We have done what we can to uproot the lie that England is a secular country, by more positively attempting to demonstrate that England is a Christian kingdom and has been since King Alfred the Great. Nevertheless, although the historic structures of the English nation are inextricably bound up with Christian faith the reality is that only a minority of people in contemporary England would regularly worship with other believers (‘attend church’), let alone have real, transformative, saving faith in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Which means that to simply argue that Christian morality should influence the laws of the land is clearly insufficient — and on its own risks being nothing more than oppressive religious hypocrisy.
So what we need is a revival. But simply saying that we need revival is not enough. We need a strategy that will enable each person who recognises the need for revival to proactively do something towards that desired end. Luckily for England, I have such a strategy 😉
Everyone must hear the gospel
I’m not ashamed of the gospel, for is the power of God unto salvation.
It all starts with the gospel. If you are a Christian, you must know this. If you don’t know this, you’re not a Christian. The gospel has been described as being “so simple a child can understand it, and so deep an elephant could drown in it”. My favourite simple summary of the gospel is the outline described in the four points pictured above.
The first picture (the heart) explains the context of the gospel: “God so loved the world…” (Jn. 3:16); “God created the heavens and the earth… and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1); “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you…”. The second (the cross on the left) explains the problem exposed by the gospel: “Your iniquities have separated you from God” (Is. 59:2); “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23); “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). The third (the Cross of Calvary) explains the solution proclaimed by the gospel: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and he was buried, and He rose again the third day…” (1 Cor. 15:3); “the Son of Man [came] to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45); “He was wounded for our transgressions… and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:5-6). The fourth (the question mark) explains the response required by the gospel: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead then you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9); “Whoever desires to come after Me [said Jesus], let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mk. 8:34).
Now before you start complaining that the gospel is a beautiful diamond that glitters in unique and unpredictable ways in different contexts and so can’t be reduced to four bullet points, let me point out that one of the things I really like about this pictoral way of summarizing the gospel is the flexibility it gives to be easily and immediately adapted according to your audience. You can explain the pictures in terms of personal relationship with God, or in terms of God’s plan for a fair and merciful society.
Secondly, we can observe that it is common to find people claiming with great enthusiasm that one or other of these points constitutes ‘the gospel’. In a sense this is true for the third point: specifically and technically, the gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. But without explaining the context of God’s eternal love, and the problem of sin which keeps us from experiencing that love, the facts of Jesus death and resurrection are not necessarily obvious. And without a call to a costly response of whole-hearted faith that, if accepted, invites the person responding into a community of accountable discipleship, we have not finished the task of sharing the gospel.
Which brings us to our next step…
Every believer must know the basics of Christian faith
Leaving aside the discussion of elementary principles, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation…
Once a person has believed, they need to be efficiently discipled so that they can quickly go from the point of never having heard anything about Jesus to being a mature believer able to effectively discern and work towards the coming of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”. In a perfect world, every local church would know exactly how to go about discipling a new believer. But this is not a perfect world–that is why we need revival. Now there are already a few discipleship courses that are widely used: the Alpha Course, Christianity Explored, perhaps others. They’re probably quite good, but I might as well throw into the mix my suggestion for a reproducible short discipleship course, based on “the foundation” of “elementary principles” named in Hebrews 6:1-2.
1. The Gospel
2. The Great Commission
3. Baptism in water
4. Baptism in the Spirit
6. Nature of God
7. Character of the Father
8. Incarnation of the Word
9. Gift of the Spirit
10. Reality of Hell
11. Inevitability of Persecution
12. Simplicity of the Church
+ Transition to long-term Bible-based discipleship.
In due course I will try and get round to explaining what I think should be explained in each part. But since Scripture alone is authoritative and I’m not, if this seems to you like a helpful list of basic Christian doctrines, then I would encourage you to consider how you would unpack the biblical truth of each, and then immediately begin using it as a basic discipleship tool.
Once a person has been taught these basics of the Christian faith, the process of discipleship is not complete, but should then be based not on short-term courses, but on long-term (in fact, life-long!) and comprehensive immersion in the promises and commands of the Bible.
Every believer must be accountable to obey as much as they know
Do you want to know, o foolish man, that faith without works is dead!
Lest I gave the wrong impression by my list of doctrinal truths that a basic discipleship course should cover, let me say very clearly that discipleship is by no means just a matter of gaining intellectual knowledge.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:20) gives all Christians the responsibility of “teaching” everyone they meet–but this teaching isn’t intended to result in mere knowledge. No! We must be “teaching them to obey everything” that Jesus has commanded.
And so our discipleship (both short- and long-term) should be in the context of accountable communities (‘church’) of people all together trying to put into practice the commands of Jesus. Which will result in communities that gather regularly, baptize new believers, break bread together as Jesus commanded at the Last Supper, have fellowship with each other, obey the commands of the Scriptures, pray for the fulfilment of the promises of God, serve the poor… And all sorts of other things.
But in particular, as a consequence of the Great Commission, each person is not only accountable to obey what they have been taught, but to “teach others to obey”. And this must begin at the very start of the process of discipleship, so that as soon as someone has heard the gospel and been taught to obey the command to “Repent and believe”, they are immediately released to share the gospel with whoever they know, and then themselves to continue discipling those who respond. And as this happens at every level, in the fashion Paul encourages in 2 Timothy 2:2, a viral gospel movement should be the natural result.
This must be sustained by continual prayer and worship
Missions exists because worship doesn’t.
In asking God to revive and reform England, we are asking for something that, humanly speaking, is utterly impossible. But the Bible gives us a promise: “Ask of me, and I will give you the nations” (Ps.2). And God is faithful, and the impossibility of God not keeping his promises is greater than the impossibility of there being revival in England. And so we must ask, and keep on asking, until we find ourselves “praying without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5).
But all too often revivals begin with prayer and then fizzle out in over-realized eschatology. Which is to say, we do not want revival not so that when it comes we can pat ourselves on the back and go back to life as usual. We want revival because we were made to glorify God by enjoying Him forever, and by the power of the reviving Spirit of God we can begin even now to do this. So as flickers of revival fire begin to emerge, we need to persevere in prayer and worship. For worship is not just the fuel but also the goal of missions.
This must begin immediately!
Today is the day of salvation!
(2 Corinthians 6:2)
If you’re convinced of the need for revival and reformation in England today, and you think that what I’m saying makes some semblance of sense, then you don’t need to wait for God to audibly speak to your from heaven or for an archbishop to come and lay hands on you. Jesus has commanded everyone who believes to go into all the earth “teaching them [that is, everybody!] to obey everything” that he has commanded.
Now, I don’t believe it’s possible to obey everything Jesus has commanded as isolated individuals, and have specifically mentioned the need for us to be part of an accountable community (a ‘church’). And I’ve mentioned some of the things that a faithful gospel community should be doing.
But at its most basic, if “two or three” (a Hebraism meaning “at least two”) gather in the name of Jesus, the Faithful Witness of the True God, and are themselves committed to being obedient faithful witnesses, then in that place are all the necessary elements (in embryonic form, admittedly) of a biblical ‘church’.
So, whoever you are who might be reading, I end by
commissioning you reminding you that you have already been commissioned by the One who has “all authority” to share the gospel with everyone you know. And as you do that, meet regularly with all those who respond to the gospel invitation to learn together what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to keep each other accountable.
Any wisdom here is the result of my reading the book, T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution, based on the experience of church-planter Ying Kai who in 8 months saw three hundred churches planted by putting into practise these principles. I highly recommend the book to you.
This strategy is at the heart of the Circuit Riders school that I am part of this July. The motto is Save the lost, revive the saved, train them all.