How often have you heard Christians say, “God is doing a new thing in his church”? The “new thing” they refer to may be called a revival, an outpouring, a visitation, or a move of God.
Yet very often, this “new thing” of God dies out quickly. And once it has faded, it can’t be found again. In this way, it proves not to be a move of God at all. In fact, Christian sociologists have tracked many of these so-called visitations. They’ve discovered that the average span of such an event is about five years.
Personally, I believe God is doing a new thing in his church today. Yet this great work of the Spirit can’t be found in a single location. It’s happening worldwide. And you don’t have to travel far to behold it. Indeed, God’s “new thing” may be as close as a nearby church.
There is a biblical principle that governs any true move of God. We find this principle at work again and again, in both Testaments. And it has proven true throughout centuries of church history. The principle is this: God will not begin a new thing in his church until he does away with the old. As Jesus put it, he won’t put new wine into old wineskins.
Why is this so? It’s because God has a controversy with the old thing in his church. You see, with every new work he raises up, only a few generations pass before apathy and hypocrisy begin to creep in. Soon God’s people become idolaters, with hearts bent toward backsliding. And, eventually, God chooses to bypass the old work in his church. He forsakes it completely before he introduces the new.
This principle was first introduced at Shiloh. During the time of the Judges, God established a holy work in that city. Shiloh was where the Lord’s sanctuary stood, the center of all religious activity in Israel. The name Shiloh itself means “that which is the Lord’s.” This speaks of things that represent God and reveal his nature and character. Shiloh was the place where God spoke to his people. It was also where Samuel heard God’s voice, and where the Lord revealed his will to him.
However, Eli was the high priest at Shiloh, and his two sons were ministers in the sanctuary. Eli and his sons were lazy and sensual, and were totally consumed by self-interest. During their ministry, they allowed gross sin to enter into God’s house. And over time, Shiloh became corrupted. Soon God’s people were filled with covetousness, adultery and hypocrisy.
Finally, the Lord stopped speaking at Shiloh. He told Samuel, in essence, “Shiloh has become so defiled, it no longer represents who I am. This house is no longer mine. And I won’t put up with it anymore. I’m finished with it.” So the Lord lifted his presence from the sanctuary. And he wrote “Ichabod” above the door, meaning, “The glory of the Lord has departed.”
At that point, Shiloh was dead, beyond redeeming. There was no hope of reviving past glory, no hope of reformation. God was saying, “I’ve turned Shiloh over to the flesh, and I’m moving on. I’m about to raise up a totally new house.”
What sort of condition must a people come to for the Lord to remove his presence from them? Consider the scene at Shiloh: for years, no one had stood in the gap in that society. Nobody humbled themselves, crying out in repentance, “Lord, don’t depart from us.”
Instead, God saw only a people who were hardened to truth. These Israelites observed all the religious rituals and said all the right things, but their hearts weren’t in any of it. All their works were of flesh. And the priesthood was beyond redemption. The high priest Eli had grown totally blind to his own backsliding. He and his wicked sons had to go.
So the Lord did away with the old completely. And, once again, he raised up a new thing. After this, the temple in Jerusalem became known as “the Lord’s house.” And for a season, God spoke to his people there. The house was filled with prayer, God’s Word was preached, and the people made sacrifices according to God’s commandment. The temple at Jerusalem represented who God was, and he manifested his presence there. In fact, on one occasion, his glory filled the temple so powerfully that the priests were unable to minister.
Yet eventually, that ministry also fell into decay. Corruption set in among the people once more. And the temple at Jerusalem no longer represented God.
It takes only a few generations for a new work of God to degenerate into apathy and hypocrisy. Why is this? Almost always, it happens because those in the ministry become flesh-driven. The red-hot passion that birthed the work begins to fade. And over time, the ministry becomes a human institution. Lifeless routine sets in. The once-prayerful leaders now rely on organization and fleshly skill to keep the work going.
At one time, these same leaders trusted God wholly, and he spoke to them. But at some point, they abandoned their servanthood for politics. And now, instead of ministering, they compete for power, prestige and numbers. Sadly, their ministry has become a faded memory of what God once accomplished in their midst, in his power and in truth.
The Lord responded to this kind of compromise in Jeremiah’s time. He sent the prophet to the temple gate to proclaim a devastating word: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place” (Jeremiah 7:3). He was saying, in other words: “This work has grown corrupt, and now death is at the door. But there is still time to save it. I don’t want to walk away from it. I want to stay with you and move in your midst. But for that to happen, you have to repent. You must return to your first love.”
Then the Lord adds, “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord” (7:4). God had heard the people crying, “The Lord can’t destroy this temple. It’s his everlasting house. It’s our history, our entrenched tradition. Look at all these majestic buildings. They stand as God’s witness to a heathen world. He’ll never abandon what he has established here.”
But the Lord responded, “What about your defilements? What about your rampant adultery? You swear falsely. You bow to idols. And you’ve turned my house into a den of robbers. I sent prophets to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen. I spoke to you, but you wouldn’t hear. I called out to you, but you wouldn’t answer.”
