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Moral conditions, fervent prayer called sparks of revival

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. (BP)–One of the leaders from the Brownwood revival in 1995 believes the United States is ripe for another great spiritual awakening like those that have stirred America in the past.

Pastor and author John Avant told Baptist Press his doctoral work and related studies of spiritual awakening have convinced him that three major historical signs are in place:

— The first is tremendous moral depravity, said Avant, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga.

People might expect there would be a drawing closer to God prior to revival, but historically that isn’t the case, Avant said.

“We’re there,” said the coauthor of “Revival!”, an account of the 1995 awakening that drew national attention. “Look at the battle over gay ‘marriage,’ which I told our church is by far a secondary issue in marriage today.

“A bigger issue is heterosexual marriages divorcing. We want to give attention to the cultural battle about homosexual ‘marriage’ but in the midst of that we’ll lose sight of [this] fact: I don’t know anybody in my church that are homosexuals wanting to get married, but I know a whole lot [of members] that are divorcing.”

— The second is a growing remnant of Christians who are dedicated to prayer and calling out to God in desperation to see revival.

In December 1994, the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, gathered various church leaders together in Orlando to fast and pray and ask God to send revival in the new year, Avant said.

About a month later, the revival broke out at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church in Brownwood, Texas. Other movements occurred in the mid-1990s, such as Promise Keepers rallies that drew hundreds of thousands of men to stadiums, Avant said.

“Some of the phenomena died down but the remnant of strong leaders has remained,” the pastor said. “So we may not fill a football stadium as easy any more, but I think there are far more men who are praying for revival than there were prior to those days.”

Another example is New Hope Baptist, which has a fulltime minister of prayer on staff. Two decades ago, Avant said, he would have wondered what such a pastor would do, but today there is a hunger for deeper prayer involvement.

Avant seeks to underscore the vibrancy of faith in a new book, “The Passion Promise: Living a life only God can imagine,” released by Multnomah Publishers.

— The third factor is some form of precipitating event.

Avant, who will speak in Wales this summer at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Welsh Revival, said the spiritual awakening in that nation developed into a worldwide movement.

It touched America and dramatically affected the evangelical world, Avant said, including the call of Mordecai Ham to ministry. Ham is recognized for delivering the sermon that led to evangelist Billy Graham accepting Jesus as his Savior.

Then, a financial collapse in 1857, followed by a businessmen’s prayer meeting in New York that spread across the nation, stirred revival just prior to the Civil War, Avant said.

Likewise, desperate economic times, fear over renewed terrorist attacks and widespread interest in Jesus because of the film, “The Passion of The Christ,” could prove to be precipitating events, Avant said.

“I think it’s completely possible,” the pastor said. “I think it’s the first time in my lifetime that these three elements are as clear as they are right now.”

Still, that doesn’t mean he thinks spiritual renewal is guaranteed.

Too often revival fails to come because God’s people don’t want it, said Avant, pointing to the “Jesus Movement” of the early 1970s that led to his conversion.

First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., opened its arms to him and other newcomers because they weren’t tied to old methods, he said, but too many other Southern Baptist churches missed it.

“The Jesus Movement should have been a nationwide spiritual movement, but a majority of our churches weren’t interested in a bunch of hippies coming to their churches,” Avant said. “I think we’re in the greatest spiritual opportunity for evangelism today since the Jesus Movement.”

Among the challenges facing a new sweep of revival are pride and disobedience, said Ken Hemphill, the national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis who experienced the Brownwood revival when he was president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Hemphill said many people like to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (NIV).

However, another version of the biblical promise in 1 Kings begins with the phrase if God’s people will “turn and confess the Lord’s name,” meaning that turning -– repentance -– precedes confession, Hemphill said.

To confess God’s name does not mean a verbal confession, but conforming to the name that is within Christ’s followers, he said.

When Israel didn’t experience God’s blessing, it meant the people were profaning God’s name and not living up to the standards of His character, Hemphill said.

“The revival image for me now has changed,” Hemphill said. “There [must be] that repentance, that brokenness, spiritual poverty and getting beyond our pride to say, ‘It doesn’t matter, [we will do] whatever it takes.’” Hemphill’s book on the EKG movement, titled Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God,” is slated for a June release by Broadman & Holman, the publishing division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Alvin Reid, an evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, meanwhile noted that too many Christians, particularly Southern Baptists, have turned a movement into an institution.

Formality in the way church is conducted inhibits revival, said Reid, who was a faculty member at Houston Baptist University in 1995. Without some significant changes, he doesn’t know if America will be prepared for spiritual awakening.

“We are so focused on institutional things like getting people into our building, where the Book of Acts says 11 times [the church met] daily,” Reid said. “… We’ve lost the movement side of it.”

Too many people have romanticized revival, forgetting that it comes at a high price, Reid also noted.

Americans have pat sayings like, “The safest place to be is in the middle of God’s will” when being in the middle of God’s will can get you killed, Reid said. As an example, he mentioned the recent slayings of four Southern Baptist aid workers in Iraq.

“Another big block to revival is we have it so easy,” Reid said. “The church in China is experiencing a great awakening and it’s growing incredibly because they have such a fist of oppression on them.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: THE PASSION PROMISE.

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  • Ken Walker