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70-plus profess faith during Southeastern Seminary revival

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–As Denon Williams watched four members of his church youth group make public professions of faith in Christ during a revival service Oct. 12 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, memories of his own decision for Christ as a 12-year-old weighed heavy on his mind.
Now, 38, Williams served as a deacon at Mt. Hermon Baptist Church, Durham, N.C., where he also taught a youth Sunday school class every week. He tithed to his church regularly and considered himself a dedicated husband and father.
In recent weeks, Williams, a senior project manager for a construction company which built retirement homes in a four-state region, had prayed fervently seeking God’s direction for his life as he considered enrolling in seminary.
But as he meditated on a sermon illustration given by evangelist Bailey Smith about a silk plant looking alive even though it was artificial, Williams said he realized, “I looked like the real thing, but I knew I wasn’t.”
When Smith asked everyone in the congregation to tell the people beside them that they knew Christ as Lord and Savior, Williams mouthed the words to the stranger on his left but only hugged his fellow youth worker on his right. “I looked him in the eye and I couldn’t say it,” Williams recounted weepingly. “He told me he was saved, but I just hugged him instead of saying something myself.”
After the service, Williams spoke with Alvin Reid, associate professor of evangelism at Southeastern, and prayed to accept Christ as his personal Savior. “I realized that even though I had walked the aisle there was never really any change in my life,” Williams said. “I knew all the right words, the Scripture passages, the illustrations, but I realized that night I had never used it on me. I had been in church so long I thought I knew the process and I thought I had applied it to my life, but I hadn’t.”
On the van ride back home, Williams told the youth group of his decision and another teenage girl professed Christ as her Savior en route back to the church.
Williams’ testimony is just one account from the 70-plus people who made public professions of faith in Christ during Southeastern’s annual Sandy Creek Week Revival Oct. 12-14 on the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.
About 60 of those decisions, most of them by teenagers, were made on the first night of the revival when Smith preached from Matthew 13:24-30 on Christ’s parable about the wheat field mixed with tares — weeds that look like wheat but are destroyed during the harvest.
About 10 Southeastern students and two deacons also were among those making professions of faith during the Oct. 12 evening service as Smith, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, charged the near-capacity Binkley Chapel audience to examine the authenticity of their Christian conversion.
“A tare is a lost, hell-bound church member who gives every appearance of being saved,” Smith said. “They pray like a Christian, act like a Christian, give their money like a Christian, carry their Bible like a Christian, they may be a seminary student like a Christian, but they’re not a Christian. They’ve done everything right but get saved. Everything right except be born again. And God says the tares are plentifully among the wheat.
“My friend, we have a lot of people who have walked an aisle but they’ve never walked to Calvary,” Smith continued. “They’ve gone under the water, but they’ve never gone under the blood. And they’re just as lost and hell-bound as an atheist, and God calls them tares.”
Following the invitation, about 80 Southeastern students and faculty remained to counsel those who made decisions. Jackson Landham IV, a Southeastern Seminary student and former missionary, struggled with the certainty of his own eternal destiny as he attempted to counsel a 16-year-old boy who had made a public profession to accept Christ as Savior and Lord of his life securing his eternal fate in heaven.
“I found it really, really difficult because I knew that I was being convicted and that I was not really in a position of counseling authority,” said Landham of Ellwood City, Pa. Before leaving the counseling room, Landham also met with Reid, repenting of his sins and praying to receive Christ as his Savior.
As he reflected on his ministry and all the people with whom he had shared the gospel, the 24-year-old son of a Southern Baptist pastor, said, “It was very important for me to realize how much I had relied on myself and not on God’s grace.”
Preparation began in August for the seminary’s fall revival, named after a church near Greensboro, N.C., where revival broke out in the mid-1700s under the preaching of Shubal Stearns. That revival ignited the founding of more than 40 churches in North and South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.
Southeastern students held prayer meetings and visited homes in neighboring communities inviting people to the six revival services at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
And in the Sandy Creek tradition, the revival which began on the Southeastern Seminary campus is now spreading throughout neighboring churches and communities.
On Sunday, Oct. 17, Williams shared his decision during the morning worship service at his church as about 150 people listened — some in shock and amazement. “I shared with them my situation and challenged them to examine their own hearts,” he said. “I wanted them to know Satan did a good job on me and I allowed him to do a good job on me. I didn’t want anyone else to go through that deception for years as I had.”
About 40 people came forward during the invitation for decision, Williams said, many to rededicate their lives to Christ while about 12 people made professions of faith, acknowledging that earlier decisions had not been legitimate.
Williams said he believes he was able to deceive himself for most of his life through his good works. “I believe you become what you hang around,” he said. “You can duplicate it, but it doesn’t mean you have the real thing,”
Tonya Worsham, a Southeastern student, brought 17 teenagers from the Cinnamon Ridge government housing project in Raleigh, N.C., where she lives and has an apartment ministry.
Five of the 17 teens made professions of faith at the Oct. 12 evening service. “I wasn’t expecting any of them to even want to go to the service, and then when they went forward for salvation, it was such a blessing to see,” Worsham said.
“This is the start of something big,” Worsham said of the ministry she and her brother, Sean Davis, have led since August with sponsorship from Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh.
Smith, whose evangelism ministry is headquartered in Atlanta and is the only pastor in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention to baptize 2,000 people in one year, said that if he could preach only one sermon throughout his life it would be his sermon on the wheat and the tare — the same sermon that has proven to be one of his most controversial as well.
Smith, who began international crusade evangelism in 1985 after serving as pastor for 12 years of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., said more than 100 pastors’ wives and 96 pastors have been “saved” under the preaching of that sermon.
Responding to critics who have charged that Smith’s message causes Christians to doubt the security of their salvation, Smith said during his sermon, “My friend, the devil does not want you to doubt your salvation. He wants you to believe you’re saved when you’re not. And if the devil can make you believe you’re saved when you’re not … he’s going to deliver you into the lake of fire convincing you [that] you’ve got something you don’t have.”
Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention, said the reason many people have been deceived about their salvation is due in part to the church’s inclination to baptize children prematurely.
“We have always been the most determined anti-pedo Baptists and have in fact become guilty of that with which we’ve criticized by the tendency to baptize children earlier and earlier,” he said. “This in turn creates a situation in which even if the child really did come to know the Lord, it’s so foggy in his dim-distant past that he has trouble reliving it.”
Landham, who served as a missionary overseas before enrolling at Southeastern, said his testimony exemplifies Patterson’s point.
“When I look on it now, I really think that at age 6 or 7 I didn’t understand sin, and therefore couldn’t understand grace,” Landham said. “I found it very difficult to grasp how much God loved me and had forgiven me.”
Allan Moseley, dean of students at Southeastern and associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, echoed Smith’s challenge for Christians to examine their hearts for a true biblical relationship with God.
“As Dr. Smith recounted in numerous examples, the reality is seminary students, deacons, pastors, missionaries, pastors’ and missionary wives may have given intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel as children, and have been highly interested in the things of God, and even have been committed to the truth of the gospel. Yet, they have not known God’s healing forgiveness of sins in a personal way. If these guys so thoroughly can know the facts and yet have missed the real heart of the message, it ought to be a wake-up call to the church at large to examine their own hearts.”
During the final altar call of the week, after Smith asked, “Is there anyone that would say, ‘Wait for me, preacher?’” a young man in the back of the chapel yelled, “Wait for me, preacher!” and ran down the aisle, with his ponytail flapping against his back, to make a decision for Christ.
While asserting that revival evangelism is not over, Patterson said “if it can be done on a seminary campus, it can be done anywhere in the world.”

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  • Debbie Moore