Something biblical; or just more of the same?
In the present collapse within society and within the church there is great potential: the potential for rebuilding from the foundations or merely seeking to restore that which has failed.
For Christian believers the first seven verses of Isaiah Chapter Nine (Is 9:1-7) are probably amongst the favourites. They speak of the birth, mission and Kingdom reign of our Lord Jesus Christ; and all that he will accomplish and fulfil.
However the next few verses (Isaiah 9:8-16) don’t make such joyous reading:
8 The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel.
9 All the people will know it— Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria— who say with pride and arrogance of heart,
10 "The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig-trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars."
11 But the LORD has strengthened Rezin's foes against them and has spurred their enemies on.
12 Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west have devoured Israel with open mouth. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.
13 But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the LORD Almighty.
14 So the LORD will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day;
15 the elders and prominent men are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail.
16 Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray.
What we see here is the hand of the Lord against his people (v8) whose pride and arrogance (v9) leads them into a man-centred self-reliance (v10). In response to Israel’s rebellion, God is actually going to strengthen and encourage their enemies (v11) in a sustained fashion (v12). Yet even so the people continue in their stubborn rejection of their God (v13). The ultimate consequence of this is terrifying. God will strip them bare (v14); removing their ‘prominent men’ who are leading them into sin and the false prophets who are teaching lies (v15). As a result the people are led into falsehood and error. (Matt 15:14; 2 Tim 3:13; 2 Tim 4:3).
But though the people seem to be the victims in this scenario, elsewhere Jeremiah spoke of an unholy collusion:
"A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.” (Jer 50:30).
So the moving finger writes everyone’s name on the wall. The verse concludes with the profound and searching question: “But what will you do in the end?” What indeed?
Following the tragic earthquake in New Zealand which brought great destruction on Christchurch, plans are well underway to rebuild the stricken Cathedral in that city. So just as in days of old they say:
Rebuilding on compromised foundations
Restoring Christchurch Cathedral
"The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig-trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars" (Is 9:10).
But the edifice sits on a fault line: its foundations are insecure.
And it’s not just in New Zealand this is happening. With many traditional denominations falling into deep sin while also teaching gross error, many new churches are ‘re-building’ using the same faulty and unbiblical model which has produced the current problems in the first place. We see ‘new works’ adhering to the same clergy/laity building-centric model of ‘church’ and the same worldly measures of ‘growth’ (bigger is better).
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Babel in the church
The earliest church (groups of believers) had none of the trappings of modern-day churchianity yet they set the world on fire for Christ.
They just lived their new-born faith in a simple believing fashion (Acts 2:42-46; Acts 4:32-36) and the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Would that we would see this in our day.
Indeed there is a hunger for something to fill the void, but there are folk – outside the church and within – who are fed up with and see through the sham of mere religion. They are looking for reality and meaningful relationship.
Yet there is (humanly-speaking at least) absolutely no sense in praying to God for ‘revival’ in the hope that He will respond by pouring blessing on persistent unfaithfulness to His word. In this scenario, revival can only come after the most severe pruning, winnowing and refining (add any other metaphors here). Indeed it may only come via the types of destructive judgment of which Isaiah spoke. It may have been the Arameans and the Philistines in the prophets’ day, but we can see the judgments of Islam, secular humanism and neo-atheism come upon the Christian faith in our land.
Repentance not Recipe
So often we see Solomon’s ‘dedicating the temple’ prayer (2 Chron. 6:14-42) being used as a mantra which will guarantee a beneficent response from the Almighty; a ‘recipe/formula for revival’. But in fact God was just reassuring Israel’s earthly king that He would indeed bless them if, in heart-felt humility and repentance, they would - in fact, in thought and in deed - ‘turn from their wicked ways’.
In His response to King Solomon the Almighty threw in an additional promise; something that the former actually hadn’t asked for. As a final “I will...” to all Solomon’s earnest pleas for reassurance, Israel’s long-suffering God declared “I will heal their land”(2 Chron 7:14).
Let us pray that in His mercy, by His Holy Spirit, he will see us weeping at the throne of grace and in our broken-heartedness He will indeed bless His people and heal our land.”
But let us also pray that the church will build on the foundations of New Testament principles and not merely seek to replicate or resurrect those models which have self-evidently failed.
The Price of Innovation
"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of success than to take a lead in the introduction of new things, because the innovation has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and only luke-warm defenders in those who may do well under the new ."
Let's pray that the believing church of Jesus Christ in seeking a return to biblical principles and practices is more faithful and courageous than that.