Revival in Southwest Virginia?

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This is writing is not meant to be a theological treaty but an appeal to my family and friends.  First, let me be clear in what I am saying.  This is an open letter to my Christian brothers and sisters of all denominations.  I understand that we have different views on some subjects; and while I may disagree on minor areas of faith I still consider you my brother and sister in the common faith.   That common faith is the Gospel of Christ.  The Gospel is:

The virgin birth, sinless life, passion, atoning sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ.  We are justified by our faith in Christ and sanctified through the Holy Spirit work in us.  Faith in Christ is the ONLY means of salvation, not of works lest any man should boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)  Christ ever lives to make intersession for us and will return again for His Church.  He should be praised, followed and proclaimed forever.   

Now while other doctrines are truly important such as, future things, gifts of the Holy Spirit, baptism, offices, etc., we must consider these as secondary doctrines in terms of importance.  The scripture has Christ in Redemptive History as its focus.   Therefore, no matter if you are Baptist or Pentecostal, Christ is the center of our faith.  This appeal is not concerning the “take” that your denomination has on minor doctrines.

So, the reason I am writing this appeal to you is my concern that deception has crept into the church, particularly in Southwest Virginia.   This deception is packaged in the form of “revivalism”, and/or Dominion theology.  Now the concept if revival is appealing and good in itself (notice I said the deception is packaged as revival).  Yet the deception lies in the focus of the revival, foundation of the revival, and the fruit of the revival.

The focus of the revival has various threads.  First, the focus is upon signs, wonders, and miracles.  While the church certainly believes that God does signs and wonders, (even cessationists concede this) yet signs are only a means to an end.  That end, scripturally, is to confirm the Word of God.  The temptation and snare is to view the miracle itself as the chief end.  This can be done unknowingly, which is still a deception.  Christ is the focus and the end of our faith.  Let me ask you a serious question that may place perspective on your focus.  Does your church/preacher place the teaching/preaching of scripture above a focus on signs and wonders?  Does ordinary means of grace such as teaching, baptism, and communion have subordinate position to signs?  If so, this is out of balance.  Notices the words of Christ concerning signs:

And he said unto him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. Luke 16:31

Gold dust, feathers, glory tunnels, glory clouds, etc., are popular signs nowadays it appears.  I would strongly caution anyone promoting or buying into these manifestations.

Miracles and signs are according to God’s will and His providence, NOT at our whim.  Let me be clear, the scripture does not teach that we direct, proclaim, call down, take authority, call into existence anything.  Prayer is according to and aimed at God’s will, not ours.  God is king and sovereign and if He should choose to use us remember He also uses donkeys!  Dominion Theology is deceptive in a focus on miracles and human sovereignty.

The next issue with this thread is feeling.  While feeling the presence of God is a wonderful experience, feeling should not be the focus.  Furthermore, our relationship with God is not feeling focused, but Christ focused.  We have peace with God through Christ. (Romans 5:1)  To focus on feelings is to place faith subservient to experience.   Faith and feeling can co-exist with faith as the focus.  Notice the scripture:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.  I Peter 1:8.

Faith proceeds and is superior to feeling or experience.  This quality of Faith is a work of the Holy Spirit.  The temptation is to feel and then have faith.  We equate the “moving of the Holy Spirit” to feeling his presence.  Yet the reality of the “moving of the Spirit” is to produce faith that has a character of love, and joy.

It is easy to mistake desiring a feeling of God for a relationship with God.  One may agree, “Yes I do not focus on miracles but I desire a relationship with God”.  Let me ask you, what defines your relationship with God?  Does your definition of a relationship with God include, “basking in His presence,” “sensing His power”, “consumed with His fire and glory” and the like.  If that is your definition of a relationship with God then you are in error.  Scripturally, our relationship with God is based upon our Union with Christ by faith.  The Holy Spirit’s work is faith and union with Christ which results in holy living.

I am not playing semantics here.  There is a clear distinction.  One type of relationship focuses on feelings and senses the other upon faith in Christ.  One relationship has Christ as the center, the other has mystical experience as the center.  One relationship calls us out of ourselves to look unto Christ by the power of the Spirit, the other calls us deeper into ourselves and feelings.  Again in conclusion, feeling/experience is not a bad thing, yet devils tremble.  Faith in Christ that produces holy affections is the true sign.

