How often have you heard Christians say, “God is doing a new thing in his church”? The “new thing” they refer to may be called a revival, an outpouring, a visitation, or a move of God. I am going to spend five blogs discussing the idea of God doing a “New Thing”, and the implications of the future of the Church.
Yet very often, this “new thing” of God dies out quickly. And once it has faded, it can’t be found again. In this way, it proves not to be a move of God at all. In fact, Christian sociologists have tracked many of these so-called visitations. They’ve discovered that the average span of such an event is about five years.
Personally, I believe God is doing a new thing in his church today. Yet this great work of the Spirit can’t be found in a single location. It’s happening worldwide. And you don’t have to travel far to behold it. Indeed, God’s “new thing” may be as close as a nearby church.
There is a biblical principle that governs any true move of God. We find this principle at work again and again, in both Testaments. And it has proven true throughout centuries of church history. The principle is this: God will not begin a new thing in his church until he does away with the old. As Jesus put it, he won’t put new wine into old wineskins.
Why is this so? It’s because God has a controversy with the old thing in his church. You see, with every new work he raises up, only a few years pass before apathy and hypocrisy begin to creep in. Soon God’s people become idolaters, with hearts bent toward backsliding. And, eventually, God chooses to bypass the old work in his church. He forsakes it completely before he introduces the new.
This principle was first introduced at Shiloh. During the time of the Judges, God established a holy work in that city. Shiloh was where the Lord’s sanctuary stood, the center of all religious activity in Israel. The name Shiloh itself means “that which is the Lord’s.” This speaks of things that represent God and reveal his nature and character. Shiloh was the place where God spoke to his people. It was also where Samuel heard God’s voice, and where the Lord revealed his will to him.
However, Eli was the high priest at Shiloh, and his two sons were ministers in the sanctuary. Eli and his sons were lazy and sensual, and were totally consumed by self-interest. During their ministry, they allowed gross sin to enter into God’s house. And over time, Shiloh became corrupted. Soon God’s people were filled with covetousness, adultery and hypocrisy.
Finally, the Lord stopped speaking at Shiloh. He told Samuel, in essence, “Shiloh has become so defiled, it no longer represents who I am. This house is no longer mine. And I won’t put up with it anymore. I’m finished with it.” So the Lord lifted his presence from the sanctuary. And he wrote “Ichabod” above the door, meaning, “The glory of the Lord has departed.”
The reason people go out the back door of the church as soon as they enter the front door is because we give them a “man-encounter” instead of a “God-encounter.”
At that point, Shiloh was dead, beyond redeeming. There was no hope of reviving past glory, no hope of reformation. God was saying, “I’ve turned Shiloh over to the flesh, and I’m moving on. I’m about to raise up a totally new house.”
What sort of condition must a people come to for the Lord to remove his presence from them? Consider the scene at Shiloh: for years, no one had stood in the gap in that society. Nobody humbled themselves, crying out in repentance, “Lord, don’t depart from us.”
Instead, God saw only a people who were hardened to truth. These Israelites observed all the religious rituals and said all the right things, but their hearts weren’t in any of it. All their works were of flesh. And the priesthood was beyond redemption. The high priest Eli had grown totally blind to his own backsliding. He and his wicked sons had to go.
So the Lord did away with the old completely. And, once again, he raised up a new thing. After this, the temple in Jerusalem became known as “the Lord’s house.” And for a season, God spoke to his people there. The house was filled with prayer, God’s Word was preached, and the people made sacrifices according to God’s commandment. The temple at Jerusalem represented who God was, and he manifested his presence there. In fact, on one occasion, his glory filled the temple so powerfully that the priests were unable to minister.
Yet eventually, that ministry also fell into decay. Corruption set in among the people once more. And the temple at Jerusalem no longer represented God.
This cycle has marked the history of God’s people. It takes only a period of time for a new work of God to degenerate into apathy and hypocrisy. Why is this? Almost always, it happens because those in the ministry become flesh-driven. The red-hot passion that birthed the work begins to fade. And over time, the ministry becomes a human institution. Lifeless routine sets in. The once-prayerful leaders now rely on organization and fleshly skill to keep the work going.
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