The last week or two, my social media feeds have been filled with the news of revival at Asbury in Kentucky. The response has been split, usually between wild enthusiasm and cautious skepticism. I have personally decided to take a “wait and see” approach, as the fruit of the revival will take some time to produce. The next Billy Graham may be getting saved on the altar of those steps for all we know. I think it is fair to offer caution, so long as it is not Pharisaical. As my husband so well pointed out, we ought to take the approach of Gamaliel from Acts 5. After Peter and other apostles continued to preach the Word despite having been arrested and told not to preach anymore, the religious leaders wondered what to do next. Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, said in Acts 5: 38-39 “…Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
Rather than debate on the veracity of the revival, I’ve become more interested in what is revival? What does the word revival mean? It’s certainly not a biblical word, as it isn’t found anywhere in the Bible, but neither is Trinity. Yet certainly it is a biblical concept, isn’t it? In 2 Kings 22, the high priest Hilkiah discovers the Book of the Law and gives it to Shaphan, a scribe to King Josiah. When the king hears the words of the Book of the Law, he rends his clothes. In chapter 23, he reads the words to the people and they recommit themselves to God, tearing down idols and throwing out pagan priests. It’s certainly the image of what a revival should look like, isn’t it?
The ancient kingdom of Judah, with its pagan worship, was certainly in need of a change, but the Bible points out that such needed change is not always so obvious. In Revelation 2, the Lord speaks to the church of Ephesus. The first few verses acknowledge the church’s zeal, turning out false teachers, working hard, never fainting. Yet there is a sudden turn in verses 4 and 5 when God says, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Ephesus’s sin doesn’t appear to be pagan worship but rather a misplaced zeal. Perhaps their zeal had been turned so much to pointing out false teaching that they were no longer spending any time offering true teaching. Many Christian “watch dog” ministries on YouTube could certainly fall under that category.
I wonder if there would be less debate amongst Christians if we called revival “lamentation” instead. Some of the criticism against Asbury has been wondering if the Gospel is being preached and if others are being called to repentance and a regenerated heart. As I have not witnessed the revival myself, I have no comment on that aspect of it, but I do think that the issue of lament and repentance have gotten very much lost in our “God loves you just the way you are,” “You’re perfect just the way you are” culture. Certainly God loves you. But He does not love sin.
The idea of what comes first, faith or repentance, is debated hotly, and I will only offer that I believe the Bible proclaims them to be the two sides of the same coin. Jesus pairs them together when he says in Mark 1:15 “…The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” John Murray says it best in Redemption—Accomplished and Applied when he says the distinction between what comes first, faith or repentance, is “an unnecessary question and the insistence that one is prior to the other is futile. There is no priority. The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance . . . saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with saving faith. “
Although revival is not a word we see in the Bible, Lamentation is a word we see throughout. In Hebrew, it means “to wail.” The book of Lamentations is the heartbroken outpourings of the prophet Jeremiah as he looks at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Lamentation describes sorrow, regret, mourning. Yet it is not a sorrow meant to leave you in despair. Despite the tragedy all around him, chapter 3 offers some hope. In verses 22 to 27, Jeremiah says, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
Later, in verses 39-41, he says, “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” That surely is what we mean when we say true revival, isn’t it? A searching of our hearts, a trying of our ways, a return to God. However the revival in Asbury appears, surely if such soul-searching occurs, we will see true fruit, won’t we? Perhaps if we pushed for lamentation over revival, or lamentation along with revival, both those who eagerly rejoice over all things Asbury and those who caution against emotionalism could hope together that true fruit will come.
Furthermore, I think we need to save lamentation from the progressive church. More and more, I see lament being used as a term to lament “whiteness” or colonialism or our internalized racism. I was shocked four or five years ago when I heard a preacher state he didn’t believe Jeremiah even wrote Lamentations from his own experiences, but was rather writing down the experiences of the marginalized individuals, like women and orphans. There was no scriptural basis for this as far as I could tell, except perhaps it irked him to give credit for such a beautiful book of the Bible to a man. I have since found that this is not an isolated view. Just look at this review here of Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times (a great book to read to see firsthand how the progressive church is co-opting lament). The progressive church sees Lamentations as a great example of a man “getting out of the way” so that marginalized voices can be heard.
I think we should be cautious in arguing about the Asbury revival too wildly as those outside the church look on. I think it wisest that we wait and see how God will use it. I also think it wise to pair lamentation and revival, to more clearly express what we hope to see from revival. Is revival merely mass conversions all at once? Is it more personal than that, like the moment a single heart comes to realization of its sin and need of God? Is it both? To repeat Gamaliel’s words, “But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
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