Wolf Hall has been a challenging watch for me on TV. It is a story of national and social upheaval and certainly a period of religious upheaval. A Kingdom divided. Presented on screen are devoutly religious people who appear to have no clear understanding of the call and identity of the Church and apparently people who have very expedient and flexible moral values. What I see are people looking for a quick fix solution for the kingdom of England and its Royal and religious dilemma. I wonder if I could hold to my convictions as a Christian if I had lived then? Certainly my 21 century life would have seen me being offered the opportunity to ‘turn or burn’.
I’m not sure that the church nation has changed all that much in the intervening 400 hundred years. Except, thankfully, we seem more tolerant of various christian perspective and we are less inclined to carry out vial forms of capital punishment in the name of God on those we disagree with. However, the quick fix concept still has appeal. I have observed that many people in churches of various varieties frequently pray for Revival. They frequently carry a naive optimism and seem to say, “When God is at work here; what can go wrong?” I love the idea of revival, but the problem I have is that every time I look to Scripture to find a revival church model all I find is an obedient restored people of God. A people who carry such a presence of the Holy Spirit that they have influence and impact.
That prevailing revival optimism overlooks the reality that our human nature wars with the Spirit even in the good times and that the devil still ‘prowls around as a roaring lion’. The responsibility and place of the church in God’s plan that we see in scripture is overlooked as we passionately pray for revival. In other words, the revival that brings a renewed consciousness of sin and therefore a better grasp of the cross and growth in church along with a transformed society as become some kind of Christian ‘Nirvana’. We the Church will simply bask in the joy and glory of the revival when it comes in God’s time… All we need do is pray for the day and all our current challenges will be fixed. Don’t misunderstand me, we need to pray and we need the Lord to move, but we need Him to move in us so that we can fulfil His call as His chosen people… Yes I did say chosen people and the theologians reading this will grasp the implicit implication.
It would seem that even the concept of there being a “New Testament model” of church life is decidedly out of fashion these days and that all we need is the ‘revival go’ button to be pressed. To me this is a relegation of the high call placed upon God’s chosen ambassadors and people. A New Testament Church model is often viewed as arrogant, and out of touch with the flow of church history. Perhaps too much has been extrapolated from scripture by some leaders in 1970-90s foundation of the Restoration movement and this is why many settle for a charismatic/contemporary experience of church. I am, however, still convinced that in the Scriptures we have the blueprints for something altogether more glorious than many have realised, but it is no quick fix.
The language of the New Testament breathes the theme of Restoration and hope. Jesus came so that people could have new life, be reconciled to God, and become co-workers and heirs in His work.
In the New Testament the coming of the Spirit and the foretaste of the Kingdom of God (both now and yet to come) brings an experience of God’s planned Restoration which is more real, more satisfying, more transforming and more enduring than any momentary revival no matter how thrilling it may be. Perhaps we can make a comparison here between Wesley and Whitfield. Both astonishing men of God, but by Whitfield’s own confession he was a revivalist where Wesley built.
If we read our Bibles through the lens of Restoration – revived individuals, renewed communities, and an empowered Church that awakens the world to God’s love, grace and truth then we cannot miss the theme which threads through every section of Scripture. God creating a people to know His glory and to make it known through the redemptive work of Jesus. This process begins its completion through the restoration of the Church. When we see this then we begin to understand the words of Hebrews where we are exhorted to, persevere, endure, run our race; this is the description of a process not an event. This ‘process’ is called discipleship and is entirely compatible with the notion of a New Testament model of Church empowered by the Holy Spirit, aware of it’s identity and call. This may not make the reading of Church history very comfortable, but perhaps that is because such an history has been written by those who have drifted from such a high call. I’m often made aware that the beliefs I hold regarding the nature of my salvation and baptism and even the ability to read scripture in my own language was deemed to be heresy by the writers of history. Wolf Hall is a portrayal of a fascinating period of history. A period when there were many wolves in sheeps clothing.
Watching and I imagine I’ll soon be re-reading the story reminds me that we must return again and again to the scripture for our foundation as Church or we too will be a Kingdom divided. If history teaches us anything then it teaches us that we all too easily pollute and distort the high call placed upon us. I understand this and acknowledge that I’m guilty of it. I want the quick fix. However, I am a disciple first and so with Paul as he writes in Philippians I say, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.