Repentance As a Church Priority

THIS scribe has wasted considerable time watching television panels where experts pool their ignorance discussing the fix we are in and what to do about it. Like Omar, I usually come out the same door I went in. God is writing on the wall these days, but the soothsayers and "smoothsayers" cannot decipher the heavenly hieroglyphics. . .

Vance Havner is an evangelist who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

THIS scribe has wasted considerable time watching television panels where experts pool their ignorance discussing the fix we are in and what to do about it. Like Omar, I usually come out the same door I went in. God is writing on the wall these days, but the soothsayers and "smoothsayers" cannot decipher the heavenly hieroglyphics. (Witness, for instance, a seminar on the Middle East!)

Likewise, I read the speeches of churchmen in our religious conclaves trying to arouse the brethren about evangelism or social action. The audience reaction is usually, "I move we accept this as information and be dismissed." It will take more than highly promoted conventions with a parade of celebrities to meet our problem of a sick church trying to minister to a sick world. If God ever rends the heavens and comes down again in real revival, he may begin in some obscure country church where a little band of no bodies in holy desperation prays like Jehoshaphat, "We know not what to do, but our eyes are upon thee."

One of England's best preachers has said:

I am never tired of saying that what the Church needs to do is not to organize evangelistic campaigns to attract outside people but to begin herself to live the Christian life. If she did that, men and women would be crowding into our buildings. They would say, what is the secret of this?

Evangelism is the outflow and overflow of the inflow of the Spirit in a normal New Testament church. By "normal" I do not mean average, the average today is subnormal. Nor do I mean perfect, for there are no perfect churches. There can, however, be healthy churches, blameless though not faultless, mature though not perfectly so. When we try to pressure half-hearted and indifferent church members into soul-winning drives, it is an admission that we have failed in the New Testament pattern of faith in Christ, fellowship with Christ, faithfulness to Christ, and fruitfulness for Christ. If we abide, we shall abound.

If the time, money, and effort spent in trying to work up evangelism in lukewarm churches were spent in calling the churches them selves to repentance, confession, cleansing, and empowering, evangelism would be a natural result. We are trying to produce the results without the cause, the fruit without the tree. The New Testament epistle writers concentrated not on stirring up Christians to evangelize but rather on developing healthy Christians through spiritual food, rest, and exercise. Healthy Christians are naturally soul-winners, by life and by lip.

God ordered the human race to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth and then put within man the instinct to mate and carry out the divine commission. Our Lord said, "Go, make disciples." As someone has said, the fruit of a Christian is another Christian and the Holy Spirit has been given to motivate us in carrying out the Great Commission. Trying to organize and stimulate Christians to evangelize without the urge is an exercise in futility. Pep meetings are not necessary to urge young people to fall in love, marry, and raise families!

Which comes first, revival or evangelism? This is not a chicken-or-egg question. Scripture, reason, and experience teach that God be gins with his own people. David must have the joy of salvation re stored before he can teach transgressors God's ways and see sinners converted. And Peter must be converted himself before he can strengthen the brethren and feed the sheep.

But revivals should not be necessary. God meant that we should grow in grace continually. Spring time is often used as an illustration of revival, but Christian growth should be continuous, not seasonal. Periodic backsliding and repenting are not normal Christian experience and should never be so regarded. When we have a vigorous daily Christian experience, revival is unnecessary, for a glowing fire does not need rekindling. But because our condition is sub normal, revival is necessary to get us back to normal. Then it has served its purpose. Revivals are not supposed to last; to try to live at revival pitch all the time would make Christians and churches ab normal. Excesses have followed some revivals because some dear souls attempted to live on the mountaintop all the time.

Nevertheless, just now the number-one item on the agenda is repentance in the Church accompanied by confession and forsaking of sin, reconciliation and restitution, separation from the world, submission to the Lordship of Christ, and the filling of the Spirit. Finney said, "Revival is a new be ginning of obedience to God." It is not an emotional binge, although of course it affects the emotions be cause it affects the whole man. Nor does it begin happily; it starts with a broken and contrite heart. Evangelism is happy business because we are getting out the Good News, but revivals do not begin with singing choruses and working up a good feeling as one might do at a Rotary Club.

As I read report after report of great church congresses and conferences and conventions that spend all their time on peace, poverty, and pollution and leave the primary need, I long to read of one session where programs are thrown into the waste basket and the assembly goes to its knees. We have passed enough resolutions. God's people must be called to repentance, and the repenting must begin with the delegates! Our Lord's call to repentance in Revelation began with the angels of the churches, not the backsliders out on the fringe. To recruit a Gideon's Band we must begin with a Gideon.

If someone objects that we do not have time in our great meetings for this, the reply must be that we don't have time for anything else! The time is too short, the need too great. There is of course the element of divine sovereignty in revival, "The wind bloweth where it listeth," but God has never failed to visit his people when they call on him in desperate, prevailing prayer. But as long as we feel we have a few tricks up our sleeves, however, he will leave us to per form them. Laodicea was rich, flush with goods and in need of nothing. Nothing much will hap pen until we realize that we are wretched, miserable, blind, poor, and naked in the sight of the Lord of the Lampstands, the Christ of the Candlesticks.

