Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gustav Recovery

Yet another hurricane threatens the Gulf Coast; meanwhile people are still recovering from the last one.

Rev'd Bill Crawford at First Presbyterian of Thibodaux has set up a PayPal account where the church can process donations for immediate relief of victims of Hurricane Gustav.

Please help if you can - and keep the residents of the Gulf Coast in your prayers as they brace for Ike.

Speaking of Renewal

One of the more frustrating things for individuals within a mainline who desire renewal is the perceived lack of action. Any action that shows personal courage is profoundly empowering to those individuals.

For those who follow PC(USA) happenings, this one interested me.

There is a proposal coming before the Presbytery of Beaver Butler, "An Open Theological Declaration to the PC (USA) Explicating Major Errors of the 218th General Assembly as a Church Council and the means of Their Redress." The declaration's authors address the actions of the 218
th GA that concern them:

the formation of an extra commitment opportunity to raise a legal defense [/attack - given the context of paying for lawsuits against individual trustees of local congregations - w.s.] fund,

tactical errors concerning the removal of the 1978 AI,

judicial errors in using an AI to overturn the plain meaning of the constitution,

confessional errors in approving a changed translation of the Heidelberg Catechism.

biblical errors in encouraging Presbyterians to seek worship opportunities with Jews and Muslims

and the approval of a study guide for the previously received Trinity paper.

They go on to say, "
We cannot abide the ruling of any council which breaches Status Confessiones."

They also make the following commitments:

-We do not now and will no longer recognize ordinations that are constitutionally or biblically unsustainable.

-We will not seek common worship opportunities with Jews and/or Muslims. To do so would be to ask all parties involved to commit blasphemy since Muslims and Jews do not recognize the Divinity of Christ or the Holy Spirit and we cannot deny either.

-We refuse to act in accordance with the Authoritative Interpretations adopted by the 218
th General Assembly. They have no further force or effect in our Presbytery because they are constitutionally, biblically, judicially and tactically unsustainable.

-We further affirm that no Authoritative Interpretation, Advisory Opinion, alteration to the Constitution, or re-translation of our confessions can change the plain meaning of the Bible’s teaching concerning sexual norms, now accurately reflected in our Constitution.

-We do not and will not agree with Advisory Opinion #22 from the Stated Clerk’s office nor will we support it in our governing body. This ruling denies the plain meaning of our Constitution and wrongly rules that local option is now our reality in the PC USA.

-We will actively discourage our congregations from giving to the new legal defense fund Extra Commitment Opportunity created by this assembly as it encourages both our congregations and our upper governing bodies to be actively disobedient to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.

-We will not work to promote same gender civil unions within our commonwealth nor encourage anyone else to do so in their states.

-We will encourage other Presbyteries and/or congregations to join us in this declaration.

-We will continue to publish the Gospel once and for all handed down to the saints, grow our members in the One Lord Jesus Christ, and continue to participate in the transforming work of God according to His Word within our denomination and Presbytery.

Whatever one thinks of the terms they employ or the conclusions they have arrived at, to make such a statement is done only at personal risk. It is clear - does not try to have things both ways. It is faithful to traditional understandings of Reformed and Presbyterian theology.

"Merely Confessional Presbyterians" is a website about the Open Theological Declaration.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Organized Renewal Movement

[The organized renewal movement exists in more than one of the mainline denominations. It has enjoyed some successes; but in a large measure, it has also met with considerably less success than circumstances warrant. In the prior series of posts on the renewal enterprise, I have considered a number of reasons why this seems to be the case. I’m very aware that the observation itself – of the lack of success, is offensive to a number of renewalists. It is not my intent to place blame; I fully recognize the sometimes heroic efforts of individual renewalists. Nonetheless, I would point out that the rank and file – ordinary members and pastors who have supported the renewal movement (as distinct from those who were uninvolved) – have the perception that it has failed. In the face of that widespread perception, it might behoove leaders in the various renewal groups to take that perception (no matter how hurtful it may feel) seriously. In my opinion, renewal in the American Church is certainly possible – though difficult; in my opinion, at least certain aspects of work toward renewal are certainly worthwhile. Nonetheless, if the organized renewal movement continues in the direction it has gone in the past, it will fail. If, on the other hand, renewal groups and individual renewalists rethink their operational philosophy and rebuild their strategy from the ground up, they may still fail, but it is not a foregone conclusion. In order to make progress, the renewal movement must cease to be reactive, must cease to focus on crisis management, must be transformed into a genuine movement in its own right. Many people are asking, “Where do we go from here?” While I am fully persuaded that all individuals who desire renewal in the sense of genuine revival need to engage in those practices biblically commended practices (some of which I mentioned earlier: prayer, reading and study of the Bible, fasting, seeking God’s face, preaching the Gospel, opposing the right enemy, and especially repentance), I am also aware that, when speaking of a ‘movement’ specific actions are needed. I therefore find myself in the unenviable position of offering a suggestion to renewal groups and individual renewalists. I do not submit a strategy or plan of action, but a reconsideration. How might one get from point A to point B?]

