America may be less Christian, but it is not less religious. We still worship. All human beings do. It’s just the altar was moved awhile ago. Now, truth is what we produce within, not something we come to possess from without. Truth in our age is subject to the human spirit, when it should be recognized as an object of God’s Spirit. This is secular theology and it is shaping a new, pagan America.
In response, I believe the American Church has been standing on the wrong battle lines. We hear “pagan America” and begin drawing up invasion plans for winning a culture war. We have made it our goal to revive and reform America, while the Spirit of Jesus is longing to revive and reform the American Church.
Consider these biting words from God in Ezekiel 34.3, “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” When God indicts his people, does he call them out for failing to secure political power, or for failing to embrace his power to save and care for the broken?
503 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper on the community bulletin board, and things have never quite been the same. I’ve written at length about those events here. Scholars, historians, and biographers rightly capture and critique the man of the moment. Luther harbored an anti-Semitic German nationalism within a fiery and impetuous spirit. A cracked vessel if there ever was one.
It was the God Luther encountered in the Christian Scriptures that changed him, and the world around him. His very first point written on that paper 503 years ago was not a political or personal manifesto, but a spiritual one. He wrote, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance comes before revival. This is the difference between revival from the Spirit of Jesus and the human spirit. One acknowledges our faults the other ignores them.
Mark Sayers envisions revival from the Spirit of Jesus as a fresh fire from God, and reformation is the creation of new containers to preserve that Spiritual fire. Luther’s reformation that shook the foundations of the institutional Church was the result of Spiritual fire falling. May the secular revival sweeping our nation today be confronted not by a voting bloc of evangelicals, but by repentant disciples of Jesus in whom the Spirit of the living God is pleased to dwell. Then, the reformation of the American Church can begin with ripples reaching outward into the world. But certainly not before the Spirit of Jesus recaptures our hearts in repentance.