Dr. Roberto Miranda : A vision for revival in New England
- Presenter: Dr. Roberto Miranda
- Length: 25:37
- Date: April 7, 2006
- Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA
Presentation given at 'Biblical Worldview Conference' in Boston April 7,2006:
I have been assigned the task of presenting a vision for revival in New England. I will begin with a disclaimer. What I have to present is admittedly a very personal view, one that reflects my own theological, cultural and perhaps temperamental inclinations. My presentation is therefore very partial and relative in its content. I do not pretend to be giving a “Thus saith the Lord,” or to be declaring absolute, incontestable truth.
By stating this at the outset, I freely acknowledge the validity of other, perhaps competing or conflicting visions of what revival should look like in this region. I also, on the other hand, give myself freedom to be as candid, expansive and passionate to express my views as I can. I hope to remain respectful and fair throughout my exposition, but at the same time, I do not want to sacrifice clarity and definition out of a desire not to offend, or to sound more gracious than I really am or need to be.
With that disclaimer, I have entered fully into the body of my presentation. I believe that the powerful move of God’s Spirit in this revival will inevitably thrust the Church into a position of controversy, as it clearly and unambiguously announces the full content of God’s message to this culture. My reading of Scripture indicates that when the Kingdom of God erupts into an existing reality, as during a process of revival, it does so forcefully and with clarity. Spiritual and moral distinctions are inevitably drawn up to the surface, and false, destructive structures are confronted. The confrontative nature of the Kingdom of God was perhaps on Jesus’ mind when he declared, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (Matthew 11:12)
The spirit of Jesus is a spirit of truth and of clarity. By its very nature, it confronts distorted patterns of thinking, half- truths, and self-deception wherever they may lie, whether in the heart of unbelievers or in the bosom of the Church. It is this clarifying spirit which the writer of Hebrews refers to when he states that “the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) This is also why Jesus stated at the outset of his ministry: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34) Jesus’ message of truth provokes its opponents to anger. Sometimes, it elicits thoughts of violence and even murder, as he himself experienced. In the light of our prevalent tendency these days to identify Jesus exclusively with his tamer, gentler, conciliatory side, this strain of his personality and ministry–suggesting tones of confrontation, severity and even violence– seems ironic, to say the least.
When the truth of the Gospel is unambiguously announced, it rankles and upsets the dominant powers and world views. Inevitably, it provokes controversy, if not outright opposition.
If the values of the Kingdom of God are to be established within a culture that has distanced itself from them in such a radical manner as we presently observe, we must give up the idea of doing it peacefully and without scandal. The Enemy will employ every means at his disposal, from rabid resistance and outright attack, to emotional blackmail and claims of victimization on the part of those we seek to impact. Jesus stated that no one can “enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” (Matt. 12:29) A particular resolve will therefore be required of us, a certain disregard for elegance and appearances, very similar to the posture Jesus exercised when he cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac, despite their pitiful plea not to torment them. (Luke 8:28)
We must never revel in a conflictive modality, and must be ever ready to discern the carnal spirit that may sometimes animate our confrontative actions (Luke 9:51-56), but at the same time we must never forget that at times God might even chose to harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to provoke a confrontation and provide a proper scenario for the manifestation of his glory and power. (Exodus 7:3-5)
This is why I believe it is misguided and naive to think that revival will come to New England, or the Western world for that matter, without major controversy and even scandal. The present appetite of American evangelical Christianity for cordiality and good relations with the neighbors will sooner or later have to be relegated to its proper place if the Church is to assume the prophetic mantle that has been reserved for it. God is calling his Church at this time to a spirit of boldness and clarity. The whole Gospel must be proclaimed soberly and without apology. Grace, frailty and transparency must permeate our declarations and methodology, but God’s unswerving commitment to holiness and repentance must not be compromised. Our desire to be winsome and gracious must never be seen as competing with our duty to speak the whole truth both to each other as well as to unbelievers. The marketing techniques of today’s political elections must be sacrificed at the altar of the childlike honesty that befits an obedient disciple of Jesus. God’s admonition to Ezekiel, calling him to faithful proclamation of his complete, balanced message, must never be far from our mind : “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” (Ezekiel 3:17)
A second distinctive of the present revival will be servant leadership. Leaders of the revival will have to be practiced in the use of towel and basin, following the example of the Master. I mention this element following the previous one because in this way I can further balance my previous call to clarity and boldness. Jesus severely rejected the disciples’ gleeful offer to call down fire from heaven on a group which had rejected the Gospel because he discerned in them the same egotistical, carnal spirit that had led them earlier to seek privileged positions in the Kingdom of Heaven. At that moment, they were animated by a dictatorial, insensitive spirit, seeking to use power irreflexively, for exhibition and self-gratification, rather than in service of truth, or on behalf of those who were spiritually ignorant. As such, it needed to be confronted and brought into the open. In the Kingdom of God, to everything there is a season. There is a time for forceful confrontation of obstinacy and rebelliousness, and there is a time for humility, patience and a gentle spirit.
