Revival! Revival! Revival!

Revival has been the buzzword since the new General Conference President, Ted Wilson, used the term as part of his main focus in his closing Sabbath address at the 2010 General Conference Session.  His emotional appeal expressing concern has generated much discussion and created quite a stir in the Adventist world. It seems that everywhere one goes in Advent circles, one can hear references to revival with the hope that it will usher in the second coming of Christ.

I am currently sixty-nine years of age, and have been employed by the church for the last four and a half decades. First as a teacher in my home country of Mauritius and then in Zaire (today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo), then as a minister in many different parts of the world. I was born into an Adventist family and brought up by faithful parents.

I have heard calls for revival as far back as I can remember. It always seemed to me that each and every time a call of revival was made, it came with the same suggested prescription: We need more time spent in prayer; more time devoted to Bible study; more significance given to the reading of Ellen White’s books; and more time committed to conducting missionary activities. 

As I look back, I must say that every call for revival appeared to create the same sense of energy – the same ‘buzz’, but it would only last for a little while. Then it would seem that ‘normal life’ would be reverted to, and revival was quickly forgotten until the next opportunity. 

Today the church does not appear to be any nearer to the so-called ‘primitive godliness’ than any time before in its past history. Is revival then a futile undertaking? Are the often-repeated prescriptions impotent? Is it something that we periodically get going to appease our minds or assuage our guilt? Why are all past calls for revival not working?  If they were, there would not be a need to call for revival so often. 

I believe I have found an answer to my frustration with the litany of calls for revival through a careful study of the revival theme as prescribed by the Old Testament prophets. Prophets were sent by God to Israel in order to call the people to repentance which then led to revival. However, invariably the people’s response was for more sacrifices and formal practice of the prescribed rituals and celebration of seasonal festivals, which they believed would turn away God’s disappointment and judgement. Israel regularly missed the point regarding revival because they interpreted the exercise as a means to win favor with God and get God to do something. It appears to me that our church may be following the exact same pattern once again in 2011.

All past calls for revival that I have heard have been consistently tied to the concept of readiness to meet the Lord and thus hasten his second coming.  The revival theme is often expressed by something like “Worldliness is relentlessly invading the church. Wake up! We are far from being ready for the soon coming of the Lord. Genuine revival is sorely needed!!” Then follows the prescription of things to do (as mentioned earlier) and a call is made to discard worldly things. In fact just this year at a youth revival meeting held here in Melbourne, Australia, the list of serious moral flaws to dispatch included a need to reverse or remove tattoos and to unceremoniously dump any dating relationships with a non-SDA person.

It seems some prophets rarely if at all called for revival as a way to escape God’s judgment. Two texts come to mind: Isaiah 1:1-17 and Micah 6:1-8. In both cases, God’s judgment is in fact more a call for revival and yet the people respond by augmenting the monetary and emotional value of the sacrifices instead. But the two prophets reject the response and redefine true revival and its result as: “…cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressors; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).  They did not define sinful behaviour as a matter of what one wears and watches, but instead as the failure to show love, seek justice, and compassion. This failure was due to the people forgetting God’s compassionate interventions in their own history and personal experiences. 

A recent issue of the Adventist Review (January 13, 2011) conducted a survey of 100 members, asking what was their New Year’s resolution?  The focus of the majority of the respondents was the need to embark on some sort of self-improvement (spiritual, physical or emotional) exercise. Unfortunately for our Adventist community, there were only a few who suggested that their greatest perceived need was to be more compassionate for the poor and needy of the world. 

I suspect that revival for the sake of readiness to meet the Lord is subtly self-centred in nature. We link revival today to the advent in the future and forget the desperate and distressing now of this world.  Is it any wonder that as a church we are perceived as irrelevant? I was appalled recently when a fellow church member told me that on hearing about some of the most recent natural catastrophes of the world, he was filled with joy because they were signs that Jesus’ second coming was so close.  After my initial shock, I simply asked him if he felt any pain for all the suffering caused by the events?  He then looked at me as if I had come from another planet. Have all these past calls for revival turned us into callous and selfish human beings?

I suggest that genuine revival should turn the believers into the kind people that Jesus describes in the Beatitudes. They are the true citizens of God’s kingdom whose overall attitude to life is bound up in humility, sorrow for the woes of the world, meekness, and a deep yearning for justice in all its forms.  Their character reflects the same integrity and compassion as Jesus. Such people have only one mission to which they are absolutely committed: peacemaking at all costs. Such are deemed worthy of being acknowledged as sons and daughters of God.

I conclude with a quote by Pastor Garth Bainbridge, Ministerial Secretary of the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia:  

Revival is a fad word that gets high-jacked by various groups in the church and defined in terms of their own agendas. Revival will not come because we seek it for itself.  Seeking it leads to a legalistic adding and subtracting of behaviours. Revival is simply the outgrowth of a daily, positive relating to Jesus.  The focus is not on the end result (revival) but on the relationship that makes me a more loving and lovable Christian.  

To this statement I will add that neither should revival have as its main/only objective preparedness for the second coming. May we as individuals and collectively as a church experience true revival for God's purpose in our world today.

Pastor Eddy Johnson is the director of ADRA Blacktown and pastors two churches in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.

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