The Three Rs

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…

1 Peter 2:4-5

The three “Rs” of education have classically been reading, writing and arithmetic. The Church also has three “Rs” of transformation. The three “Rs” of transformation in the Church are Renewal, Revival, and Reformation.

Renewal is the term that describes when the Holy Spirit begins to refresh and renew individuals in a church through a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. People begin to have new encounters with the Lord that they’ve never had before. The gifts of the Spirit are renewed in the church and people begin to experience the supernatural in their midst. When a whole church goes through “renewal” it means they collectively begin to be refreshed and renewed by an outpouring of the Spirit throughout the congregation.

Renewal tends to be disruptive as new wine gets poured into old wineskin. Things break and tear and a new wineskin is sought after to hold the new wine being poured out. As individuals get brought into a fresh intimacy with the Lord, the whole church starts to feel different. As individuals have personal visitations of the Presence of God, this gets brought into the corporate worship setting. The whole atmosphere of worship begins to increase in the Presence of God. But this is only the first “R.”

If Renewal continues, it leads to Revival. Revival happens when there is a transition from visitation to habitation of the corporate Presence of God. Revival happens when there is no longer fighting about the Renewal and instead a unity in pursuit of more of God. Revival happens when there is corporate repentance and corporate pursuit of holiness. When there is unity in the Body of Christ, the church functions as a holy Temple of the Lord inviting a continual habitation of His Presence. Each member of the church carries His Presence into their homes and workplaces.

As Revival spreads from local church to local church, it begins to bleed out into society and culture. This is Reformation. Reformation is when society is changed because of the Revival culture that is spilling out of the Church in the region. Reformation is when there are mass salvations, healings, and deliverances that happen on the streets, in the bars, and at the schools. During Reformation, laws change as a response to God’s outpouring. Societal structures change. Politics change. Even those who don’t know Christ begin to adopt the ethic of the Kingdom of God because of the fruitfulness that they witness around them.

We as the Church are described in a variety of ways in scripture. We are the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. Yet, we are also described collectively as a Temple, a spiritual house, where the Spirit of God dwells.

The Temple had three main areas: 1) the outer courts, 2) the Holy Place, and 3) the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place was where God’s Presence dwelled. Only the High Priest could enter there and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Holy Place is where the priests would minister inside the Temple. The outer courts were where the offerings and sacrifices were made among the people.

Renewal is when we experience the Presence of God in the Most Holy Place for ourselves. Revival is when the Presence of God in the Most Holy Place breaks out into the Holy Place and fills the whole Temple. Reformation is when the Presence of God breaks out of the Temple entirely and breaks out into the outer courts and throughout the city of Jerusalem.

Many churches have yet to experience any of this. They are dry. They are dying. Yet even those experiencing Renewal in their midst have only just begun the journey of transformation. The purpose God intended for the Church was never just about getting renewed and refreshed in the Spirit. God wants His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. He wants to do this through the conduit of the Church if we are willing. This means we must pursue not only Renewal but also Revival and Reformation.

The three Rs–Renewal, Revival, Reformation–must be pursued in their fullness and in that order. Pursuing Reformation without first pursuing Revival becomes another failed social gospel. Pursuing Renewal without Revival splinters the Church into “haves” and “have nots.” Pursuing Revival without Reformation leaves no lasting impact on the world. We need all three.

The Harvest

Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is clean,
but an abundant harvest is produced by strong oxen.

Proverbs 14:4 (New English Translation)

This proverb describes in a picture a move of the Holy Spirit. Whenever God moves powerfully in a church through the Holy Spirit, things will get a little messy. If we want to control everything and keep it tidy and clean, we will likely have to ask the Holy Spirit to leave. But if we want a genuine move of God in our midst, we should be prepared to have a mess on our hands. We will have to clean the barn occasionally.

But the reverse is also mentioned in this proverb. When we allow the Holy Spirit to move, despite the mess, there will be an abundant harvest. His works are greater than what we can do on our own. His power is greater than ours. His ability to transform and ignite people far surpasses what our church programs can do.

Yet, feeding oxen is not only messy but it can be costly. Every farmer knows you must pay the price to feed the oxen so that an even greater harvest can be produced through the power of the oxen. Allowing the Holy Spirit to move in our midst will be costly. It require dying to self on many different levels. It will require personal sacrifice and corporate devotion. It will require a surrender of our norms and traditions. It will require getting over ourselves and not being so easily offended by things we don’t understand. Most of all, it will demand that we break from our addiction to control everything.

Our Sunday services will have to cease to be so tightly controlled. Our small groups and prayer times will have to open up to the move of the Spirit and not be quenched by our pre-arranged agenda. Most Christians are willing to give up time, energy, and money for the sake of the Kingdom but few are willing to give up their addiction to control.

Addiction to control looks like having to know 1) exactly what is going to happen, 2) exactly how long it will take, and 3) exactly who will be doing what. If not knowing these things causes such anxiety that you start to feel suffocated with a tightness in your chest–if not knowing these things makes you feel trapped–you might be addicted to control. When we demand that we have control in every environment of the church, we are essentially telling the Holy Spirit that He is not welcome. He is not welcome to do something outside of our scheduled plan.

Most churches have fallen in love with a clean feeding trough and a barn that smells like Pine-Sol. But the harvest is meager and we wonder why.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Matthew 9:35-38

The Church Gathered

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

The church has gathered in homes from the very beginning. The persecuted church still does this today. No worship band. No big building. No stage. Just a small family of people, gathering in a home around the word of God and the Spirit of Christ. There’s something special that happens when the Church gathers this way.

Because of the social distancing protocols in place, most churches around the world had to gather in homes rather than in buildings last Sunday. In our home, we gathered as a family of five. My wife and I let our three kids each pick one worship song for us. We all sang along to whatever favorite worship song each child picked. Then we listened to a pre-recorded sermon. I worked together with a member of my speaking team to create a podcast for our local church that was a combination of dialogue, teaching, and story-telling.

There were a few things that happened that I wasn’t expecting.

First, I began to sense the power of the Spirit so present in our living room that I began to tear up as we worshiped. Jesus reminded me that He’ll gladly show up for a family of five just as He will for a family of 500. Jesus promised, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Secondly, I loved worshiping as a family. With my daughter sitting in my lap and all of us singing together, it was a special moment. So often when we gather in a larger group on Sundays, we come as individuals. But it is impossible to stay stuck in that kind of individualism in a living room with your own kids. We didn’t worship as individuals; we worshiped as a family unit.

Finally, physical distance from my local body of believers actually created greater connection to the global Body of Christ. As my little family gathered in my living room, as we sang and listened to a sermon, I imagined thousands upon thousands of families doing that same thing all over the world. I was suddenly connected in my spirit to all of those worshiping families. Every nation, tribe, people and language were gathered in living rooms and under trees to worship The One who is worthy. We’re not just members of our local church; we’re members of the global Church. Our brothers and sisters in Christ aren’t just the ones standing next to us on a normal Sunday, but they are also the ones half a world away, gathered in a living room around a Bible.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:9-10

The Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to be physically near each other in order to connect us in the spirit. Last Sunday I felt more connected to the global Body of Christ than ever before. Maybe this is what the apostle Paul was experiencing when he wrote to the churches in Colossi and Corinth:

For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit…

Colossians 2:5

…even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit…So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present…

1 Corinthians 5:3-4

So as we gather in living rooms instead of worship centers and sanctuaries, let’s keep our hearts and eyes open to what God may be doing in our midst. Could it be that through this crisis the Lord is teaching us deep truths about His Church that are long overdue? Could it be that revival is on the other side of all of this?