I love the Lord and I love his church. So it grieves me to learn that the Christian Reformed Church declined in membership from 316,000 in 1992 to 245,000 in 2014. Denominational loyalty has also decreased. And the number of pastors separated from congregations via Church Order Article 17 has increased dramatically in the last decade. These are not good signs.
The CRC’s rich biblical theology and heritage of scholarship, though wonderful, makes us vulnerable to spiritual pride. We work hard; we give generously. Seldom do we face a problem we think we can’t fix. We appoint study committees, assign task forces, attend conferences, and head out on listening tours.
Though all these are good, they mostly produce incremental rather than life-transforming changes. Our efforts have not stopped membership losses or shortfalls in agency budgets. Unless God intervenes, we will soon face a crisis in which some churches’ very existence will be in jeopardy. There is a problem. So how do we stop this trend? Where do we look for a road map that can lead us out of this morass?
Perhaps our denomination is in need of revival. Some of us tend to frown at that word. But as a CRC minister for 50 years, I believe that the Bible has some direction for us here.
The book of Nehemiah outlines a pattern that brought revival to God's people. Interestingly, the same pattern brought revival to the disciples at Pentecost.
Nehemiah started with prayer (Neh. 1), followed by the reading of the Scriptures by Ezra “for all who could understand . . . from daybreak till noon” (8:2-3). That led to confession “for a fourth of a day” (9:3), accompanied by repentanceand fasting(9:1) and a recommitment to covenant living (9:38; 10:29). The resultswere changed lives and the restoration of the tithe (10:30ff).
In Acts 1, prayer is followed by Peter boldly preaching the Scriptures, leading worshipers to ask, “What can we do?” As the people recognized and confessed their sins, Peter called them to “repentand be baptized.” They committed themselves to Christ. The results were changed lives, generosity—and 3,000 people joining the church in one day (2:41-47).
We need that fresh breath of vitality today. Among us is a growing assembly of people who long for more prayer and God’s empowerment. Major revivals occurred historically when seasons of prayer were followed by passionate, prophetic preaching addressing common sins until they were confessed, forgiven, and their powers were broken. We long for messages that liberate and truthfully proclaim, “Thus says the Lord!”
God’s people, seeking holiness, need encouragement and comfort, but they also want to be challenged and confronted to bring about life changes. When God’s Word is proclaimed with transparency and humility, it often leads to the confession of personal sins and addictions by individuals, or to the admission of some common corporate sins of the community.
Can we come to God with this? I believe declining churches grieve God too. God desireslife. It is not too late. God promises to bless: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isa. 66:2). And “If my people, called by my name, will humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14-15).
That’s God’s commitment; it’s our assignment. He has promised to show up. Which church, ministry, or agency will lead us in the way of humility, confession, and through surrender to new life? I long for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit.
- Do you believe that the Christian Reformed Church is in decline? Is that decline only in numbers or can you identify other symptoms of decline as well? Are we headed for a crisis?
- What are some of the ways we have sought to reverse, or at least moderate, this decline? Have they been successful? Why or why not? What changes should still be made?
- What does Wildeboer mean by “revival”? Do you agree with him that revival is needed in order to overcome our denominational decline?
- What would revival look like in the denomination? In your congregation?
- What might revival look like in your own life?
- If revival is a gift of the Holy Spirit, can we “plan” for it? Schedule it? Orchestrate it?
- If we genuinely want revival, what can we do now to seek it?