Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Surprising Works of God: Understanding the Nature of Revival

by JM

Pt. 2 – Beware of Mushroom Revivals

Charles Spurgeon, no stranger to powerful moves of God, gives us this caution:

“Things are allowed to be said and done at revivals which nobody could defend. Do you notice, at the present moment, the way the gospel is put? I am uttering no criticism upon anyone in particular, but I continually read the exhortation, "Give your heart to Christ." The exhortation is good, but do not suffer it to cover over the gospel word: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." In the Sunday-school, the teaching often is, "Dear children, love Jesus." Now, this is not the gospel. The love of Jesus comes as a fruit, but the gospel is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." If we think that we shall do more good by substituting another exhortation for the gospel command, we shall find ourselves landed in serious difficulties. If, for a moment, our improvements seem to produce a larger result than the old gospel, it will be the growth of mushrooms, it may even be the growth of toadstools; but it is not the growth of trees of the Lord” (Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry, http:// www. spurgeon.org/misc/aarm12.htm).
I don’t think it’s reading too much into Spurgeon to assume that after warning of mushroom revivals, he would have added that we pray for, aspire after, and promote those moves or seasons of heightened religious sensitivity which nurture tree-like growth; growth derived from roots sent deep into the gospel; moves that produce everlasting fruit for the glory of God. As if to say, to promote and protect such powerful moves of God, this 19th century prophet pleads for us to watch for the subtle seduction, sedition, and the self-destructing nature of rival – revivals, as well as to plead with God for the genuine. These two efforts should be married.

As for the seduction, much like true-rival, the imposter initially flourishes with energy and pomp; with people swayed into an extraordinary excitement and resolve towards the things of religion. Almost as by default, we are tempted to infer from this shimmering effect a glorious cause. Spurgeon would say that this inference might be similar to people, who cloistered from basics of botany, concluding that the quick and impressive immergence of mushrooms and toadstools must be clear evidence of their enduring nature; a faulty inference indeed. In the same way, those accustomed to the word of God do not see energy, pomp, and interest in the things of religion as sufficient earmarks of revival, though they may be accompanying earmarks. Rather, they look beneath these things for sure signs of renewal - “repentance towards God, and faith in Christ Jesus,” or as John the Baptist would search for in his respondents, “Fruits appropriate for repentance.”

The sedition, though subtle, looms when revivals are sown in the ground of shallow doctrine. Spurgeon feared in his own day that such movements made ambiguous those things essential for salvation. In these revivals, clarity of doctrine seemed irrelevant, distracting, or sometimes opposed to the movement of God’s Spirit. “Give your heart to Jesus” replaces “Plead for mercy from an angry God.” “Love Jesus” replaces, “repent and be saved.” Clarity of understanding or thought is portrayed as ruinous to the emotional fervor of the moment. The grand project is, “can we move their hearts,” regardless of what is in the mind. Much like days gone by, today there is no small number of people who will respond to the gospel filtered and twisted by their natural mind. When asked what they propose to accept about Christ, often it is a Christ who saves from financial ruin or relational ruin. Christ is either embraced “as a purpose for living,” or a reason “for not giving up.” There’s very little sin-saving in these moves. The preachers and promoters of biblical revival will spend much of their effort untwisting and undoing the inevitable false interpretations of the gospel made by the respondents. They will preach the guilt and depravity of man, and declare the sole-sufficient atoning death of Christ as the satisfaction for that guilt. They’ll endeavor is to preach the simplicity of the gospel in a way (to use words of Martin Lloyd Jones) to “reach the mind, awaken the emotion, and move the will.”

The self-destruction of imposter revival is present from inception. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” Earthly productions will burn with her. Heavenly productions will endure with her. Earthly repentance contains the curse of Adam, which leads to death. The repentance which reflects the will of heaven, endures forever (2 Cor. 7:9-10; 1 John 2:17). This is not to say that we have to wait for the eternal state to part through the sheep and goats of putative God-movements. Even within the scope of the work of revival, one will begin to detect the true nature of the work by the endurance of those worked upon in it, namely does the devotion outlast the emotion? Gamaliel’s advice seemed applicable to something wider than the vindication of the new-born Christian movement when he said, "So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God" (Acts 5:38-39).

If you’re a lover of genuine moves of God, then you’ll be a hater of her counterfeits. Let’s beware of Mushroom and Toadstool revivals. Let’s pray for tree-like growth from heaven.