Revival or Reformation: A Necessary Order

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

The young pastor heads into his first church and has visions of reformation.  His ministry will be marked by making healthy and helpful changes to the life of his new congregation.  Elders will be established, feminism eradicated, evangelism entrenched, and world missions funded.  His new church, given some time, will rival the Geneva of Calvin as the “perfect school of Christ” (a remark made by John Knox). 

Thus the visions of grandeur that many, young and old, entertain.  Now, the above goals are not bad.  In themselves, they are desirable.  A plurality of elders is consistent with New Testament polity.  Feminism is unbiblical and needs crushing.  Evangelism and world missions are to be pursued and embraced.  These are good things to strive for.  Reformation along these lines is worthy of our efforts over the years of our ministries.

My thoughts last night and this morning, however, have surrounded the relationship between Reformation and Revival.  Which comes first?  Are they two sides of one coin?  These are good questions to consider.  And we must realize that a real question exists.  Reformation and Revival are not the same.  The former involves a “renewal of the forms and structures of society and culture” while revival “describes a renewal of spiritual life” (The Spirit of Revival, Sproul).  The question, then, is can you have a renewal of forms and structures without a renewal of spiritual life?

R. C. Sproul says that “it is not possible to have true reformation without first having true revival.  The renewal of spiritual life under the power of the Holy Spirit is a necessary condition for reformation but not a sufficient condition for it” (The Spirit of Revival, Sproul).  I am inclined to agree in part.  I think that a person could come into a church and lead the congregation to make form and structural changes that are  biblical without revival in the hearts of the people having taken place.  Now, this may not fit the category Sproul has raised (that of “true reformation”).  But still, a type of reformation has taken place.  It may be, however, without true revival having also, or previously, occurred, that a Christ-centered embrace of these changes on theological grounds cannot happen.  I am open to learning more on this point.

The thought that has stuck in my mind in regard to this discussion is simply this:  are we going into our churches with the wrong order of things in mind?  Are we so doggedly determined to change structures and forms that we miss the need to see revival take place in the hearts of our people?  Would seeking to lead our people to the glorious God of the Bible, to deeper understandings and embrace of the cross, not be the logical place to begin our ministries?

There was a similar conversation around the Great Commission Resurgence.  Many were calling for revival, not restructuring.  I disagreed then and disagree still.  I think that when God begins to stir in hearts then it causes us to step back and evaluate things.  Structures and policies included.  Thus, the GCR, in my mind, was a result of a level of revival taking place in the SBC.  In some of our church contexts, however, it may not be so.  The pastor may have been stirred by God, stand as one who is on fire for the glory of King Jesus, but be serving in a place where the people have not had the same experience.  If that be the case, reformation must take a back-seat to revival.

I would like to see pastors head into the pastorate with a plan to do nothing before first having made sure that the hearts of his people are enthralled with the majesty of God.  We should think through strategies of change, as well as concerns that will need addressing, and then be ready to institute changes when the time comes.  But the we must first make sure that the congregation is alive.  If they are not, revival must take place.  Preach the glories of Jesus, the sovereignty of God over all things, and the age to come with passion and zeal.  Let God set them on fire through your life and teaching.  And, then, after spiritual life has been imparted or revived, then set a course to see reformation take place.

Revival first.  Then Reformation.

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