The recent news that the SBC’s total membership figure has experienced a decline has generated all kinds of comments and conversation among the bloggers of the Baptist world. Even though the statistics have pointed in this direction for a long time, and the total membership figure, over 16 million, isn’t even close to representing the real numerical strength of the SBC, which is closer to 6 million, the abrupt news of a sudden drop in that total figure has the effect of crossing some kind of line in time.
This is a local church problem that a denominational program or emphasis will not fix. Our churches need to be touched by the Spirit, and set ablaze by revival.
So what does real revival look like?
I teach a Sunday school class of 70’s and up. The department director, a spry, active 90 year old gentleman, prays for revival every week. So one Sunday morning, I asked the class what they thought real revival looked like. A few of them described it in terms of their recollections of revival meetings of days past, when an evangelist would come and preach for a week or so, and a special musician would come and lead the music. Most of them laughed when I suggested that the excitement they experienced was simply because they got a break in the routine of their regular music director and pastor. But a couple of them recalled a time when, whether a series of special meetings was being held or not, a great conviction came over the church, and many people experienced repentance, forgiveness and deliverance from sin, and a real movement of the Holy Spirit that resulted in changed lives. They remembered spiritual movements among students on a college campus, or among several churches in a specific community. They all had some things in common, among them, a sense of being convicted by the Spirit, leading to genuine, heartfelt repentance, and the evidence of a changed life.
There are several examples of revival in the scriptures. In 2 Kings 22, when Josiah becomes King in Jerusalem, he orders a restoration of the Temple, which had been neglected. During the restoration, a scroll is discovered, brought to Josiah, and read to him. As he hears the scriptures, he is overcome by conviction and tears his clothes in despair, weeping and crying in repentance. He sends his high priest to the temple to pray and intervene with God in sorrow and repentance on behalf of the people. Through a prophetess named Huldah, the Lord sends word that he will indeed judge Jerusalem and its people, and will destroy the city and the temple because of their disobedience. However, as a result of Josiah’s intervention, sorrow, and genuine repentance, the Lord postpones the disaster until after Josiah has passed on from the scene.
“‘And I have indeed heard you,’ says the Lord. ” 2 Kings 22:19b
That’s what real revival looks like. Conviction by the scriptures. Sorrow and repentance. Confession. Restoration by the Lord himself, who hears you.
One of my favorite songs of late is Stay Strong, by the Newsboys. I’ll close with the words to the bridge and the chorus:
“Get up, there’s further to go
Get up, there’s more to be done
Get up, this witness is sure
Get up, this race can be won
This race can be won
We’ve gotta stay strong
You are not lost
Come on and fix your eyes ahead
Our Father’s dawn will light our day, our day
Come on and stay strong
His grip is sure
And His patience still endures
There’ll be no letting go today, no way
Come on, and stay strong
You and I run
For the prize that lies ahead
We’ve come too far to lose our way, our way”