The Form Of Religion Changes; The Force of Religion, The Holy Spirit,
Remains The Same
Today we are long on the form and short on the force.
By A. E. Reinschmidt
It is generally characteristic of religious people to worship the form and regard with suspicion the force – the Spirit of religion. It has always been so. “This people draw near Me with their mouth, but have removed their heart far from Me,” says the Lord (Isa. 29:13). “For though they keep up a FORM of religion, they will have nothing to do with it as a FORCE.” (2 Tim. 3:5 Moffatt translation).
When the children of Israel forsook the Lord, “the Fountain of living waters,” they not only lost the fountain, but the water with it. Instead of seeking to recover the fountain of water, they set about making them cisterns – dry forms. It seems that it mattered not to them that there was “no water” in their cisterns, just so they had forms. They died of thirst, but they kept to their empty forms of worship. Judaism became a broken cistern that could hold no water: a form without force. They sacrificed the last bit of spiritual force for the sake of a “form of religion.”
When their Messiah, with the new wine of the kingdom, came to His people, they were still keeping up the form of religion, but it was “old bottles” that could not contain the new wine (Matt. 9:17). The least violation of the form of their religion was unforgivable. It was because they thought that Jesus was violating some of these forms that they were angered at Him and sought to kill Him: that is, the things which He did on their Sabbath, such as plucking the corn to eat with His disciples or the healing of the sick on this day, etc. (Mark 2:23-28; Luke 13:10-16).
They were very meticulous in keeping the form of their religion, but would “have nothing to do with it as a force.” Jesus knew better than to pour the “new wine” into the “old bottles” of Judaism (Matt. 5:23, 28, 32, 39, 44). He provided new bottles for the new wine of the Spirit.
The form or pattern into which the Spirit of Pentecost came (as Armin Gesswein points out), was a group of believers continuing in prayer “with one accord” (Acts 1:14; 2:1; 4:31-32). A super prayer meeting was the new bottle which Jesus prepared (as the end of all His more than three years of ministry on earth), to receive the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Ghost. Jesus did not use any of the “old bottles” of Jewish form. The Spirit has no use for empty forms.
We wonder: Would not a continuation of prayer meetings of the same sort as the original one have caused a continuous outpouring of the Spirit down through the centuries? But even the Pentecostal prayer meeting has largely become a mere “form of godliness” without “the power thereof,” mostly because the element of being “in one accord” and fellowship is missing. We often have prayer meetings with a view to revival without making sure that we are “on praying ground” first.
And since we have lost the true form of spiritual revival, we are always looking for some form or formula that would bring revival, we think. We are hewing out “cisterns that can hold no water.” We are trying to find “old bottles” for the new wine. We are trying to recover some antiquated form or other. Some of us seem to think that somewhere there is a magic form or pattern which, if we could only find it, would surely bring “the great revival.”
Long on Form
Dry cisterns, old bottles – lifeless forms. We are long on the form, but short on the Power of religion. We always have a form, whether we have any power or not. We will even keep up a form of prayer but “have nothing to do with it as a force.” We will even keep up the form of sound doctrine as to the letter of truth though we may have nothing to do with “the Spirit of truth.” We will keep up the “order of service” whether there is any force or life in it or not.
Since the force of religion has largely been lost, some of the larger denominations have even set up a “department of architecture” to improve the form of the meeting house. In the place of “the beauty of the Lord” and “the beauty of holiness” – they put earthly beauty, which one bomb or one bolt of lightning could destroy in an instant of time.
We, like the Galatians, seem “bewitched” with the form of religion. They turned back from the liberty of faith as the means of receiving the Spirit – to “the works of the law”; away from the new to the “old bottles” of Judaism (Gal. 3:1-7). And they wist not that the Spirit had departed from them because they were “fallen from grace” by turning back to empty, lifeless forms.
It should be noted that this trait is characteristic of “the last days.” “Mark this, there are hard times coming in the last days. For men will be selfish…for though they will keep up a form of religion, they will have nothing to do with it as a force” (2 Tim. 3:1-5 Moffatt). This is the general attitude of nominal religion toward the Holy Spirit today (Rev. 3:20). We have our Lord’s own word for this in His letter to “the church of the Laodiceans” (Rev 3:20).
