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The Interceders Encourager No. 8

Is It Right To Pray For Revival? (3)

There are those who say we shouldn`t pray for revival now, because we need to have reformation in the Church first.

Those who put forward this idea believe that the gospel of the grace of God, with its clear call to repentance, faith and holiness, cannot be effectively conveyed by an impure Church, invaded by a worldly spirit. We therefore need to reform the Church first, to reform its worship, its service, its morality, its relationships and its lifestyle, to conform to Scripture, in order to make it fit to be revived.

1) At first, this sounds a sensible idea, but if we attempt to reform and change the churches of this land without revival first, we shall, at the least, be viewed with suspicion, and thought of as out of date cranks. Furthermore, we shall be opposed by most churches, for they are so conformed to the world that they do not know what real Christianity is, and any attempt at reformation by itself will cause resentment and antagonism. It is not that antagonism shows that we are wrong , but there is a better way. If we expect the Church to be changed and purified and made unworldly, when the whole drift of the Church in this perverse generation is going the other way, into greater compromise with the world, then we will wait for ever, and the longer we wait, the worse the situation will become. Furthermore, even if we thought we had been successful in one local church, we would not necessarily be right. We need to note the experience of Pastor McLeod, the Baptist minister in Saskatoon, Canada, who spent nine years from 1961 building up his church and trying to make it just right. But when the revival came in 1970, God broke the church down in a matter of weeks, and rebuilt it in His way, so that it became a completely different church.

2) It is true that the gospel of the grace of God with its clear call to repentance, faith and holiness cannot be conveyed properly by an impure Church, invaded by a worldly spirit, but it can be conveyed by individuals or groups of individuals who are 100% in earnest for the Lord, but even then it will be difficult, as others will think that these "fanatics" have gone "over the top." It is far easier to convey the gospel effectively when God has rent the heavens and poured out the Spirit, and the atmosphere has been changed, so that people, when they hear the message, are convicted and converted. And it can certainly be presented with effectiveness, as it has been in the past, by preachers who have been revived, who demonstrate a reliance upon God and the anointing of the Spirit, who live a holy life, and expect God to honour His Word. That is why we pray for our revival preachers, and why we pray for God to raise up more, so that the truth, set on fire by the Spirit, can spread.

3) Even though we know that only God can sanctify the Church, that does not mean that we are content to leave our churches as they are. In whatever way we can, we should seek to bring our churches into conformity with the Word of God. We are still to hold up God`s standards, and not compromise them in any way. But this will not revive or even reform the whole Church, which is compromising more and more with the world, and degenerating from what it should be. It is becoming more afraid of standing against sin, and standing up for Jesus. Only a mighty visitation by the Spirit of God will halt this decline. It is precisely because the churches are so lifeless and so unrighteous that they need to be revived. If the Church could make itself righteous, it wouldn`t need to be revived. But that can never be, for the Church will always degenerate downwards unless it is lifted up by the Holy Spirit of Almighty God. We need to remember the words of Thomas Charles, that unless the Church is favoured with frequent seasons of revival, it will soon degenerate and lose its life and reputation.

4) It is true that revivals vary in depth and extent, according to the teaching given, or not given, during the revival period, and the way it is directed,etc. so the leadership during a revival is important, and that is why we are concerned about revival preachers, who will preach the great revival truths of the past, but it is an altogether unjustified leap from that to assert that the whole church needs to be reformed before revival can take place. On that basis, very few, if any, of the recorded revivals would have taken place, especially the Great Revivals of the 18th century. It was precisely because the churches were in such a terrible state, with no hope of recovery, as observers at the time predicted, that God was able to show His power, to revive and reform the churches. If we think we can reform the Church, and make it as God wants it, then we are stopping God from working. We are making revival impossible, for God will get no glory from what we do.

