.

I know, I know. It sounds just ordinary. 


mozart said...

Boy, you ARE a curmudgeon. I love it!

AoJ said...

CC, thanks for this very thoughtful piece on revival and reformation. The whole thing was informative but the lines that spoke most to me were where you wrote that "The Revivals elevated experiences of the heart over the practices of a life. ...Encourage the ordinary Christian life lived by ordinary observant Christians." Those lines contain a message about which I needed reminding. Thanks for doing so.

E Irwin said...

Here's the flaw: you are assuming what in fact you must prove in order to write this piece, namely that revival is not a result of the work of God through his Spirit. Once you prove this, you are free to describe the whole history of revivals as mere human experience. Until then... On a more personal note, I'd be curious if you think of Edwards, McCheyne, Whitefield et al. as genuinely self-deceived. I was reading Edwards's Freedom of the Will last night. Few man could match his learning and intellect, or the care with which he uses both.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

It's rather odd that you should ask me to prove a negative when you begin by assuming that the revivals are a work of God, which, btw, did not begin to occur till the 16th century.What I say, which you sre free to disagree with and argue against is that the Bible does not contain a theology or practice of revival nor do the Creeds and Confessions. Re Edwards and Whitfield I am not a fan.