Now God instructed them, “Go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel” (7:12). He was urging, “Come, all you pastors, shepherds and priests. Get out your Bibles, and see for yourselves the way I work. Look back to my house at Shiloh. I established that church and set my name on it. But the people refused my prophets. And they trusted in their own ways instead. So I cast away the old completely.
“Now I’m about to do it again. You’re just like Shiloh. You’ve allowed sin and corruption in my house. You’ve become so degenerate in your ways, you no longer represent me. Look around: who is standing in the gap? Who is crying out with a repentant heart? I see apathy and compromise. My Word clearly warns that I lifted my presence from Shiloh. And now I’m going to walk away from you. I’m about to remove my glory from your midst.”
“Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim” (7:14-15).
Once again, God was saying, “The old thing is over, finished. You no longer represent me. I will now have a people who represent me to the world as I truly am. I have a totally new thing in mind.”
The Lord ended with this declaration: “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee” (7:16). He was saying, “Don’t bother praying for this old work. It’s dead and gone, beyond all hope of reviving.”
Jesus stood in the last temple and invited everyone to come under his merciful wings of protection. He called out to the blind, the sick, the leprous, the poor, the lost, everyone to come and find healing and forgiveness. But the religious crowd refused his offer. So Christ testified of them, “Ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).
As I read this, a question arises: here in the New Testament, would God dispose of an old work the same way he did in the Old? Would he abandon the old thing and raise up a new one? Would he cast off that which rejected his offers of grace, mercy and awakening?
Yes, he would. Jesus answered those who rejected him by saying, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (23:38). He told them, “This temple is now your house, not mine. I’m leaving it. And I leave what you wasted and deserted.”
He then added, “I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (23:39). He was declaring to them, “My glory is no longer in this old work. I’ve now rejected it. And the remainder of your religious life will be conducted without God’s presence. I also turn over this old work to the flesh. Your shepherds won’t be spiritual men, but ministers of flesh.”
The disciples couldn’t believe Jesus’ words. They urged him, “Master, look at the magnificence of the temple, the awesome structures. Consider its history, the centuries of tradition. This can’t possibly be left in ruins. Are you saying it’s over?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it’s over. This old work is finished. It’s dead and gone in my eyes. I’m going to do a new thing now.”
Think of it: here stood mercy and grace Incarnate, saying, “This old thing isn’t mine anymore. I now leave it utterly desolate. It has absolutely no chance of being revived.” Then Jesus moved on to Pentecost, to the beginning of a new thing. He was about to raise up a new church, not a replica of the old. And he would make it brand-new from the foundation up. It would be a church of new priests and people, all born again in him.
Meanwhile, the old work would drag on. Crowds would still come to the temple to observe their dead rituals. Shepherds would still rob the poor, adulterers would sin at will, and people would drift into idolatry. Each day, the old work would grow increasingly dry and weak. Why, you ask? God’s presence was no longer in it.
This brings us to the church of the present day. Let me ask you: is what you see going on in the church today representative of who Jesus is? Consider all the denominations and movements, everything associated with Christ’s name. Is what we’re seeing truly the church triumphant, the spotless bride of Christ? Does it reveal to a lost world the very nature of God? Is this the best that God’s Spirit can produce in these last days?
Or, has the modern-day visible church become the old thing? Has it become defiled, teetering on the very brink of being replaced by some new work? In short, will God make a change one last time before Jesus returns? Will he abandon what has become corrupt, and raise up a final, glorious church?
Yes, I believe he will. Isaiah tells us, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
The church as we know it today began with repentance. When Peter preached the Cross at Pentecost, thousands came to Christ. This new church was made up of one body, consisting of all races, filled with love for one another. Its corporate life was marked by evangelism, a spirit of sacrifice, even martyrdom.
This wonderful beginning reflects God’s words to Jeremiah: “I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed” (Jeremiah 2:21). Yet the Lord’s next words describe what often happens to such works: “How then are thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (2:21). God was saying, “I planted you right. You were mine, bearing my name and nature. But now you’ve turned degenerate.”
What caused this degeneration in the church? It always has been, and will continue to be, idolatry. God is speaking of idolatry when he says to Jeremiah, “My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit” (2:11). Idolatry desolated Shiloh, it desolated the temple, and it has defiled the church of today. It is always the root cause behind God leaving an old thing to begin a new one.
In Ezekiel 14, certain elders came to the prophet to inquire of the Lord. They wanted to know, “What is God saying to his people today?” But the Lord told Ezekiel, “These men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?” (Ezekiel 14:3). He was saying, in other words: “They’ve come here as if they’re truly seeking me. But they’re hiding wicked idols in their hearts. Why should I answer them?”
Most Christian teaching today identifies an idol as anything that comes between God’s people and himself. It’s that which draws us away from him. Yet that’s only a partial description of idolatry. After all, the elders who approached Ezekiel weren’t kept away by their idols.
Idolatry has to do with a much deeper heart issue. The truth is, idolatry can run rampant in God’s house but remain totally unseen. That’s what the Lord meant when he said these elders had a “stumbling block of their iniquity before their face” (Ezekiel 14:3). The stumbling block is any doctrine that justifies an idol. And it blinds God’s people to their sin.
