A Dozen Additional Thoughts on the Nature of Revival and How People Respond to It1
We have thus far examined what revival is and what our responsibilities are with regard to it. We now turn to yet another important question: Why do people respond to revival with fear, skepticism and disgust? There are several reasons. I’ll mention twelve. Continue reading . . .
We have thus far examined what revival is and what our responsibilities are with regard to it. We now turn to yet another important question: Why do people respond to revival with fear, skepticism and disgust? There are several reasons. I’ll mention twelve.
First, revival is always messy. Inconsistencies and irregularities and inconveniences are always present in revival. "A work of God without stumbling blocks," wrote Edwards, "is never to be expected." Consider the church in Corinth, which experienced first-hand the revival of the first century. "The Corinthian disorders," explains J. I. Packer, "were due to uncontrolled overflow of Holy Spirit life. Many churches today are orderly simply because they are asleep, and with someone fears that it is the sleep of death. It is no great thing to have order in a cemetery. The real and deplorable carnality and immaturity of the Corinthian Christians, which Paul censures so strongly elsewhere in the letter, must not blind us to the fact that they were enjoying the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a way in which we today are not" (Keep in Step, 249).
Second, there is the Spirit-quenching fear of guilt by association. By this I mean the tendency to shut ourselves off from the work of the Spirit for fear of being linked too closely with people who we believe are an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. When this happens we can find ourselves resisting what God is doing, not so much because we have explicit biblical warrant for doing so, but because people we regard as "weird" are actively involved in its promotion. Our prideful reasoning is both simple and sinful: "There is no way on earth this movement can be of God. After all, look at the kind of people who are associated with it."
I am not at all suggesting that we try to be weird or that we go out of our way to be offensive to the viewing public. The Bible calls us to be sober-minded, above reproach, and clear-headed in our obedience to God. But if the fear of rejection is quenching our willingness to embrace a move of the Holy Spirit, we must embrace the stigma of appearing foolish in the eyes of men.
Third, revival almost always disturbs the religious establishment. One of the reasons for this is the tendency of revival to produce new leaders in the church who often lack the education and sophistication of the established clergy. Pastors are only too happy to welcome a fresh move of God until such time as their own prestige and influence begin to wane. When one's flock begin to wander into someone else's fold, all sorts of previously unforeseen objections to revival suddenly become persuasive.
Then, of course, many religious leaders are extremely protective of long-standing traditions. Revival often brings in its wake new expressions of worship, new styles of preaching, new schedules in the life of a church, and most anything new is unwelcome to those who have worked hard and given their lives to building up and preserving what is old. Both their identity and power are wrapped up in preserving the status quo.
Fourth, people grow angry when they are afraid, and they are afraid of whatever they don't understand. And they typically don’t understand what they’ve never personally experienced. What this means is that when something new and unexpected occurs, many people are frightened and find every reason possible to conclude that this is something other than God at work.
Fifth, when revival comes we often hear the warning: "All things must be done decently and in order." Certainly our God is a God of order and peace. But the bringing in of order can occasionally be a disorderly process. In true revival, says John White, "chaos and darkness flee, but they create a ruckus as they leave" (When the Spirit Comes with Power, 44).
Sixth, as John White has said, "Whenever the kingdom advances, the front line is perceived as scum" (46). I don't think that needs much explanation!
Seventh, there is the fear of excessive emotion. No one wants emotion for its own sake. But when the Spirit ignites our passion for the Son of God and fills us with joy inexpressible and full of glory, it is hard to sit quietly and feel nothing.
Eighth, J. I. Packer nails it when he reminds us that anytime God moves, Satan keeps pace! Whatever and whenever God blesses, Satan curses. What God creates, Satan counterfeits. Let us be especially careful, therefore, not to deny the existence of the original simply because we have been burned by the fake.
Ninth, often times those most resistant to revival are the very ones who earlier appeared to lead prayer for its onset. In other words, pastors and church leaders are often loudest and most zealous in their cry for revival and among the most critical when it comes. Some are threatened by it. It is crucial to remember that revival is never a one-man-show, but all too often one man can kill it.
Tenth, another obstacle to revival is formalism, which refers to a style of worship that quenches the Spirit of revival. Many churches, says Packer, "seem to view worship in a way that can only be called formalistic, for their interest is limited to performing set routines with suitable correctness, and there is no apparent desire on anyone's part actually to meet God" (42).
Eleventh, complacency, or spiritual smugness, is the enemy of revival. Here I have in mind a "things-are-OK-as-they-are" mentality that settles for so much less than what God wants to give (cf. Rev. 3:14-22). When we ask why revival has not come, perhaps the answer is "because we are content to live without it" (L. Ravenhill).
Twelfth, traditionalism is especially inimical to revival. Packer defines it this way: "There is a subtle tenacity abroad that remains wedded to the way things were done a hundred years ago. It thinks that it renders God service by being 'faithful' (that is the word used) to these outmoded fashions; it never faces the possibility that they might need amending today if ever we are to communicate effectively with each other and with those outside our circles" (Keep in Step, 253).
The point is: Don't let your grooves become graves! After all, "the Holy Spirit is not a sentimentalist as too many of us are; he is a change agent, and he comes to change human structures as well as human hearts. Change for its own sake is mere fidgeting, but change that gets rid of obstacles to God's fullest blessing is both a necessity and a mercy" (ibid., 253-54).