March 2014: Revival or renewal?

ANational Day of Prayer and Fastingfor revival and renewal was recently held in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra, which we mentioned in our services and newsletter. It has set me thinking about revival, and what that means. Literally, it means the bringing back to life - and there is an implied meaning that the life brought back is as it was before. We are 'revived' when we recover our previous healthiness after some great illness or exertion. On the other hand,‘renewal’ has an implied meaning of being prepared to go on, going forward rather than looking backwards. There is a different focus in time.

This is important to me, because if this analysis is correct, I don’t think ‘revival' is really what Australia or the Western World needs today. It’s better than doing nothing, but I think we really need ‘renewal'. Why? Because going back to old ways and values, which were good ways in and for their time, is not terribly relevant to the issues of our time. The Church today must not live in the past but takeallof Jesus’ (and Paul’s) teaching and apply the principles to today’s important concerns.

When asked what was most important, Jesus said we should love God first, neighbour second - which to me means we must first address a whole range of issues that fall under the heading of ‘idolatry’, which is putting someone or something else before God. Examples include abuse of the political process and greed in government and in business, not just here, not just in those countries where we source our day-to-day goods and supplies, but in all the countries of the world, no matter how powerful; scientism (putting all hope in science, contrasted with wise use of science under God); and even putting all reliance on particular translations of the Bible, while failing to perceive the God of Love who inspires it.

Secondly, to me, loving my neighbour as myself means being inclusive, responding to need, and not shutting people out of my life unless this brings immediate personal danger. Thus Jesus touched infectious lepers, ate with despised tax collectors, and spoke with those who broke the sexual rules of the time. He reserved his strongest criticism for religious professionals who fail to perceive God’s love, and those who abuse power. So should we.

Renewal, for me, involves assessing the whole range of issues we face today against the priorities of the Kingdom of God, whose advent and invitation we proclaim as Good News - and then advocating and demonstrating an individual and collective way of life that is true to those priorities, guided by God’s Spirit, inviting others to join us in finding hope and sharing compassion. I would include in this review matters such as mission, communities, education, labour, welfare, health, the environment, climate change, sexuality and gender, government, justice, history, consciousness, the media, science and technology, ageism, immigration from all sources, taxation, the behaviour of trans-national companies and organisations, and our dependence on strong allies. I would seek to address these without giving particular issues greater attention because they offend or attract me personally, but rather because they receive greater attention in Scripture, or affect more people today and in the future.

A renewed Church would speak out more strongly about things that matter to us all today, inviting others to respond to Jesus’ call in the context of our personal and collective failure to live up to God’s expectations, and so be changed. Faith brings hope, resilience in adversity, and a sense of compassion for those who suffer. Let us speak renewed words of life to the people we meet, words of God’s care and value, words of inclusion to all who come seeking validation, words that bring growth individually and collectively. And let us keep our eyes on Jesus, wherever he leads us. — Steve

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.