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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Aaron's least favorite altar call line

Since a Christian growing up in a historic liturgical Christian denomination would have no idea what an "altar call" is, the title of this post definitely betrays my background. I am a red-blooded American evangelical Christian. For millions of people just like me, the words "altar call" flow just as easily off the tongue as say, "Merry Christmas." We know exactly what it means. The altar call is the portion of the church service (or evangelistic crusade service) where the preacher makes an invitation for sinners to receive Christ. At least, that is what it used to mean. Nowadays altar calls can be so general that the whole church must come forward lest an individual face social embarrasment (e.g...If you just want to be closer to God, please come forward). In many churches I've been to, I've seen people coming forward to relieve stress from their lives and then the preacher throws a bait and switch and leads them in the sinners prayer. The preacher then makes the poor souls face the congregation while hundreds of people are clapping for the new soul registered in the Lamb's Book of Life. The evangelist in me wants to scream out "That's not the gospel!", but then I realize that I am in a crowded building where nobody knows who I am and I keep my objections to myself lest I risk..well...social embarrasment.

I must admit that, as an evangelist, I have committed my faux pas as well. As much as I hate to admit it, I have indeed used the "every head bowed and every eye closed" line, usually because judging the nature of the crowd, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Even in that, however, I would move on to a more public commitment usually by asking the people to come forward to make their confession known publicly. Therefore, my least favorite line is not "every head bowed and every eyes closed."

Having ruled out the most obvious altar call line, what could possibly be my least favorite? Here it goes: "I am not asking you to join a church, I am asking you to join the family of God." The "every head bowed every eye closed" line is usually a matter of etiquette or crowd control, but the "I am not asking you to join a church, I am asking you to join the family of God" line betrays a much bigger problem-a problem ,I might add, that is rooted in American culture. For my faithful blog readers, I would like to pose the question to you. Can you think of a reason or two why I do not like this line? Discuss!

6 comments:

toby said...

i may know what you're talking about. when people throw out the "i'm not asking you to join a church...", they're not really hleping them because church attendance (the right type of gathering among believers) is essential for a Christian's life.

ps: i also really dislike when the preacher tricks people into coming to the front, or into something else. Jesus spoke of counting the cost before building the house; but at a lower level than that (common courtesy), it's rude to trick someone.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Toby for that. The two reasons why I don't like the line are:

1. It is dishonest. We all know that evangelism is measured by church growth.
2. Should we really be apologizing for the fact that it is necessary to connect with a local group of believers?

Pete said...

Aaron and Toby,

I am not a fan of that line either, however I differ on a few things here.

1. I have used the line "every eye closed and every head bowed" and will continue to. It is out of respect to the intimacy of that moment and is a good practice in my opinion.
2. I have never been tricked into going to the altar or into saying the sinner's prayer. The altar is a refuge at which to become closer to God and it's not the pastor's fault if I'm ashamed to be up there. In fact there was one point in my life where I went up every Sunday just so I could get over that. Also, I AM a sinner, so I pray along with it every chance I get whether or not I'm at the altar. There's nothing shameful in it.
3. I don't believe that evangelism is measured in church growth. I think that it is just one of many factors. For example, I can easily think of churches much bigger than mine that are full of christians who, as Toby Mac would say, " acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyle". Make no mistake, anyone with a little flair can fill up a church with people who call themselves christians in no time flat. Evangelism is much more than just numbers to me.
However I will say that I thought your other points were dead on.
Pete
P.S. I realize that you might not like it when I openly disagree with you, but I say what I mean so that you can trust me when I give you a pat on the back as well.

seeker_tot said...

I think this line is really very valid, because many people have been burned by churches and cults who are trying merely to get people to join their temporal organization, as if that saves. People distrust organizations, and when we call them forward, we need to let them know that we have no interest in adding them to our cadre of personal slaves, er, disciples, but rather, they are joining the church Universal.

They only need to trust God to be saved. Upon followup, and in our regular teaching, we can emphasize the importance of true membership in the life of a Christian, but in order to remove the unnecessary fear of being taken into a cult and such a personal and vulnerable moment, I think it is altogether appropriate to assure people that we have no intention of controlling or abusing them, and this is one good way to do it.

marnanel said...

I think that's very important. People don't become Christians just between themselves and God. They are drawn into the community, what some of us call the communion of saints. This is not just important, it's necessary, and the US is such an individualistic society that it's often forgotten. To deny the fact right at the beginning of a person's Christian life is asking for trouble.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you for the last comment. You've hit the nail on the button. People don't simply become Christians between themselves and God. This is an idea invented by American individualism. If this line were delivered in an evangelistic crusade in Africa, the people would look at the preacher like he just arrived from another planet.