first appeared on Garbage Truck
in March, 2002
You may not believe this, but the greatest revival
in the history of America, a story of unparallel success and Holy Ghost
power, is known by only a handful of Americans.
I am talking about the profound revival of the
Separate Baptists of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina. That
revival began in 1755 and did not relent for 100 years. The Separates
went out from North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, and
were the first to preach the gospel in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama,
Mississippi, and Illinois. Their legacy is responsible for the gospel
being preached in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.
Who began this great revival? An obscure
Connecticut preacher, whose heart was stirred for salvation and soul
winning under the ministry of George Whitefield. His name: Shubal
Stearns. Stearns was a “new-light” congregational church preacher
after his conversion under Whitefield. His study of the Bible led him to
embrace Baptist principles and so was immersed by Wait Palmer at the
Baptist Church of Tolland, Connecticut early in 1751. Stearns was
ordained as a Baptist in May of that same year. He felt impressed of God
to move to some place in the south and west of New England to preach the
gospel to the large number of migrating Americans moving into the
pioneer south. He found his place to serve at a crossroads in western
North Carolina called Sandy Creek and settled his infant church with 16
members on June 13, 1755.
Within 13 years, 17 men surrendered to the gospel
ministry and fanned out across the north and south and west of Sandy
Creek. The immediate results were astonishing for the frontier era.
There were over 900 baptized in the first three years for the Sandy
Creek congregation alone. No one knows how many in the branch churches.
At the time of Shubal Stearns death in 1771, there were 47
churches birthed from those original 17 preachers. The Sandy Creek
association began in 1758 and was effective in organizing more new
churches. By 1772 three associations had formed from the original and
the vision and burden of winning the lost, baptizing the saved, and
birthing new churches into existence was a part of the make-up of nearly
all of the Baptist churches of the south. It is estimated that the Sandy
Creek Revival directly resulted in the birthing of over 1,000 churches.
This is astounding. So why is it that no one knows
much about it? Why the cover-up?
1. The Separate Baptist Revival was much too
Baptist for the “evangelical alliance” that emerged in the mid to
late 19th century.
The revival era of the 19th century was
featured by an ecumenical spirit, which was possible at that time to
practice without a lot of compromise. The revival era that produced
the “evangelical alliance” was not a time for discussion about
infant baptism, Baptist heritage and Baptist distinctives.
2. The way the Revival was continued was far too
convicting for the next generation to report it. These people were
“On the 4th of June, 1768, John Waller,
Lewis Craig, James Childs, &c. were seized by the sheriff and hailed
before three magistrates, who stood in the meeting house yard, and who
bound them in the penalty of one thousand pounds, to appear at court two
days after. At court they were arraigned as disturbers of the peace; on
their trial, they were vehemently accused, by a certain lawyer, who said
to the court, “May it please your worships, these men are great
disturbers of the peace, they cannot meet a man upon the road, but they
must ram a text of scripture down his throat.” Robert Baylor Semple, History
of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia, Richmond,
Virginia, 1810, p. 15.
3. For some Calvinists, it wasn’t sovereign
enough. The aggressive soul winning of the Separates was difficult
for the “Particular” aka “Regular” Baptists at the time to
accept. It is still hard to accept among all classes of dead Christians.
With Baptist preachers of today abandoning bold exhortations and altar
calls, let our brethren realize that the fathers of our movement, the
Separates, were among the first to use the altar for a place of serious
contemplation of their spiritual condition. G.W. Paschal quotes from the
History of the Grassy Creek Church, p. 68:
“When the preacher had finished his sermon he would
come down from the pulpit and while he and the brethren were singing an
appropriate hymn he would go around among them shaking hands. After the
singing of the hymn he “would extend an invitation to such persons as
felt themselves to be poor, guilty sinners and were anxiously inquiring
the way of salvation to come forward and kneel near the stand, or if
they preferred to do so they could kneel at their seats, proffering to
unite with them in prayer for their conversion.”—G.W. Pascal, History
of the North Carolina Baptists, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1930, p.
4. The Separate Baptist Revival illustrated the
true and hard road of the fulfilling of the Great Commission. In a
real sense, the simple plan for revival in America was lost during the
"era of revival" in America, because we have forgotten about the greatest
and most scriptural revival in our history.
The method of the separates
was scriptural and it basically came down to this:
gospel to everyone at every available occasion
believers by immersion
c)having a constant
aim to birth and organize new churches
Point “a” and point “b” of this methodology
has been taught in fundamentalist and Baptist colleges all during the 20th
century, BUT, point “c”, has never been tremendously emphasized as a tenet of the
great commission. To this day, in the best of our Baptist colleges, the
idea of birthing churches is a casual reference. Why is it?
The reason can only be that the fundamentalist and
Baptist college movement in America had its roots in the “evangelical
alliance” movement of the 19th century and our history departments simply do not know
about the Separates. In addition, our mentality was (and still is) a
super church mentality based on the huge successes of a handful of
preachers in the 20th century. There is a great problem in
that, most preachers
are never going to build that big ole’ huge church they dreamed about
in college. So in frustration most preachers never even think
that perhaps God could use them to birth a bunch of smaller ones.
If we would use illustrations about Stearns more
often than Moody maybe we would start thinking like Stearns and his new
Testament model. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not criticizing Moody or
any great evangelist, or even the great Baptist church builders of the
20th century like Dr. Norris, Dr. Vick or Dr. Hyles. I am
saying that they were so unusual and unique, most cannot do what they
If we would tell more illustrations about Daniel Marshall
than Sam Jones maybe we would start thinking like him. If we would use
Samuel Harris more often in our illustrations than William Booth, maybe
our preacher boys would get the right idea about soul winning and church
planting. If we would just talk about Abraham Marshall and John Waller
and John Gano and William Hickman and Joseph Murphy and Tidence Lane and
Elijah Craig and well, you get the picture…
A vivid illustration of this is in our web magazine
21tnt.com this very month (March 2002).There is posted the wonderful
sermon on revival by the incomparable Vance Havner. He gives such
forceful arguments for revival and it is obvious the power of God is all
over the man as he preaches this vital sermon. However, the Baptist
Havner, does not use a single Baptist revivalist or church planter or
evangelist in his illustrations of revival. There are references to
Moody and Whitefield and William Booth and Jonathan Edwards…all great
men. And I am not saying this to be critical of Vance Havner, we all
know what a tremendous man of God Vance Havner was, but he was only
saying what he heard. He was simply telling us all he knew about, that
is, what he was taught by the legacy of the “evangelical alliance”
of the 19th century.
Don’t you think it’s about time we changed this