A. Renewal groups and individual renewalists need to engage in a brief but focused and purposeful “season of discernment”. This period must be brief because perpetual naval gazing is not an option if one wants to make progress. The first order of business during such a period of discernment must be to accurately assess the full extent of the crisis in the mainline denominations (and in the American church more broadly). It is true that many of us on the outside see the situation as more dire than it may actually be; that is a matter of interpretation combined with a perceived inability to actually do anything productive about it. Renewal groups tend to err quite significantly in the other direction; at least in their public statements many of them seem to fail to grasp the actual severity of the problems. Arguments about unity will be raised, or about focusing on mission rather than division. But these take for granted that the warring opinions within the American church are all actually Christian. If they are not, (a contention that is supported by the fact that these are mutually exclusive), then unity and common mission become impossible. Though it may sound ‘nice’ to focus on them, in that circumstance this would be delusional.

A second essential purpose of such a period of discernment would be to determine the goals of the ‘organized renewal movement’ in as specific terms as possible. One of the issues that have greatly hindered the effectiveness of renewal efforts has been a historic inability for renewalists to clearly articulate their goals and strategies to ordinary members. I believe this should be the first order of business for anyone serious about renewal in the legacy denominations. Whatever results might grow from such a period of discernment – the articulation of goals and appropriate strategies – needs to be simple and clear. Personally, I value precision, but I often sacrifice plainness for it; but that plain speaking should be maintained as much as is possible. Worry less about the nuances than about being honest and broadly understood. Avoid the use of poetic language and vagaries in some misguided attempt to gain a fictional unity. Avoid the use of current fashionable terms that can have multiple meanings; avoid the use of guild-speak and jargon – specialized language that has the function of cutting off ordinary people from the conversation. The objective here is to articulate the goals and beliefs of the renewal movement in such a clear way that these cannot be misunderstood by any serious questioner. No such plain spoken presentation will lack critics – many opportunities will arise to make the case in very detailed terms. (In other words, you’ll still get the chance for nuance; you’ll still get the chance for intellectually satisfying arguments; but not at the expense of common understanding.)

I grant that the logistics of this are problematic, but it would be good for representatives of renewal groups and renewalists to meet together in a kind of summit. It would also be good if such an event were not confined specifically to one denomination. At the very least, consultation together within a denomination or tradition (e.g. related denominations from the same ‘family’) is a must. I label this a must, but I’m also aware this would amount to the ecclesial equivalent of herding cats; I should say it would be extremely beneficial if everyone who was willing would meet together to explore ways to foster cooperation. Consultation of this type need not occur in person – other effective technological options exist. It may be that finding that much common ground will prove impossible; the current visible disunity within renewal movements, however, is counterproductive, and every effort must be made to overcome it. Additionally, various renewal groups (and individual renewalists) have different cultures, resources, and talents that enable them to do different things well. If these could ever be persuaded to operate cooperatively – so that renewalists were not constantly obliged to reinvent the wheel – the gifts they bring would greatly increase the overall effectiveness of the renewal movement.

B. Renewal groups and renewalists need to begin thinking long term. Certain groups – particularly single-issue groups – have done this. In the main, the renewal movements have tended to emphasize reversing the current crisis only, seeking a status quo ante that was anything but satisfactory to begin with. I realize, of course, that ‘energizing the base’ tends occur around the latest shocking event in one or other of the mainline organizations. This emphasis on the most recent problem takes advantage of human nature in one respect, but it overlooks human nature at the same time. Humans have an inherent tendency to try to mediate between extremes. If, on the one hand, you have the compromised position that represents fifty years of drift away from historic and biblical Christianity, and on the other hand you have the radical fringe progressivist philosophy – then the mediation between extremes position will be half moderate, half radical fringe. Focusing on the immediate prior state of affairs, as if this were a laudable goal, helps shift the attitudes of large numbers of ordinary members who are striving to moderate between ‘extremes’. The thing is, one pole is extreme; the other is already skewed in the same direction – just not quite as far. It is a functional unipolar contest whose results cannot help but be some (albeit mild) variation of progressivist religious philosophy.

To those on the outside this is what it looks like. The renewal movement draws a line: this far and no more. That line is breeched. The renewal movement counsels, ‘wait and see how the new situation will look … don’t be hasty … it might not be as bad as we think.” Eventually, when a certain number of renewalists have gotten used to the new situation, the renewal will draw a new, more modest line: this far and no more. That new and improved line is breeched. The renewal movement counsels, ‘wait and see … don’t be hasty ….’ Yet another line is drawn: this time we really mean it; this far and no more.

Renewal groups and individual renewalists would be well advised to remember that the only way out of this often repeated dance – that simply continually transforms the beliefs and priorities of large numbers of members in one direction only – is to reject the initial premise. Sure, fight against the latest outrage if you must, but don’t stop there; have more significant goals. Stop thinking small; decide what it is you want to see in your denomination and fight for that. I think it would be a mistake to select an idealized historic period within a denomination, perhaps fifty or a hundred years ago, as if there were no challenges then. Instead, I believe an unequivocal stand for biblical Christianity is what is called for. In that case, instead of standing firmly on the sand of the most recent state of affairs and unwittingly helping advance a progressivist agenda, renewalists would find their feet planted on the Rock – the faith once delivered to the saints.