It seems not to occur to those of us who may be termed “revival minded” that we, too, might be included in the Laodicean picture of religion in the last days, that we might be mostly taken up with the form of revival even, while we will have little to do with it as a force, a thing of the Spirit. There are many of us who, even if we thirst for the Spirit, seem to think that He will come through some broken cistern, or some “old bottle” of man’s making. Some are still looking for some great man to come along with the magic form or formula. Some think that the secret of revival was lost when Finney died. A few seem to think that the true revival form passed away with the apostles, even though in their day, the form varied with each time and place and only the force, the Holy Spirit, remained the same. We seem to forget that He never conforms to any set form or formula or program of men.
The True Revival Formation
We do not live in revival as the normal thing. We forsake “the fountain of living waters” and try to exist as long as we can without water in “a dry and thirsty land where no water is.” When our condition becomes no longer endurable – and not before – we begin to think of revival.
Rarely do we begin by coming back to the Fountain. We begin to hew out cisterns, “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). The cistern is the poorest of all water containers, for it can only give out that which man causes to be put into it. God’s water sources are fountains, springs, rivers, as wells of water springing up, etc. Water from cisterns must be pumped or laboriously drawn up by hand. (We love our own works!) We usually construct our cisterns by means of organization of one kind or another. “Revival formations” but no revival – no water. We never get tired, it seems, of our fain “revival effort,” though we never hit upon the true revival formation.
The Pentecostal Revival Formation of the First Century
There were three personal factors in that formation, all three of which receive little notice by us as we go about to set up the mechanique of our own ideas of what revival should be today: a revival with a dynamic – “force.” In the Revival Formation of the first century, there was, first, the Lord, the sender of all true revival. Secondly, there was the Essence of all true revival, the Holy Spirit, sent by the Lord Jesus: “He (Jesus) hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33). Thirdly, there was a group of men and women prepared to receive the Holy Spirit.
One peculiar thing about those receivers was that they were in agreement – “one accord,” even though some of them on the night before Calvary, after the Last Supper, had had a strife amongst them about which of them should be the greatest (Luke 22:24). About the most difficult thing today is to find a few believers between whom there is perfect agreement – no strife or clash of wills.
Another peculiar thing about those who received the Holy Spirit when He was first sent down by the Lord was that “these all continued with one accord (agreement) in prayer and supplication.” They did not pray down the Holy Spirit, however; He was scheduled, long before, to come on “the day of Pentecost.” Their “prayer and supplication” was to prepare them to receive the mighty outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).
A little later on there was another outpouring of the Spirit, and the formation was the same as at the first: “They lifted up their voices with one accord” in prayer. “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together; and they were all filled (again) with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:24-31). The Revival Formula again: Jesus, the Bapitzer at God’s right hand; a group prepared to receive the Holy Spirit as needed for the occasion; the Spirit shed forth upon them.
The Formation for Today
Dare anyone say that this is not the formation for today, and to the consummation of this, the Pentecostal Dispensation? If it is, then let us do away with hewing out “broken cisterns,” taking up “old bottles” and setting up empty forms. If we but gave half the time to the Force of Revival – the Holy Spirit – that we give to the mechanics of it, we should have perennial revival.
Jesus is the same, and He is in the same place. The Holy Spirit is the same and ready to come as soon as a sanctuary is prepared to receive Him – individually or collectively, anytime, anywhere. Only the human factor is lacking. There is lacking that holy agreement and prayer, that spiritual togetherness (Matt. 18:19-20) which those first-century Christians had. We have a conviction that when we recover these things, revival will be here.
But this is much easier said than done. It will take apostolic praying to prepare the way for revival, and there can be no apostolic praying without apostolic agreement and fellowship (Acts 2:42), which the apostles did not know anything about before Pentecost (Matt. 18:19-20; Luke 22:24). We may not be on “praying ground” even though we utter thousands of prayers. The proof of this is our prayers do not avail much (Jas. 5:16-17). Jesus said that prayer is truly effectual when even “two of you shall agree” (Matt. 18:19). Even while He spoke these words, His own apostles were harboring unforgiveness in their hearts (Matt. 18:20-25). For the same reason, most believers are disqualified for agreement in prayer today. There are many churches, even Evangelical churches, in which it is impossible to find two persons who can qualify for the challenge of Jesus as given in Matthew 18:19-20.
This Era in which we now live is in the Pentecostal Era. On the first day of this Era, there came down from heaven, like “a rushing mighty wind,“ the first great outpouring of the Holy Spirit this world ever saw. This was a precedent, we believe, which the Lord intended should be followed by many such outpourings. We have a conviction that all that is lacking is a Revival Formation like that which was in the upper room on the first day of the Pentecostal Era. That was a living formation.