The election and the upcoming revival - or not
A gentleman called me up the other day and asked a sincere question: Do you suppose the election outcome foreshadows an upcoming revival in America?
He was caught in a bit of momentary revelry, and one can certainly understand. In the conservative mind -- particularly the socially conservative mind -- America decided, with a relatively slim margin, that a social, moral and economic liberal was not worth the risk and that they would stay with a President governing reasonably well in a difficult time.
Good -- but a revival? God has a plan to pipe holiness to the world, but that plan is not government or a president. It is the Church. And the worldwide Church in its particular expressions has found itself revived when God wills and the people are ready, even in times and places where the worst of thugs occupied the highest office of the land. For the record, the Barna Group found that while President Clinton -- hardly a darling of the evangelicals -- was in office, 54 percent of pastors agreed that "a national spiritual revival is taking place in the United States today." A revival under Clinton? Well, it didn't materialize, of course, but apparently over half of this country's clergy was fooled.
It will be difficult to declare that the Church is marching toward revival when our churches pray less than ever before, boast of fewer practicing Christians in proportion to the population than in several decades, and actually engage little beyond the voting booth in the causes that matter to them. Concerning the latter, abortion clinics are still doing a handsome business in many of our communities, but fewer than a single percent of the Church is involved in any meaningful way besides weighing in against the practice with their candidate choices.
The Church, when revived, will be compelled to do more than vote. But do you sense, this week, it is committed to that "more"? Or even budging significantly in that direction?
A revival will mean more prayer. And this will entail that the personal prayer lives of pastors, of their laity and of congregations take a major step forward. Currently, pastors pray an average of minutes a day; their people pray a few minutes less; and the prayer meeting and other serious intercessory efforts through the local church are, for the most part, dead. E. Stanley Jones, Methodist missionary of the last century, said that the greatest lack in American Christianity was the absence of a vital prayer life. He was right.
A revival will mean that biblical truth is taught, and accepted. But churches have stumbled here as well. Barna shares a few indicators:
Half of born-again Christians (50%) agree that Satan is "not a living being but is a symbol of evil." (2004)
About one-third of born-agains (38%) believe that if a person is good enough they can earn a place in Heaven. (2004)
31 percent of born-agains agree that "while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people," compared to 44 percent of all adults. (2004)
15 percent of born-again Christians claim that "after He was crucified and died, Jesus Christ did not return to life physically." (2000)
About one out of four (26%) born-again Christians believe that it doesn't matter what faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons; a belief held by 56 percent of non-Christians. (2000)
Stunning figures, those. And don't expect clarity from our United Methodist in the Oval Office. The week before the elections he came out for gay civil unions. In an interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC's Good Morning America, this is what the President said:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's when a state chooses to do so.
CHARLES GIBSON: But the [Republican Party] platform opposes it.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I don't. I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as between, a union between a man and a woman.
CHARLES GIBSON: So, the Republican platform on that point, as far as you're concerned, is wrong?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Right.
And, in another portion of that interview, this:
CHARLES GIBSON: Do we all worship the same God, Christian and Muslim?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think we do.
CHARLES GIBSON: Do Christians and non-Christians and Muslims go to heaven in your mind?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, they do. We have different routes of getting there.
Suffice it to say, evangelicals and their leaders weren't quoting these lines to get the vote out for Bush/Cheney the last few days of the campaign.
At any rate, a spiritual renewal in America might happen in the next four years, but not because of this kind of teaching. The lessons from the pulpits and the Sunday school classrooms that will make America ready for God's movement on our lives will include the Cross and the implications of His shed blood for our lives: a radical, life-altering holiness and a sacrificial love which moves us beyond ourselves. Which brings us to the next item ...
Revival will mean that people are being launched from their places of worship and prayer to activism. Revival that merely involves excitement of the church within the four walls and increased financial stewardship is not revival. Evangelism of large numbers to the faith and massive shared compassion to the hungry and sick, the imprisoned and the thirsty, the stranger and the naked, is. And that compassion will lead us to responsible governance and ensuring that justice prevails in our communities, whether that community is Great Bend, Kansas, New York City or the United States.
The re-election of George W. Bush? A harbinger of spiritual revival? I hardly think so. But do I believe that the American church can still look to God and significantly be holy as He is holy and thereby change our land?
Yes. But it will take more than Mr. Bush to inspire us. We will need your local church.