C. Engage ordinary members and local leaders. At one time a person could accurately speak of a ‘silent majority’ of members whose views and beliefs differed greatly from those advocated by people in leadership positions within their denominations. Today, I suspect we’d be talking more in terms of ‘silent pluralities’ of members. These constitute, of course, a sizable group, but they are fewer than they once were. Whatever the case, no attempted renewal movement that bypasses these members and local leaders has any chance of success. There is, in some renewal groups, a culture of elitism – in which these solicit donations from the ‘silent plurality’ but insist on fighting ‘for them’. In effect, this does the same thing to members and local leaders that denominational bureaucracies do: it sidelines them. They send in the money, they add to the numbers, but nothing is required or desired of them – least of all their active participation and opinions. Renewal groups are not as openly contemptuous of ordinary member and local leaders as are denominational bureaucrats, but they still discount them. This is not universally true, but it is far more widespread than it should be. I don’t believe that such a movement is at all sustainable.

I have come to the conclusion that a two-fold transformation in renewal groups is the need of the day. First, the primary focus of the organized renewal movement needs to become advocacy for biblical Christianity. I do not mean this should be necessarily the singular focus of all renewal groups – just that it must predominate. In order to be effective, such an advocacy must include both the clear articulation of biblical Christianity and the identification of and opposition to the competing non-Christian philosophies that enjoy currency in the church. This is best accomplished by rejecting current trends among ‘evangelicals’ that have faddish components, by backing away from over-reliance on confessions and creeds that are already compromised, by sidelining secular politics in the vast majority of cases, and by avoiding adding to or taking away from biblical Christianity. Second, renewal groups need to see their role as one of empowering ordinary members and local leaders. Instead of working for ordinary members and leaders in local congregations or on their behalf, the focus needs to shift to facilitating these members’ own efforts at renewal. I say this for a number of reasons, but primarily I must observe: as the ones who pay the bills and make up the numbers of the denominational organizations, ordinary members are the ones who both have a right to be heard, and, though they may not know it, have the ability to make their presence felt in ways far more profound than any small group can ever hope to do.

> The case must be made to ordinary members and local leaders that they can have an impact in their local community AND in their wider denominational settings. These two are not mutually exclusive concerns, and in fact, they complement one another well.

> The case must be made to ordinary members and local leaders that advocating for biblical Christianity in their communities and more widely is a worthwhile pursuit. It must be seen not as a hassle, not as a call to endless fighting about irrelevancies, but as an invitation to an adventure. It is these ordinary members and leaders that are invited to become fishers of men.

> An accurate presentation of the real situations in the denominational organizations must be made to ordinary members. Such a presentation must be fair minded, but it must also never cringe from presenting a true picture. [Personally, I see this as one of the more difficult things for the organized renewal movement to manage because it must also come to terms with an accurate view of the actual situations.]

> Renewal groups ought to provide detailed, easily accessible materials to help ordinary members to become more effective advocates for biblical Christianity. A great many people are willing – and follow vaguely biblical Christianity, but have never thought some of their beliefs through in a coherent, systematic manner. (While such a scattershot approach to biblical Christianity may work in their lives, it often leaves them unable to put their beliefs into words in an effective way. It also often leaves them unable to precisely identify the flaws in philosophies that compete with biblical Christianity.) Similarly, many ordinary members are unfamiliar with potent challenges to biblical Christianity. Materials that help us work through these challenges could only be beneficial. Many such materials already exist, but renewal groups would do well to gather them and make them widely available.

> Renewal groups must educate ordinary members about their denominations’ historic teachings and their polity structures. It can no longer be assumed that the people in a particular denomination were reared in that denomination and understand its traditional teachings and polity. It would be helpful to prepare ordinary members not to be intimidated by leaders – particularly national leaders. It would also be helpful to provide clear, concrete actions that ordinary members and local leaders who are concerned with the direction of their denominations can take. Some that come to mind are polity participation where that is practical; observation of regional and national meetings – renewalist congregations should be encouraged to send observers to such meetings; communication with denominational leaders – sometimes, if enough people communicate their beliefs it may give national leaders second thoughts about ignoring those beliefs; genuine (actually signed) petitions have been underused – and could be effective at showing widespread support or opposition to a particular course; financial giving opportunities that would not violate these members’ beliefs – often denominations have some things they do well, but the average member usually lacks the information to sort one from another; speaking out in their communities against misguided actions of national and regional governing bodies. I mention these – but I remain aware that opportunities and ideas exist. The organized renewal movement would do well to encourage as much action on the part of ordinary members as possible.

> Renewal groups might want to consider providing opportunities for fellowship among biblical Christians. Sometimes these may find themselves in settings where they are rather strongly isolated. That condition can be completely demoralizing; and the conviction that one is ‘all alone’ is not accurate. Helping biblical Christians, renewalists, ordinary members to provide support – emotional and otherwise – for one another should be a priority. Technology can be a great help in this regard if it is correctly used.

