Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Whipping-Boys and Collective Growth

"Revivals," insists John Williamson Nevin,
"... are as old as the gospel itself. Special effusions of the Spirit the Church has a right to expect in every age, in proportion as she is found faithful to God's covenant; and where such effusions take place, an extraordinary use of the ordinary means of grace will appear, as a matter of course" (The Anxious Bench, 15-16).
I have observed on several occasions the propensity of Reformed believers to define ourselves negatively, over against what we reject rather than according to what we actually affirm. The subtle perception is that we need a foil or whipping boy in order to figure out who we are.

"You instruct the members of your congregation to kneel during the confession of sin and raise their hands while singing the Gloria Patri? But Catholics and charismatics do those things!"

I can't help but wonder whether we do the same thing with revival.

Yeah, I get it: Finney was a bad guy and contemporary evangelicalism is obsessed with the Gnostic and novel over the tried and true. But if the highest of high churchmen, a man who lived to see the effects of revivalism first hand, was still willing to boldly lay claim to the phenomenon of revival despite its being highjacked by fanatics, then maybe we don't need to be so afraid of it.

Think about it this way: What is growth in the Christian life but increasing in faith, love, and various other graces through the proper use of the means Jesus has appointed for these ends? Well, is it not possible for growth to happen in a church in the same way it does for an individual believer?

And what do you call that?