What is the connection between revival and social reformation?
By John Ensor
It raises the question, what’s the connection between personal awakening and public justice? Or what’s the connection between revival and social reformation? It’s a question I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years because there is a connection between the two, even though they may be separated by many, many years. But the truth of the matter is, even if you take slavery, for example, that took hundreds and hundreds of years to finally delegitimize and to conquer for the most part. It happens because of a large scale personal transformation that produced new wisdom and insight and God’s view of human life that finally and ultimately exposed the inhumanity of slavery and brought about changes in the law and continues to promote social reformation. There is always a connection between the two.
One of the ways that we, in fact, bring others to the faith is by our own transformed lives. The way our lives are changed becomes a light to other people, and that is how the Gospel spreads. Ultimately, that only not only changes individuals, but it changes culture for the good. In China there was a great awakening or revival in the 1990s that continues to ripple out all across China and now even across the world.
I’ve been to China 29 times and typically at lunchtime I would be at a table with 10 or 12 different house church pastors. At some point during that lunchtime, I would always ask to hear their story of how Christ came into their life or into their family. Was it recent? Are you the first generation of believers or did the Gospel come through missionaries fifty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago? Did they come to your part of China and your faith today part of their legacy? Inevitably, I would hear maybe three out of every four or three out of every five of these pastors tell me a story about their personal transformation. I would ask them where are they were from and they would tell me that they were from Anhui Province. This particular part of China saw from the 1990s up through 2010 or so, millions of people who became Christians.
One of the criticisms of the church in China is that they have never really had any kind of social impact on the culture. They live under oppression under the Communist Party of China and they pretty much have tried to live isolated, protected lives, which people under attack often do. The Gospel goes from personal transformation to public justice. It transforms us in a way that ultimately transforms culture. Right now it seems to me that this work of revival in Anhui province in China sent literally hundreds of thousands of believers across China who are now house church leaders. I meet them all over. Whatever part of China I am in, it seemed like the bulk of the people that I met as leaders all came from Anhui Province.
Now what we are seeing in China and what we would like to see here in the United States, is how revival creates passion and boldness for the Gospel, and a willingness to take a stand when before we were timid and afraid. It replaces timidity with courage. In China that really comes around the issue of abortion and historically, the one childpolicy. When I first went to China, none of the churches were talking about abortion. They were all living under the oppression of the one child policy. That’s now changed from one child policy to two to three. The government is now in effect incentivizing people to have babies. This is a radical change in China.
Interestingly, the very people that they are oppressing, the church, are the one group of people who are ready to have babies and to help others have their babies. You would think that the government would be more supportive of the church. That hasn’t happened and it probably is not going to happen. Nonetheless, what we’re seeing now is that people’s commitment to Christ is growing bold through this Holy Spirit awakening power. One of the ways they are living that out is by not just being content with their own private religion, their own faith, but they are going to start to engage their neighbors and laws and injustice and they are gonna start helping people have their babies.
I saw that happening very early in my first trips to China back in 2010 and 2011. In fact, some of the first people I was able to meet with after they studied what the Bible said about the sanctity of human life have decided they were going to be like the midwives of Egypt. That was their calling card. They were looking to the courage that the midwives had when they were ordered by Pharaoh to kill their babies. In Exodus 1, where Pharaoh ordered them: if it is a son, you shall kill him. Not that you may, this was forced child killing. In many ways the same way that the one child policy in China ordered people to kill all their babies after they had one child. Exodus 1 goes on to say: “the midwives feared God and did not do as the king commanded them.” That’s what we see in China. We see more and more believers finding the moral courage and boldness to follow God and the example of the midwives, and begin to help their neighbors have their babies and to welcome their own children as God provides them. Eventually this is going to impact culture and maybe come in conflict with the laws and then laws will be changed.
So what’s the connection between our private transformation, our personal holiness and our walk with Christ, and that renewal that comes through revivals or awakenings and social reformation. It is living out our personal holiness in the context of promoting the justice, the holiness, the goodness of God in our culture and in our neighborhood.
Eventually it changes the culture. We are going to see that in China. We’re seeing it now. As you track what’s going on with revivals in Asbury, constantly wrestle along with me. I pray that our personal faith finds public places for us to penetrate with our view of human life, the value of life, the evil of shedding innocent blood, the love of rescuing those who are in pregnancy related crisis, because that’s how the Gospel spreads from our personal level to the public level, from personal transformation to social reformation and that is something that we should all want to seek.