Covid is for the Church – not the world?

There’s a tendency for the church to look out upon the world with an eye to judgement. That’s probably an understatement, nevertheless, there’s a lot in the world that would rightly fall under the judgment of God. The millions of abortions that take place on its own confirms that. It isn’t surprising then that some Christians could see the current pandemic as a judgment from God. We look on to see the world repenting and calling upon the Lord (or rather look on and don’t see that). The Church being in the world gets caught up in these judgments from on high. We look in vain. There may be a few people here and there that turn to God, but by and large the world carries on as usual. The church is sidelined. That is the way of the world. Let’s face it, the church today (in the UK anyway) is an utter irrelevance.

It’s probably not a unique thought. But what if it’s the other way round and we are looking at this all wrong? What if it’s really the world caught up in God’s judgment upon the Church!

Just as we look vainly upon the world for repentance towards God, we look vainly upon the church to do the same. The world looks upon the church in vain. Where is the repentance and a turning towards the Lord in repentance and faith? We might say, ‘What have we to repent of?’ Our self-righteousness world be a good start.

These thoughts came out of my reading just the other morning. My default is probably set to look out and judge the world. But it came to me specifically that the Covid Pandemic has been sent by God as a judgement on the church. We always, or nearly always, think that if anything bad happens in the world it’s a judgment from God upon the world. It’s a damning and profoundly unsettling realisation that it could well be the other way round. I am quite upset about it. I’m finding it to be quite disturbing actually. For one thing it means I’ve been looking at it all wrong.

The verses I’m referring to are found in Chronicles. The context is Solomons dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Of course, all Gods dealing with the church are by grace. Even His judgments are a mercy to His people and to His church. I’ve heard the phrase used a few times lately that God is sifting the church. It does seem to be the case. Perhaps God is sifting us as individuals as well. What are our convictions? Do we care more about being correct than people? Some evidence then that the church needs to be looking at itself rather than casting a self-righteous judgmental eye on the world – which we’re pretty good at doing.

We know that God sends the pestilence, even this pandemic. I don’t think most Christians doubt that. God hasn’t been surprised or caught off guard by any of this. But I do think we (I include myself here) may have seriously misjudged its purpose. I’ll admit to being late to realise this. Maybe too late. I think my fear now is that once things start, dare I say it, returning to ‘normal’, it will be ‘business as usual.’ The meetings will restart and return to ‘normality.’ The pandemic will have passed, and we’ll all thank God and return to thinking how wonderful we all are, and nothing will have changed. My biggest worry, like I say, is that for the church, it will be ‘Business as usual.’ Do we want ‘business as usual’? What did ‘business as usual’ look like?

How then, in the light of this, assuming it’s true, and I’m right about this, are we to respond? To respond right now. I don’t think prayers for God to end the pandemic are really going to cut it.

If all that’s happening is really about the church, and it really is, how are we to change? I don’t think I’ve read much along on these lines. A lot has been said about the legality etc of the lockdowns and how the government are persecuting the church. You know the stuff I mean. Those are real issues by the way.

Christians have, and are, deeply divided over how to deal with the pandemic and our responses to government overreach are just as divisive. Wearing masks, closing churches, social distancing, and vaccinations are just some of the many ways we have been divided. We have our views. I have mine. And I’m not saying these are not valid. For example, the government is overreaching in many areas. They are manipulating the population. But what if we have all missed the point?

As churches we want to get back to normal. We want to get back to business as usual. But what is normal? And what is business as usual? What did those things look like? What is normal for us? What is a normal prayer meeting for example? Do we want a return to normal? Are we happy that our normal prayer meetings now just continue as normal but online? Or our normal services just continue now as normal online. And when our services return to normal will they just continue as before?

We do ok with normal. Normal is safe. Normal is cuddly. Normal has no surprises. We can manage normal. Normal is under control. Under our control that is. I think, perhaps what the word normal describes is formality. We are very formal. Normal is formality. Could it even be described as having a form of godliness? Or even in Revelation the Lord Jesus describes one church as having a reputation for being alive. But that wasn’t how Jesus described them! We are just so correct and righteous.

We pray (sometimes), or sing, for God to come sweeping through us. Maybe he is. But not in the way we expected!

And as we (at Towcester Evangelical Church) heard on Sunday morning, don’t think for one moment the purposes of God will be thwarted. They won’t be. But we will miss out. Don’t worry though. Everything will be back to normal soon! God will have passed by unnoticed, and we’ll be left to carry on with business as usual.

The world, on the face of it, is completely opposed to the Christian faith. And I understand all the reasons for that. But I think there’s another side to this. And that is, unconsciously or not, the world is looking to the church for hope and redemption, and for mercy and forgiveness. Where else is real and true hope to be found? There is nowhere else. Only the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has the good news of the Gospel to dispense to the world. It is us, Christians, that have been commissioned by God to preach Good News of a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.

Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss to know quite what to do with this. I believe the very thought of what I’m suggesting will be met, by some, with opposition, or much more likely to be met with the cold shoulder of indifference.

We can’t revive ourselves, and we can’t turn the tide of secularism back, so isn’t it time for us to call upon the Lord to have mercy on us? To revive us. To wake us up out of our slumber. Or are we (self) satisfied with ‘business as usual.’ Are we, or will we be satisfied with being ‘normal?’

