So with this glorious promise there in the Word of God, why is the church so darkly pessimistic about it's future? Of course we all know we're going to heaven - that's assured. But it's the bit in-between that seems to flag up some questions. Much of religion that I have experienced tends to take the analogy of a medieval castle. We raise the drawbridge - post a few "prayer" archers on the roof and hope that the devil and the powers of darkness don't scale the walls. Or even worse - that sinners come knocking trying to come in and get saved.
It seems crazy to me! Jesus said "I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!". That's not a defensive promise! Ern Baxter always asked the question, since when did you see a pair of gates jump off their hinges and chase a screaming church down the street?! No! This promise is Jesus Christ promising His church - there is not one stronghold that is able to stand against My advancing church! Not even hell itself!
Now - back to restorationism for a minute. Lots of Christians pray for revival. Two examples: My former senior pastor Dr Stanley Jebb commented on it in a recent blog, yet I have a tape where he spoke very strongly against restoration in our old church in Dunstable - after decades of believing in restoration passionately, singing wonderful choruses about it (Does anyone remember "I hear the sound of rustling"??!) and of course going to the glorious Dales Bible Weeks to hear Ern Baxter preach on it!
A former friend of mine - ex-blogger Jesse Phillips used to talk about revival a lot (he may still believe in it - I'm not sure). But Sovereign Grace Ministries would not be classed as having a positive end-time eschatology as I understand it from their resident theologian/'apostle' Jeff Purswell. So I confess myself a bit confused - what is the point of praying for or hoping for revival if there is no active expectation that the Church is destined to grow gloriously to a degree that not only the nations will "flow to it" but also that the nation of Israel will be wonderfully provoked to come in?
Church history is almost united in the understanding that revival means a "re-viving" of the church. The Holy Spirit being poured out in unprecedented power so that the church is corporately affected. I like Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones definition that it is "a corporate baptism of the Holy Spirit". The result of course is that the world cannot help but come. But it all begins with the church! It must all begin with the church!
My point - let me state again:
If you don't believe truly in restoration then you can't properly get truly passionate about the Great Commission.
Perhaps a bit controversial and I'm ready to stand corrected! But let me ask what mentality you have when you go out to witness and spread the Gospel. Do you really believe that we are saving them "one by one" and any convert is a bonus (which of course is true) but we are really working to a rapidly coming deadline and hell is going to be more full than heaven anyway? Or do you walk out of your house daily KNOWING that we are on the winning side and that God is more capable of saving millions through one outpouring of revival than we are with our evangelism techniques and "crack squads" or "hit teams" imported from the USA (or whatever they are called) or maybe adopting Mark Driscoll-esque techniques in your church and uttering the odd profanity or crude joke from the pulpit?!
I believe that a positive eschatology can absolutely transform your life. It can affect how you go to work, it can affect your worship at church - singing celebratory songs of triumph rather than bleeding heart ballads hoping God might show. It can most definately affect your evangelism in ways we can't even dream of! When we are simply "hoping for the best" - I suspect our evangelism cache will only spread to white, middle-class "safe" people. We will leave the "dangerous" lost to the few evangelists who dare to go into prisons etc. But if we really believe that we are on the winning side and that the principalities and powers REALLY were bound at the Cross and disarmed - and we KNOW that we have a glorious message to take - that God is reconciling the world to Himself not counting men's sins against them, then we will surely want EVERYONE to hear!
Let me get really practical for a minute. As a children's nurse there is no horror I hate worse that paedophilia. If there was still the death penalty, I probably would be tempted to call for it for this alone. The thought of children being hurt or damaged breaks my heart. But can I deny them the gospel of grace? That God wants to reconcile THEM to Himself and is not holding their sins against them? There are two incidents that make this more than just theory.
A paedophile who used to work for my old hospice - Acorns in Birmingham - is awaiting trial. Now it doesn't surprise me that this happened. I experienced enough at Acorns to know that the management is entirely ineffective with archaic screening processes who waste more time and money on "investigations" such as they used to bully me for months, than to ensure that their standards are upto scratch. But that's an aside - he was there. And he did this. But he needs the gospel! And the arms of Jesus Christ stretch to him! And you know what? If I really allow the glory of restoration to sink in - I can see him coming into the church.
Or the paedophile ring that were caught in the UK just this week. This one upsets me just as much as the man at Acorns. That a woman can work at a nursery and misuse her position like this - just staggers me. But she and they need the gospel too! And are we really going to leave it to a prison chaplain (who may or may not believe the gospel anyway!) or some evangelists? No! A restored church is the only hope! As Lex Loizides wonderful song went;
"It is the Church! The hope of the world!".
And I am sorry - but at the moment, it looks rather like the world has no hope. When someone like C J Mahaney puts the onus for an effective pastoral ministry on the church by stating:
"The effectiveness of pastoral ministry is dependent upon a proper response TO pastoral ministry".
It just seems a recipe for disaster, condemnation and legalism to me. Not to say completely unbiblical. The apostle Paul had one of the most effective New Testament ministries short of our Lord Jesus Christ. He not only was completely full of grace in his doctrine but he performed signs, wonders and miracles. Yet can we say that the Corinthian church were completely supportive of his ministry? They gossiped and criticised him and it seems didn't even give him any monetary support (2 Corinthians 11:8-9). They thought they were more spiritual than he was. Did that affect the effectiveness of his ministry? Not in the least. So it's another Mahaney-typical "catchy" summary - and a gift he is very good at. But it's not Biblical.
Again - another digression. But my heart and my passion in this is to call for a bit of optimism. I've spent so much time over the last few months typing up Rob Rufus's sermons and anyone who has read them will know he is grace-obsessed. But without a positive eschatology to set that doctrine ablaze, I find myself wondering what the point is. Fortunately I know Rob Rufus's eschatology is ENTIRELY positive!
Maybe you shrink back from the term "restoration" and can't quite get the "post-millenial" eschatology that I am pleading for here. But if I can at least make you re-consider some of the glorious promises in the Bible - particularly in Isaiah 60 - then I think we will find our hearts full of hope and our prayers for revival come alive!
Come Lord Jesus! Pour out Your Spirit we pray!