The time for the demise of self-aggrandizing, self-promoting ministerial prima donnas is fast approaching. The post-modern generation, with its unprecedented critical acumen, its acute sensitivity to the abuse of power and any dishonest attempt to disguise privilege and influence on the part of those who possess it, will not tolerate a proclamation of the Gospel that is not accompanied by the humble, self-denying spirit and lifestyle of Jesus.
In this revival, God will only raise and protect leaders who have taken to heart Jesus’ admonition to the rich young ruler to go and sell his possessions and give them to the poor, and to make his treasure in heaven. (Matt. 19:21) He will entrust his power and anointing only to those who have internalized the essential ethics of servant leadership: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45) In God’s present move, boldness must be tempered by meekness, power by humility and obedience, clarity by an agonizing awareness of our own brokenness and radical need of God’s grace. We must learn to serve each other. In the words of the apostle Paul, we must “be devoted to one another in brotherly love, to honor one another above ourselves.” (Romans 12:10) It is this conscious cultivation of the Fruit of the Spirit that will ultimately keep us from evil, shame the Enemy into submission, and provoke the respect of unbelievers.
Along with clarity and a servant spirit, this revival will be characterized by an unprecedented degree of power, authority and anointing imparted to the Church. The times require no less. Modern man has become so addicted to reason, his critical powers have reached such an unprecedented degree of development, that no amount of theology, elegant ritual or skilled apologetics by themselves will penetrate his rational armor. Only the very opposite, in God’s ironic way of proceeding, will serve as a suitable antidote. The Church must gird itself with a prophetic spirit, cease to depend its ornamental, rational scaffolding, and entrust itself to the wholesome, simple nutrients contained in God’s unadorned Word. We must not so much preach and argue as proclaim and prophesy. We must, like the apostle Paul preaching to the overly rational Corinthian community, “resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Co. 2: 2) Paul committed himself in weakness to God’s unvarnished, simple word. In doing so, he emptied himself of all his scholarly pharisaic content, thus opening up space for God’s power to fill him. At the same time, he helped detoxify the Corinthians from their addiction to rhetoric and merely rational arguments. This is why he states: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom... For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (I Co. 2:4 and 5)
On an excessively rational age, so rational, in fact, that it has even found a way to rationally critique reason, God unleashes a revival of signs and wonders, mighty acts of power, irrefutable demonstrations of his power that cannot be denied or neutralized by elegant words and rational artifice. In this miraculous context, Paul’s rhetorical question to the Corinthians will ring with more clarity than ever: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (I Co. 1:20, 25)
The price and precondition of this kind of power will be a life of purity and holiness. This will be the fourth characteristic of the revival. God will not pour his exquisite anointing on impure vessels. The Church must look deep within itself, even as it denounces the sinful obstinacy of an unrepentant world. That is why this revival must also be characterized by sincere confession, constant repentance and identificational prayer. We must keep short accounts with God, as well as being accountable to each other. We must be quick to confess our transgressions and shortcomings, and unify our public words with our private, intimate behavior. The story of Ananias and Sapphira must not dwell too far from our consciousness. We must remember that God’s nearness has a sinister quality to it. Wherever his glory dwells, life is released, but death also lurks nearby. If we do not handle God’s glory reverently and according to his prescriptions, it may turn lethal on us. No amount of good intentions will insulate spiritual carelessness on our part. David’s sincere desire to honor God by transporting the Ark to Jerusalem did not prevent death from ensuing when God’s glory was not handled in the prescribed manner. (II Sam. 6:6 and 7)
In connection with this it must be clarified that I am not promoting a paranoid or legalistic spirit. We must always serve God in an attitude of joy and abandon, with childlike confidence, entrusting ourselves to his extreme mercy and grace. We must not fall prey to a guilty, overly introspective consciousness. We must, however, sustain that balanced outlook, so wonderfully expressed by the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28 and 29)
There is one final, salient quality that I would like to underscore as a governing value of this revival. I truly believe that God intends for this movement of his Spirit to serve as a vehicle for the systemic penetration of society. I have been saddened to see such glorious moves of the Spirit as the Toronto and Brownsville revivals erupt for a moment and then fade, sometimes ingloriously, without leaving a real mark upon the structures of society, or in the fabric of the Church for that matter. This is not to belittle the importance or relative impact of such moments, but I believe that there must be much more in God’s heart as He seeks to revive his Church.
