In this paper I have not tried to address every issue raised by David,
but simply those I consider most central to the discussion. In his original
paper David requested that those who are cautious about IR, propose an
alternative strategy to address the problem of corporate sin and its consequences.
I am not sure these notes will accomplish that, but I hope they help in
identifying what the Biblical principles are which are relevant to the
topic. On several occasions (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:18ff,) David suggested an emphasis
which “seems to be implied”. In subsequent paragraphs this implied interpretation
seems to carry more weight than the clear, primary understanding of the
passage. I am not comfortable with this approach and seek here to develop
understandings which are more carefully drawn from what the Scriptures
The different world views which I have in mind are those between Christians
themselves. To some extent, the roots of our differences are in the Pre,
Post and Amillennial divides. These are not just academic questions though
they do affect how we each relate to the issues of everyday faith. David’s
own view is clearly reflected in his interpretation of Acts 17:26. David
understands this to teach that, “God has a plan for each nation” (emphasis
mine), suggesting that there is something in THE LORD’s purpose which every
nation has yet to accomplish. Yet this part of Paul’s sermon was a quick
lesson in past history, not future potential. Paul began his history lesson
at creation, “The God who made the world and all things in it,”. He continued,
“and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face
of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries
of their habitation, that they should seek God.” His message to the Athenian
crowd was that the God whom they did not know had been, and continue to
be, the one in charge of every aspect human history. It is His plans,
Paul asserted which have been fulfilled throughout the years. He has always
had plans for each nation - every one of them had been established by Him.
He was the one who had determined where they settled, the territory they
conquered and ruled and how long they should have that predominance. (This
is amply illustrated by Daniel’s prophetic insight of the rise and fall
of various empires after his day.)
David suggests, quoting 2 Cor. 4:4, that there is a need to disarm Satan
by “remove the legal-spiritual basis” through which people are blinded
to the gospel. There is a danger here which is that this is a theology
looking for a Scripture? Col. 3:13-15 is clear that this disarming has
already been accomplished - by Jesus, at Calvary. At times it is very easy
to conclude that IR is amongst those theologies which have arisen from
the belief that the Church has failed God. Such despair has motivated many
searches for the key that will turn the whole situation around - and there
have been endless suggestions as to what that key might be. If one’s background
theology is as described above, one which needs a ‘successful’ Church
to pave the way for Chris’s return, then this search for the vital key
becomes increasingly essential. The required key (or keys) must be both
found and used.
Perhaps Roger Forster’s and my own expectations are two extremes of
the spectrum. Whether they are or not, I would suggest that the agenda
behind IR and many other contemporary “prayer strategies” derives more
from the expectation that the church must “evangelise the world” before
Christ’s return than from that which accepts that “the love of many will
grow cold”. I suggest it is time Christian leaders acted honestly in this
regard and acknowledged that there are vast differences of theology in
the Church over these things. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a
vested interest in hiding this difference. Consequently there are those,
and I have met several, who try to hold on to both teachings at the same
time! The result? Confusion!
Many Christians believe that the verses which surround v.5, the Ten
Commandments, are binding today, though the New Testament teaches they
are not. By contrast the question we have to address is, “Is God’s warning
that He will punish sons, grandsons, great and great, great grandsons,
still a threat today?” Many look to Ezek. 18 and Jer. 31, and reason that
it is no longer applicable. The main reason for this is that both these
passages look forward to the New Covenant, which THE LORD has now established.
However, this is a covenant which benefits those who choose to accept it,
and is of no help to those who don’t. It may be possible therefore that
one could find space in these Scriptures to say that those outside of this
New Covenant may still suffer for the sins of a previous generation. By
contrast, we must also note that Exod. 20, records events at the time when
God was establishing his covenant with the Hebrews. The warning in v.5
is certainly a warning about the nature of the God with whom they are about
to enter into a binding contract. There is reason therefore to say that
this level of judgement is primarily for people who have entered into a
covenant with THE LORD. Both are valid lines of reasoning and consequently
it is difficult to be sure from these passages what the actual relevance
of “the sins of the fathers” is today to Gentile nations.
