The church is in need of restoration in our day, in fact the American church is in the longest drought from revival in its history. Pockets of revival have sprung up from time to time, but nothing has endured for long. As the old hymn suggests, “…mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.” Some of these revivals have included bizarre manifestations, like excessive laughter and dog-like barking, which has caused many church leaders to question whether these were actual revivals at all.
What is the problem with the church? It seems to boil down to the fact that we are guilty of repeating the scenarios we find in Israel of the Old Testament. We hear some of the same language in the Letters to the Churches of Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation. Our dependence is not upon the Lord our God and our love for Him has waxed cold. The previous examples of restoration that I shared from the Old Testament shine some light on our present circumstances. The churches of today and Israel of old are repeating the same old familiar pattern.
It is God’s nature to restore that which is broken, and He has demonstrated His power to restore many times. I can think of several examples from church history, beginning with the Protestant Reformation. However the best witness to the work of God comes not from our history books, but from scripture itself. Scripture gives us an amazing record of God’s work of restoration. I would like to share three brief examples of restoration from the Old Testament; there are many more.
Biblical Examples of Restoration
Beginning in the Garden of Eden, one can see God’s redemptive nature and activity. The man and the woman were created by God for His pleasure, but they were tempted by the serpent and chose to disbelieve God and His word. They gave into the temptation by gazing upon the fruit of the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then by touching it, and finally by eating it. Their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked and had disobeyed God. They listened to the lies of the tempter and chose their flesh over their faith. Their failure led to their separation from God, banishment from His beautiful garden, and ultimately, their deaths. As God pronounced His curse on sin, which included pain and human labor, God promised the fallen that their failure would one day be turned into victory as the seed of the woman, the Savior Jesus, would ultimately crush the head of the defeated Satan. The Savior’s work would restore man to His Creator.
A second example of God’s work of restoration can be seen during the time of the Exodus. The failure of the Hebrews to trust God during a famine in Canaan led them, their families, and their descendants into Egypt. Their choice to trust in Joseph for their provision proved to have devastating consequences when a new Pharaoh came to power in Egypt who did not know Joseph. The sons of Israel on one single day lost their privileged status and would soon find themselves as slaves of Pharaoh instead. The children of Israel began to cry out to God as their suffering increased. God heard their prayers and answered by providing the deliverer Moses, who would lead them to the Land of Promise, a land flowing with milk and honey.
A third example may be found 490 years later. The sons of Judah refused to keep God’s statues and refused to repent of their sins. They trusted in foreign, political alliances, ignored and even killed the prophets, and they did not learn from the destruction of their northern neighbor Israel. Their disobedience would cause them to be conquered by the Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Sadly, they would witness the destruction of Jerusalem, see their Temple razed and plundered, and be marched away as slaves of Babylon. But God would restore His people once again. The Persian King Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return to their land and he even returned the plundered Temple vessels back to the Israelites. Later the broken Nehemiah, Cupbearer to the king, would help his people toward restoration as he led the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem.
Each scenario begins with a departing from God’s ideal. When did the departing take place? It is unique for each situation, but the departing seems to follow a predictable pattern. Look for this pattern in your church revitalization situation. First, it begins with a temptation. The temptation in the Garden of Eden is easy to identify. The temptation for the sons of Israel was to put their trust in Joseph of Egypt, rather than in God and His provision. The temptation for Judah was to put their trust in foreign alliances rather than in the Lord. I believe the temptation for the church today is to believe that we can trust methodology and mechanical processes to produce the intended results, a product of the Church Growth Movement. Where is our reliance upon the Spirit and the power of God? We have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof to our demise.
Each temptation provides an opportunity for choice. We know from scripture that we as believers have the ability to resist temptation because God will make a way of escape for us. In each of the Old Testament examples, there was a moment of failure through a foolish choice. I worked with a church that failed to address a moral failure in their congregation. Two prominent leaders were engaged in an immoral affair, which was well-known to the congregation. The church did nothing about the immorality in their midst and the church began to decline because of it. The situation sounds like the one that the Apostle Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 5.
It seems that the failure to resist temptation and the subsequent poor choice ultimately results in suffering and separation from the will of God, but here is where most church leaders get it wrong, and Henry Blackaby got this right when he wrote Fresh Encounter. The church of today has adopted an almost eastern, mystical view of the church’s demise. We often hear things like this, “We did something wrong and we are paying for it.” The truth is that indeed we have done wrong, but the suffering we experience results from the discipline of God. God disciplines us for two reasons: He loves us and He wants to correct us. God seems to use disciple in the same way our earthly parents used it, so we would learn our lesson and never repeat the mistake.
When God’s discipline has its perfect work in us, it will produce a need to call out to Him in repentance. When God’s people call out to God from their desperation, and in complete honesty, God will do what He has promised – He will hear from Heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land.
One final commonality exists between the church and ancient Israel - one of their own would lead the return. It was the God/man Jesus, one who could sympathize with our weaknesses, who would restore our relationship with our God. It was a Hebrew named Moses, a man just like them, who would deliver the Jews from bondage in Egypt. It was a fellow Jew named Nehemiah who would lead the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem. The return to the Lord in the local church will be led by one of the church’s leaders, most likely, the church’s pastor. From working in the field of Church Revitalization for several years now, I can say these two things with great certainty: First, the restoration of the church will not be led by the denomination or by the academy. It will not come from a conference or some national church leader; it will be begin in the local church and it will begin in the heart of a pastor who is passionate about revival and restoration. The second thing I know for certain is that the restoration of the church will never come without the movement of God’s Spirit in the life of the church. I often remind church leaders of what G. Campbell Morgan used to tell young pastors, “Put up the sail and wait for the wind to blow.”