Note: Sermon manuscript from last Sunday's afternoon service at CRBC:
Revivals or the Ordinary Means of Grace?
CRBC February 19, 2023
We’re going to take a break today from our Lord’s Day afternoon series through the Minor Prophets, having finished Haggai, before we move on, Lord willing, to Zechariah and then complete the series in Malachi.
In this break, as we do from time to time, we want to consider this sacred meal in which we participate Sunday by Sunday, the taking of the Lord’s Supper, in obedience to the command of our Lord, who said, “This do in remembrance of me.”
Ordinary Means of Grace
The Reformed (Biblical) theological tradition, teaches that God has provided for his people “ordinary means” of grace.
This is taught in our Confession in 14:1. The ordinary means the Lord has provided for the saving of sinners and then increasing and strengthening them in the faith, as noted in Confession 4:1 are:
First: The ministry of the Word. That means the reading of the Word, privately and publicly, and it especially means the preaching and teaching of the Word.
Romans 10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
1 Corinthians 1: 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
Second: Alongside the ministry of the Word we also have the ordinances or sacraments of baptism (the public confession of one’s faith before men, and the symbolic identification with his life, death, and resurrection by immersing the whole body in water—in obedience to his command) and the Lord’s Supper (taking bread and cup in that spiritual meal instituted by Christ and commanded for perpetual obedience till he comes again).
Third: To these the confession adds prayer. Paul urged believers to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In Acts we have description of the church often meeting to pray, as when the apostle Peter was imprisoned and they gathered in the house of Mary the mother of John (Acts 12).
Fourth: And it mentions “other means appointed by God.” This might include fasting, meditation on the Word, the assemblies of the saints, but these must have scriptural warrant.
So, Jude urges:
Jude 1: 20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
I saw a tweet yesterday from a RB pastor in California which read, “Tomorrow [the Lord’s Day] is the weekly day of revival.”
He was making a sly reference and perhaps even a critique of the current “revival” that recently began at the Wesleyan and Holiness heritage Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. It started with a student led chapel service on February 8 and has continued to meet day and night since then. By this time, you may have seen this on your social media feeds.
It has attracted attention across the country and similar meetings have sprung up on various other campuses (most recently at Samford University in Birmingham) and visitors (like evangelical pilgrims pursuing “spiritual tourism”) have flooded the school to experience the revival in person.
It has been been covered by media from the Washington Post to Tucker Carlson. To the university’s credit they have discouraged live streaming and tried to manage the media frenzy and attention.
The Wikipedia article on the “Asbury Revival” has a day-by-day timeline of what is happening. The university has apparently announced that the revival will end on February 24 (strange to announce the end of a "revival") and has written letters to the parents of students, some of whom might have been concerned about how these meetings have affected the things universities are mostly known for, like academic instruction.
This is actually the second revival of this type to have happened at Asbury. Another apparently took place in 1970.
And, of course, there were great revivals in the past that had a significant impact on our nation.
The so-called First Great Awakening began with Jonathan Edwards preaching his classic sermon (reading from a manuscript in a monotone from behind a pulpit) “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” in colonial America. It is reported that some who heard his preaching of God’s wrath were so filled with terror that they feared the floor beneath might collapse at any moment and deposit them into hell.
Then there was the so-called Second Great Awakening in the nineteenth century that really set the tone for what most still think of as the pattern for a revival—a time of spiritual renewal and enthusiasm. These were the times of the camp meetings and “the saw dust trail.” It sadly resulted in many excesses, the introduction of “new measures,” including the “anxious bench” and altar calls, making extra-ordinary subjective experiences the measure of true faith. When the whirlwind of enthusiasm ended, however, it led to the creation of “burned over districts” which bred cults, like the Mormons. As Paul reminds us in Romans 10:2 there can be zeal for God, “but not according to knowledge.”
What do we make of the Asbury revival and of revivals in general?
Questions might be raised. The Asbury revival seems driven not so much by the ministry of the Word in preaching but by singing and swaying to contemporary praise songs.
There has been the reading of Scripture and giving of testimonies at an “open microphone.” But what about the injunction in James 3:1: “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”?
It seems to be a series of meetings taking place apart from the oversight of any local church and its elders. Christ did not say, I will build my Christian university, or my para-church student ministry, or even, I will build my "revival," but I will build my church (Matthew 16:18).
On the other hand, I think we can point to some things we can see in this as hopeful and encouraging signs:
First, it shows us that there are young people, in particular, in this generation who have been and will continue to be drawn to the cause of Christ. The Lord will not be without a witness in each generation till he returns in glory. He has his elect in this generation whose hearts will be strangely warmed by the work of his Spirit. We should not spurn or attempt to quench that. This is encouraging in light of the fact that we are nearly constantly told by the media that the faith is in decline or demographically challenged. They seem to delight in telling us that this is a generation of “nones” (no faith) and “dones” (tried it but left).
Second, many of those who might be drawn to spiritual things through this movement, whatever its weaknesses (and perhaps, upon later reflection, because of its weaknesses) will be drawn to study the Scriptures in greater depth. They will be drawn to Biblical doctrine and to faithful churches. There will likely be not a few who might be drawn eventually to become confessional Reformed Baptists!
What about us?
What about us? Will we begin a series of Asbury-style revival meetings? Will we make a pilgrimage to Wilmore or the next big place where “revival” breaks out?
No. We will continue to meet on the Lord’s day and give attention to the ordinary means of grace as the Lord has provided. We will commit ourselves to the ministry of the Word. To baptizing new believers upon the confession of their faith in Christ. To sitting down at the Lord’s table and receiving the bread and the cup in obedience to his command. To private and public prayer, and to other ordinary means.
By these means, we believe the Lord will be faithful to, as Jude put it, build us up in our “most holy faith” (v. 20).
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