The last issue with this thread is a focus on the Holy Spirit instead of Christ.  Consider: I am not saying the Holy Spirit does not have a place and should not be mentioned rather, He should not be the focus.  This is not an issue of quality among the Godhead.  This is an issue of function in the redemptive role of the Godhead.  The Holy Spirit is the vicar, as it were, of Christ.  The salvific role of the Spirit according to scripture is to “glorify Christ” not to “speak of Himself”. (John 16:13-14)  So the role of the Spirit in the church is to glorify Christ.  The Spirit convicts, regenerates, equips the church, and leads them to Christ as the center point and end destination.  Again let me ask you a question.  Does your Christian community glorify Christ as a priority through preaching of scripture, communion, baptism, and faith?  Or is the name and work of Christ mentioned in passing, assumed, neglected in favor of the gifts, out-workings, and experience of the Spirit?  If Christ is not the center then there is error.

The next issue is the foundation.  There are several motivational factors here.  First, is the orientation of your salvation.  What does it mean to be saved?  I watched a Christian T.V. program a few weeks ago that featured several guests talking about salvation.  It was mostly an attempt at evangelism.  Not one time did they mention the Gospel.  Nothing was said about faith, justification, looking to Christ, the intercession of Christ, the atonement of Christ, or the reality of our lost state.  Over two hours was spent on testimony of what God can do for you, and how he can make your life better, and accept you as you are, and be a friend, give you a vision or dream of how he has a purpose and plan for you.  Yes God has a plan for your life: to save you from Hell and pattern you after Christ to good works.  Not so you can be a superstar.

My point is this: above is an example of an erroneous orientation of salvation.  Salvation is not about making you feel good, solving your problems, getting you out of trouble, giving you an awesome life, or putting you on some kind of spiritual high.  This is a self-serving notion and foreign to scriptural salvation.  First, salvation is about God, then His reconciling the world to Himself through Christ.  The act of salvation is for God’s glory and not ours.  God’s purpose in salvation is His glory and our holiness, not our happiness.  There is a big difference.  Sufferings and persecution are a vital part of salvation.  The cross was for Christ as well as his followers.  To have an erroneous basic orientation to salvation is to doom spiritual life from the start. Your faith cannot be built upon the sands of self-serving salvation.

The second motivational factor here involves pleasing people.  Let me be crystal.  Scriptural preaching will not please people.  It is oil to a culture of water.  If your Christian community seeks to please or appeal to the natural person, then the foundation is in error.  The natural man cannot receive the things of God…so says the scripture (I Cor. 2:14).  That means to appeal to the natural man and his lusts does not produce spiritual results.  It looks like this: emotional manipulation to produce a response, promoting an atmosphere of cultural coolness so as to gain a crowd, and changing the color and spirit of the message so as not to offend the un-spiritual.  This works itself out practically in many ways.  I will leave you to discernment here.

If crowds and popularity color the drive of the Christian community then it is error.  If the church is overly concerned with external perception instead of internal devotion then there are problems.  Christ is simple, yet unfathomably glorious.  His message is simple, yet powerful.  Christianity is simple, but it is spiritual.  Our faith is comprised of a suffering savior who calls His people to suffer.  We are plain and separate from the world.   I am offended by the assumption that I am so naïve that I have to have a Starbucks/concert atmosphere to attract me to attend a church.

Your faith cannot be built upon the foundation that seeks to please the unchurched.

The next issue of foundation is celebrity figures.  I understand we all have favorite teachers.  I understand that preachers/teachers make mistakes and we would do well not to idolize them.   I am not talking about moral failures (although repeated moral failures with no fruit of repentance is another issue).  I am speaking of false teaching.  To clarify false teaching I would describe a false teacher as: 1.Those who perpetrate doctrine that is scripturally in error.  2. Those who neglect central aspects of the faith concentrating on questionable fringe doctrine.  The first is an error of misleading, the second an error of assuming.

