*This article is from the MB Herald archives, originally published August 29, 1997, in the column “A Christian Mind.” Author Walter Unger (1936–2018) served the church as a teacher, administrator, and board member.*
Spiritual renewal is in the air. Many churches and entire denominations are focussing on spiritual revitalization. Following are some principles which can guide us in this quest.
Spiritual leaders must cultivate and personally experience the power of Christ operating in their own lives through the Word.
Our Lord prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17: 17).
God prepared Jonathan Edwards to be the catalyst of the First Great Awakening in America through his immersion in the Word, out of which came a deepening of h is own spirituality. He writes: “The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that 1 have lived much in since, was on reading those words (1 Timothy 1: 17) ‘Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ As I read these words, there came into my soul… a sense of the glory of the Divine Being.”
Edwards continues: “My mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of h is person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him.” Edward’s focus was not on warm feelings but on Christ as revealed in the Word. Feelings followed.
The focus of teaching must be on praising the majesty and holiness of God and on our need to recognize, confess and repent of sin (Isaiah 6:1-9, II Chronicles 7:14).
The love of God in Christ and the all-sufficiency of His grace must be stressed. Jesus said: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32, NRSV).
Renewal meetings which consist mainly of testimonies and anecdotes rather than a patient exposition of the Word will end up being shallow and ineffectual.
God’s people must be exhorted to holy, Christlike living so that the fruit of godliness is evident in their lives.
“Every tree is known by its fruit,” wrote Jonathan Edwards. “Christ nowhere says, you shall know the tree by its leaves or flowers; or you shall know men by their talk, by their good story they tell of their experiences … or by many tears and affections … but by their fruits. Christ directs us to manifest our godliness to others.”
There is much talk of power in evangelical circles. We can easily become enamoured with power to do the spectacular. Yet we are called to love Jesus, not power. Paul in Ephesians 3 prays t hat believers might experience power so that their inner being might be trans-formed. Paul is praying for power to be more Christlike, power to be holy, power to think and act and talk in ways pleasing to Christ. Such a display of power is the sign of true renewal.
Our experience of Christ comes ‘from within the framework of the Word of God and the people of God.
Paul prays that the Ephesians might have power, together with the saints, to grasp the multifaceted dimensions of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18).
Christ is experienced in community.
It isn’t just Jesus and me. I’m not in this relationship alone. My fellow believer in the body interprets and brings the love of Christ to me, and I do the same to him or her. As we as a body worship and pray and study and serve together, we grow in our experience of God’s love. John R. Stott writes: “It needs the whole people of God to understand the whole love of God.”
A renewal ministry must be characterized by humility and entire reliance on Christ.
Nothing will kill the spirit of renewal as quickly as pride and spiritual arrogance.
When God moved mightily in his day, Jonathan Ed-wards cautioned : “Let us therefore maintain t he strictest watch against spiritual pride, or being lifted up with extraordinary experiences and comforts, and the high favours of heaven, that any of us may have received … . When we have great discoveries of God made to our souls, we should not shine bright in our own eyes.”
Finally, we must return to the vital practice of prayer and worship if we desire God to do a new work of grace among us.
Every renewal movement, without exception, was born out of prayer.
To prayer must be added worship- corporate and private. Reverent, heartfelt praise and adoration of our holy, sovereign God will open up the channel and let the glory of our Lord fall upon us.
A renewed church will transcend denominational lines and encompass all believers everywhere. A.W. Tozer captured the spirit of the quest for renewal well when he wrote: “There is a glorious catholicity of the saints, a mystic brotherhood of the far-sighted who long have been straining to catch a glimpse of the King in his beauty…. That is the oldest and largest church in the world; it is the church of the cross-smitten, of the God-enamoured.”
Walter Unger is president of Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C., and a member of Bakerview MB Church.