5) The main argument against the idea of reformation first is that it doesn`t tie in with the facts of history. Revival, seen as the fulfilment of John 16:8, and the repetition of The Day of Pentecost, with people cut to the heart, and brought through to repentance, faith , obedience and holiness of life by the Spirit of God being poured out in extraordinary power, (not to be confused with anything pre-Pentecost, nor with enthusiastic meetings, nor movements started by popular leaders), occur, usually, with unpopular and despised leaders, and where the churches are far from ready for it.We can see this in all the recorded revivals on the mission field, such as those in Korea, in China, in India, in The Congo, in Indonesia, in Borneo and with David Brainerd among the American Indians.In each place, there were no well ordered congregations believing all the "right" doctrines and living in the "correct" way. They were the most flagrant sinners. But when the Spirit of God came, they were convicted, they repented, they confessed the most terrible sins, and their lives were radically altered. God is not dependent on churches being "correct", but only on clean channels. There were thousands of well ordered congregations in England in 1904, but none of them experienced revival. The revival came to the dirty, uncouth, swearing miners in Wales, because of the earnestness, the passion and the holiness of those who travailed in prayer.

6) I have heard the argument proposed that revival is not enough, because in the Early Church, "revival showers fell frequently, but apostles,elders and deacons all laboured to protect the life of the Church." (John Armstrong) Therefore the Church has to be "right " to protect the life. No one would deny the need to preserve the life of the Spirit, and the need for guidance, but the life has to be there in the first place, for it to be preserved. Seeking the externals first produces the form without the power, which we are warned about,(2 Tim.3.5) Furthermore, it is not necessarily the right form, as we saw in the case of Pastor McLeod in Saskatoon. Look at the situation of the apostles before Pentecost. Jesus hadn`t said to them,"Make sure that you know all the doctrines thoroughly, and that you do everything correctly." He just said,"Wait until you are endued with power from on high." "When the Spirit comes, He will guide you into all truth." Before Pentecost, they thought they knew what was right, but they had it all wrong. They were still expecting an earthly messianic kingdom. They appointed Matthias as the twelfth apostle by casting lots. They certainly didn`t have everything correct, but they did do what they were told. They waited and prayed unitedly. That was all that was necessary. And God answered their prayer, and sent the Spirit, and led them on in His way. That is still our need, and must be our priority.

7) "Consider the history of the Church since the close of the Canon," wrote John Armstrong. "Again and again, faithful leaders have laboured to recover the whole will of God, in order to be faithful to the Lord of the Church. In so doing, they have often been the very vanguard of revival and awakening." Now no one would deny that in times of revival and awakenings, it makes a difference if people know the Bible, and believe the Bible, and know Christian hymns and songs. These things help the depth and the spread of a revival. But these things are not necessary for an awakening to take place. Revivals have occurred without them, as we have noted. Nor does it mean that external factors make no difference. Of course they do. You need to have churches where the Bible is believed, where there are spiritual people who will call upon God to rend the heavens and come down, and if there is to be a Word based revival, you need to have the Bible believed in by the preachers, and the Word preached with power and authority. But I would maintain that on no occasion in history has the presence of a "correct" church ever produced revival. The existence of Bible believing churches has contributed indirectly to revival insofar as it has helped to produce intercessors who prayed down the blessing, and evangelists who were also great men of prayer. Now we already have the external factors necessary. We have Bible believing churches, we have Bible believing preachers and interceders, but not enough. That is why we are continually seeking more of them, and that is why it is the praying and the preaching that is the priority. For all the time we are putting other things first, the situation is getting worse, as we have already realized. If we wait for reformation first, we are not only allowing the situation to deteriorate, we are putting the cart before the horse, for it is revival that brings the reformation that is needed, for it is done in God`s way. For the Holy Spirit can change a church much more effectively,much more fully, and much more quickly than man could ever do.

