I hope you enjoyed the dialogue with Michele. I always appreciate talking with her as she lives with an integrity that has meant she has not always been able to walk in a straight line pursuing a successful career path in things ecclesiastical, but has turned aside and then followed the path of the Spirit… after all Jesus said that was a hallmark of those who are ‘born again’… theologians have changed the words of Jesus to apply it to the Spirit being like the wind! Such an interpretation can still allow us to live carefully… not I think an option Jesus seemed to want to offer.
I grew up with talk of Duncan Campbell and the Lewis revival of the early 50s; I came to faith through connection to Pentecostals so the stories of Smith Wigglesworth, Stephen and George Jeffries, the healing revivalists of the 50s became great ‘food’, then the extensive works and stories of Charles Finney (and what a middle name – Grandison!!), plus some amazing encounters connected to John Wesley. I wrote a book some 20 years ago ‘Sowing seeds for Revival’ (later republished as Gaining Ground). Someone asked me a couple of days ago would I change anything in that book (and Impacting the City) and I replied with a ‘basically no… even if I might express some things a little differently’.
I might not use the ‘r’ word so regularly, but am still looking for the ‘t’ word – transformation. Indeed for me ekklesia is bound up with transformation of the world, and it was one of the reasons why we moved to Spain, seeking to track where first Century unanswered apostolic prayers were seeded in the land / in the land of Empire.
[An aside: we all have to make some sense of our own journey. I, being optimistic, do not see wrong turns, simply distinct points on the way. I appreciate there are some who look back and view where they have been negatively. I do not. Does not make me right, but makes it a whole lot easier to live freely!]
When I began to travel outside the UK into the USA I soon discovered that the ‘r’ word was being used in a different way to how I had understood it. There it seemed more to be an activity within the congregation – ‘we are having revival’, whereas my background had reserved it for thousands coming to faith and donkeys no longer responding to miners’ commands as they no longer used expletives to command them to move (Wales, 1904)! The difference made me reflect some, then I began to think about the setting for those ‘revivals’ this side of the pond – 1859, 1904, 1951 etc. They were into a community already somewhat religious. Many, many chapels were built in Wales post 1859, those chapels were fairly full when we come to 1904. Filled with sons and daughters of those converted in 1859. With so much of the climate, there and in Lewis, being of a Calvinist nature therefore only God can convert, they were waiting for a move of God (‘I now feel guilty’). That move came, and although I have no doubt we can call it a move, such classic sermons as ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’ also fitted a culture. The wider community was touched deeply, but that wider community was already strongly god-fearing (and we might wish to emphasise ‘fearing’!).
I have travelled numerous African countries and also in South America. The impact of the gospel has been incredible. Some cities in Brazil might be as high as 40% born again! But…
OK these are reflections.
Europe is post-Christian. Or maybe better put post-Christendom. I give a big ‘oh yes, now that is a description that will help us get out of bed each day with a spring in our step and a shout in our mouth’. Has God used Christendom? The answer is of course ‘yes’ but the question is irrelevant. God, after all, anointed a monarchy in Israel, a move that was birthed in ‘rejecting God’. God anoints what rejects the direction s/he is moving in!
Post-Christian, not having a voice that is listened to above others; pushed to the margins etc… That is where our faith was born, so surely it gives us hope. So many people have been praying for a revival of first Century Christianity, and then want to hold on to a context different to where it flourished. Seems to me like trying to grow grapes in the Arctic Circle. Plant all you want… but the context just is not the right one to produce wine!
I deeply suspect that north America, followed by South America and Africa will follow where the train is headed. Into the world of post-Christendom. At this stage seems we (in Europe) are well aware the train has left the track, while those in the other carriages can still happily swing from the proverbial chandeliers. I also like to swing in that way but perhaps for a slightly different reason.
I am not simply optimistic when I look ahead. I am up beat about now! I consider that we are right in an incredible outpouring; some put it this way that the last century saw three outpourings – Azusa Street and Pentecostalism; charismatic renewal, and ‘Toronto’ and the many parallel movements. Three outpourings, granting us a fullness.
I consider that Pentecost (Acts 2) gives a paradigm of three stages: for you; your children (generational); those afar off. We are at the afar off stage and how we respond depends on what stage we are at. Afar off means movement. Movement out. This is not a season of ‘bring them in’ but ‘abandon safety (safety is overrated anyway!) and make the journey to where the Spirit is moving’. If we don’t make the journey, and that journey will involve listening for there is a conversion to take place in ‘us’ that is greater than the conversion to take place in ‘the others’. If we don’t make the journey how can there be an embrace of Jesus?
I have come to believe that we really have to squeeze Scriptures to make it all about ‘in / out’ but if we let them speak to us we will hear very loudly ‘the earth is the Lord’s’, in other words ekklesia is not about getting people in but about a people being planted in the world so that there will indeed be transformation. (Moving from the first parable, the only one fully explained, with the seed being the word of God and falling on the soil of response… to the next parable where the seed is no longer the word of God, but the incarnated word, hence integrity being ever so important, with less mouth and more vulnerability and transparency, and the soil being the ‘world’. The first one fully explained so that we get it… and in getting it embrace the second and subsequent parables.)
Words do not primarily carry meaning at an intrinsic level – the old idea of etymology (the root word means) will not get us too far – but words are carriers of meaning, that meaning depending on what the communicator intended and the meaning the hearer injects into them. ‘The ‘r’ word, revival. I might or might not still use it, but my expectation is so far beyond what I had in mind when I began to travel with ‘sowing seeds for revival’ teams. The ‘t’, transformation word, is perhaps closer to where I am at.
But maybe it is the ‘r’ word I like. Responsibility. Taking responsibility for this world. Being sourced from heaven, being shaped by heaven’s values. I am happy to review almost anything, but the cross was the roadblock to destruction, so it opened the path to transformation. Maybe with the climate crisis we are running out of time. Maybe… but what is more certain is I am here in my generation, regardless of how many are yet to come. And finally to encourage me I meditate on the widow who put two small coins in the Temple treasury, that act prompting Jesus to speak to those who were so impressed with its magnificence to say – all will be changed! Being impressed or intimidated, I simply want as many as possible to throw a couple of coins in the right direction and then we might indeed see something in ‘this generation’.