LifeLines “The New Church of America—Part Two”
By Ian Robinson, Major
On walking into a parish church in California, a visiting bishop noticed a large banner that said, “Come Holy Spirit,” against a background of long, bright red tongues of fire. Underneath the banner he observed another sign that said, “Fire Extinguisher.”
Someone has been extinguishing the fire in our churches. Look at these statistics from the Census Bureau and the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions office:
· Every year more than 4,000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1,000 new church openings.
· Every year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity.
· In 1900 there were 27 churches per 10,000 people; in 2000 it was down to 11 churches per 10,000 people.
· The United States now ranks third following China and India in the number of people who are not professing
· Half of all churches in the U.S. did not add any new members in the last two years.
So what is wrong with the church in America? I believe that instead of the church changing the world we have allowed the world to change the church. The lifestyle of believers today is so similar to non-believers that they are not attracted to Christianity any more. In part one of this article I said that the church needs to be changed—we need to ask God to bring us back to life, to revive us. Is it possible for the New Church of America to be a revived church?
In Ezekiel 37:3 God asked, “Son of man can these bones live?” and Ezekiel responded, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” The key to revival is that it is always God’s prerogative. We cannot organize, schedule, or create a revival. It is something God does as and when he alone decides. The best we can do is to be ready for God’s Spirit to sweep over our land and through our Army like a wind of fresh fire.
What preparations should we make? Erwin Lutzer says that studies of the writings of Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Murray and others reveal five basic characteristics of the revived church:
1. Opposition—We can expect the world to be against us. We can even expect some Christians within the church to oppose revival because it does not fit into their neat, boxed version of how things should be. True revival always divides a community.
2. Unity—Christians who are revived are united. Denominational barriers are broken down and differences of style and flavor are thrown aside. Only one thing mattersloving Jesus Christ and obediently serving him.
3. Generosity—The revived church will bring its whole tithe into the storehouse. All of our resources will be directed toward mission. Anything that is not missional in focus will be discarded and people will delight in sacrificial giving to help others.
4. Purity—Holiness is not optional. Holy living is not only expected but commanded. And we will recognize the difference between spiritual truth and error more easily. God will purge his church of all dishonesty and sinfulness.
5. Evangelism—The revived church will get back to winning souls on a daily basis. There will be an inner compulsion to seek out those who need to hear the gospel and witness to them.
Revival simply means “bringing again into activity and prominence.” Stephen Olford defines it as “the sovereign act of God, in which he restores his own backsliding people to repentance, faith and obedience.” And it happens when God’s people start praying sincerely and earnestly. We must want it with all of our heart and soul.
The famous English evangelist Gipsy Smith said that revival begins with drawing a circle on the floor, stepping inside it, and praying, “God, change everything in this circle that isn’t pleasing to you.” What an exciting picture— God reviving his Army one soldier at a time! The New Church of America must be the revived Salvation Army.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).