The Old Testament does record how judgement fell upon the Gentile nations and in many instances this was stored up wrath from the sins of earlier generations. Not only that, but when THE LORD’s judgement came it was of such ferocity that it affected generations yet unborn - often to the extent that those ‘people groups’ were blotted out from the face of the earth. For these there seemed to have been no remedy. Take for example Obadiah’s prophecy concerning Edom. This does not seem to have been to offer Edom the opportunity for repentance, but to explain to others both that it was THE LORD who had brought about their downfall and why He had done it. The Amorites were similarly judged with annihilation, but we are told why THE LORD waited to bring judgement upon them. In a vision Abram was told of his family’s history for the next 400 years; finally “in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” It seems that in His mercy, THE LORD waits for nations to repent and humble themselves, but if they persist in pride and rebellion then the day will come when their sins come to full measure and then He acts swiftly in judgement. At that point no further opportunity for repentance is offered.
One Gentile city, Nineveh, we are told did heed the prophetic warning
it received, but about 100 years after Jonah (the prophet who proclaimed
that warning), Nahum and then Zephaniah announced the destruction of the
city when the people had again turned their backs to THE LORD. I believe
in spite of this failure to persist in the fear of THE LORD by the people
of Nineveh, there is a far stronger case in the Scriptures for prophetic
preaching as the tool THE LORD uses to bring repentance to the people of
a nation, than there is for what today is called IR as the means to that
end. Nineveh, should serve as a warning to us, that no nation upon the
face of the earth has ever been or will ever be permanently ‘converted’.
No matter how godly their fathers were, the successive generations have
to make their own decisions to obey or to disobey God.
THE LORD continues after this warning (v.40-42) with this promise, “If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me - I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies - or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.”
There are two actions specified in these verse. The first is confession.
They would be required to confess the sins of their forefathers. Concerning
themselves they had to humble their rebellious hearts and make amends
for the their own iniquities. These two actions are the hallmarks of repentance.
Whilst we can do nothing more than acknowledge that our forebears were
rebellious towards THE LORD, that is not the case when we consider our
own disobedience - we must both confess our sin and turn from it.
This call for action as the fruit of repentance is common throughout the
Scriptures, (e.g. Num. 5:7; Deu. 30:1-3; 1 Kings 8:33 36, 47; Mat. 3:7.)
We find Daniel confessing at length the sins of Israel (Ch. 9), but though
he himself was humble before THE LORD he never attempts to “repent” on
behalf of his people. Instead he appeals to God’s great compassion (v.18-19).
Today, confession and repentance are rarely understood as different acts
and consequently an imprecise theology has developed.
“Where is the relevance to IR and national sins?” you may be asking. From the Scriptures and experience it seems plain that where off-spring fail to recognise and acknowledge the sins of their ‘fathers’ (to the third & fourth generation), then they too will soon find themselves walking in the same sinful ways as their predecessors. (Remember they may find it hard to accept because they themselves have benefited personally from their ancestors’ sinful actions.) This is clearly what Jesus was indicating in Matt. 23:34 35, which David quoted in his paper. The context of this comment by Jesus, is that the scribes and Pharisees had rejected His and John the Baptist’s ministry just as previous generations had rejected the prophets they had been sent by THE LORD (2 Chron. 36:15 16). Now that it was clear that they had hardened their hearts instead of humbling themselves, Jesus foretold what He would do in order to confirm their sinful attitude. Though the Babylonian exile had dealt with Israel’s desire to serve the gods of the nations, it had not freed its leaders from their stubborn rejection of THE LORD’S messengers. They could recognise the sin of previous generations (23:30), but it seems they were reluctant to acknowledge it as sin. Their loyalty to the forefathers being greater than their loyalty to the God to whom they were bound by Covenant, caused them to persist in the selfsame ways as those whom they loved the most. Their future treatment of these other messengers who were to be sent by Jesus would confirm that in their hearts was the same rejection of righteousness which had killed the majority of God-sent messengers from creation to the last martyr of the Old Testament. Thus they would be seen to be of the same heart as their forebears and guilty with them of every murder which sought to silence a messenger of God.
