Revival without Reformation: Reception without Preservation

by Dr. John Yates

In a recent controversial but penetrating book, the Anglican evangelical scholar Alister McGrath makes the following comment: ‘modern evangelicalism has spawned a number of ideas and attitudes that bear a disquieting resemblance to the worst excesses of the corrupt and confused church of the late Middle Ages perhaps we should be complaining about the “papacy of the prophets and preachers”.

By ‘evangelicalism’ McGrath includes the Pentecostal and Charismatic streams of the church, and raises an issue whose urgency requires address in the current climate of discussion concerning revival.

In a previous New Day article (April 1995)1)A.E. McGrath, ‘A better way: the priesthood of all believers’, in M.S. Horton [ed], Power Religion Homebush West : ANZEA, 1992, pp. 312-313. suggested that a coming revival would involve three phases:

1. THE TIME OF REFRESHING – this would be marked by a sense of joy at God’s acceptance of us in Christ.

2. THE TIME OF DISCIPLINE – this would be characterised by repentance as God calls the Bride of Christ to a deeper holiness of life.

3. THE TIME OF HARVEST – the purified church moves forward with a new authority in proclaiming the gospel with great effect.

In this article I would like to elaborate on what I see God doing in ‘the time of discipline’; to understand this work of God we need to distinguish between revival and reformation.

In the current climate of anticipation most people probably think of revival in terms of an intensification of present Christian experience.

This would mean more miracles, healings, conversions, deeper love and fellowship and so on. No doubt this is true, but if a revival is to endure (and most do not) then it must be a restoration not only of the intensity of New Testament Christianity but of its form.

Being part of a culture that is too individualistic it is very easy for us to forget that God is interested in the re-formation of the Church.

This comes down to matters of ministry and authority. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, of which all Pentecostal and Charismatic people are heirs, moved beyond a concern for individual salvation to preach a gospel that called for the renewal of the ordering of the church.

To seek a revival without a re-structuring of the church would be to slip into the repeated pattern resulting from most past works of God – a time of rapid growth follow by power struggles, authoritarian leadership and multiple splintering.

To avoid this we must apply consistently the New Testament model of ministry, one point of which I would like to focus on here.

In the classic text of Ephesians 4:7-16 Paul makes the following points:

a) Christ gives certain men and women to be gifts to his people (Eph 4: 7-11)

b) These gifts are people who together exercise a ‘five-fold ministry’ i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

c) These gifts are ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building of the body of Christ.

The important point to grasp is that here, as throughout the New Testament, it is Christ who governs His body by appointing orders of ministry.

Pastors, prophets and so on are not given by the Father to rule over his household, but given by the Bridegroom to equip his Bride.

If this simple fact is overlooked: that the Father in this age never rules the household of God directly but has given all authority to the Son (Matt. 28:18; John 17:2; 1 Cor 15:24-28), then the worst possible distortions of ministerial authority inevitably emerge.

Pastors and other church leaders begin to function as ‘fathers’ of congregations believing, consciously or unconsciously, that they represent the sovereign authority of God the Father.2)As in the ambition to move from youth pastor to associate pastor to senior pastor.

Where the New Testament never identifies the rule of the Father over his household with that of Christ over the body, the Church today often thinks of pastors as men appointed to minister over the family of God. Signs of this confusion are everywhere.

Despite the clear prohibition of Jesus against the use of titles (‘father’, ‘teacher’ Matt. 23:8-10) a ‘pastor culture’ abounds where ‘pastor’ is exactly a title.

Rather than being viewed as a dynamic description of a gifting in operation the role of a pastor often becomes as fixed and authoritarian as any medieval priesthood.

Notions of a ‘set man’, ‘covering’ and the pastor as ‘head’ abound.

None of these models appeal to the clear teaching on the nature of the equality of all believers before God in the New covenant community in Christ, but resort to images, types and allegories, often drawn from the Old Testament.

We seem to have forgotten that as members of God’s family we are all equally related to the Father(Gal 4:4-6).

Ministries are not part of our family relationship to our Father at all, and so cannot be mediatorial (1 Tim. 2:5) rather they are part of the diversity of the body of Christ, the Church.

Whereas Christ as Husband draws His Bride-as-body into His life (Acts 15:28; 1 Cor 2:16) the image of a presiding elder as ‘father’ necessarily moves in the direction of hierarchy .3)Paul’s reference to himself as the “father’ of the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 4:15) is in agreement with my point here, for it is ‘in Christ Jesus’ and ‘through the gospel’ that he occupies this place. Nothing in the context suggests he represents the authority of God the Father; like the feminine images of a mother in childbirth (Gal 4:19) and nursing (1 Thess 2:8), the point of appeal is that Christ gifted him as an apostle to bring life to the body

Where pastors ‘father’ churches their view of authority works against consultation with the body.

Instead of believing that a local vision can emerge from the local body as a community, the pastor has vision which must be received by the people. (If this model were true we should expect the letters of the New Testament to be written to the pastor).

The traditional clergy – laity division is very visible here, and encourages either passivity or rebellion in the people.

Not only do these models of ministry choke off the ministry of the whole body with its full range of creativity, but place an unbearable burden upon the leadership itself.

Members of the ‘pastor culture’ feel that they, like fathers, bear the overwhelming responsibility for the success of ‘their’ churches.

Where there is growth pride comes in, or burn-out; where there is decline the disappointment of the congregation at the pastor is felt deeply (often a projection of hurt from their earthly fathers).

Under these circumstances law is so often substituted for grace in order to get things moving, control becomes the order of the day (1 Pet. 5:3).

None of this is biblical and much of it reflects patterns of order as old as organised religion. It seriously robs Christ of the fullness of His glory (Eph 3:20) as the ministry of the body becomes more institutionalised and less diverse.

As we pray for the revival God wishes to send we need to be stripped of all those traditions which cannot be supported by the Word of God.

What is required is a far more radical viewpoint about revival than that which at the present time seems to be popular in the Australian church.

‘By the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.’ (2 Cor 4:2).

Before God let us ask the Holy Spirit to apply the truth of God’s unbridled Word to our consciences, lest on the day of God we realise we have either submitted passively to, or, submitted others to, forms of authority other than those of our most gracious Bridegroom.

References   [ + ]

1. A.E. McGrath, ‘A better way: the priesthood of all believers’, in M.S. Horton [ed], Power Religion Homebush West : ANZEA, 1992, pp. 312-313.
2. As in the ambition to move from youth pastor to associate pastor to senior pastor.
3. Paul’s reference to himself as the “father’ of the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 4:15) is in agreement with my point here, for it is ‘in Christ Jesus’ and ‘through the gospel’ that he occupies this place. Nothing in the context suggests he represents the authority of God the Father; like the feminine images of a mother in childbirth (Gal 4:19) and nursing (1 Thess 2:8), the point of appeal is that Christ gifted him as an apostle to bring life to the body

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