8) In North America, during the 17th Century, preachers sought to reform their communities, so that God would bless them. Like Old Testament prophets, they called on people to renew their covenant with God, believing that such a change in the people would lead to a general revival. By the end of the century, however, most people had realized that only united, earnest prayer would bring a divine outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which would then make the people willing to follow the covenant, so that whereas before, "reformation of manners" was the cry of New England Puritanism, by the early 18th Century, "revival of religion" became the phrase used "to describe the only antidote for the spiritual declension. In other words, rather than calling people to change so that God would pour out His Spirit, ministers began calling people to seek God`s face in prayer, in order that He would lead His people into revival, which, in turn, would initiate a moral reformation." (McDow and Reid)

We can be very thankful that they came to such a conclusion, for it resulted in the whole history of the Church and the nation being changed, as God worked in power. But it is so sad that some people today have still not learnt the lesson that was learnt in America 300 years ago.

9) Matthew Henry, writing on Ezekiel 36, said "God makes wonderful promises to His people, not as a reward for their good deeds, but as a result of their prayers and His mercy." "When I have cleansed you," God says, "and put my Spirit in you, and vindicated my holiness through you, "then you will remember your evil ways and your bad deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities." (Ez. 36:31) In the same way, it was when the Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost that Peter`s hearers, who were all honest, upright children of Abraham, (or so they thought,) were ashamed of what they had done. We can so easily deceive ourselves about our holiness, our "correctness," our "rightness" in comparison with other churches. We can never make our church, or any church, good enough or holy enough, for God to reward it with revival, for revival is never a reward for "good" churches, but the undeserved mercy of God poured out on sinners, through those who have travailed with him in prayer. Nor can we make the Church humble enough or contrite enough. The genuine sense of shame and remorse can be created only by The Holy Spirit Himself. "When He comes, He will convict."

Therefore, while we rejoice at every pastor, leader, preacher or teacher who faithfully declares the whole gospel in the power of the Spirit, seeking to win sinners by every means, telling people their true condition before a holy God, yet we also need to say that this will not bring about revival. It is only because of the heart felt, consistent, prevailing, faith filled prayers of humble, holy intercessors battering at the gates of heaven, that God is enabled to pour out His Spirit through them. This does not require the churches to dot all the i`s and cross all the t`s of "correct" theology, nor to do everything in the "right" way. No church has everything right. There are deficiencies in all churches. The Celtic Church did many things pleasing to God that no church has today. The early Methodists had a wonderful balance of life and love and truth and power and fellowship and morality and good works that no church is anywhere near today. Such churches are brought into being by the Holy Spirit. We cannot do it. All we can do is seek to be true to the Word and open to the Holy Spirit, and to be dedicated and devoted agonizers, giving God no rest until He builds His Church, and makes it a praise in the earth.

Finally, we should note that there is a negative factor in all this. There is a danger that those churches that try to make what they regard as doctrinally and morally correct churches, produce proud, sterile churches, which hinder the work of God. I have seen many examples of this in my experience, and the history of Britain and America is full of examples of churches who thought they had it all, but who. in God`s sight were "wretched,miserable, poor, blind and naked." (Rev. 3:17) God is looking for humble, teachable people, who will acknowledge that they are nothing like what they should be, and who are willing to be broken by Him, moulded by Him, taught by Him, empowered by Him, and led by Him.

Let us determine to be those people. "He is able, by the power at work in us, to do far, far more than we can ask or think. To Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen." (Eph. 3:20-21)

Let us make sure that He does the work, and gets all the glory. Let us seek Him until we can say:

Omnipotent Redeemer, our ransomed souls adore Thee,

Whate`er is done, Thy work we own, and give Thee all the glory;

With thankfulness ackknowledge our time of visitation;

Thine hand confess, and gladly bless the God of our salvation.

All thanks be to God, who scatters abroad, throughout every place,

By the least of His servants, His savour of grace.

Who the victory gave, the praise let Him have,

For the work He hath done, all honour and glory to Jesus alone.