> Renewal groups need to focus on formulating effective communication strategies. If these choose the route of trying to empower ordinary members, they need to be able to communicate with those members. In order to make a case that renewal and advocacy for biblical Christianity are possible, necessary, and worthwhile, you need to be able to get a hearing. In order to be responsive to the beliefs and needs of ordinary members, renewal groups need to have two-way communication. Currently, factors of inertia, clericalism, and greater denominational resources are rendering that communication difficult. This is an uphill battle, but several things will help: craft your message in clear, simple, and accurate terms; make your case about empowerment; and avail yourselves of all technologies that permit wider communications.

> Where your beliefs are compatible, do not be afraid to cross denominational lines. I am persuaded that denominational organizations are the way of the past. Progressivists seek organizational unity; biblical Christians seek organic unity around common belief in and commitment to Jesus Christ. Many of your goals are the same in different denominations; your opponents are the same in different denominational settings; the tactics employed against biblical Christianity are the same. It only makes sense for the response to be one of cooperation.

I realize what I am saying constitutes a restructuring of the organized renewal movement, but I am persuaded nothing less is called for. [When I was young, the popular term for this was perestroika – and it was paired with glasnost – openness. However that may have worked out for Russia, I think these two things will give legs to an almost moribund renewal movement.] Much is already in place that could be very beneficial; but there are many forces that work against those benefits. I am persuaded today’s need dictates that an effective renewal movement will form around advocacy for biblical Christianity, will stop thinking small, and will primarily be about empowering ordinary members and local leaders.

Will Spotts

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Renewal Enterprise (4 of 4)

[I need to make a few qualifications here. First, I have been criticizing what I see as the net effect of the renewal movement. I believe this needs to be faced head on by those who seek renewal. However, I am also fully aware that many people have worked very hard with some success; nothing can take that fact away. It's just that the successes have been far fewer than the cirucmstances should in theory occasion. Additionally, if the renewal movement continues with the strategies it has been (and seems to be still) employing, it will fail.

Second, I've also been very critical of corruption within the 'hierarchies' or 'bureaucracies' of the mainlines. This springs from the fact that I am very naive about some things, and therefore, when I finally see them, I'm shocked and appalled by them. Yes, widespread corruption exists within the mainline denominations. Having said that, I'm also mindful that many people operating within them are NOT corrupt. Some stongly hold biblically Christian beliefs. Quite a few even recognize a need for a denominational change of direction - and have ideas about implementing this. I do not believe they will be successful, but it is important to note that this is occuring within the organizations.

Because my prior three posts were long, covered a number of things, and included tangents, I'd like to reiterate their main points. I believe the renewal movement concept (in the mainline denominations) merits reconsideration. Is such an effort viable? Is it worthwhile? What would be involved? Any analysis of this question must include consideration of why renewal efforts have been less than successful. Several issues need examination:

1. People who long for renewal (and renewal movements generally) have often had trouble articulating their specific objectives. This partly stems from the fact that renewal can mean a variety of things.

2. Renewal movements have experienced considerable disunity as a consequence of personalities, of divergent goals, and of strategy disagreements.

3. Those who desire renewal (and renewal movements generally) don't seem to fully appreciate the actual extent of the problems in mainline denominations.

4. Member apathy has not been adequately addressed.

5. Those who desire renewal (and renewal movements) tend to underestimate how nasty this pursuit can get.

6. Conservative and traditional Christians don't completely grasp that their presence is necessary to fulfill a progressivist agenda. The very things renewal groups often do inadvertantly help to move members along a trajectory away from biblical Christianity.]

The movie Anna and the King, based on the same story as the musical, The King and I, contains a line I try to always keep in mind. After a particularly bad series of events, Monkgut says to Anna, “Goodnight ma'am, you've helped enough for one day.” It is possible for a person to be completely well intentioned and still cause considerable harm. In fact, it is a common occurrence that the well-meaning do more harm than good. It occurs to me that there are three questions renewalists need ask: Is the renewal enterprise viable? And are renewal efforts worthwhile - are they likely to help more than they harm?

Is the renewal movement viable?
By viable, I am not asking if the renewal movement in general is 'healthy', but can it succeed at its goals? When I consider the movement as a whole, I do not find the results encouraging. At the same time, I must affirm that the salient aspects of renewal are all attainable in the legacy denominations. These are polity correction, advocacy for biblical Christianity, and revival. The first two can be done by renewal groups and individuals; the third cannot - it is solely the action of the Holy Spirit. There are, however, things that individuals who desire what I've termed 'revival' are biblically encouraged to do; nonetheless, the result is entirely outside of their power.

It should be observed that while polity correction is possible, it is also difficult and unpleasant. Those individuals and groups whose focus is on a particular issue have the greatest chance for success. Oftentimes single issues become aligned - at least in what passes for thinking among an alarmingly large portion of the population - with larger agendas and partisan support. However, there is usually still a certain latitude by which people will be willing to 'cross party lines' for a particular issue ... especially if they are able to fairly evaulate it before it becomes firmly entrenched as a 'party' position. Once it is entrenched in partisan lines, most people will lose their ability to examine it critically at all.

