Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Revivals: Defibrillation for the Dead

In America, when churches believe that their congregation or community has grown spitually weak they will have revival meetings. Evangelists are brought in, music is played to emotionally manipulate, and then there are the altar calls. Revivals are primarily geared toward people who are already members of the church with the secondary hope that others will come to make a decision for Christ.

Revivals fail because they are based upon a wrong diagnosis. The bad diagnosis leads to something that appears to produce results but is utterly ineffective. The revival is based on the idea that spiritual growth results in increased excitedness and that if people are not acting all excited then they have grown spiritually weak and need some defribrillation to get their spiritual hearts moving again. This is wrong for a couple different reasons.

First of all, as relationships mature, they get deeper but excitement tends to wane. Married couples generally start very excited but the excitement dies down as the relationship deepens. Hardly anything meaningful in society could happen if everybody acted like they did when they first fell in love.

Secondly, the revival assumes that the person is weak due to some kind of spiritual heart attack. However, the Scriptures say that people are not weak by nature but dead. If you give the dead corpses a series of shocks with the defibrillator of revivalism you may get the dead corpses to jerk and convulse but they will still be dead. After the corpse stops jerking and convulsing the revivalist assumes that what the dead corpse needs is another dose and the cycle continues.

What the corpse really needs is resurrection and revivalism cannot produce resurrection. No matter how many times you play a verse from a hymn on the organ (regardless of how loud the organ is) it's not going to resurrect anyone. God has not attached any promises to revival hymns or altar calls. But God does attach His promises to the preaching of the Gospel. Resurrection occurs through the preaching of the Gospel. The Law is preached so that the diagnosis is clear. You are dead in your sins. The Gospel is preached as the real cure to resurrect your dead corpse.

Someone may object that revivals are needed for the believer to get their weak spiritual hearts pumping correctly. But believers are also in need of resurrection. We have been given a new nature but we still have our old nature. Our old nature wars against our new nature. We do not need to make our old nature better. We need to kill it and keep killing it. This is done through the regular preaching of the Law and the Gospel. We are sustained by feeding on Jesus' body and blood in the Lord's Supper. The preaching of the Gospel and the feeding on Christ's body and blood don't look as spectacular as the revival meeting but they are the means through which Christ has promised to work. No such promises are attached to the new measures of the revival meeting.

Those who have revivals often starve the congregation of the Gospel and the Lord's Supper. The revival may be the only time that people get to hear something that even resembles the Gospel. Week after week people are told about how to be a good husband or wife, how to lead a holy life, how to do do do. They are starving for the Gospel. Often churches that have revival meetings are very critical of the Roman Catholic church for preaching works righteousness and for unbiblical practices that they have introduced. But the revivalist preaches a works righteousness that is in some cases worse than that of Rome and has his own unbiblical practices. The revivalist pastor does not give his congregation Christ's body and blood every Sunday but limits it to once a month or even less frequently to make it more special. When he teaches his congregation about the Lord's Supper, he denies that it is Jesus' body and blood. He thinks this is just a Roman Catholic superstition. But didn't Jesus say "this is my body" and "this is my blood"? He deprives his congregation of true nourishment by denying Jesus' very words. He starves his congregation by feeding them infrequently and when he gets around to feeding them he gives them artificial food. The Bible centers the service on the "breaking of bread" which is a reference to the Lord's Supper. But the high point of the revivalist service is the unbiblical altar call. The revivalist replaces the Lord's Supper with the altar call and sometimes replaces Biblical confession and absolution with accountability partners. The revivalist has no confidence in the very things that Christ has told us to put our confidence in and replaces them with his own human traditions that are devoid of any power.

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