2006, among other things, has marked the 100th anniversary of the controversial Azusa Street revival that -- despite all the strange, so often offensive mixture of what Peter Hocken aptly calls "the glory and the shame" that marks any genuine outpouring of the Spirit of God on such cracked clay pots as we all are -- began the global spread of what some have called a third wave in Western Christianity: the wave of the Spirit.
Indeed, in our time, we are seeing a dramatic fulfillment of the words the Apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul spoke, nearly twenty centuries ago. First, St. Peter:
Acts 3:13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus . . . 18 . . . God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
And now, St. Paul:
2 Cor 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
4:1 Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God . . . 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2CO 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
These words both inspire and shame us. Indeed, they call to mind God's promise -- and, frankly, warning -- to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, nearly thirty centuries ago:
2CH 7:13 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land . . . 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.
So, we must first know that -- despite all the gleefully headlined setbacks and scandals we have seen -- across these past 100 years, we have therefore seen a dramatic shift in the spiritual balance of power on our planet, and thus also a shifting of the centre of gravity of the Christian Faith. Indeed, it is now merely accurate description to call the ongoing, accelerating spiritual transformation of Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa and much of Oceania, the Southern Christian Reformation.
In turn, that brings to the fore, the key issues in the following analysis:
In his Nov. 26, 2002 column, “A Christian Boom,” the Jewish Islamic scholar Daniel Pipes begins:
Which of the world's largest faiths, Christianity or Islam, is experiencing the greater ideological reassertion and demographic surge?
"Islam" is surely nearly everyone's answer. As American Christians experiment with ever-milder versions of their faith, Muslims display a fervor for extreme interpretations of Islam. As Europe suffers the lowest population growth rates ever recorded, Muslim countries have some of the highest.
But, argues Philip Jenkins recently in the Atlantic Monthly, Islam is the wrong answer. He shows how Christianity is the religion currently undergoing the most basic rethinking and the largest increase in adherents. He makes a good case for its militancy most affecting the next century.
Clearly, then, the battle for the soul of Christianity that has marked the modernist/”fundamentalist” controversy over the past hundred years is fraught with implications for the century ahead. For, it is clear that we can make out the outlines of a three-cornered contest for global supremacy among three competing world-views:
(1) the still dominant Western secularism (including its step-children, liberal and liberation theologies),
(2) militant Islamism (as is advocated by Mr bin Laden) with a wider resurgence in Islam as a whole also, and
(3) what we may call the Southern Christian Reformation – for it is currently sweeping across Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
So, as we look at the current struggle between the West and Islamism, and as we also see how Islamists have been in violent conflict with Christians in places as diverse as Indonesia, Sudan and Nigeria, we can see that our region is a focal point of the emerging global worldviews contest.
Thus, our region is plainly at kairos. For, on the one hand, we are increasingly a part of the ongoing bewitching and captivity of the Christian West by those riding on a tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and post-modern neo-paganism. But, on the other, many in our region are also a key part of the third rising surges of the third -- and decisive! -- twenty-first century global tidal wave: the Southern Christian Reformation.
That means that it is time for us to walk down the four-R's road: repentance, renewal, revival, reformation:
R1 Repentance: True revivals start here. As we repent, we "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and will] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." [Eph. 4:18, 20 - 24.]
R2 Renewal: this is the living out of repentance as we learn and live by the light of God’s word and the power of God’s Spirit. "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould. Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is."
R3 Revival, proper: the pouring out of God's Spirit in times of refreshing. Thus, we receive anointed power from God to walk in good works in the face of a deceived, corrupt world. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people," so we are called to "Repent . . . and turn to God, so that [our] sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."
R4 Reformation: the transformation of a community, its institutions and culture under the impact of the Lordship of Jesus as those who surrender to him fill their lives and ways with his fulness. Of course, this threatens those who draw pleasure and power from sin (or even make their living from it), so revivals will also face persecution.
Oh, that by God's grace, we will humble ourselves and accept from God, through His Christ and by His Spirit that bittersweet but precious gift, repentance [Ac 11:17 - 18]. Then, let us through His Word renew our minds, lives and institutions, asking Him to pour our on us seasons of refreshing. Then, let us boldly stand in the Spirit of God, as pope John Paul II did with his homeland in 1979, and begin to lead our communities and nations in God, to reformation and God-blessed transformation [Gal 3:13 - 14].
But it must not stop there, for we are a strategic people under God -- the first cosmopolitan region, peopled by men and women whose ancestors largely came from the lands of the 10/40 Window of Gospel-resistant people-groups. AND, we have strong historical and cultural ties to the lands of the North now increasingly under the bewitchments and entanglements of apostasy.
So, as a bridging people, we can -- and, oh, by God's grace, we MUST! -- play a key strategic role in the Global Mission of the church in our time, in partnership with the people of God all across the world. END