Something Reformed

Some questions about revival

with one comment

I recently read of another gathering of leaders from various churches and denominations coming together to pray for “revival.”  I have to admit, I get nervous when people talk about revival. I realize this may sound like I’m about to say something critical or cynical, but let me explain.

I’ve noticed some of the language and methods used to discuss, pray for, and bring in “revivals” seem to imply some pretty astonishing conclusions about the work of the Spirit and the mission of the church, especially for those in the Reformed tradition. Now, God in his providence is certainly free to allow his church to endure periods of, oh let’s say “lesser light.” And indeed this has happened in church history. Even by the end of the 1st century, most of the churches referenced in the Apocalypse were chided for some measure of disobedience. And certainly the “dark ages” was a time when many heresies crept in and gained footholds in the visible church. But even in response to perceived lifelessness or faithlessness, I’m not convinced that forming a para-church network or organization to pray for God to do something fresh and new is really the right solution.

Here are some questions that arise in my mind when that does happen…

Aren’t the Scriptures clear about the means that God uses to sanctify his people, namely what we call the ordinary means of grace? Or are we told it will come through “concerts of prayer” or “evangelistic crusades” conducted by non-churches? I believe God has not only ordained ordinary means–the preaching of his Word and the administration of the sacraments with discipline–but hasn’t he also promised to build his church through these means, so that the gates of hell cannot prevail against him? Indeed hasn’t he promised that the Spirit’s call to salvation is effectual and that he indeed will redeem all the sheep he has chosen, sheep of every nation, tribe, and tongue and unfailingly sanctify them by the sovereign work of the Spirit?

The promise of God to call a people to himself and to spread the knowledge of the Lord over the earth as the waters cover the sea, cannot be divorced from the means through which he has promised to work. Wanting revival is a good thing in one sense, but we must be content with the mean God has given, namely the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments with discipline. It is through these things that God promises to work, not the clever innovations we may come up with.

But more than just an apparent minimizing of the means of grace, laments about revival also seem to imply that the Church is weak, dead, or dying. But how does this notion square with Christ’s promise to build his church so that the gates of hell cannot prevail against her? Is he just being more or less faithful to that promise throughout history? Or has the Spirit failed to sanctify a sufficient amount of faithful elders to persevere in the administration of the means of grace? See, even if we blame faithless Christians or pastors, we still sort of implying that Christ’s promise to build and sanctify his church is not being honored, at least not to the degree that we’d like to see. So I’m forced to ask, when and why did the Church die that she now needs reviving?

So, if the itch for what you call a revival is persistent, here’s my proposal for scratching it. First, let’s not step out of the local churches to go to Chicago and pray for revival with men who we wouldn’t even allow to stand in our pulpits. If God promised to work through the means given to the local churches, then true revival will happen in the churches. So, you want revival? Support the Word and sacrament ministry of the local church. Second, let’s be careful in our longing for revival that we don’t downplay or denigrate the work God is and has been doing through the ordinary means of grace. His kingdom comes with power when his Word is preached, even when it’s from a tiny church on the outskirts of a forgotten town where 25 saints gather for the preached Word and the Supper. If their children come to faith and they go home with their sins forgiven, who says that’s not revival?



Written by Joshua Peterson

June 27, 2011 at 2:46 am

Posted in Something Reformed

One Response

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  1. Very informative! Thanks for posting!


    June 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm

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