Similarly, advocacy for biblical Christianity within the mainlines is certainly possible. To a degree this has been done, but it has been done in a somewhat haphazzard way. To be effective, such advocacy must be two-fold: it must expose and oppose non-biblical doctrines embraced within the mainlines, and it must clearly articulate the doctrines of biblical Christianity. If renewalists manage to do the first without the second, they give the impression of being hyper-critical. Of course, those who embrace doctrines that are opposed by Scripture will ALWAYS regard those who point out that opposition as hyper-critical. However, solely exposing and opposing those doctrines still leaves the hearer without a sound understanding of biblical Christianity. There is a tendency to think that since we are talking about historically Christian churches, familiarity with the doctrines of biblical Christianity would be a given; sadly, that no longer appears to be the case. On the other hand, those who simply expound biblical Christianity and ignore the contrary doctrines that are widely embraced in the legacy denominations will also fail. This allows for a faulty impression of pluralism - a kind of pick and choose, build it yourself Christianity. It encourages hearers to mix biblical Christianity with other religions, and to conveniently ignore those biblically Christian doctrines they don't like. (Yes, people have a natural tendency to pick what we want to believe in an often self-serving fashion; that is simply human nature in a fallen world. But the person who tries to advocate for biblical Christianity while failing to identify its opponent philosophies is encouraging a chimera religion that is NOT biblical Christianity.)

Is the renewal enterprise worthwhile?
I am persuaded that, in the absence of the other two elements of renewal, polity correction by itself is not worthwhile. I say this for several reasons. First, the whole endeavor of polity correction exists as a product of polity violations; polity regulations are only formulated to deal with abuses of the spirit (and sometimes the actual letter) of the law that have occurred. Excessive regulation does not exist for those who are faithfully trying to do what is right; instead, such a cumbersome structure comes about because of the unacceptable behaviors of those who want to abuse the system. Polity correction without repentance - without an active rejection of corrupt practices, deliberate omissions, and customary negligence - is, in my opinion, useless. It may, in the short term, correct some specific abuses and corruptions; but in the long term all polity structures, no matter how thoroughly they have been thought out, require good faith participation. There is a way around every rule - more detailed and specific rules axiomatically indicate less trust and more problems. Unless people in the mainline denominations broadly and decisively reject the unethical practices we have been seeing now for a very long time, an environment of trust is impossible. One could, in theory, craft a manual to cover every possible situation in the life of a denomination - but who would want to function in that environment? And moreso, who would want to spend the time policing denominational officials and employees to find the areas where they evaded those regulations? Worse, what would that do to the spiritual health of the individuals involved? This is my opinion, but I frankly see no point in such a change without a massive change of heart on the part of the bulk of the membership of any denomination.

Second, most renewalists are out of their depth when it comes to polity regulation. The primary foci of renewal groups and individuals have been creeds, confessions, official policies decided at national level meetings. This neglects two important developments. The mainline denominations are changing their policies - in order to hinder biblical Christiainity and advance progressivist religious philosophy - at an increasingly rapid pace.these have decided to keep polity regulations, official statements of belief and practice, while allow these to be selectively ignored. This is, of course, entirely motivated by dishonesty; the proof of that is that in every case, specific denominational policies are enforced by draconian means. Only those violations that bend naturally against historic and biblical Christianity are ignored. This is no longer taking place at national meetings that are subject to considerable scrutiny and even press coverage. These changes are more 'executive' in nature; they come day by day and week by week; and they go unnoticed by members except in terms of their net effect. Renewal groups simply cannot keep up with the changes - though some have made admirable attempts to do so. For the most part, these might work to correct one problem while ten new problems spring up in its place. Also there is an increasing tendency among mainline denominations to attempt a 'postmodern' approach to polity. Specifically,

Having said that, I must acknowledge that attempts at polity correction, taken in isolation, can help in one way. These can mitigate instances of active harm caused by mainline denominations to people outside of those denominations. Additionally, when attempts at polity correction are combined with strong and consistent advocacy for biblical Christianity, their usefulness increases significantly. Were there an instance of genuine revival affecting large segments of a particular denomination, then polity correction would be one of several of its natural outgrowths.

Advocacy for biblical Christianity, on the other hand, is worthwhile and helpful in its own right. It must be clearly understood that this type of advocacy needs to be undertaken for its own sake and not in the service of any other end. If renewalists would systematically proclaim the Gospel and systematically resist and oppose aberrant teachings it would help in two ways. When people will be faithful to it, knowledge of the Gospel spreads. When people have a strong familiarity with the doctrines of biblical Christianity, those doctrines that oppose biblical Christianity cannot easily be passed off as Christian. In a sense, this practice will innocculate as many people as possible - not against aberrant teachings, but against the notion that those teachings are identical to biblical Christianity. In short, it helps prevent people adopting these teachings without full disclosure. But this two-fold practice is also necessary in order for those who adhere to biblical Christianity to be faithful - because both the positive proclamation and the rejection of its counterfeits are commended in Scripture.