 

Revival – The disappearance of an Era

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones

On a discussion board one of the recent topics is ‘Unction’ in preaching. The topic came about through Carl Trueman‘s ‘Mortification of Spin’ podcast and the forum were asked for their thoughts on the review. In this MOS podcast the topic or book they were discussing was Dr Lloyd-Jones book Preaching & Preachers. They agreed it was a great book and a helpful book but were perplexed, even calling it ‘bonkers’, when it came to ‘Unction’. The Dr (Dr Martyn Lloy-Jones) discusses this subject at length in the book.

One or two, myself included, found the way Carl was so disparaging of ‘Unction’ quite concerning and even questioned whether he had ever experienced it either in his own ministry or from the pew.

John Knox

This set me thinking about the sort of situation where this ‘Unction’ would be evident. We read about this sort of thing being evident in Revival – especially during the periods of The Reformation, the Puritan era and the the 18th Century Evangelical Awakening in the US and in the British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales). The subject of Revival does seem to have fallen out of fashion.

This sent my thoughts back to when I first became a Christian back in 1979. Back then there was constant talk of Revival. There were conferences about Revival, there were prayer meeting for Revival, there were many books and magazine articles published about Revival. The public prayer in many services of worship were full of longing for Revival. It was something to be prayed for, longed for and worked for. But now, all that seems to have gone.

I can see this in part concerning the History Lectures that I help organise – where are the lectures on Revival? Not quite so prominent. This is something I will try to rectify for next year (2015).

I can understand to some extent how as a subject it has gone into decline. There has over the last few years been massive advances in Secularism and really a turning away from the Christian faith while at the same time what the apostle Paul described as ‘a form of godliness, yet a denial of its power’. In other words the State wants to maintain its grip on religion but wants nothing to do with its reality – the true Christian faith (the faith we are charged to contend for Jude 1:3) . The church gets caught up in all this. It forgets its prime mission is to preach the Gospel. We have nothing else and the world does everything else better anyway.

Thoughts of Revival these days seem to revolve around doctrinal precision. This is good and proper but without the Revival emphasis the church has lost something. The adage that Revival is ‘Truth on Fire’ could do with coming to the fore in our thinking. It’s not enough to be precise, though it is necessary. What we need is to be on fire. What preaching needs is to be on fire. This isn’t something you can get from a book, from a Seminary or from a program of study or whatever. Revival it seems to me, is the prerogative of God. And where a Revival is advertised, you can be sure that that revival is false.

To be sure an over emphasis on Revival as the panacea to all our problems is not only unhelpful – it isn’t true. And, I think this was seen as the view. Consequently the pendulum began to swing away from a concentration on Revival. As ever, the Christian life is a life of balance and it’s all too easy to fall off the knife-edge and become unbalanced. So far I’ve not so much as mentioned the Holy Spirit nor Jesus. But make no mistake if you want a Revival in your Church preaching endless stories and anecdotes about yourself or your dog or whatever your favourite hobby is will not cause the Spirit of God to fall upon your ministry. But preaching about Christ, and keeping Him central to your ministry may do. Remember, Revival is the blessing of God as He see’s fit, ‘the wind blows where it will’. Being faithful to the Gospel of Christ, being precise in doctrine, caring deeply about the truth of the Word of God will be blessed by God. He has promised to do so. Revival, that’s another matter, but perhaps the Church of Jesus Christ should begin to seek Him afresh for it, even in these degenerate days.

Update
There was a ‘Concert for Prayer’ (modeled on Jonathan Edwards prayer for revival) held in one of the local churches last week. I’m told it was an encouraging meeting. About 20 people attended with 5 local churches represented. About the size of a man’s hand. The plan is to hold a ‘concert’ quarterly.

 

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Paul Cook – New Book on Revival

At the recent Faith Cook lecture I was able to purchase – and get signed – the new book by Paul Cook ‘Fire From Heaven – Times of Extraordinary Revival’.  It’s a book that very nearly wasn’t as I recall speaking to him last year as he expressed doubts about having it published. The last chapter caused him great difficulty and was in fact the substance of a lecture given at Rugby with the title ‘Have we lost interest in Revival?(download it HERE).

As it’s a new purchase a review will have to wait until I can get around to reading it.  However, it’s worth noting at least two highly commendable aspects of the book.  It has notes at the back (end notes) and an index to facilitate further study.  It also has a brief selected bibliography in addition to books in the end notes.

Here’s the blurb from the EP Books website:

This work has a history. Since giving  a paper on ‘The Forgotten Revival’ at the Westminster Conference in 1984, and subsequently a number of addresses in various places on different aspects of that revival movement, friends have urged me to write up the material in book form to ensure a more permanent record of these revivals. My calling as a preacher has kept me from doing this. However, further exhortations have finally prevailed and this book is the result, with occasional evidences of the preacher still present.

1 Remembering former days
2 The God who hears prayer
3 Early revivals in the North of England
4 Days of the Son of Man in Yorkshire
5 Cornwall and the great revival of 1814
6 The Cornish revivals
7 How the Wesleyans regarded the work of God
8 Rethinking our doctrine of revival

Paul Cook was the pastor of three churches, Hull, Shepshed and Northallerton. Paul and his wife, Faith have five grown up children. Paul and Faith now live in Breaston, Derbyshire.

The book may be purchased through the EP Books website or from all good book-stores.