For those of you who live on the British side of the Atlantic Ocean, you will be aware that there is an ongoing political debate about education in the UK and the need to teach the three Rs again to children. That is, reading, writing and (a)rithmetic. The fact that two of these words begin with a letter other than R is simply a part of British quirkiness (I write as a Brit), but the point is that many believe that children's education should be founded upon the basics.
Yesterday, during an extended time of seeking the Lord with my friend Dan, three different Rs were laid on my heart for the church - Reformation, Restoration and Renewal. I had this real sense that these three are God's desire for His church and are essential if we are to see the fulfillment of His awesome promises to gather His elect from every nation and for the knowledge of His glory to cover the earth.
I am not putting myself forward as a prophet to the wider church, but simply desire to share what I hope are some insights into what we need to see in our day if the church is to fulfil her glorious potential.
The Reformation has fallen on hard times. There are those who would seek to undermine it and even say it should never have happened. Yet without the Reformation we would not have the gospel. It was the Reformers who brought into the light once again that "the just shall live by faith." We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The source of our doctrine and the command for our living is scripture alone. It is this word alone which is the difference between a gospel of works and the true gospel of God's grace. It is not grace plus our actions, faith plus works, Christ plus our obedience or scripture plus tradition or human reason. It is grace, faith, Christ and scripture alone.
Thank God for the Reformation. However, the Reformers themselves taught that the Reformation was not a single event. Rather the church should be continually reforming. She should continually be exposed to the light of scripture.
The Reformation has happened. Hallelujah! We are not labouring under a religious system that keeps us from Christ. But we still need to examine our doctrine and practice under the searchlight of the Word of God, and we need to stand firm on sound doctrine.
I am concerned that in the pressure on churches now for results and for services which entertain, and for preaching that meets felt needs, we can downplay sound, expository, doctrinal preaching. That is not to say that doctrine mustn't be applied, but application must flow out of truth.
We need expository preaching. While I wholeheartedly endorse the continuation of New Testament prophecy, we must remember that God speaks through the preaching of His infallible word. The puritans held this view in such esteem that preaching was regarded as the exercising of the gift of prophecy. I would agree in part, but prophecy does not only come through the preaching of the Word. We need both - but we need to see fire and truth in the preaching of God's Word, and the glorious liberating truths that transformed much of Europe as people realised the abundant mercy of God, the liberating truths taught by great men like Calvin, the puritans, Jonathan Edwards, CH Spurgeon and others.
I understand that one group of charismatic churches during the renewal in the mid-1990s decided to chose Geneva over Toronto. Why not both? Geneva and the fire of the Holy Spirit, are vital for healthy church life.
I first came across this term when my old pastor began going to the Stoneleigh Bible Week (run until 2001 by Newfrontiers). I began to read Ephesians 4 in a new light. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were given by the ascended Christ until we reach unity of the faith (Eph 4v8-13). I don't need to rehearse the teaching on this matter, which has been given with great clarity elsewhere (see Terry Virgo's book A People Prepared).
In his message to the Preach the Word conference, Terry Virgo described apostles as those who laid foundations, planting churches: "His purpose was to extend the New Testament community - that miraculous new creation community. Yes the apostles laid the foundations of the universal church at the beginning, but the word goes on. The dynamic ongoing ministry of apostles is to lay foundations... The Church needs to rediscover this ministry. If we are concerned about world mission, we know that we have to set about planting churches all round the world. It is the role of apostles to lay foundations. For the sake of world mission it is vital that we must rediscover the biblical place of apostles."
Of course we need a restoration of all the gifts. We need to see prophets building up churches, evangelists preaching with power for people to be set free and then these living stones built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2v4) on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2v20) - all over the world. And the churches themselves must be healthy in doctrine, in love, in godly works and in power, desiring spiritual gifts "..that the church may receive edification" (1 Cor 14v4).
Right doctrine and divine church order are vital, but the temple without the presence of God is just a building, Elijah's sacrifice without the fire from heaven was simply a dead animal, Ezekiel's bones were dead (even with flesh on them) until the wind of the Spirit made them alive!
Thus the third R is "revival." We desperately need a visitation from on high. Psalm 84v6 "Will you not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?"
God has done it before and He can do it again. The tide can be turned! "O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy." (Hab 3v2).
There must be a passionate seeking after God. "We dare not let Thee go – Thou art our one desire: Oh, rend the heav’ns, in power come down! Baptise us, Lord with fire."
"You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29v13).
Many churches embrace one or even two of these three Rs. There are Reformed churches faithfully teaching the doctrines of grace and expounding the Scripture week by week. There are Restoration churches, faithfully committed to seeing a restored and vibrant church. There are many churches (including many Reformed and Restoration churches) who are seeking God for revival.
Yet I believe that the need of the hour is to see all three. The fuel of reformed doctrine (preached and experienced with passion), the liberating order of apostolic and prophetic churches, and the fire of revival. So may the day come when "we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." (Eph 4v13).