Reformation, Not Revival

As Randy Brandt would say, “here’s a rant.”

In light of my non-post on Reformation Day last Saturday, I offer the following: the church is in need of reformation, not revival.

Revival benefits a doctrinally sound church whose adherents are obedient, by adding numbers that may be trained into disciples. In doctrinally sound churches whose members have become slothful or have shipwrecked their faith, revival may be successful in exhorting and edifying existing Christians within the church to action, as in Rev 3:20. However, is revival beneficial for a doctrinally unsound church or a church with aberrant practices? What, after all, would be the purpose of reviving doctrinally unsound churches? Can there be a good purpose to revive doctrinally unsound churches?

It seems to me this would only encourage and excite bad belief and bad practice.

I saw a sign outside a church today on the way to pick up the lad from school. No, the sign was not on the way to pick up the lad; I was. Nevertheless, the church’s marquis featured the following in big letters: We are the only hands God has.

Call me theologically pedantic, but the message was all wrong.

Granted, it may have simply been intended as a call to action in this dark world. It may have simply been intended to urge Christians to help those in need. No argument there, but why not just say Christians, help those in need. Why not quote instead Matthew 25:40?

Or, perhaps, the message was intended to convey the truth that God is non-corporeal in nature. If so, it’s difficult to see how we as God’s hands would be included in the message. It would simply say: God is a spirit without a body, or something similar.

What I suspect, though, was something more significant. My best estimate is that the sign represents a common thought within modern Christianity whereby God does not act apart from the will of His saints. Reborn man has dominion over the earth, and through the force of faith, determines what God does and does not do. Why on earth, or in heaven, would we or God want to revive this message, or the church that proclaims it? What is required is reformation.

Sometimes the thought is disseminated this way: God rules the world through the prayers of his saints. Other times this is said: God would never override the free will of his creatures. Still other times the thought comes through as The Prince of the power of the air rules this world or God will not do this that or the other unless you speak it into existence.

Some of these are worse than others–some are downright occultic–but they all fall woefully short of sound biblical teaching. What they all have in common is a misconstrual of God’s sovereignty, and thus His nature. Why would we seek to revive them?

Again, what the church needs, the American church at least, is reformation. Speaking of hands, how about Deuteronomy 32:39-42:

See now that I myself am He! There is no god beside me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.

I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.

I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders.

If we’re God’s only hands, who’s gonna volunteer for this assignment? Who’s gonna grasp the sword of judgment, or draw back the bow and make the arrows drunk with blood? God forbid, someone out there would probably raise their hand, but I think most of us get the point. And certainly, who of the hands among us will raise their hand and say: I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live forever…

God forgive us. I know that God does not have hands. I also know He does not need them; He spoke the heavens and the earth into existence without them. I also know that we are called to represent Him on this earth. But it’s as representatives, not His causal agents. We are the new priesthood; we represent him and our high priest Jesus, albeit imperfectly, and representatives always serve a master, and their master’s will.

Yes, I know God does not have hands: God is spirit according to John 4:24, and elsewhere. But what else does John 4 say?

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.

Perhaps they had the best intentions, but God wants spirit and truth. Where there is a lack of truth there will not be revival, but reformation, even if through judgment. Once reformation’s done, revival may not be far behind.

7 comments

  1. Randy Brandt says:

    Wow, my name was used, and not in vain! I liked your concept and can’t wait to challenge the next person who says, “We need revival!” However I might tweak the slogan to be, “We need reformation, then revival.” Although, if we have true reformation, I suppose revival would result, as you indicated at the end. Quite apropos for this past week!

  2. “It seems to me this would only encourage and excite bad belief and bad practice.”

    This makes my heart ache. You’ve put your finger on exactly what we’ve faced in past ministry: an insistent demand for revival without doctrinal correction.

    “No, the sign was not on the way to pick up the lad; I was. ”

    Sighhhh…and that’s the sort of caveat you have to include when referencing the name of Brandt… 😉

    “Call me theologically pedantic, but the message was all wrong.”

    Not in the least pedantic! (Okay, coming from a word nerd, that may lack weight.) Phrases like these speak to an underlying set of presuppositions while cloaking their advocacy of errancy behind weasel words and precisely that sort of accusation towards truthful speakers. Yes must be yes, and no must be no. No waffling.

    “Reborn man has dominion over the earth, and through the force of faith, determines what God does and does not do. ”

    I’ve never heard a doctrinal twist quite like that one, I mean the combination of dominion teaching with charismatic/positive-thinking “have faith in your faith” phrasing.

    “Some of these are worse than others–some are downright occultic”

    Yes, indeed.

    “I know that God does not have hands.”

    Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man.

    ~Ezekiel 1:26

    It’s we who are made in the image of God, not God in our image, I think that’s the core reversal of truth when it comes to the idea of God’s hands at work in the earth…

    “Where there is a lack of truth there will not be revival”

    You also use the word “reformation” differently than I’ve heard. Perhaps we’ll talk more about that later. Thank you for the breath of fresh air, Marc.

  3. Matt says:

    Excellent post, Marc.

    I also know that we are called to represent Him on this earth. But it’s as representatives, not His causal agents.

    Couldn’t agree more! There’s so much doctrinal error and indifference (which is worse?) that plagues the north American church, that the recovering Arminian in me wants to despair. Thankfully, though, as a Calvinist, I have much reason for hope!

    Not exactly on topic, but related: a buddy and I were out for coffee the other night discussing Open Theism. We were wondering if God knew ahead of time that Greg Boyd would become an Open Theist before he was born. I’m thinking Boyd’s response would be “How could God infallibly know what I would do? I hadn’t even created Him yet!”

  4. Marc Schooley says:

    ‘However I might tweak the slogan to be, “We need reformation, then revival.” ‘

    Sounds good to me, Randy.

  5. Marc Schooley says:

    “Phrases like these speak to an underlying set of presuppositions while cloaking their advocacy of errancy behind weasel words and precisely that sort of accusation towards truthful speakers. Yes must be yes, and no must be no. No waffling.”

    Sounds as though I’m being reprimanded. I’ve noticed in the past that you constantly correct me for doing this. I’ll have to be more attentive to it in the future. I’ll try to prevent this one from coming back to haunt you, but I can’t make any promises :)

    “I’ve never heard a doctrinal twist quite like that one”

    I’m surprised it hasn’t made its way to the great white north yet. It’s HUGE down here and other places.

    “I think that’s the core reversal of truth when it comes to the idea of God’s hands at work in the earth…”

    Nicely put.

  6. Marc Schooley says:

    “There’s so much doctrinal error and indifference (which is worse?) ”

    Matt, I’m not sure which is worse, to tell you the truth. I’m guessing they’re both bad, and often seen hand in hand or exchanging notes under the desk.

    “How could God infallibly know what I would do? I hadn’t even created Him yet!”

    :) Do you mind if I borrow this one sometime, Matt?

  7. “Sounds as though I’m being reprimanded. I’ve noticed in the past that you constantly correct me for doing this.”

    No, no, no, dear ol’ Marcus. Not you. I’m sorry, that does read bad on a second look. I meant the church. With the sign. That was not on its way to pick up the lad.

    I must be getting too tired, or maybe just too rushed today, to carry on a conversation. Sorry about that.

    “I’m surprised it hasn’t made its way to the great white north yet. ”

    It likely has, but the more overt forms of dominionism are looked on as American colonialism in many circles. Because of internationalist influences, from what I’ve seen, Arminian-based dominion teachings here are more likely to take an earth-stewardship or humanitarian-aid aspect.

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