Just about every approach that can be imagined has been tried to revive the country in general and the church in particular in America…with very little to show for it. Most church growth gurus will tell you that the vast majority of churches experiencing growth are simply getting their members from other churches. There is a lot of shuffling going on but not a lot of brand new born-again believers. Consequently, there was the brilliant idea that church growth would explode if we’d “build it and they will come.” So church revitalization has given way to church planting. It sounds good, promising, and exciting until you find out that once again when the truth is finally revealed, all you’ve done is relocated members from one location to another. To the unchurched, I’m sure all they can see are church building programs engaged for the purpose of making those who already attend church more comfortable.
America has gone beyond “heading in a certain direction.” We are almost there. And the sad reality is that the church’s impact on society and culture has been negligible. It’s no wonder that the faithful are calling, praying, and hoping for revival. Second Chronicles 7:14 is making the rounds again, but taking an honest look at reality reveals it’s not initiating any kind of mass renewal/revival. Maybe we should try what the Bible reveals actually works.
Let’s try the Jonah approach! For brevity’s sake, I will skip how Jonah’s initial rebellion to God’s calling to confront the Ninevites led to a most uncomfortable time at sea. But there are parallels that shouldn’t be ignored. Like the modern church’s absolute unwillingness to speak with authority on the subject of sin. Just because the media and Hollywood have successfully pigeonholed evangelical Christians as bigoted fools who constantly harp on puritanical ideals of human sexuality doesn’t mean there is no place anymore for the church to unapologetically address the issue of sin.
Or, how personal repentance must absolutely precede corporate revival. Part of Jonah’s prayer as he lingered in the midst of the bowels of the sea creature included “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you…” It is significant that a man called by God to speak for Him had forgotten Him. It seems pretty obvious that the church in America is far more concerned about being accepted by culture than it is about being found faithful to God.
Pick an issue (marriage, immigration, government, terrorism, etc.) and you’ll find Christian leaders wanting to be seen as compassionate. Rather than address how sin is at the heart of any of the issues and provide some much-needed guidance and correction, they want to come off as sympathetically kind-hearted. Or, in more direct language…accommodating. That is to say ‘in sync’ with cultural mores. What a disaster it’s been. How forgetful our spiritual leaders are of the holy and righteous God.
We’ve tried everything from implementing John Maxwell’s leadership principles to abandoning old churches for new plants, to accommodating sin, and the nation is no closer to revival while the church continues diminishing in number and influence. Why not try what has already been proven to succeed? Jonah’s message turned around one of the largest cities in the known world at the time. While I believe in education, Jonah’s seminary stint was a three day visit in the belly of a sea creature that Jesus later referenced as a metaphor of hell.
Authentic revival isn’t a program developed by Ph.D.’s in the hallowed halls of religious academia. It’s personal accountability and faithfulness to God. Plain and simple.
Jonah’s revival message? One sentence:
Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown! (Jonah 3:4).
Remember when sermons revealed the terrible consequence of unrepented sin?
As in the First Great Awakening, for example. It began with a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” Or the Second Great Awakening led by the “camp meetings” and Methodist Circuit Riders where the fundamental message of repentance was the emphasis? Is that where our religious leaders are afraid we’d revert to if the message of impending divine judgment were faithfully preached?
It’s not like Jesus never broached the subject of judgment:
And then will I declare to them ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matthew 7:23).
Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:32).
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you…” (Luke 12:20)
That’s just a tiny sampling of what Jesus had to say about judgment. Likewise, there is much to be found concerning Jesus and compassion and forgiveness. But the latter is seldom tempered by the former in today’s American church. Many church leaders have thrown out the Bible message of judgment believing everything will work out if we only preach compassion.
It should be obvious that proclaiming a God of compassion at the expense of a God of holiness (which implies judgment) isn’t working. Our nation is proverbially going to hell in a hand-basket. The biblical message, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) is conspicuously absent in many churches and entire denominations.
Revival will not come until the message of judgment is faithfully preached. I realize it is not a very popular message. But don’t sell it short. Many people know they are living in sin and intuit that something bad lies ahead if they don’t stop. They’re just waiting on someone with the gumption to say it to them (I know this is true from my own experience).
That brings me back to Jonah. Just a brief message from a rather unwilling prophet about imminent judgment and look what happened: “the people of Nineveh believed God”! (Jonah 3:5). And when they demonstrated repentance “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them…” (Jonah 3:10).
What a novel idea! Inform people that if they continue living the way they are living there will be a price to pay. Maybe we should go back to that. I mean, how many people are being saved and joining churches with the “God created you that way and doesn’t want you to do anything different” approach?
The first message Jesus preached was “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Throughout history, that is the message that has preceded and prompted true revival.