By Shannon Baker
ANAHEIM – Believing our nation and the Southern Baptist Convention—if things are handled correctly—is on the precipice of revival, revivalist and author Bill Elliff offered ways editors in the Association of State Baptist Publications (ASBP) could prepare to “spread the fame of revival to spread the flame of revival.”
Speaking at a dinner gathering on June 13, 2022, at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Anaheim, California, Elliff shared how he is seeing some of the same signs of revival that he experienced in the early 1970s, when God poured out His Holy Spirit through the Jesus Movement.
Elliff, founding and national engage pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas, recounted his time at Ouachita Baptist University, where “there was an extraordinary atmosphere of revival,” he said.
“Many of us would pray all night long—long nights on end—and I thought that was just normal,” said Elliff, noting others around the nation, including in Asbury University in California, were doing the same. He heard Pastor Jack Taylor speak to his fellow students, telling the story of what God had done in his church in San Antonio.
“I was enthralled,” he said. “He only spoke five minutes, and the Lord just fell on that meeting.”
Elliff, now the pastor/church director for OneCry! A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening, a ministry urging a nationwide call for revival and spiritual awakening, shared how students responded by confessing sin, getting right with each other and their parents, and going to professors and confessing their cheating and dishonesty. Students lingered long past the planned hour, spilling over into aisles and windows. Classes were canceled. God was moving.
“It was my first taste of what I would call the manifest presence of God,” Elliff said, defining “manifest” as the “unmistakable, clear, visible, and omnipresence of God.”
“Just extraordinary moments,” he said tearfully. “We call these moments, if people respond right, revival.”
Elliff shared how Richard Owen Roberts, president and founding director of International Awakening Ministries, defines revival. “Revival is the extraordinary movement of the Spirit of God among God’s people that produces extraordinary results.”
History has shown how our nation has experienced revivals (where God’s people experience God’s presence and transformation) that led to spiritual awakenings (where lost people are awakened by the spirit of God to their lost condition and are miraculously saved), every 30 to 60 years, he said, pointing to the first Great Awakening in 1735, among others.
“When that began to wane, people began to seek the Lord in the late 1700s again and then the Second Great Awakening happened from 1802 to about 1821, the longest movements we’ve ever had. And when that began to wane a little while later, the 1857-58 prayer and revival happened. And then the Welsh Revival in 1904, which affected the whole world, literally.”
Elliff shared how God awakened Evan Roberts, through whom God initiated the Welsh Revival, every night at 1 a.m. to meet with Him.
“[That time] was so sacred,” shared Elliff, “He never really talked about it later, and but God was downloading this vision that they were going to see 100,000 people saved.”
And, so it happened. Evans was allowed to speak at a church, which ended up meeting every night, exploding, and filling every church in the area. In nine months, 100,000 people were saved and that revival literally spread around the world.
Roberts had four simple points: confess all known sin, lay aside every doubt, obey the Spirit promptly, and confess Christ fully (witness to others).
Elliff described his own experience during the Jesus Movement as a “phenomenal moving” but he felt the church “quenched it because they didn’t want the hippies and the long hair and the music, particularly, to come.” Other churches, like Calvary Church, saw thousands and thousands of people come to Christ.
“God loves people,” Elliff stressed. “It was like He was saying, ‘I want to return you back to your first love, and I’m going to show you what heaven is like… Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it’s being done in heaven. Right now, I’m going to show you that!”
Samuel Davies, former president of Princeton University, commented on the first Great Awakening, “I watched humble preachers preach faithful sermons for years with no results and then in the revival I watched those same men stand and preach the same messages. And in one night, two hundred people would be saved.”
Revival transforms culture, Elliff said. “God accomplished in the Welsh Revival in nine months more than centuries of legislation could accomplish.”
But, he stressed, “Revival is just God. It’s God being placed on the throne of our lives and our churches.”
Elliff explained a cycle he has observed when studying revivals of the past, comparing it to what is happening today.
“If you think of it [starting at] 12:00, when the church is ‘Walking with God,’ and that’s happened. And then, ‘We fall away’ about two o’clock on the circle—because we always do,” he said. “Then, about four o’clock on that cycle, ‘God begins to discipline.’ That’s not a bad word. As a father disciplines his children, He knows we’re missing His kingdom. And so, He disciplines us for our good, that we could share His holiness.
He commented, “I think that’s what’s going on in the [Southern Baptist Convention] right now actually. And if we respond right, it has glorious results!”
He went on to the next step of the cycle. “Then ‘Restore the joy of thy salvation,’ happens when you say, ‘wash me, cleanse me, purify me.’”
At the bottom of that cycle, when the pressure gets strong enough from the Lord and the desperation grows, ‘People cry out.’
“That’s different than prayer,” Elliff said. “‘I cry’ indicates desperation. I’ve studied, and I can’t find a place in Scripture where God’s people humbly, repentantly cried out, that God didn’t hear and answer and send revival and then awakening.”
He stressed, “So, this is the pattern that’s happened. All through history, all through the Bible, and it’s happening in our nation, and we’re right at that moment.”
He agrees with Richard Owen Roberts, who said our nation is at 9.9 out of 10 point scale of God’s judgment in our nation.
We’ve got to quit saying Washington or Hollywood is the problem, Elliff said. “The problem is we’ve forgotten God; we’ve walked away from God. It’s always the problem.”
He quoted Jonathan Edward, “We want to promote explicit agreement and visible union among God’s people … in extraordinary prayer.” More prayer, stressed Elliff, who is seeing more and more signs of people gathering to cry out and pray to God, giving him the sense that God is ready to answer those prayers.
He shared three things editors can do to prepare for revival:
First, “understand the preparatory work of God and revival. If you study it, you will see the same pattern—10 years before every Great Awakening, God raises up voices, God brings the message of repentance to the foreground, and desperation grows, and people don’t know what to do… and then a united cry begins to erupt, and then God says, ‘Here’s an answer.’”
He added, “God is reviving his people, and we may not see be seeing the harvest or the Awakening yet, but I think we’re seeing the beginning stages evidenced by so much united prayer.”
Next, he said to “pray fervently and don’t be a spectator. Be a participant.” Pray for revival in your hearts and report out of your experience, as well as what you observe.
Finally, “whatever else the editor, writer, and communicator does, tell the story and be ready to tell it quickly.” He pointed to the telegraph that was instrumental in spreading the 1857 revival.
“As many men have said before, ‘the fame of revival spreads the flame of revival.’ With that task in mind, tell that story, and tell it well and quickly, and get the broadest readership… that we might see a worldwide movement and the Gospel will go to every tongue and tribe.”
The ASBP, a professional affiliation of editors and staff of state Baptist news media in the Southern Baptist Convention, will hold its next annual workshop, themed “And How Will They Hear?”, in Hilton Head, S.C., on February 13-16.
Shannon Baker is director of communications and editor of BRN United for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, and president of the Association of State Baptist Publications.