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Church in 2nd month of revival; professions of faith top 700

LAUREL, Miss. (BP)–Anticipation grew as people filled the sanctuary nestled in a residential neighborhood in Laurel, Miss. Small children roamed. People clustered in groups, like in most Baptist churches on Wednesday night.
Things are different, however, at Highland Baptist Church. After 31 consecutive nights of revival services, there have been 715 professions of faith and 328 baptisms.
Most pastors would like to have Highland pastor Dennis Sewell’s problem: How long can revival services keep going? “As a shepherd, my main concern is for the congregation,” Sewell said. On the evening of Jan. 31, a fairly normal revival effort began with a men’s meeting. “There were about 400 men at a wild game dinner,” Sewell said. That night, four or five men were saved. The revival services began the next morning and were scheduled for one week. However, a year earlier Sewell felt moved to do something unusual. He asked the church and the evangelistic team to leave open the entire month of February 1998.
In his 11-year pastorate at Highland, they had held two revivals a year, usually four-day events. On the fourth night, things would just begin to happen when the revival would be over. “That’s why I decided to plan for one that might go a little longer,” Sewell said.
More than a month later, it’s still going on. “Starting (the week of March 2) we are taking Saturday nights off,” he said. “People have got to have some time to rest, go home and wash some clothes. Also, I am pre-announcing that the services will stop at the end of March.”
Both William Blackburn of Arkansas, the preaching evangelist, and Don Baltziglar of Georgia, the musical evangelist, have had to cancel other commitments in March.
Blackburn, a member of First Baptist Church, Fort Smith, Ark., was saved at age 36 and has been in full-time evangelism 12 years. Blackburn’s own experience is an indication of his approach to evangelism. He said he walked the aisle at age 12, but “no one explained to me how to be saved. It was just ‘walk the aisle, join the church, get wet, but don’t get saved.’ I had religion in my head, not Jesus in my heart.”
Blackburn said he believes most church members are lost. “Most people in Mississippi are not saved, even if they have walked an aisle and been baptized. If you have not been saved God’s way, when you die you will go straight to hell,” he preached.
Sewell agrees: “I have a conviction that we have a lot of lost church members. To me this is the only way to explain the spiritual death in our churches.
“One of Satan’s names is ‘deceiver.’ The key issue is the deception of a man’s soul. This is a form of warfare. There are many deceptions that make it easy for people to have counterfeit experiences.”
As a result of this approach, many of the decisions at the Highland revival are second-, even third-time, decisions.
One man standing in the baptistry awaiting baptism shared with the congregation, “I have known Jesus in my head but not in my heart. I tried to be a good, moral guy, so I figured I must be saved, but there are a lot of moral people in hell.
“I was baptized the first of May, and I thought then I was saved, but the Lord said, ‘You just gave me your problems. You have to give me your whole life.’ I was miserable for nine months. On March 1, 1998, I gave my entire life to Jesus Christ.”
Sewell knows many are making comparisons to the ongoing revival in Pensacola, Fla. “Highland is a Baptist church. There is nothing charismatic about the services,” he said. There is, however, a lot of celebration, hand-lifting and praise, he said.
“We are solid Southern Baptist and we will remain Southern Baptist,” he said.
Yet, the Highland revival is not without criticism. Jim Bradford, Sunday school director and longtime member, understands. He indicated his own feelings of concern about the style of worship and the many re-baptisms.
However, Bradford said, he and the church have been changed forever. “There have been men who made professions of faith who many thought were unreachable. There was one man in this church, a deacon, who was the pastor’s biggest critic. He got saved the first week and publicly apologized in front of the whole church.”
That’s when John Stockstill, the youth minister at Highland, said he first realized this was something special. “God has broken down barriers,” Stockstill said, “like race and clothing. We did the things needed to get out of the way for God to move.”
They were not prepared, however, for the flood of people. “Our youth Sunday school attendance has gone from about 30 to 110,” Stockstill said. Lorrie Rose, the ninth-grade girls shepherd leader, said she has made between 40-50 contacts the past few weeks. Her shepherding group has gone from one member to 10.
Stockstill understands some criticize the crusade because so many people are being rebaptized. “This is nothing new. Billy Graham and others have said they believe most church members are lost. We live in America, where Christianity is known as a weak vessel with no power. Satan has counterfeited Christianity,” he said.
Bradford pointed to a nearby parking lot and said, “I’d much rather see 200 young people jumping up and down and clapping their hands to the music in the front of this church than down the street in that parking lot, getting into trouble.”

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  • Carl M. White