When a Christian figure teaches outside of historic orthodox teaching, claiming they have a new revelation then it is our RESPOSIBILITY to investigate it.  Some of the teaching that I have heard in the past years from public ministries in this area such as Dominion Theology and Prosperity Theology are outside of scriptural and historic orthodoxy.   Scriptures are grossly taken out of context to support misleading theologies.

Also, and probably a more telling sign of a false teacher, is their neglect of primary doctrine.  Question: when was the last time you heard your minister preach on justification by faith? Or the intercession of Christ, or the atonement of Christ? Or the book of Galatians verse by verse in context?  Or is your spiritual diet made up of vague, out of context, brief scriptural references to fire, dominion, glory, blessings, etc.?  Is the work of Christ assumed or seldom, if at all, alluded to in the sermon?   If so you may be under a misleading minster. The purpose of the ministers God has given us is:

for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness… Ephesians 3:12-14

I do not see this happening in many circles.  The minister may be flashy, current, charismatic, organized, ambitious, and popular but if he does not supply his congregation with a spiritual diet of the Knowledge of Christ then he is in error.

Your faith cannot be built upon the foundation of a false teacher.

The last portion I want to appeal to you with is this:  The fruit of your Christian community.  The fruit is the product of foundation and focus.  Questions: Are you satisfied or do you constantly need a “spiritual fix”?  Are you running from one event to another, one preacher to another trying to find your fix?  Are you burned out?  Burned out from trying to constantly increase your spiritual intensity, devotion, excitement, expectancy? Is your faith in your own feelings, output, ability to praise, ability to maintain postiviness?  If you have answered yes, then you are headed for spiritual burnout.

Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

When Christ is our focus, the Holy Spirit fuels our faith to overflowing with good works of gratitude.   Life’s ebb and flow is directed by God’s providence.  We are not waiting for a “word of prophecy” to do good to people, forgive, witness, stand up for truth, run from sin, repent, and be an honest worker.  We do them because of our union with Christ by faith.  You cannot learn this in a seminar, seminary, or sing-along only by Christ as the focus and foundation of life.  You are His slave and you bear the cross.  Your joy is unspeakable and full of glory, only because of your faith in Him.

The fruit that revivalism produces is anorexic Christians and false converts.  Because Christ is not the foundation and focus there is no substance to one’s spiritual intake.  There may be pomp, puff, and ambitious proclamation but no substance.  Knowledge of Christ is spiritual in nature; it is the food, encouragement, and faith of the believer.  In poverty, they are rich, in sickness they are whole, in persecution they are triumphant all because of their knowledge of Christ in them the hope of glory.   Revivalism without Christ is spiritless and empty like boisterous clouds void of rain.

False converts are those that have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.  The power of the believer is the Gospel.  The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  One can be won to a religion or a system easily.  If that system is cool, happening, inclusive, mystical and swelling with promise of power and prosperity then they will be overrun with people.  But conversion without Christ’s gospel is false conversion.   We think of religion as dry, dusty, crusty, formal, adherence to a set of confessions.  Why, I agree this is problematic, religion can also be disguised as cool, loud, emotional, and free.  Do not be deceived, you may have traded one in form for another.  Both may have left a person falsely converted.

Conversion happens only when the Gospel is preached.  The RIGHT Gospel; Christ’s atoning work as the substance.  What does this conversion look like?  By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is the center and substance of a person’s life.  Paul said for “me to live is Christ.”  Relationship with God is predicated upon Christ’s work.  The Spirit, deeply but subtly, empowers your life unto holiness and the knowledge of Christ.   Conviction of sin is real but the sense of Christ’s intercession and atonement is much more powerful.   Works of righteousness flow from the power of gratitude and devotion, not guilt and glory.  The Christian witness is to bring the unbeliever to look unto Christ, not signs, wonders, feelings, or any self-centered thing.

I understand tares and wheat must grow together to the end.  Only God will separate.  Yet, beware family and friends.  Look unto Christ, repent and believe upon Him for salvation.  Run from anything that does not have Him at its core and pulsing through its veins.  I have gave an earnest appeal to you, may we turn to Him and look unto Him who is the author and finisher of our faith.

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