‘I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.’ 1 Corinthians 11:18-20
Several years ago I preached what I believed to be an encouraging, biblical and enabling sermon in my home church. After the service a first (and only) time visitor came up to me, looked me calmly in the eye and told me that the Holy Spirit had prompted him to tell me that I was preaching heresy, manipulating the people and leading them woefully astray. The theme of the sermon had been ‘revival’.
Revivals polarise the church. If one church community is experiencing genuine revival you can be sure that some other church’s leaders will be criticising and judging it to be false. It is easy to say that opposition to revival is satanic in origin and should be expected whenever God is doing something significant. Perhaps some of the opposition to genuine revival is demonically motivated, but much is more misguided than evil. In our day there have been so many so-called revivals that have proven to be unmistakably false that one cannot blame conservative Christians for being sceptical and even antagonistic to the very idea of ‘revival’. It is a hard judgement call to make when something is afoot that one suspects is more of man, or the devil, than of God. On the one hand we want to sponsor inter-church unity, but at the same time we want to walk away from anything that smells of hell-smoke or human arrogance.
Sometimes revival brings divisions within denominations and local churches. In 1905 Joseph Smale, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, returned from a visit to Wales full of the hope that God would do in his church what he had witnessed in the Welsh churches. However, it did not take long before the church officials lost patience with the spontaneous prayer and worship that was ‘invading’ their church. They banned the ‘revival’ and gave their pastor the option of conforming or quitting. The Holy Spirit moved on and found a one-eyed illiterate negro man by the name of William Seymour, and the rest is revival history.
I am of the conviction that God is about to send revival upon His church; real Holy Spirit revival. I am encouraging my congregations to pray for this and to expect it, but how will I handle the divisions that will surely accompany it? I do not know, but I trust that God will give me both grace and perseverance. Do you anticipate a great revival in our time? How will you respond to the challenges of division both in your church and those in the denomination or area?