“What this country needs is a real revival.”
It is a statement I read regularly and hear occasionally. I always ask in response, “What would that look like?”
I am curious as to what people imagine such an event might be. I remember the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. That was a revival, but it was unlike what established church people thought the country needed.
The United States has had a few religious movements that impacted much of the nation. We call two of them the First Great Awakening (led by New York evangelist Charles G. Finney) and the Second Great Awakening (led by itinerate Methodist John Wesley).
If another religious revival were to sweep the country, what would happen? Who would be influenced? How would our country be different?
Some would measure it by the numbers: of people attending church or enrolling in seminary or requesting baptism or buying Bibles.
But I would hope it would renew the souls of those disillusioned believers who find themselves muttering too often, “If that is what Christianity is all about, you can count me out.”
I have felt like that from time to time. Mostly in response to outrageous behavior by some Christian group: like the sexual abuse culture among Catholics or the recently exposed behavior of the late evangelist Ravi Zacharias; or the Christian prayers and symbols prominent in the sacking of Congress; or the legendary LGBTQ attacks by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka.
Perhaps the most egregious illustration still coursing through American culture is the “prophecy movement.” Centered especially in the Pentecostal wing of the Christian community, this curious outcropping of pseudo-spirituality predicted Donald Trump would win re-election. When he didn’t, they baptized “the big lie” with what they called the “anointing” and fueled these last three months with unbelievable political chaos.
It has been bizarre, and it has blown up what lingering respect some people had for the Christian religion. I have watched it and reported it, all the while shaking my head and quoting a version of what Isaiah wrote, “Who would believe this?”
Millions of people have given up on church: Catholic Church, Baptist Church, Pentecostal Church, Any Church. Sociologists have reported the slow demise of religion in America for some time. They have the data to prove it.
Here is another example of what makes me and others want to give up: the embrace of what some call persecution.
The Bible itself sets this in motion with statements like: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Suffering for Jesus has taken on a larger-than-life ideal for many believers. Suddenly they were given an opportunity when the big, bad State told Christians not to gather for worship.
Quickly, some congregations decided it was their solemn duty to ignore the protocols of public safety and sit shoulder to shoulder and sing with all the gusto they could muster. When the authorities came calling, they rejoiced, for they imagined they were, as the apostle wrote long ago, participating in the sufferings of Christ.
Such people need to read the book The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs.
Disregarding command number two—love your neighbor as yourself—and putting in its place a self-righteous indifference to the health and welfare of the city (quoting the prophet Jeremiah) fills me with dismay and tempts me to say once again, “If THAT is what it means to be a follower of Jesus, count me out.”
Even as a pastor and preacher I have felt this dismay. Perhaps I should say, especially as a pastor and a preacher. It is wide and deep among those who still call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.
But wider and deeper, higher and longer is another reality in my soul: Jesus, the servant of God, the Risen Lord!
I long for a revival that will push into oblivion all the silly, self-serving behavior of church people and bring to the fore a host of people who, like Jesus, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, release the prisoner, love their neighbor and, in general, quit being jerks!
I want to see around me and feel within me the faith, hope, and love that accompanies the name of Jesus: his life, his teaching, his vision of what human life on earth is meant to be. What inspires and intensifies this spirituality are those who remind me of Jesus: the people I have known and know today who exhibit the compassion, the courage, and the commitment to others that I associate with Jesus our Lord.
These are my people. They are my community of faith.
They are the people who keep me connected to Jesus, who fill my life with the Spirit from on high, who shine the bright light of God into every corner of my existence.
If a religious revival could produce more of this kind of people, I say, “Let it happen, and let it begin with me.”