THE WORDS cut into my heart like a knife: “David, leaders in the area of social action and justice told me, ‘You come from a part of the church that loves to pray but then does nothing.’ I was determined to prove them wrong. But increasingly I’m finding they are right. African American pastors tell me, ‘We’re tired of tearful apologies that never result in meaningful involvement.’ Living in the inner city and trying to mobilize the church to take action, I’m convinced [that] integrating spiritual passion with social action is full of rhetoric, but little reality I’m embarrassed and disillusioned about a prayer movement that boasts of revival but results in no real transformation.”
I was convicted by these impassioned words from a respected national prayer leader. They have driven me to continuous reflection over the past several days, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve been thinking.
First, the Scriptures are unquestionably clear that the Lord has little patience with people who pray and fast and sacrifice, but ignore the plight of the poor and disenfranchised around them. Only when prayer and service go hand in hand will God’s glory shine forth in the body of Christ (Is. 58:6-9).
Second, we are at a critical juncture in a troubled culture. We must, as never before, pursue a God-given revival that unleashes sacrificial outreach to those whom society would rather ignore (the poor, AIDS patients, prisoners, refugees, immigrants, the infirmed, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless). We need to boldly act as if and prepare as if we expect the Father to answer our prayers-sooner rather than later.
Third, by God’s grace, the evangelical movement recently has grappled with social issues, producing relatively comprehensive documents on the gospel and social action. They have provided a more substantive rhetoric for today, helping us better define the reality for which we pray I’m thinking of the Lausanne Covenant and the documents of the Fourth Latin American Congress on Evangelism in Quito, both of which confess the church’s negligence toward social justice as prescribed in the Bible.
Fourth, many wonderful exceptions to “rhetoric without reality” can be found–frequently in Christian congregations of color. In New York City for example, more than 100 churches link up every month, not only to pray for revival in their congregations, but also (in the words of their covenant) for “reconciliation among the races, reformation of society and reaching the lost.” Many of these churches are from the inner city and are already tackling the reality of urban challenges.
Recently the inner city churches of San Diego sponsored a full-day prayer rally which was spearheaded by Dr. George McKinney and St. Stephen’s Church of God in Christ. St. Stephen’s, out of a passionate prayer strategy for revival, continues to touch hundreds of inner-city poor every week.
The Lighthouse Movement has spawned thousands of prayer bases devoted to prayer, caring, and sharing. Concerts of Prayer are linking up with “Operation Starting Line” to minister in prisons. The Christian Community Development Association recently combined with the National Prayer Committee to reinforce the role of proactive prayer in the ministry of more than 2,000 urban mission practitioners. Parts I and II of the Transformations video (Sentinel Group) explore significant models of prayer, revival, and social action. I know the Spirit is able and willing to multiply thousands of similar movements across the land.
Fifth, the history of revival in our nation would indicate that social reform naturally (that is, supernaturally!) follows revival. Dr. Timothy Smith’s research in Revivalism and Social Reform documents the direct, extensive, and long-term impact of the mid-l9th century “Businessmen’s Prayer Movement.” Following that movement, God’s kingdom advanced dramatically among the impoverished, within the abolitionist movement, and through social welfare missions, eventually resulting in the general population’s intolerance for a host of injustices. What God has done before, surely He will do again.
My conclusion after weighing all the issues? As dynamic and widespread as the revival movement in America may be, our prayerful probings still seek the pearl of great price. We can be encouraged somewhat. But we should remain dissatisfied until we see a full-blown awakening to Christ in our churches that translates into pervasive, Christ-centered penetration into the deep heart-cries and staggering moral strongholds that plague our nation.
To be blunt: millions of evangelicals must submit themselves to a reconversion, or a more complete conversion, to Christ’s absolute supremacy That’s the core of revival. Without this, our rhetoric cannot become the reality He asks of us.