That’s exactly what has happened in the church today. The number-one idol among God’s people isn’t adultery, pornography or alcohol. It’s a much more powerful lust. What is this idol? It’s a driving ambition for success. And it even has a doctrine to justify it.
The idolatry of being successful describes many in God’s house today. These people are upright, morally clean, full of good works. But they’ve set up an idol of ambition in their hearts, and they can’t be shaken from it.
Tragically, this was the same driving spirit behind Baal and Molech: to prosper and be successful. And today this spirit has polluted the gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide. It presents itself as a spirit of blessing, but it’s a perversion of the blessing that God intends for his church. And it’s shipwrecking the faith of millions.
This spirit also smacks of postmodernism. One of the tenets of postmodernism is that the community bestows on you your purpose and worth. Simply put, your success and acceptance are measured by the world’s standards. As a result, many Christians measure their self-worth by their career, their possessions, their paycheck.
Now postmodern theology is creeping into the church’s leadership. Pastors and evangelists are buying the lie that their peers determine how successful they are. This is why success in church work has come to mean having massive attendance, large buildings and a fat budget. And it’s why ministers are compelled to drive themselves and their congregations to achieve these things.
I tell you, this isn’t the church that Jesus Christ is coming back to take as his bride. This postmodern, materialistic, flesh-driven institution has grown old and corrupt. And it’s in the throes of death even now.
Many young pastors all over the world sense this. They’re fed up with the old thing, with its bickering and denominational infighting. They want nothing to do with it. They’ve rejected the drive for bigness and notoriety. Instead, they’re turning back to the centrality of Christ, back to seeking God, back to hungering for truth. And they sense a fresh new work in the air.
“Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
God is about to do a new thing. And this new work will be so glorious, it’s going to cause his people to praise him like never before: “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof” (42:10). God is telling us, “Let all my people worldwide sing my praises. Let me hear a new song from the sailors at sea, from people in every nation, from all the lands of the earth.”
We know that in these last days, Satan is coming down to earth in a fierce rage (see Revelation 12:12). He’s full of great wrath because he knows his time is short. And he’s going to send forth a flood of iniquity on the church. But God declares, “Let my people know the Lion of Judah is coming down, with all the power of heaven. The Redeemer is coming to Zion!”
Don’t think for a minute that God will allow Satan to take control of his church and ravage his children. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s body. And I believe the Lord is on his way to Zion right now to visit his people.
Just as he did with Sodom, the Lord is coming to purge. And this time of purging will begin with his church. Right now, the Lord is beginning to burn up the chaff in his house. And he’s going to do a new thing. Scripture tells us, “The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his enemies” (Isaiah 42:13).
Why is Jesus coming with such a mighty roar? And what will he be crying? He’s going to cry out in jealousy over his people. You see, our Lord is in a jealous state over his church right now. And here is his jealous cry: “I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once” (42:14).
What does this mean? Why would Jesus cry like a woman in travail? The Lord is telling us he’s about to give birth to something new. While Satan is on the rampage, deceiving multitudes, God is telling his people, “A new, holy thing is being birthed under Satan’s nose. This is one church he can’t deceive. It is the prevailing church that’s without spot or wrinkle.”
Up to now, the Lord has been silent. He has restrained his anger while false doctrines, false prophets, and wolves in sheep’s clothing have shipwrecked multitudes in Christ’s body. But now God is letting his voice be known. He’s telling us:
“Shepherds have turned my house into a den of iniquity. Yet I have held my peace. Materialistic preachers have corrupted my church all over the world with abominable doctrines. Yet I have kept still. I’ve been silent while mega-churches have removed the offense of the Cross from their congregations. I’ve restrained myself as complacent shepherds have allowed comedians and entertainers to bring lightness and frivolity into my holy house.
“But no more! Now I’m stirred up. And I’m coming down to my house, to clean it up before I return for my bride. Be warned, I am coming to you with a holy jealousy. And I’m going to destroy all these false doctrines. I will bankrupt every robber and thief who has filled my pulpits. I’ll dry up all their sources and cause their rivers of money to run dry.”
“I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and I will dry up the pools…. They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods” (Isaiah 42:15, 17).
Beloved, this is the new thing God is doing in his church. He’s saying, “I will destroy and devour every ministry that’s of flesh, hype and materialism. And I’m going to raise up shepherds after my own heart, faithful servants who know me. I will destroy all false gospels, and confuse and put to shame every false teacher.
“Yet I won’t forsake those millions of sincere people who were deluded by false doctrines. They didn’t know better. And now they’re going to hear my pure gospel. When they do, they’ll repent and be ashamed of the shallow, frivolous gospel that led them astray. I’m going to lead them into truth."
“I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them” (42:16).
What an incredible promise. We see now why Isaiah prophesies, “Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice…let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare his praise in the islands” (42:11-12).
Dear saint, God is doing a new thing right now. He’s calling his people once again to forsake every idol and make their habitation the Rock, Jesus Christ. I urge you, be ready to obey his cry: “Let the inhabitants of the Rock sing!”