WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) -- Our Southern Baptist Convention president, Ronnie Floyd, has called us to pray for spiritual awakening. This call is the right one for a convention that exhibits marks of decline even as we seek to determine the best steps into the future.
The fact that our president must call us to pray for awakening says something about us, however. We do not readily recognize the need for an awakening, and our track record says we need to pray fervently for a mighty move of God.
As a long-time Southern Baptist who genuinely loves our denomination, here are my thoughts about why we don't passionately cry out for an awakening -- and why we must. I trust you will hear these words as both confession and concern, as I count myself among the guilty.
We are "revivalistically numbed." We have heard this call before. In fact, I know of no SBC president in my years of denominational service who has not in some fashion called us to our knees. Sometimes we do not hear what we need to hear because it sounds too familiar. On the other hand, the fact we are numbed is only one more indicator of our need for revival.
We are biblically forgetful. Many of us forget (or perhaps do not even know) the stories of God moving mightily through His people in the Scriptures. How many of us recall God's moving in Josiah in such a way that he led the Hebrews to abolish idols, restore the Temple, destroy pagan altars and return to the Word? We may remember that Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, but do we also recall his fellow Israelites weeping, confessing and praying as they heard the Word of the Lord? We know the story of Jonah's rebellion, but do we recollect that the entire wicked city of Nineveh turned to God as the prophet preached? When we do not remember the miraculous work of God in the Scriptures, we do not long for such movements in our lives.
We are historically uninformed. Most of us have read little about the great awakenings that swept our nation in the 1700s and 1800s. We do not know about crowds of thousands who gathered in public squares to hear the Gospel, about congregations that clung to pews under the power of God or about towns that spoke continually of spiritual matters. We know little about itinerant preachers who traveled the countryside to spread the Gospel or about college students who prayed until their campuses erupted in revival. We are uninformed about prayer meetings that echoed from New York City to Europe to South Africa in the decade before the Civil War. Because we know so few stories of God's working in the past, we give little thought to a potentially extraordinary work of God in the present.
We are globally unaware. God is doing a mighty work around the world. Believers in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific Rim speak of non-believers turning to God in waves -- even though doing so may cost them their lives. I have seen followers of Christ in Africa travel for days to participate in the most basic Bible study so they can teach others. God is sending church planters to Canada, a nation with one church for every 117,000 people. The growth of the church in Cuba is staggering. Many churches do not know these stories, though, and we thus lack a passionate desire for God to do the same on our shores.
We are comfortably worldly. Revival does not come without a cost. If God so moves in our denomination, we will dramatically learn, as evangelist Leonard Ravenhill said, "God does not want partnership with us, but ownership of us." Foreign to us are brokenness over sin, confession of wrong and gut-wrenching prayers of repentance that characterize movements of God. We are, frankly, comfortable where we are. Pleading with God to send awakening might be asking for something we do not really want if it means sacrifice and change.
We are denominationally strong. This point may seem to contradict the beginning of this article, but that is intentional. Historically, the church has experienced awakening when a few believers get desperate for God -- when they come to the end of themselves. I am not convinced the SBC is there yet, beginning with me. We have enough members and sufficient resources to make our slide into irrelevance almost imperceptible. As long as the SBC is content simply being larger than others, we will not cry out for awakening.
So, what do we do? Confess our unwillingness to pray for awakening. Teach the Scriptures, reminding one another of God's miraculous work. Punctuate lessons and sermons with stories of God's moving in the past. Learn about and proclaim stories of God's work around the globe in the present. Repent of our idols, including our comfort. And pray. Fervently.
We simply must pray. I must pray. Apart from the power of God, we will not make a dent in the darkness of the world.
Chuck Lawless is vice president for graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. This column first appeared in the Biblical Recorder, online at BRNow.org.
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