The results are in.
The Southern Baptist Convention has declined once again in membership and baptisms. Even while we gained churches—thanks to our emphasis on church planting—we haven’t seen that result in baptisms or added membership.
In response to this news I continue hearing the phrase “revival”. Some are saying that the only thing that will turn the tide is a heaven-sent revival. As a response to these declining numbers, and the maladies of our cultural climate, many are meeting and praying that the Lord would again pour out His Spirit upon our land.
I’m all for that. In fact I’ve organized groups of people to pray that the Lord would move and work. I pray before every sermon that the Lord would bring revival to the hearts of believers and regeneration to the hearts of unbelievers.
But I’m also cautious and concerned when I hear the word “revival” thrown about. I’m cautious and concerned because I know that the SBC (as is true of many other denominations) is inundated with a second-blessing theology.
A Second-Blessing Theology
There are many different forms of second-blessing theology, but they all have one thing in common; namely, the belief that in order for a Christian to really take off in his/her spiritual growth a second-experience of grace is required. For some it is to be filled with the Spirit (shown by speaking in tongues). For others it is some form of consecration, perhaps by “letting go and letting God”. For others it is to move from being a carnal man to a spiritual man, which happens when one accepts Christ as Lord as well as Savior.
Usually this second-blessing is obtained through some sort of crisis of faith. Some hold that a person is entirely passive in this endeavor others believe that there are things a believer must do to obtain this second-blessing. Regardless of how it is obtained or when it is obtained one thing is certain—once it happens you are never the same.
When Second-Blessing Theology Meets Revival Praying
It’s been my experience that the marriage of second-blessing theology to revival praying does remain childless. This union gives birth to at least three things
First, it usually breeds passivity. What you’ll see is a great deal of praying for revival, preaching for revival, writing about revival, longing for revival, but not actually engaging in the type of disciplines that might actually bring revival.
As I’ve studied the revivals that the Lord has brought in the history of the church I’ve noticed that most of them didn’t begin with a focus on revival. Revival happened when God’s Word was faithfully proclaimed. Men of old understood that revival only happens from the Lord’s hand. But they also understood that our duty isn’t too sit and passively wait—our duty is to do the things that the Lord tells us to do.
Secondly, such a marriage gives birth to seekers of an experience. In second-blessing theology much weight is given to a particular experience. Often what we are praying for is not that the Lord would move and work how he sees fit—instead we are praying for a particular experience with preconceived results already in our mind. Just as an advocate of second-blessing theology would tell a struggling soul that they need to have a second work of grace, so also the church on a larger scale is told that for growth to happen we must have an experience—namely, revival.
In his study on revival Martyn Lloyd-Jones found that when God brought great success to the work of evangelism the supreme object of the work was always to glorify God and not to save souls—or to have a revival. In fact, what has tended to happen in every movement of God is that when people become revival focused the movement stops.
Lastly, such a union will give birth to uncertainty. In second-blessing theology one can never quite be sure if she has arrived at that blessed spot. Dan Phillips, shows the self-defeating nature of such a belief, noting that one is no longer relying on simply commands but instead:
Now I must achieve the right mystical attitude, I must somehow shift into “J” for Jesus-life, through some elusive, para-biblical, unattainable process. If I’m not there, there’s something more for me to do. Yield better, let better, surrrender better, be nothing better. Get God going for me by bringing the right technique into play. But it’s still me doing something—and not doing what God’s Word expressly calls me to do. I still control the relationship
And so what happens when second-blessing theology is married to praying for revival is that this “revival” takes the place of the “crisis moment”. And then the whole thing becomes muddy. Are we really experiencing revival? How do we know? And if we aren’t yet experience revival, why aren’t we? Is it because we haven’t prayed enough? We haven’t surrendered enough? We haven’t yielded enough?
Brothers and sisters, let us pray that the Lord would work and move in our churches. Let us pray that the Lord would wreck our hearts where they need wrecked and heal us where we need healed. And as we are paying these very things let us confidently work and labor knowing that through the precious work of Christ we have already been given everything that we need for life and godliness. Let’s be obedient and focus our attention on following what the Lord has already revealed to us—and I’d almost bet if we did that we’d see the revival that we have been praying for.