Revival is always worthwhile. Were it to happen, it would automatically result in the proclamation of biblical Christianity, and in a somewhat radical change in polity - or at least in the policies of the legacy denominations. As I have mentioned earlier, I am using the word 'revival' to indicate a widespread repentance for sin, a rejection of error, and a rebirth of passion for and loyalty to Jesus Christ – as He is revealed in the Bible. I maintain this cannot occur except by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. Having said that, the Bible commends certain practices to believers that can facilitate such an action. These actions are, in themselves, worthwhile and helpful. These include (among other things):

* prayer - Jesus instructs his hearers to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his field. We often underestimate the power of prayer so that it tends to be the last thing we think of even when it is revival we desire. Yet James tells us, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much;" and Jesus says, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

* fasting - This practice is little understood and under-appreciated (probably for obvious reasons), but it is commended by Jesus. There is a story recounted in Matthew and Luke in which disciples of Jesus, unable to cast out a particular demon, asked him privately about it. He told them their inability sprang from their unbelief; but he added, "This kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting." In Acts, fasting seems to play a prominent role when people are seeking discernment. The practice is also closely tied to repentance.

* reading and studying the Bible - A person cannot help but be changed by sincerely approaching the Bible. (I do not mean readings designed to rationalize sins or to confirm pet opinions, and I do not mean reading to apply intellectually lazy critical methods not applied to any other text in existence ever - designed to discredit the text and to enshrine the ego of the self-satisfied, pseudo-intellectual. Instead I mean reading with an openness to be convicted by the Holy Spirit.) For those who genuinely approach it, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

* seeking God's face - We all seem to have things we want to believe and things we would prefer not to. This does not have any resemblance to the actual truth. Some of what we want to believe is true; some of what we'd prefer not to believe is not true; the two just have no relationship to one another. In the same way, there are things about God we want to focus on and things we want to ignore. In this place and in this age, people have little problem contemplating a form of the love of God; people have little problem contemplating the providence of God; some people even find it easy to contemplate community within the Trinity (as if to sanctify our current push for valuing the group over the individual). Nonetheless, these miss the mark because they are incomplete. I believe the single most neglected characteristic of God today is his holiness. If, by turning our focus to God, we caught the tiniest glimpse of that holiness, we would realize how far from holy we are. By the same token, if we truly understood the love of God, we would grasp how unloving we really are. If we had a notion of the justice of God, we would no longer be able to maintain the fiction that we work for justice. There is a reason prophets who saw God said, I am undone. There is a reason Adam and Eve realized they were naked and hid from the presence of God. There is reason Peter said, depart from me. When we see God, we see our utter inability to help ourselves - and it is at this point that the Gospel's power is revealed: it truly is good news. I am suggesting this for those who seek revival because the Gospel must become as life to us.

* preaching the Gospel
- Jesus commissions his followers to do this. In Romans, Paul asks, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" In Acts, we're told the apostles "ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ"; that the Christians were scattered, and they "went every where preaching the word". In Romans, Paul asks, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" "To those who are saved", Paul asserts (to the Church at Corinth), "the preaching of the cross is the power of God." He adds, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Paul instructs Timothy to "preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine." This is a persistent responsibility of believers given directly by Jesus Christ; no revival will occur without it.

* opposing the right enemy - There is a tendency to regard one's ideological opponents as one's enemies. This is especially pronounced if these opponents have endorsed corrupt or dishonest practices; moreso if they actually support harmful policies. The temptation is to see the one who endorses ideas (and more importantly, unethical practices) you reject as evil - and then make that into a caricature of a person. This is easy to do, but it overlooks two things. First, human nature dictates that all people are 'evildoers' - meaning your ideological opponents are nothing special. Second, even if your opponents are actually doing evil things, it is not about them. Yes, it may be necessary to expose and correct evil actions, but I believe we need to remember that Jesus tells us, "Whoever sins is a slave to sin;" that James informs us, "When lust has conceived it brings forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death;" and that Paul tells Timothy, "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." It is easy to fight people, but we are not seeing them rightly. There is a reason Paul reminds us, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

* repentance - This may be a bitter pill to swallow for renewalists who desire revival, but repentance is a thoroughly necessary element. The difficulty springs from the idea that those who hunger and thirst for their church organizations to step up and act like the true Church sometimes believe ourselves to be on the right track. In our minds, at least, we're not the ones advocating departures from biblical Christianity; we believe we can point to many who are abusing the denominational systems for their own cynical ends; to put it bluntly, we are tempted to believe we are the faithful ones in the midst of the faithless. This is not an entirely unreasonable opinion (though it is essentially an ugly mindset); it is, however, an impossible fiction to maintain for a few reasons. If we had even a small notion of the holiness of God, of the "badness" of sin, of the depths of God's grace - in short, if the Gospel we preach actually sinks into our own thinking, we would by no means view ourselves as righteous.

