Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Anglican Revivalist

I began this blog, To All the World, in December 2004 with the aim of discussing news and issues pertaining to the Christian world mission. However, since I am an Anglican—more specifically a member of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America—it has been easy to be distracted by the controversies that are affecting the Anglican Communion. In a sense, these controversies also affect world mission, or at least the part that Anglicans play in world mission. But they have been a distraction, nonetheless.

Minneapolis pastor and author John Piper, in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad! has written:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

But until the worship due to God resounds among people of every nation, tribe and tongue, missions must be the pre-eminent work of the Church. The love that we are to give to God and to our neighbor is incomplete until every one who draws breath has been given the chance to own and express that love.

Increasingly, the western Church is being distracted from its most important task. Inroads of immorality and unbelief have reduced many once-vibrant Christian traditions to a position of being semi-Christian or pseudo-Christian on the way to becoming post-Christian. The news (and the blogs) are replete with illustrations. The energy that ought to go into the Church's mission instead goes into merely trying to keep it sound.

Bishops of the Church were charged, historically, with the responsibility to drive out error and false doctrine (as Scripture admonishes us to do in several places), so it is not surprising that countering error within the Church should be just as much a part of the work of the faithful as engaging in apologetics to win the unconverted. However, countering error should not occupy the entire attention of the Church any more than patching holes in the hull should occupy the entire attention of a ship's crew. Ships don't exist to be repaired, they exist to sail and to accomplish their mission.

This illustration carries an inherent warning: When a the hull of a ship becomes too riddled with holes; it is fit for nothing else but to be scrapped or scuttled. So various expressions of the Christian tradition have departed from the Faith; and the Church in various countries through the ages has waned, until God, through the working of his Holy Spirit has brought it to vibrant life again.

I will digress for a moment to answer the objection of some of my catholic-minded brethren who might point to the apparent stability and longevity of the Church of Rome as evidence that the Church has no need of revival. One need only point to the examples of the Borgia Popes, the sadistic excesses of the Inquisition, and the incidences of pedophile priests today to demonstrate that no expression of the Church, comprised as it is of fallen sinners, is immune to this trend.

Indeed, if one thinks of the examples of Benedict, Francis, Dominic, and Ignatius Loyola (to name only a few), it might be said that the foundation of every religious order was an effort to bring renewal and revival to the Church. And what has been the most recent response by Pope Benedict to the problem of pedophile priests? —a movement of prayer to cleanse the Church of pedophile priests. The Pope realizes that a spiritual problem can only ultimately be solved with a spiritual answer. Prayer that the Holy Spirit would come in and cleanse the Church of sin has been the key to virtually every revival in Christian history.

Not only can the Church not accomplish its mission without the Holy Spirit's cleansing, it cannot accomplish its mission without the Holy Spirit's power. Jesus made this clear at the beginning: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The disciples were powerless to leave Jerusalem (and were commanded not to) until they had received power from the Holy Spirit.

So just as the greatest work of the Church is Christ's Great Commission to carry the Gospel to all people, so the greatest need of the Church is continually to be renewed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The need is always for revival.

With a view toward presenting resources and stimulating prayer and discussion for revival, I have created a sister blog to this one: Anglican Revivalist. One of the first resources I have posted is a video address by the late Professor J. Edwin Orr on what God has done in the great revivals in history (and what we should pray God does again in our day). I hope you will take a look.

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