A revival I can pray for!
With churches experiencing increases in online attendances during the pandemic, there has been talk of a new move of the Spirit. I'm not convinced, writes Michael Shaw - but here's the revival I'd like to see
Like many others who are more Anabaptist in their theology, I will not mourn Christendom. Nor do I hark back to a "Golden Age", which I am not sure ever actually existed. I have struggled to pray for revival, a return to something that may never have been there in the first place.
When I was in my 20s I was part of a church involved in the Toronto blessing movement. It was a time when all our church leaders fasted for revival, and I was no different: I was working in a temp job at the time (post-University) and I would use my lunch hour to go to a park bench and plead for revival. Yet for all the movements of the Spirit that went through many Charismatic churches, the church has not grown, and revival has not come.
Many people have seen their church (online) attendance boosted during the Covid-19 pandemic and started to feel that a new move of the Spirit is possible. The word revival is on many lips again. But this often happens during a public health crisis, and when normal returns those figures drop off just as quickly.
“How many of the same sort of confessions, too, have we seen in times of cholera, and fever, and pestilence! Then our churches have been crammed with hearers, who, because so many funerals have passed their doors, or so many have died in the street, could not refrain from going up to God’s house to confess their sins. And under that visitation, when one, two, and three have been lying dead in the house, or next door, how many have thought they would really turn to God!
"But, alas! when the pestilence had done its work, conviction ceased; and when the bell had tolled the last time for a death caused by cholera, then their hearts ceased to beat with penitence, and their tears did flow no more.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 18th Jan 1857
The problem I have often asked is, what do we want to revive? This is even more pertinent during discussions around Black Lives Matter, because of the church-sanctioned slavery, segregation in America, Apartheid in South Africa, and the murder of native people in various missions context from South America to Australia. Do we want to revive that church? And yes, at the same time I accept that the role of the church in abolitionary movements, from Wilberforce to Stop the Traffik, has been a force for good, but we cannot escape the fact the church has often straddled this debate.
In the same vein do we want a return to a Christendom ideal that included the Crusades and the inquisition, the burning of heretics whether Catholic, Protestant or Anabaptist? Of course not!
A few days ago Catholic acquaintance of mine, who, like me, is involved with Christian Climate Action, was asked is climate action “a new movement of the holy spirit in the church, along the lines of the monastic movements etc. Is it a new charism?”
My response was yes, but any new movement would include a combination of environmental care, social justice and a movement of the church from the centre into the margins. The church in the inner city, among the poorest, the marginalised and the ignored is dying. A new movement of the Spirit (charism) will move us into these places. It will mean living intentionally and incarnationally among the poor (including in the UK), in the community but in sustainable communities who resist the consumption-based society will live in. No longer driving past churches but walking to local churches, using local shops rather than supermarkets, creating green spaces in concrete jungles and providing free, healthy food in community allotments and orchards.
This is a revival I can pray for!
Image | Jon Kenney | Creationswap
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church in Plymouth
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