Repentance for what? The sins and failings of renewalists are often not the ones of which they are accused. These usually have nothing whatsoever to do with violating the "unity for which Jesus prayed"; in that very passage Jesus makes a vast distinction between his disciples and others - the unity of which he spoke cannot, therefore, indicate unity of purpose between the two. If people affiliated with the corporations of the legacy denominations embrace two conflicting faiths (and/or religious philosophies) - and they do indeed embrace them - then this passage does not apply. Instead, the many passages about biblical separation, about contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, about other gospels, about rejecting false teachings and not partaking in the works of their advocates are far more germane. Similarly, while judgmentalism is often a problem for renewalists, there are specific judgments the Bible instructs Christians to make. Standing for biblical doctrine and opposing its counterfeits is hardly the kind of judgment forbidden - in fact, quite the reverse: to fail to do so would be sin. Again, many who desire revival are accused of misrepresentation; but this is predicated on a false picture of the current situation in the legacy denominations. Those who level this accusation are either in denial or deliberately deceptive. The coup de grace of accusations leveled at renewalists is a lack of love. In cases, this is certainly true; but the 'love' envisioned here is a poor sort of enabler 'love' - the kind that affirms people's sins, their separation from God, and the misery that goes along with that because they want their sins. Lacking that unhealthy type of pseudo-love is hardly a bad thing. In short, very few of the alleged sins of renewalists are legitimate.

Nonetheless, those who desire revival do stand in need of repentance. We do have an assortment of very real faults. We would be well advised to repent of the sins in our own lives. We ought to practice what we preach; there are few things as detrimental to spreading the Gospel as hypocrisy. It is, perhaps, ironic, that a people whose Gospel is grace are held to a far more rigorous standard of behavior than those whose gospel is works; but this is the case, and there is a certain logic to it. We would be well advised to repent for compromise on clear issues of doctrine where they can be no compromise - where either biblical Christianity is right or the opposing religious philosophy is right. We fail to realize exactly how far we have been willing to compromise biblical Christianity with the philosophies of this world. We need to repent for supporting with money and silent affiliation, behaviors that are at odds with biblical Christianity; for cowardice in confronting non-Christian teachings within churches - whether out of a desire to be liked, a practice of false politeness, or the avoidance of unpleasant consequences; for participating in unacceptable practices (especially the worship of other gods and goddesses) at denominational events. We need to repent
for our pride in trying to spin biblical Christianity in ways that allow the speaker to avoid being thought of as ill-informed, stupid, or 'like those simple people over there'; for pride in bypassing the 'uneducated' members of the denominations. We need to repent for failing to practice biblical discipline in the arenas where it has been our responsibility - for the sake of those in error and for the sake of the whole community of believers. We need to repent of relying on strategic plans and not God; these are not mutually exclusive, but whenever one trusts in one's own plans, one will fall. We need to repent for criticizing the works of other biblical Christians because they were not our idea. We need to repent for our taste for clericalism and elitism. And we need to repent for picking and choosing which sins to oppose and which to ignore.

Where Do Renewalists Go from Here?

I had intended to speak at this point about the organized renewal movement; I'm going to do that in a stand alone post. Instead, I'd like to address individuals who desire renewal in the Church generally, the American churches specifically, and predominately in the mainline denominations or their traditions. I cannot tell you what to do - whether to stay in a particular denominational setting or congregation, or whether to leave. I am persuaded that the Holy Spirit often leads people to take different courses in our lives. I cannot say whether or not polity correction will work in any particular denominational organization. I also cannot say whether or not a particular individual is called or led to work on polity correction - though I do believe there exists a minimum general requirement to limit the damage done by organizations acting (disingenuously, in my opinion) in the name of 'Christianity'. Ultimately, what you do is a question of individual discernment.

I can say that
advocacy for biblical Christianity is always worthwhile - and is always something Christians are called to do. I can say that revival is always worthwhile - as are those practices that may help facilitate it. [I have listed only some of them; others are easily seen in Scripture. I realize that I have unnaturally separated these three things. Revival is tied together with advocacy for biblical Christianity; and in the face of these two, polity correction would become both less necessary and far easier.] I can say that situation that exists within the American church, most notably within the mainline denominations - the admixture of biblical Christianity and other competing philosophies - has passed crisis proportions. Ignoring this, pretending it is not the case, continuing with business as usual, agreeing to work together on 'mission' where 'mission' is inherently self-contradictory among these competing philosophies, giving moral authority to thoroughly compromised institutions, pretending these are legitimate variations within 'christianity' - none of these are moral options. Once a person sees the situation, once a person desires renewal, he cannot unsee it, neither can he continue acting as if all were well.

