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Revival Versus Reformation

By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published May 1, 2008

Talk of the need for revival in the church is all the rage these days. I receive announcements of and invitations to conferences designed to incite a burden for revival in America (oddly, the spiritual state of the world at large is usually ignored) and provide a strategy to accomplish that revival. The announcements allude to or provide examples of the moral degeneracy of our society, as well as the spiritual apathy of professed Christians. The opinion over on my side, however, is that it is reformation, not revival, that is our most pressing need.

Revival and reformation are not to be equated. Revival is a stirring of apathetic saints; reformation is an alteration of their very spiritual core. Revival (contrary to the beliefs and tactics of “revivalists”) is a sovereign, gratuitous outpouring of the Holy Spirit-not sweet, spiritual, “showers of blessing” provoked by a meritorious repentance and contrition of the saints; reformation is a revision of the very heart of religion, a conscious effort to make a full-scale break with all that is unscriptural, and to reinstall Scripture as the final authority of belief and practice; the effects of revival are temporary; those of reformation span centuries. Revival makes better Christians; reformation makes a better Christianity. Revival makes Christians more zealous; reformation makes them more knowledgeable. Revivals occur spasmodically; the work of reformation is never completed.

The mention of the term reformation immediately reminds us of the great Protestant Reformation, an historical event almost as significant as the Enlightment and more important than the Renaissance. It altered not only the course of the church but also that of society itself. In this point reformation differs from revival also: the latter greatly revitalizes a tepid church, while the former reorients society and the general social mindset. Its deep social effects are possible because reformation involves the reordering of thought, an occasion which, unlike the work of revival (necessary and potent though it may be) is able to altar the state of affairs beyond the sphere of the church. Thus, while Old Testament Israel experienced numerous significant revivals, as a society she experienced no reformation until the coming of Christ which, indeed, influenced not only that relatively small nation but the entire known world.

A revival would quicken the sleeping, worldly church of our time and give it fresh devotion to the God of the universe and his Son. A reformation, however, would dismantle the deadly secularistic/materialistic/humanistic axis that presently dominates the West. Not only religion, but also law, the arts, and politics would be reformed. The results would be as far reaching as those of the Protestant Reformation.

A.W.Tozer implied that reformation must precede revival because those who were not properly reformed are not worth reviving; and if they were revived, they would simply persist in their wrong ideas and practices, on an even dangerously larger scale. The revival at Pentecost was preceded by three and one-half years of careful training. It would have been foolish for Christ to spiritually revive the apostles, for they had virtually nothing in themselves worth reviving. When, nonetheless, he instructed them in a proper devotion to the Father and Himself, they were prepared for a revival from the former Judaistic hardness of virtually all Israel at Christ’s coming. The revival of Old Testament Judaism would never have turned the first century world “upside down.” It took a reformation to do that.

We don’t need revival; we need reformation.


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All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

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Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.

Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.

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The Abortion Matrix DVD: Update

The Abortion Matrix:
Defeating Child Sacrifice and the Culture of Death

is a 195-minute presentation that traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God has produced. You can order this series on DVD, read the complete script and view clips on-line...
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