Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revival and/or Apostasy

Among some subsets of evangelical Protestant communities I have sometimes heard pastors and authors insist that before the “last days” come (just prior to the Lord’s promised physical return as King of heaven and earth) there will be a massive turning of many people to faith in the Gospel. This has been proclaimed by some who claim to have received it as a “word of knowledge” or a prophetic utterance of the Holy Spirit. I have also read and heard some Christian teachers who insist that we should expect to see an apostasy from the Gospel rather than a large scale revival of true spirituality rooted in the Gospel. 

I have often wondered about these conflicting claims. On the one hand Paul makes it quite clear that in the “last times” at least some people will turn their backs on faith in Christ and teach others to do the same (1 Timothy 4:1-3; see also 2 Timothy 3:1-5). The Lord stated plainly that a powerful demonic deception would, at it were, spiritually flood the human world and many would be drawn away to lawlessness and become hostile to the Gospel and the Lord’s disciples (see Matthew 24:9-14). 

Evaluating the history of the Christian church one can make, I think, make a strong argument that a pattern of apostasy and rediscovery and renewal of faith has occurred. For the outpouring of the Spirit at the first Pentecost after the Lord was raised from the dead (see Acts 1-2) clearly marked a new beginning and is arguably a reliable pattern for what God desires to do in human history. There have been a number of noted renewal movements and “revivals” at different points in the past two thousand or so years. Thus is the power of the Gospel to bring people into the Kingdom of God! But there have also been demonstratively evil periods where “the church” on earth dramatically departed from the Gospel both in its teaching and practice. 

I make no claim to prophetic insight about future revivals of faith. Given the general pattern from history I think that it makes much more sense to expect that we may well see unprecedented renewal of faith in the Lord Jesus and broad apostasy from Gospel teaching and a godly manner of living among those who profess to believe in Jesus Christ. I would welcome and I have prayed for revival—particularly in my home city. 

The content of the letters to the churches in Revelation (chapters 2-3) has stuck out to me for some time. These have been used to argue for a dispensationalist theological grid for interpreting church history and predicting the future. I do not think that interpretation can be sustained from those passages or anywhere else in Scripture. What I do think they are supposed to teach us is this: The Lord addresses different communities of believers and calls out their faith and their sins so as to give them an opportunity to repent and so receive what he has promised them—both now on earth and forever in the Kingdom. 

Applied to what the conditions will be before or during the “last days” I think that Scripture paints a varied picture. Whatever percentage of human beings are saying “yes” to faith in Christ in the “last days”—whether this be large or small—God will not change and he will continue to honor genuine human choice. What I do believe will be characteristic of the last days is that God will speak with utter clarity to all people about the truth of the Gospel and confirm it with miracles and signs and wonders. No one who lives in these last days will even be able to argue that they did not know what the Gospel teaches! All will simply acknowledge the choice of “yes” or “no” that they gave when presented with the call to faith in Christ. And yes, I do believe we are in the last days.

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