I caution you to remember that
the one who follows biblical Christianity is an ambassador for Jesus Christ; his allegiance cannot be to any human organization, but to Christ alone. The organizations that style themselves 'churches' are mixed - having believers and non-believers alike. As long as they facilitate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the adherent of biblical Christianity can function comfortably within them; when these organizations no longer serve the Gospel, the believer's job is more difficult. But in any case, the biblical Christian, the follower of Jesus Christ is called to that first allegiance; when Jezebel is in charge, it is still not acceptable for the biblical Christian to bow the knee to Baal. I urge you to reject the myths of the 'mainlines':
> that you are powerless - that you lack the training, competence, or numbers to act morally;
> that you can be bound by a vow that overrides your allegiance to Jesus Christ;
> that unity outside of the Gospel is somehow virtuous;
> that you are in bondage to human made rules;
> that denial of real problems is Christian in any possible circumstance;
> that it is somehow kind to be dishonest;
> that you require professionally trained and ritually sanctioned mediators - in fact that you require any mediator other than Jesus Christ;
> that the official statements of organizations and corporations somehow changes God.
I am addressing individuals - because I don't believe we are seeing the situation rightly. It has always been the case with some religious leaders that these will stand in the door to the kingdom of heaven, that they will not go in themselves, and that they will obstruct the path to keep others out. Both our age, and our fashionable doctrines focus on groups, whether denominations, churches, renewal groups, advocacy groups, social institutions. But Jesus Christ calls us individually. The Church is the body of Christ and exists in unity among believers because the Holy Spirit joins us together. This is not a pre-existing condition; it is not a sanctification of community - no matter how much 'genuine community' appeals to our emotional needs; that particular unity, unity in Jesus Christ does not apply to non-believers. The individual does not gain value from the arbitrary group; you are not more or less worthwhile because of your race, gender, language, region, political party, social class, music preferences, clothes, age, education, income, denomination, or club membership. That's what our culture teaches - liberal or conservative, it doesn't matter, but it is NOT what Christianity teaches.

There is tendency for ordinary Christians who desire renewal to look to groups and leaders, but I believe this is mistaken. The Bible is crystal clear that God builds the Church. It will not be built by renewal groups; it will not be built by dynamic leaders; it will not be built by the denominational corporations; it will not even be built by Christians.
God will build His Church with or without us. But there is an invitation to us: to come along; to follow Him. There are good works which God has pre-ordained for His children to do. You and I can participate in this project, but it is not our project; we have been invited along for the adventure. God is not interested in our organizations and our groups. He may choose to continue to use the Methodists or the Presbyterians or the Lutherans. He may choose to remake these into something useful again. But even if He does not choose this, we are still invited along in the building of His Church. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build thereon; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."

What I am suggesting is this:
ordinary members and ordinary pastors can bypass the human organizations that are, by definition, distinct from the Church. We do not need to wait for the leadership of others - whether the corporations or the renewal groups. We can read and study the Bible ourselves; we can seek out teachers that will help us do that - rather than those who mimic the spirit of the age and/or who seek to close off access to the Bible. (There are two types of teachers - those who help a person acquire information, and those who want to claim one needs their specialized training to understand ... just trust them. There are those who spread the Gospel; and there are those who value elitism.) We can choose to support missions we actually believe in. We can pray - all believers can approach the throne of grace with confidence. We can fast ... it requires no special skill. We can seek God's face. We can be effective advocates for biblical Christianity where we live. We can even work to correct the polities of our organizations. (This requires some work, and there is a learning curve; but ultimately the corporations get what powers they have from their members. Those members can have a tremendous impact on what is done simply by making their presence felt.) In short, we can live where we are and bypass the system; it has bypassed us.

I spent a lot of time talking about
repentance because I believe it is the greatest need of this place and time. This begins with believers; and it is by necessity individual. (Yes, communities can 'repent' - but where this is genuine, it is the aggregate effect of the members within the community.) I belabor this point - in speaking to those individuals who desire renewal and revival - because there is an urgency in it. Repentance is the gateway to any positive change. We cannot continue to honor our sins and turn away from them at the same time. We cannot have revival that bypasses our sins. But the thing about repentance that makes it urgent is the fact that there is a narrow window of opportunity for it. I do it; most people I know do it; we have things we want to change, sins we genuinely want to abandon, destructive habits we want to break ... but not yet. Just a little longer .... We have relationships we want to repair, things we want to get done ... tomorrow. But there is often less time than we think there is, and our desire for change does not remain a pressing concern. Both rationalizations and the other cares of life tend to overwhelm it.

I'll give an example. A number of years ago I used to habitually drink to excess. Over the course of a couple of years, the number of times I humiliated myself, made really bad decision, or more importantly hurt others (and myself) without intending to - that I would not have done sober, became intolerable. If I woke up in the morning and tasted tequila, my first thought was, "Good Lord, what did I do?" I would only gradually be able to recall the events of the previous evening. On those mornings, while I would be dreading the angry phone call, or avoiding people, I also had remarkable clarity. I understood that the behavior was unacceptable; I understood the severity of the problem; and I understood that it must change. But this intense feeling was always short lived - a few hours, maybe a day. It was not long before rationalizations and excuses would make their appearance; it was also not long before I could think of other people who had done worse things ... you know ... the ones with 'real problems'. There was a portion of a Charles Bukowski poem that strikes me as extremely accurate in my case: "
Drunks are never forgiven. / But drunks will forgive themselves /Because they need to drink /again." Yes, for that brief period of clarity - when I had completely embarrassed myself, felt less than moral - in fact, vile, I wanted to change. But that window of opportunity soon ended because I also didn't want to change.

My point here is this: as ordinary members and pastors we do not generally see our own participation in the problems in our denominational organizations. We do not generally see how far these have gone. We do not generally see the situation for what it is - and our complicity in it. When we have the clarity to see our part for what it is - then we have the opportunity to repent. It is not a permanent opportunity. Outside of that period of clarity, we will not do so. I do not believe there is a way forward apart from repentance, so I present it as our most pressing need.

Will Spotts