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Revival: A Sign Spoken Against

By John Arnott

Long before the renewal broke out, I made a conscious decision to value the whole body of Christ. In fact, the diversity in the Church reminds me of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was okay to be a member of a different tribe, to wear different clothes, to fly a different banner as long as everyone understood they were part of the same nation.

Since this wonderful outpouring came to our church, now six years ago, I have seen this value both fulfilled and challenged. We have seen over two million people from all over the world, from practically every sector of the body of Christ walk through our doors. I love to hear how Christians from such diverse backgrounds have found a renewed love for the Lord Jesus Christ while attending our renewal meetings in Toronto.

As much as I love diversity and unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ve made another decision: not to compromise the move of the Holy Spirit simply for the sake of getting along with everyone. I’ve learned that the real unity of the Spirit is not based on compromising away the truth. Rather, the unity God produces happens when we are flowing together in the outpouring He has sent. And it grieves me to be rejected by brothers who cannot allow us to serve the Lord Jesus Christ with different methods than they have. Instead they speak against the move of the Holy Spirit and influence everyone they can to do the same.

 Jesus, The Sign Spoken Against

Why have some members of the body of Christ rejected this renewal? For the same reason Jesus Christ Himself was rejected by those He came to save. It was part of His destiny to not only unify but also divide.

One day, Simeon, an elderly priest who had been waiting faithfully in the temple for the Messiah for many years, found himself looking into the face of a tiny baby boy, whose parents were Mary and Joseph of Nazareth. They had brought Him to the temple for the rite of circumcision. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came upon Simeon and he began to prophesy, “Now your servant can depart in peace&ldots; for my eyes have seen thy salvation&ldots;a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of your people, Israel!”

About the time Mary and Joseph were rejoicing in this, Simeon probably said something like, “But wait, there’s more.” “Behold, the child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign spoken against.” And to Mary he prophesied, “&ldots;A sword will pierce your own soul to the end that many hearts will be revealed.”

Wait a minute? Why would God send the Messiah to be a sign spoken against? I thought He was interested in saving lost people.

God the Father is not only interested in saving lost people but in finding a bride for His Son, a bride who shares His values, and our values are often only revealed when they are challenged. It challenged the hearts of the Pharisees when multitudes were following Jesus and their own influence was being lost.

The same is true today in the Church. The Holy Spirit’s coming in revival also challenges the motives of the leaders of the religious community because it threatens their influence.

Jesus highlighted this motive of the heart in His parable of the wicked farmers, found in Matthew 21:33-42, who were hired to keep their master’s vineyard. The owner had planted a vineyard, fenced it in, and dug a place for a wine vat and built a watchtower. But when the owner sent servants to collect his share of the fruit, the farmers felt threatened and killed the servants. Finally, when the owner sent his son, the farmers took him and beat him and said to themselves, “Let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours.” The people who had been hired had begun to build their own kingdom with the owner’s resources. When the owner asked for the fruit, they denied him ownership of his own vineyard. Like these farmers, some leaders today are feeling threatened by the new move of the Spirit. It is because Jesus Christ is asserting His ownership over the congregations they lead.

Jesus said to His followers something like this. “Don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t come to bring peace but a sword.” Maybe it’s time for all of us in the renewal to ask ourselves, what does the cross look like? Very likely it will look something like it did in Jesus’ day. Your enemies may become those of your own household, maybe even of your own denomination or group. While revival will bring unity with those who love it, it will divide us from those who don’t.

Has there ever been a revival that was not radically opposed by the majority of those who gave themselves to the previous move of God? The body of Christ usually becomes intolerant of the new thing. What isn’t liked is not the doctrine, but the new methods. The Anglicans, for example, didn’t like Wesley’s new methods and cast him out as evil. Then the Methodists didn’t like the methods of Booth’s Salvation Army. It seems that “church splits” have been parts of our history since the first century.

In fact the first recorded church splits are in the book of Acts. Paul who was preaching for two years in a synagogue in Ephesus began to encounter opposition. So Paul moved down the street to the school of Tyrannus and started a new work (Acts 19:9) leaving the others behind to simply miss out on what God was doing.

In Acts 14 there is another one. Paul and Barnabas healed a man crippled from birth. The people were so in awe that they began to say, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Their enthusiasm could hardly be restrained until Jews from Iconium and Antioch showed up and began to “poison the minds of the people.” Suddenly, the same crowd that had hailed him stoned Paul and left him for dead. The saddest statement is this: “The next day he departed&ldots;” Iconium and Lystra missed their day of visitation just as the Jews had missed Jesus, their Messiah.

What Holds Back Revival?

Why does revival tarry? Is it because there is no prayer for it or no unity of the brethren in the community? No. What usually destroys revival is not the resistance of unbelievers in the world but the self-righteousness of the very church that is praying for revival!

The church, like the Jews of Jesus’ day, misses its day of visitation while they are waiting for Him. They fail to recognize Him and deny the move of the Spirit even to the point of committing the unpardonable sin, calling the works of the Holy Spirit the devil. Jesus plainly defined the unpardonable sin by saying that those who speak against the Holy Spirit are not forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come but are in danger of hell fire. (Matt 12:31; Mark 3:29)

It seems, however, that the Lord does pardon some who speak against the Holy Spirit, yet there are still dire consequences for committing this sin.

The Apostle Paul was filled with deep regret that he had committed such a sin. He often characterized Himself as unworthy to be called an apostle because he had persecuted the church of God. Although the Lord had mercy upon Paul and saved him anyway, it was impossible for Paul to recover all the effects of his early sin even in spite of a life devoted to sacrificial evangelism.

He probably often wondered how many he had turned away from the gospel? (See 1 Cor. 15:9; and 1 Tim. 1:13) This is a sin that carries eternal consequences.

Pleading for His Mercy

I believe in repenting for national offenses and have seen wonderful fruit from this kind of meeting. To speak against a race or people group is certainly a terrible sin that can have long lasting consequences even on future generations. But what happens when a church or denomination calls the work of the Holy Spirit demonic?

In a meeting in Australia recently, I preached about the sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit. After the meeting a man came to me trembling. He had been dogmatic about his view that speaking in tongues was Satanic. When I had pointed out in my message that speaking in tongues was biblical and that to speak emphatically against it was to speak against the Holy Spirit, the man began to be convicted of his error. The fear of the Lord came upon him and he came forward to confess his sin and ask forgiveness.

Wouldn’t it be powerful if God’s people everywhere began to repent for their own sins and the sins of their ancestors who have spoken against the Holy Spirit in previous revivals? Perhaps the long awaited harvest would come if we began to earnestly consider how we might have spoken against the works of the Holy Spirit?

Have we been responsible for turning anyone away from this wonderful outpouring of the precious Holy Spirit either by our apathy or by our vocal opposition? If you are still in doubt about the validity of this outpouring, ask yourself, what if there is even a 1% chance that the things I have so vehemently criticized turn out to be the Holy Spirit?

I believe it’s not too late to receive His love and find yourself caught up in the most wonderful move of the Holy Spirit perhaps in human history.

(John Arnott is the senior pastor at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. As well as pastoring the local Toronto fellowship, John and his wife, Carol, oversee Partners in Harvest, an affiliation of local churches pursuing renewal and revival. They are used by God to encourage renewal around the world through their traveling ministry and by hosting evening renewal meetings at TACF.)
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