Why are the people who long for and advocate revivals so negative? What I mean is that the desire for revival appears to breed a fair amount of discontentment. Church members aren’t godly or zealous enough, the pastor isn’t evangelistic enough, the church is too small – these are the sorts of criticisms that are just beneath the surface of calls for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon his too cold and casual people.
To be sure, Christians can be cold and casual about matters of faith. After all, saints are still sinners and so prone to various spiritual afflictions that impede sanctification. But why do churches have to engage in extraordinary ways of displaying their commitment to Christ? Why do evangelistic rallies, intense meetings of small groups, suffusing water cooler banter with God-talk, numerous conversions, or visible displays of piety (such as listening to inferior Christian music) constitute a work of God? Why doesn’t the weekly worship by word and sacrament, or a regular meeting of session, presbytery, or General Assembly count as a work of God’s Spirit? Why can’t genuine Christian piety be ordinary?
In the case of the church, what is ordinary is actually extraordinary. If you start with the supposition that people are sinners and in rebellion against God, and then find a gathering of believers for a worship service, you may actually think that something remarkable has happened in the lives of these people. And if you consider that most Americans don’t know how to sing independently of singing along with the radio or Ipod, and then you see people on Sunday holding hymnals singing praise to God, you may actually be struck by how extraordinary congregational song is. And if you think about the history of the Christian church and recognize how prone she is to error and unfaithfulness, and then you find a communion that is orthodox in its teaching and sane in its worship, you may be tempted to think that you have experienced a taste of heaven.
And yet, revivalists and the believers who support them are never so impressed by the church in her ordinary ways. Such discontent may actually breed churches filled with malcontents. And yet, in one of the bigger ironies of church history, the revivalists are the ones considered to be the most devout and the most loving when in fact it is the opponents of revival who are actually marked by charity and patience, fruit of the Spirit last I checked, in their dealings with this entity we know as the church militant.