Reformation and Revival in the Face of Opposition
At Crossroads we’ve been talking a lot about revival. The idea that God still moves powerfully through his church in history. We looked at several moments in church history when God did move, but what a lot of people might not totally understand is that revival, that is, reformation is a gritty sort of thing. By its nature it means that you are attacking something that has been done in a particular way for a long time. You’re dismantling the status quo, and people hate that… and, if what you’re doing is in fact God’s will, then the devil hates it even more.
The Reformation, to make the point, was a great work of the Holy Spirit of God, no doubt about it… but it was also royal mess.
One of the problems we have when we remember and celebrate events from the past — which is of course something we should be doing — is that a lot of these messy details are forgotten. This means that when we pray for revival — which is of course a divine reformation — we seem to have a distorted view of what we are actually asking for. Reformation isn’t going to happen with a light round of polite applause in the background. They are gritty and messy and wonderful.
Here is a truth we observe whether we are looking at the protestant reformation, the welsh revivals or the great awakening: Christians working for reformation, those praying for God to send great revival, often labour in the face of opposing criticism. Often the critics are very capable, and their arguments are cogent. Those working for reformation are sometimes tempted to redouble their efforts, not to mention their prayers, in the belief that the arrival of a great reformation would finally vindicate them against their critics. What it would more likely do is triple the number of their critics.
The critics don’t go away until the reformer has been dead for a safe number of years. Jesus talked about this phenomenon in Matthew 23:29-32: We honour the great men of old because we have seen their tombs and monuments… what we didn’t see was the lynch mob camped outside that ‘great mans’ house when he was actually alive and in the business of reformation.
The critics of reformation are opponents because the reformation has not yet won the day.
And if you don’t like the sound of “messy revolution” – if you can’t wrap your mind around what this confrontational, antagonistic sort of reform looks like — reflect, if you will, on what happened when Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God, showed up at the very place where the invisible God was said to dwell (that is, of course, the temple, Deuteronomy 12:11). First he fashioned a whip, then he caused quite a messy, confrontational stir.
Those who have been charged with the task of preparing the way for reformation have a thankless job. They sometimes grow weary of it, and often find themselves thinking that when the Spirit of God really does move and revival breaks out all of their critics will be humbled and quickly see the error of their ways. The truth is, reformation usually requires a generation or two before the critics die out and the change that has been produced becomes the new normal.
Please don’t mistake the meaning of this blog. Conversions can change people’s minds and prayer can change people’s hearts and God will often enlist critics to the cause they criticized because he is the God of irony and humour. So critics can certainly become cheer leaders in the same way that persecutors become apostles. All I mean to say is that this won’t silence the critics because Satan is always ready to oppose the work of the gospel, because despite his head already receiving its fatal wound, he isn’t surrendering without a fight.
So when God lays this monumental task of reformation on your heart and you begin to experience naysayers… remember that this is all part of the package deal. Opposition comes when we are doing Gods will, Gods will is to see knowledge of him cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, so while we are busy spreading the gospel and the world is changed through the transformational power that peace with God brings we can expect to have to fight critics and opposition for every inch of ground.