Many of the lessons that were learned in the season of renewal that came to the church in Durham, England, in the period we have been surveying (1972 – 1987), have only gradually proven themselves to those whose lives were changed by God in those days.
The things that were an authentic work of the Holy Spirit have consistently been revealed in the subsequent years, and things that were dross have been shone to be so. Looking back what are some of the central lessons, the lasting ones?
Over all must be this: the church belongs to Jesus Christ. It is has been organized by men through history, and has many venerable traditions and customs, but it belongs to only one Lord. The church is meant to be submitted to him. When the will of God and the will of man clash, the word of the Lord Jesus must prevail. Unless the word of the Lord Jesus is central, and the community abides in it and in him, all else will fall apart.
Secondly, the church is the body of Christ, the community of the redeemed, the household of God, not merely an institution. The church is a people gathered by grace, sustained by faith, and constituted in obedience to the will of God. The organic nature of the called community must never be allowed to sink under the weight of man made institutional burdens.
Thirdly, the life of Christ Jesus is demonstrably present when the Spirit of God is welcomed. No one who draws near can miss the living presence of the Spirit of God. There is faithful life in abundance. But the Holy Spirit is given, not to create spectacles, but to manifest the life of the Risen Lord in the people of God. Signs and wonders may be a part of the beginning of a time of revival, but they are not to be the focus. The focus is to be Jesus Christ and life lived in him. And that life, if authentic, will be seen principally in two arenas: the corporate worship of the believing community, and the homes and lives of believing people.
The latter evidence leads to the fourth lesson, and one that is often hardest for historic churches to embrace. The church is a community of believers. A people who have heard the word of God, believed the word of God, and been sealed in the truth of the gospel. They are not baptized externally alone, they are baptized in the heart. They have been converted. They are born anew by the Spirit of God to a new and living hope.
And those who are alive in Christ are called to help others come alive as well. Believers beget new believers.
And fifthly, there must be godly leadership, united in the mission that Christ Jesus has given the church. There are not multiple missions for the church of God, there is only one. The leadership of a local congregation can not flourish with rival understandings of the purpose of God. Unity in God’s truth is not optional, it is essential. It is the principle calling of the leaders to equip all the people of God to take their assigned place in the life of the church, but in a harmonious cooperation that brings glory to God.
Next Week: Can a Parish Be Reborn?