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renewal: substance not style

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

The pursuit of spiritual renewal is a journey towards substance and not the adoption of a particular style. I find many people think it’s the other way around. I have come across more than a few who view a pursuit of renewal necessitating a need to swing from the rafters and adopt charismatic culture (whatever that may be). As a result, I fear that too many turn away from the divine possibilities because of a stigma they may have picked up along the way.

The Culture of Renewal

While renewal is not stylistic in nature, it is predictive in culture. The cultural elements are substantive, not stylistic elements: repentance, pursuit of God, transparency, forgiveness, humility, and expectancy, to name a few. When renewal is pursued stylistically it inevitably begins to display a form of religiosity…a vain attempt to mimic the presence of God rather than humbly waiting on him and pursuing him.

To pursue spiritual renewal is to pursue the Infinite One. It is to pursue the same God who “…is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20). Common to all attributes of the Infinite One is his infinitude. He is holy but more so, he is infinitely holy. He is merciful but more so, he is infinitely merciful. He is powerful but more so, he is infinitely powerful, and so on. The pursuit of renewal is to act upon this theological reality; that there is a greater version of normal awaiting us because in Christ there is infinitely more of him to be known, loved, and experienced.

Stylistic Breadth of Renewal

I love how there is no one church, one denomination or cultural group that can fully display the glory of God. So it is with cultural expressions of a pursuit of renewal. I have experienced the renewing presence of Jesus in charismatic settings and in traditional-liturgical settings, in private and in community, during boisterous worship and in quiet reflection.

On one occasion I visited Chuck Davis’s church in Stanwich, Connecticut (Chuck is author of The Bold Christian). As a former missionary to West Africa and being sensitive to cultural context, he set out to plant a church that would reach the incredibly wealthy (the hedge fund capital of the world). The people in this community primarily come from Catholic and Episcopalian backgrounds. Stylistically, you would never anticipate what form they adopted, even though Chuck is a solid evangelical pastor and a “Holy Spirit guy” who is also comfortable swinging from the rafters when congruent with the surrounding culture.

At the service I attended the pastoral staff were in full garb, resembling the Church of England. The processional involved Chuck walking down the centre aisle while holding a six-foot wooden cross. The associate pastor carried a very large, open Bible. The next pastor carried incense. There were no plugged-in instruments, no clever videos or PowerPoint. This was a highly liturgical setting. And yet when Chuck open his mouth to declare the first words of the invocation, “Come Holy Spirit,” I saw 8-10 people break into tears with the tangible felt presence of Almighty God. Every week in this church the Word of God is proclaimed, people come to faith in Jesus, the sick are healed, demons are cast out and people are filled with the Holy Spirit. Their adopted style is merely cultural. Their pursued substance is transformational, namely Jesus Christ himself through His Spirit. And their leaders have learned to walk closely with Jesus through His Spirit.

Reflective Questions

If you are a Christian leader that has some influence upon your community of faith, I commend these questions to you as you forge a pathway of pursuit of the renewing presence of the Spirit of Jesus:

-What might be the culturally effective approach to spiritual renewal in my church?

-What current stylistic elements are standing in the way? What needs to die?

-What new things need to be brought to life? What new elements need to be introduced?

-How would you introduce elements of expectancy, repentance, pursuit of Jesus’ presence? Better yet, as you seek Jesus, ask him to show you what he wants introduced.

-In this culture, how does religiosity tend to manifest (behaviours that attempt to imitate but don’t deliver Christ’s presence)?

-If fear keeps you from a pursuit of more of Jesus, ask him what the root of this fear is?


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