If today Christians believe THE LORD has revealed to them the sinful
ways of their predecessors, then they need not only to acknowledge before
Him the sins of past generations, but recognise where they too have been
acting in character with their fathers and repent in practical ways
so that from that time onwards they live differently. On far too many occasions
repentance is reduced to words in prayer meetings (perhaps more akin to
confession), but with little instruction to live noticeably differently
afterwards. We need to remember that in the Old Testament “the sins of
the fathers” was a principle of the Covenant which God made with Israel
and that it was time limited. Further, we know of no occasion where a Gentile
nation was called to “find its salvation” through addressing the sins of
previous generations. They were called to repent for the sinfulness of
their own generations.
Spiritual warfare has also been shaped by a “if it works it must be right” approach. This may however, be misleading for several reasons. First, it does not account for human nature. We are creatures who are easily led - having a natural tendency to go with the crowd. It is not uncommon for people to follow an example without thinking through their actions. We can feel inferior if we are not seen to adopt a similar attitude, be it good or bad, to those around us. Pressure though subtle and unspoken can easily bring instant contrition but not real repentance. Second, we must also recognise that there are motives which are nothing at all to do with true Godliness, which can and do produce actions which seem in our minds to be righteous. Those looking intently for reconciliation in Ireland could do no other than rejoice when the British and Irish Prime Ministers seem to make clear moves towards that objective. In their joy it is easy to attribute this to the outcome of their prayers. However, others may interpret these gestures, important though they may be, as no more than political manoeuvring through which the participants seek to gain advantage. God given sorrow leads to repentance not just in one matter, but in every aspect of life. However, worldly sorrow only produces death (2 Cor. 7:10). What has been the fruit of this public sorrow - in the situation itself and in the lives of those who professed it? Jeremiah rightly said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (17:9).
We are unwise if we jump to conclusions as to why a situation changes. It is only through faith we can be confident that our prayers have been heard and answered. No matter how convinced we are, that confidence remains a matter of faith and without a similar God given certainty others will never be convinced that it is as we say. Some years ago, a group of Christians in a British city were concerned about the crime there and made it a matter of prayer. When the crime figures dropped they rejoiced at answered prayer and encouraged others to pray by their account of success. Several years later a yogic group claimed (on national TV) that their meditation techniques had successfully reduced crime in the very same city. Who are we to believe? How can we be sure that the changes were due to either? Only when THE LORD says to us, “You have what you asked for” can we be confident. Over 20 years ago, I attended a prayer conference at the end of a summer of drought. We were encouraged to pray for rain, but the conference leader emphasised that we should ask THE LORD only to send rain if it was a sign that he was going to send the spiritual rain of revival. We followed his lead earnestly and before the conference ended the physical rain had arrived. We left for home confident that our prayers had been answered. Now, two decades later, those present may not be so sure. Was the rain a promise from God, or just the expression of His mercy being the One who sends rain and sun on the righteous and the unrighteous? The latter is a Biblical principle. Where would we have been if He had withheld physical rain until now?
There are many issues raised by David’s paper that I have not had the space to cover. However, I hope that this paper will help others to see why my reservations are not the result of narrow-mindedness, but the consequence of seeking to walk in God’s counsel, being led by the Holy Spirit and careful study of the Scriptures. My greatest hope is that Christian leaders can move forward and grasp the real central issues which at present divide many - those to do with what has to happen before Christ returns - and discuss and debate them like adults. For too long groups like the prayer leaders conference have danced around these differences. Some seemingly refusing to accept differences exist, attempt desperately to push them out of sight. Issues such as IR and ‘should we pray for revival’ all hang on our understanding of what has yet to happen. We will never resolve these unless we recognise the depth of difference our eschatology makes to our agendas.
Having recognised and stressed this, my hope is that through this responses to David’s paper I have explained some reasons why I find the practice of IR lacking in Biblical support. Perhaps, whilst not supplying an alternative strategy, I hope I have given significant pointers to the reasons why I question the objectives. For without agreeing on objectives we will never agree on strategy. Some have sought to convince others that revival and persecution will happen together, but perhaps this too really fails to recognise the depth of difference between us. We need to recognise that the world in which we live will, in future either become more Godly or more godless - it cannot do both. Once our hearts are settled on the Biblical answer then we need to teach it openly and clearly so that God’s people may prepare themselves appropriately.