Across Australia right now numerous groups are praying for revival. Prayer is always a good thing, but often the Lord sends us the unexpected. None of the prayer people I know has factored in the truth that enduring revival almost always involves massive and ugly Church splits.
Over the centuries Protestants separated from Catholics, then Methodists from Anglicans, then the Salvation Army from Methodists, then Pentecostals from the Wesleyan Holiness movement. If you are praying for revival it is best you know the consequences of what you are praying for.
It is urgent that we consider whether painful church splits in the wake of a move of the Spirit are inevitable, or if is there anything we can do to prevent this?
Old and New
Jesus words of warning apply to us, ““No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.” (Luke chapter 5 verse 36).
Revival is not about expanding what we already have, with more Christians, bigger churches, greater social influence etc; enduring revival depends on real reformation in the Church bringing about an essential newness in the place of old structures. Pray as much as you want, but until we understand that reformation must precede revival the Lord may not send his Spirit on us lest “the last state be worse than the first” (Luke chapter 11 verse 26).
Much in the contemporary state of Christianity is incompatible with the new life the Spirit brings; what we urgently need today is the sort of wisdom Jesus commended; “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven...brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”” (Matthew chapter 13 verse 52). One aspect of modern Church life that is incompatible with enduring revival comes readily to mind.
A passionate but grieving young believer recently said; “My friends come to church listen to the preaching and accept what the pastor is true but never check it out through their own Bible reading.”
The terrible decline of personal scripture reading is deeply connected with the outsourcing of spiritual knowledge to a class of experts who we pay to study the Bible and teach us principles of how to overcome our stresses and have a successful Christian lifestyle. Scandalously, we have “re-priested” the Church.
Everywhere there churches and ministries unashamedly built around the reputation of a central powerful charismatic personality; folk say “This is Pastor x’s church”.
Culture in its secular and religious dimensions is a powerful moulder of personal identity. At the centre of the identity of Western people is self; self-sufficiency, self-determination, self-autonomy, self-legislation.
Many churchgoers look to a Sunday spiritual hit to get them through the week whilst the unreformed self remains firmly in control of life’s priorities. Many of us would wholeheartedly quote Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians chapter 2 verse 20). But we read the Bible so individualistically we have forgotten that it is the Church as a community that "is always to be reformed" (Barth).
Average church attendance has plunged from more than once a week to once a fortnight because we have lost sight of the depths of what it means to be connected to one another in Christ. The scriptural exhortation, “in humility value others more significant than yourselves” is the exact opposite of the self-centred humanism of our day (Philippians chapter 2 verse 3).
A radical inner reformation from self-centred to community centredness is humanly impossible but Jesus promised, ““with God all things are possible.”” (Matthew chapter 19 verse 26). Jesus can change us this deeply because in humbling himself and going to the cross he actually valued us above himself. He can reform us so that our churches pray for other denominations and congregations as fervently as we pray for our own.
The Lord will surely send revival to a reformed and relationally reconnected Body that displays this sort of love. By all means keep praying for revival, but let us realise that it must first mean a thorough death to the self-identity we all so fondly cherish.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 6 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html