Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised You, has been burned by fire; and all our precious things have become a ruin. Will you restrain Yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent and afflict us beyond measure? Isaiah 64:11-12.
The Loss of Our Beautiful House
Isaiah the prophet, preaching to the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah from 740 to 701 B.C., is beside himself with grief. He stands by as the Assyrians are bearing down on Israel, as God’s wrath is being poured out upon Yahweh’s recalcitrant, unrepentant, hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and rebellious people. Isaish is using a common prophetic device—stating something that will happen in the future as though it is already happening. And, of course, we know that God’s beautiful house, His temple, was destroyed by fire many years later as the Babylonians came into Judah. All the precious instruments used in worship were taken away by these wicked people whom God used as a war club. Isaiah asks in bewilderment, “Are you going to relent, Lord? Are You going to remain silent and not intervene on our behalf?” Indeed, as Jeremiah later laments, “How the gold has turned dim!” (Lamentations 4:1).
We have such a rich heritage in the Reformed and Presbyterian church! We have come to understand that all we are and have are from, through, and by the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:18-20). We were dead in our sins, we were under the control of the evil one, we were indulging the desires of the flesh and mind, we were children of wrath, destined for eternal destruction like everyone else. But God was rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:1-13). We have also many times witnessed the mighty works of God in revival—the sixteenth century Reformation, the seventeenth century Puritan revolution, the eighteen century Great Awakening, the 19th century second Great Awakening and the 1859 Revival. God has raised up many mighty revival preachers from the Reformed and Presbyterian heritage—men like Samuel Davies, Daniel Baker, John Girardeau, and many, many others. There were countlerss revivals in the Southern Presbyterian Church about which most of us know nothing. For example, in a “state of religion” report from the minutes of the South Carolina, Georgia Synod on November 25, 1826 we find that a mighty movement of God happened that year in Athens, GA and at the University of Georgia.
“But the place which appears to have experienced the most gracious effusions of the Holy Spirit is the town of Athens and its vicinity . . . Seven years ago it contained but two or three professors of our denomination (the Presbyterian Church), since which time there has been a gradual increase . . . the hopeful conversion of a number, not only in the College, but in the town of Athens and its neighborhood . . . of the students twenty-seven have professed a good hope through grace . . . in the village, thirteen have professed a hope, and several in the vicinity.”
This was within a two month period. That’s what I call revival!
And my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (founded in 1973), was being mightily used of God in her early days. We were the fastest growing denomination in America, sending out more missionaries than any other church. And while there are wonderful exceptions, it seems to me that the glory has departed. It seems we are squandering our rich inheritance. How so? We see very few conversions, far fewer than we did in the early days. We seemingly have lost our evangelistic zeal. Could it be that we have succumbed to pride, unbelief, and rebellion? Are we too concerned with how we appear to the world, wanting to project an aire of sophistication, wanting to be at the table with the intellectual elite of our culture, perhaps shrinking away from the clear teaching of Scripture on six day creation, the historicity of Adam and Eve, the awful reality of eternal hell fire, the exclusivity of Christ, and the sanctity of hetero-sexual, monogamous marriage? Are we given to worldliness and love of ease? Do we doubt the inerrancy of Scripture, the sufficiency of Christ, and the efficacy and immediacy of the Holy Spirit? Do we take an antinomian or licentious view toward personal sin and corporate sin? Are we guilty of theological, cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic elitism? Are we not guilty of jettisoning our New Side, Old School, Revival Southern Presbyterian heritage—a theological tradition which believed in subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith but which was also alive with Holy Spirit inspired passion for truth, the lost, and the propagation of the gospel to the great peoples of the world. Have we not run the gamut of the latest theological fads of the last forty years? First it was the Church Growth Movement which gave us the homogeneous concept. Then it was the Seeker Friendly Movement which gave us psychotherapeutic, “how to” sermons and drama sketches in our worship services. Then briefly we toyed with the Emergent Church model which purported a “new kind of Christian.” Now we seem to be on the “Canterbury trail” with pastors and sessions moving their people from traditional Presbyterian, word driven worship, to a form of neo-sacerdotalism with Communion as the focal point of what happens on Sunday morning. Many are enamored with the “missional” church which seems to lead with social justice while paying lip service to proclamation of the propitiating, expitating, reconciling gospel of grace that leads with the terrors of the law, stressing the fact that we must “go to Mt. Sinai” before we can go to “Mt. Calvary.”
What must we do? It is not rocket science. We must return to our roots—to a God-exalting, Christ-honoring, Spirit-annointed, man-debasing proclamation of Biblical truth. To be more specific, we must preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5). We must proclaim with boldness, expectancy, and humility the full gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must never water down the gospel message (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). We must preach the wrath of a holy God, and the glory of a marvelous Savior who will give new life to all who call upon Him in sincere repentance and faith, who will utterly transform the sinner, taking him from death to life, from the dominion of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). We must preach the indicatives and imperatives of gospel truth. The indicatives (all the glorious declarative truths of who we are in Christ, what God in infinite mercy has wrought in every blood-bought believer) and the imperatives (the commands to walk in gospel holiness that flow from the biblical indicatives) must sound equally and powerfully from our pulipits. And we must seek the annointing and immediacy of the Holy Spirit upon our ministries. It seems to me that most of us really do not expect too much to happen when we preach, evangelize, or counsel people. We “do our thing” but rarely see long-lasting transformation. We are far too cerebreal, far too academic. This is not the Reformed and Presbyrerian heritage of our forefathers. Their’s was a deep, experiential theological tradition set on fire by the Spirit who came upon them after they spent hours and hours “in the sanctuary” (Psalm 63:1-2). The glory of this tradition, of this approach to ministry, is that the average pastor and church member can “tap into” its power. This kind of ministry is available to all who will humble themselves before the mighty hand of God, who will express their utter and complete helplessness, who will seek God earnestly until they find Him. O Lord, will you keep silent and afflict us beyond measure?
Reverend Allen M. Baker
Pastor Baker is ordained in the PCA and has been in the ministry for over 30 years. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he received his M.Div. degree from...