I do believe that many evangelicals, following an implicit dispensational theology, have prematurely and unnecessarily abandoned the culture to its errant, unpredictable ways, and opted instead for concentrating on rescuing individuals. This seems to me one of the most potentially dangerous, impoverishing perspectives on how God wants to move in the realm of history at this point in human existence. I find this tendency to look down upon and underestimate the idea of seeking to decisively influence the culture on behalf of the Kingdom prevalent among some of the most highly developed elements of contemporary North American evangelicalism.
In Christianity Today’s influential series of articles entitled The Christian Vision Project, we read, for example, from Michael Horton: “There are no calls in the New Testament either to withdraw into a private ghetto or to ‘take back’ the realms of cultural and political activity. Rather, we find exhortations, like Paul’s, to the inauspicious yet crucial task of loving and serving our neighbors with excellence.” (CT, January 2006 issue) I find this assertion strange, especially in the light of Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations.” God’s focus, like Satan’s, has always been collective and systemic. Salvation, for example, is presented as for the believer and his household. God calls us to be ambitious, encompassing and daring in our efforts to expand the Kingdom. In Isaiah 54, for example, we are called to enlarge the place of our tent and not hold back, “for you will spread to the right and to the left. Your descendants will possess the nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (Vv. 2-4)
I passionately disagree with Frederica Mathewes-Green when she states in another issue of Christianity Today that “The culture is like the weather. We may be able to influence it in modest ways, seeding the clouds, but it is a recipe for frustration to expect that we can direct it.” She continues with her metaphor by stating that “God has not called us to change the weather. Our primary task as believers, and our best hope for lasting success, is to care for individuals caught up in the pounding storm.” (CT, March 2006 issue) Satan certainly understands that the culture is more plastic, impressionable and up for grabs than Mathewes-Green acknowledges. This is why he persists in influencing and co-opting the realms of academia, journalism, politics and the arts. Millenial tactician that he is, he understands that he can obtain much more leverage by possessing a political movement or a philosophical system, than by pursuing the clumsy, ultimately hopeless task of winning the world one soul at a time.
It is only modern Western spirituality, with its willful disregard for human archetypes and its inordinate insistence on personal privacy and the figure of the individual, that seeks to limit Christian action to the realm of the private and the purely spiritual. Jesus himself stated that “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matt. 13:33)
To reject the attempt to affect entire social systems, for the sake of a purely individualistic approach is not only bad theology and exegesis. It also ignores that some of the most significant social achievements of the past couple of centuries in Western history have been facilitated and made possible by Christians who, thankfully, understood the power of a Christian worldview to decisively affect cultural and political systems. Some of the achievements that individuals like Mathewes-Green and Michael Horton themselves would celebrate emerge from this realm that they now so summarily dismiss. We can quickly refer, for example, to the efforts of Wilberforce to abolish slavery within the English empire, or the abolition of child labor as a result of the efforts of concerned Christians in that same century. We cannot ignore the influence of the Church in America on behalf of the abolitionist movement, and the use of war that finally brought about a resolution to the issue of slavery, or the efforts on behalf of civil rights in our own twentieth century, headed significantly by Christians. Many of these things required confrontation, the adoption of unpopular stances, and a vision of Christian action that extended to the political and cultural realms.
To summarize, God intends for the energies that will be unleashed in this revival to be harnessed for more than just church revitalization and evangelistic harvest. Societal systems must also be evangelized and discipled, and this can only flow from a concerted, well thought out strategy conceived in the spirit by individuals who have the mind of Christ. Our ambitious goal must be to penetrate as many aspects of society as possible with the leaven of the Kingdom, however long and extensively God will allow us; to, again quoting the apostle Paul “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Co. 10:5)
The greatest, most encompassing revival in this nation’s history, and perhaps the world’s, is imminent if not already beginning. God expects us to receive the endowment of his energy by faith, and to then proceed with a sense of authority and empowerment to occupy the land. He has delegated his power to us. We have, I believe, a significant say on what particular configuration this extraordinary move of the Spirit will ultimately adopt. May we be guided by the values of the Kingdom as we seek to do the Father’s will. May we exemplify the clarity of Christ’s message, his servant leadership style, his undeniable power and anointing, his victorious holiness, and his lucid, systemic ambition to see the Father’s will established on earth as it is in heaven. Nothing less than this will honor the great God that we serve, and the glorious Spirit that he has made to dwell within us.