It is going to take some robust and rugged preaching to sound this trumpet blast. Are we afraid to call the Church to repentance? Is popularity too precious to risk? Do we fear the threats of Jezebel if we call for a showdown on Carmel? Are we unwilling to offend church members who give checks to the church while they live for the world, the flesh, and the devil? True revival is no bargain-counter proposition; the price is high for the preacher who preaches it and the people who respond. So we politely dodge it. We substitute evangelistic pep rallies and social-action crusades. We put on shows and call in the world to popularize the Gospel. If God ever grants us a visitation, we will be red with embarrassment because of the pitiful ways we have tried to promote the work of God in the energy of the flesh.

So this scribe still longs to read of a meeting held somewhere for the express purpose of calling the Church to repentance. How many would come I do not know. Of course, it could be worked in typical American fashion, with committees and fanfare and the governor there to make a speech. It would have little use for our boasted expertise and know-how. The publicity might come later, as in the Welsh Revival. Nowadays we try to create the revival before it happens. Pentecost was its own publicity! The crowd came after the Spirit came! If what we need comes, it may put to shame our pet projects, the programs that we set up on our own and then ask God to bless. We cannot make it happen or regulate it by our stop watches. God is not promoting religious extravaganzas, and the minute flesh begins to glory in his presence, the Shekinah fades and "Ichabod" is written over the door. But there is hope today if a few hungry hearts, unwilling to be satisfied with the good, will press through as Elisha did with Elijah, unwilling to stop at Bethel or Jericho though schools of the prophets line the roadway, determined to make it to Jordan and God's very best.

We thank God for present-day evangelism in all its forms, for every gospel sermon preached, every soul saved. But the good can be the enemy of the best. The hour is too late and the need too desperate for half-way measures. Ought we not to concentrate on church revival since that precedes and produces all else that we seek? There is no use working on Item 2 or 3 or 4 until we have attended to Item 1. When the channel has been cleared to the inflow of God's Spirit, the outflow and over flow will be assured. Why not start at the beginning?

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Vance Havner is an evangelist who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

January 1973

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The Bible Seminar Does Work

HOW do you get non-Adventists to come to a meeting and stay all day?"

"You Shall Have Good Success"

OUR life and ministry have one objective. This objective is not looming in a hazy distance; its outlines are definite and exact. The special mission of the remnant church in this world is clearly presented to us: "We are here to become like God in character, and by a life of service to reveal Him to the world."

Message of the Molecules

MAN'S existence is inseparable from matter. The inner drive to explore his environment quite naturally leads him to a study of the material world. Besides satisfying his innate curiosity, the Christian has at least two additional reasons for such a pursuit. First, he may learn more about his Creator. "Upon every page of the great volume of His created works may still be traced His handwriting. Nature still speaks of her Creator. . ."

Youth Family Life Year--Will It Achieve Togetherness?

PASTORS agree that one of the greatest challenges in the pastoral ministry is to effect successful solutions to the problems involving marriage relationships and parent-child misunderstandings. In some large churches a major portion of the pastoral staff's time is spent counseling in these areas. . .

Preacher, What About Your Home?

THE cause of God is facing an unprecedented crisis. As we look around us we know beyond any doubt that the dragon is wroth with the woman and is making war with the remnant of her seed. (See Revelation 12:17.) As a matter of fact, he is working hard on Christians and non-Christians alike, for he knows he has but a short time. . .

Developing a Philosophy of Church Music

THE Seventh-day Adventist Church has always used music as part of its worship service, from the days when it was composed of small scattered groups that sang the Advent hymns, to the present day of the too-large church with its great organ and splendid choir. . .

The Pastor's Bible Class

WOULD you like to have a sustained evangelistic thrust in your church? You can by conducting an evangelistic pastor's Bible class on a continual basis. With this plan in operation there is a place to invite interested people and prepare them for baptism. . .

Are There New Testament Documents Among the Dead Sea Scrolls?

IN THE spring of 1972 the scholarly world was caught by surprise when in Italy a Spanish papyrologist (with an Irish name) working on Greek papyri found in Jordan (near a Jewish sectarian settlement from the Roman period) announced that he had discovered the earliest extant manuscripts of the New Testament! Jesuit Jose O'Callaghan published his scholarly conclusions and a working hypothesis in the quarterly of Rome's Pontifical Biblical Institute. . .

The Bible in Sermon Preparation

At a recent meeting with the elders of the churches of one of our conferences I asked for a show of hands by all who were expected to preach quite frequently on Sabbath mornings. A large percentage of the hands were raised. . .

Decidedly Different

MOSES was a good man. There really wasn't anything wrong with him. It was just that as a leader he hadn't kept up with the times. Back in Father Abraham's day they could insist on high standards and old-fashioned religion. But this was a new day, one that called for new ideas and a new approach. . .

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - IIW-VBS 2024 (160x600)