We only have one hope in America – we must pray for revival.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard some variation of that phrase over the last 4 decades of my walk with Christ and my ministry, I would have a very large nickel collection.
It is an interdenominational plea, a heart-cry of millions who know that what is isn’t what should be and that only God can fix it. It’s often a sign of exasperation at the end of a long discussion of politics or other world problems. “There’s no hope – we need a revival.” It is used to stop theological discussions. “Let’s stop arguing about this issue and just pray for revival.”
And yet, no revivals come. There is the occassional random “outpouring” of something someone labels as revival, but it usually proves vain, false, or ineffectual. There have been some brief flashes of revival in local churches – my church in Cedar Rapids experienced one in 1994. But it has been well over a century since God has wrought a deep, soul-stirring, nation-altering revival on this land.
Or has it?
I met in Nashville this week with the leadership team of the Pastors’Conference to finalize a lot of details. One of my new friends is Dr. Paul Smith, the VP for the PC, a pastor in Chandler, Arizona, a professor at Gateway’s extension in Phoenix, and a great asset to our team. He also has a unique perspective on things. Monday night we “fellowshiped” at Steak n Shake. He’d been saying he wanted a milk shake and we didn’t get over there, so we headed out for some diet-busting (he doesn’t need it – fitness freak!) chocolatey goodness.
On the way back he said something that got me thinking. I’d never heard it before, but it made a lot of sense. We were talking about some of the shenanigans that have gone on in churches under the guise of “creative preaching.” Beds on roofs. Motorcycle jumps. Series based on movies, cartoons, superheroes. He made an observation that wowed me. I will summarize it in my own words. This is Paul’s observation paraphrased and enhanced by my own thought process.
God gave America a revival in the late 60s and early 70s – the Jesus people movement. The American church quenched the Spirit by rejecting the long-haired hippies, valuing our conservative American culture over the work of the Holy Spirit. Having quenched the Spirit we were forced to try to accomplish in the flesh what God would have done by his Spirit. So, we have turned to shenanigans, manipulation, advertising, promotion, right-wing politics, and so many other things to replace the Spirit we quenched
For most of the history of America, God graciously gave us periodic seasons of spiritual awakening.
- Since the early part of the 1700s, God granted this land undeserved visitations of his mercy which we have described as revivals or awakenings.
- There was the First Great Awakening in the mid-1730s which began in Northampton, Massachusetts, under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. Read his published letter describing the beginning of the revival. Amazing.
- The second great awakening began at that Bible school known as Yale, not long after the United States gained its independence.
- There was a brief but intense revival just before the Civil War known as the Prayer Revival,beginning in New York City.
- The Welsh Revival around the beginning of the 20th Century spread to the US and had some impact here.
The overflow of the Welsh Revival is the last of the great revivals or awakenings that has visited America.
But is it?
Paul asserts that the Jesus People movement was the beginning of a Third Great Awakening in this land, a mighty work of God among the strung out, turned off generation of the 60s. They turned to Christ and many were saved – radically and genuinely.
But they had long hairs and wore funny clothes and liked music that had no place in the church. The respectable, conservative, buttoned-down, American “Christian” church didn’t want people who didn’t look like them, dress like them and act like them. If you want to come to our church, sure, you are welcome. But first you have to get a haircut and shave your beard. Girls, your skirts are too short. And you need to learn our hymns – don’t bring any of that hippie culture with you.
We put our culture ahead of the Kingdom.
We have done that over and over again. Too often, we still do it. The epitaph of the American church may be “Culture over Christ.”
And the Spirit, the work of revival, the potential for a great outpouring, a Third Great Awakening, was quenched – because we wanted to protect our “way of life” more than we wanted to see a great movement of God.
What happened next is the plague on the church of Jesus Christ today. Since we’d quenched the Spirit we had to try to do in the power of the flesh what was supposed to happen by the work of the Spirit of God among us.
- One megachurch pastor (not SBC) said that they had so much going on they didn’t really need the Holy Spirit.
- Was it Vance Havner who said back in the 70s that the SBC was so programmed and well-run that if God removed his Holy Spirit from our midst it would be 5 years before anyone noticed. Has that become a prophetic word?
- Instead of simply preaching God’s powerful word, preachers resort to stunts like beds on roofs, motorcycles on stage, and a host of lesser tools to wow the people.
- Churches build Disney-themed children’s centers and youth centers that make the local video game stores drool, attracting big crowds but often shy away from confronting them with the claims of Christ or the deep things of God’s word.
- Our leadership models are often principles of corporate leadership baptized for church used with little thought to the spiritual or the miraculous.
- I attended a church planting training seminar several years back that was basically a discussion on how to franchise a fast-food restaurant applied to church starting.
- We use cookie cutter programs to assure people that if they just follow our plan they can have this response or that, leaving little need to depend on God’s guidance.
Please understand. I am not saying that we shouldn’t use visual aids or creativity or learn from the corporate world. I do believe there is validity to this theory – that the American church quenched the Spirit and is now trying to do in the power of the flesh what only God can do. A good program can perhaps augment the work of the Spirit among us, but too often my observation, my judgment (call it what it is), is that we substitute our fleshly efforts for the absence of the mighty work of God. In the absence of God’s reviving grace we rely on human means, human manipulation, human promotion, human stunts – the work of man replaces the work of God.
This post will fall like a lead balloon among many of you. I do not apologize. When we deal with historical interpretations there is always room for disagreements, but this registered deep in my soul. Our American “besetting sin” has been valuing our culture over God’s kingdom and it must cease.
God does not share his glory and he does not bless the works of the flesh. In my airplane moments recently, I done a lot of reflection, and realized I’ve become, in my ministry, a bit of a faithless Abram. God gave Abram a promise and then waited 25 years. During that time Abram lost faith and tried to fulfill in the flesh (with Hagar) what God intended to do by his mighty hand. The result was Ishmael and 4 millennia of pain and sorrow for his descendants.
Did we quench the Spirit? Have we become faithless Abrams who try to do the work of God in the power of the flesh? Are many of our programs, our leadership systems, our creative efforts, our preaching affectations, little more than Ishmael-producing efforts by faithless Abrams who are seeking to do for God what God intends to do through us? There is much validity to this theory.
What the Southern Baptist Convention needs, what my church needs, what America needs- it’s all the same thing. We need to walk by faith and not by sight. We need to preach the word of God and watch the power of God change our people. We need to walk daily in the fullness of the Spirit.
Our prayer must be:
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.