Excerpts and adaptation of a blog post by M. Spencer, in which he takes on the pervasive use of the "altar call" in evangelicalism. The Assembly didn't use altar calls, but the pattern of the preaching was much the same. Instead of, "Come forward to get victory'', we were constantly admonished to be more zealous and committed--"Surrender your self will, die to self, to know Christ on the throne of your life." But how much did we ever feel we had reached the carrot at the end of the stick, an experience of Christ's reigning power?
If you are like me--and too many of you are, it’s scary--then you’ve heard, over and over and over, what amounts to what I call the promise of the “invisible lifeline” in much evangelical preaching: Do this thing- and the “thing” can vary greatly- and you’ll be taking hold of God and his power. This amounts to a kind of evangelical sacramentalism, and that needs to be acknowledged. If you don’t know what I mean, let’s try out some of the cars currently on the lot. Climb in and let’s take a spin....
....If you’ll take a position serving in our church program, you’ll grow as a Christian.” (Ever notice that it’s the church jobs that have that promise of blessing? Not your job at work or serving anywhere else in the community.)
Assembly version: "You need to be more available," or, "You need to move into a training home to learn excellence."
“Many of you aren’t reading your Bible and praying, so is it any surprise that you don’t feel close to God? Jesus is waiting to meet you, but you aren’t showing up.” (More about individualism later, but this is a step in the right direction in one way that can almost immediately become an empty promise.)
Assembly version: "You need to be having "morning times" to get a promise for the day."
“Have you cleansed your home and your life of the music and activities that are separating you from God? If you’ll take the step of being willing to say “No” to the world, Jesus will come and fellowship with you.”
Assembly version: "You need to get rid of your TV and your rock music to get on with the Lord."
"Of course, these are pretty minor league. Ever heard some of these heavy hitters? Have you completely surrendered to Jesus? Have you come to the point of total surrender to Jesus? Are you ready to do that this morning by coming forward?”
Assembly version: "You need to die to self to become a spiritual person."
“This church needs Christians who are sold-out, on fire, dedicated, consecrated and radical for Jesus. Are you willing to become that today?”
Assembly version: "The Lord wants Christians who are sold-out, on fire, dedicated, consecrated and radical for Jesus. You need to make a commitment to fellowship."
“Have you asked the Holy Spirit to fill your life? Have you confessed all of your sins? Have you wept over your heart?”
Assembly version: "The self life has a grip on you. What sins are you holding onto?"
“Are you really walking with Christ? Do you really love him? If you’re one of those people who is just acting a part, I want you to come forward today and get real with Jesus.”
Assembly version: If you're one of those people who are just acting a part, you need to make a commitment to fellowship and get real with the Lord."
“Is Jesus Lord of your life? He can be. This very morning. If you will come forward and pray this prayer, you’ll enter into a new dimension of the Christian life. The days of the ordinary are over.”
Assembly version: Jesus is not Lord of your life. Pray the Selfer's Prayer and Christ will be on the throne of your life."
“How many of you can honestly say this morning that you would GLADLY die for Christ? You’d gladly give up a child or a spouse so that Jesus can be glorified? If not, what’s holding you back?”
Assembly version: Same.
“If you come to the special meetings/concert/revival/small groups/etc we’re having this month, you will ________________________.” (Fill in blank as you choose.)
Assembly version: Same.....
This past week, a pastor in my hometown resigned for moral failure. I’ve been through some tough times in my own ministry and life, and I don’t consider myself the superior of anyone in this position, I assure you. But the irony will haunt everyone in that church: “All the things he told us about how Christ Jesus comes into our lives; all those practical sermons that directed us to all the things that we’re trying to do; all the promises that God would meet us on the lifelines this church was offering…..was it real? Or was it all a lie? If it wasn’t true for him, why can we be sure it will be true - or is true - for us?
I’d like to appeal to as many as will ever read this essay to consider what might be the result if we quit using this kind of rhetoric and if, even better, we abandoned the entire way of thinking that lies behind it all. Instead....
Magnify simple faith. Nurture it. Encourage it. Grow it every way possible. Decrease the emphasis on every other kind of response and increase the constant focus on faith. Faith is a uniquely human response to God, and it’s as unique in each person as their own life’s journey, personality and journey with God. Over and over, tell people that it is faith that God wants, treasures and seeks to increase. Beyond that, be modest, and frequently silent.
...[P]oint to what Scripture clearly points to, without predefining the result. Be as concrete as possible without predefining the Holy Spirit’s work in an individual life.
• Prayer and worship.
• Obedience (with Biblical teaching and the example of Jesus in the forefront.)
• Service to the poor and the least.
• The daily imitation and mentoring of a discipleship relationship, preferably taking place in the context of community.
• The Actual Next Step, i.e. the next step in any of the above. For example, if you can’t serve the poor, find the poor. Learn about those who do. Go watch. Pray for them. Listen. Read. etc.
• Participation in the global purposes of God in planting churches and sending the Gospel to all people groups.
• Pursuing legitimate health and growth of relationships and communities--parenting, families, local congregation, small groups, etc. Emphasis on “legitimate” is important, as opposed to whatever someone says “must” be done, like build facilities. Assembly version: build the Work.
Love. Love God. Love neighbor. Love as Jesus loves. Enemies. Fellow believers. Spouse and children.
Just a note on individualism on the way out. I think one of the big problems with the ‘invisible lifeline' is it almost entirely functions in a hyper-individualistic atmosphere. The more we nurture genuine community and provide real options for response in community, then the less we turn people back onto themselves.
The entire spiritual life works much better when it’s not quite so spiritual. Go forgive a real person, don’t just ask to be more forgiving. Go pray with somebody about something instead of beating yourself up for not being prayerful.
Instead of wondering what in the heck “fully surrendered to Jesus means,” find the actual next step to sacrificing something for missions. Join a class where a teacher wiser than you will mentor and instruct you. Quit worrying about your spiritual life and do something Jesus would do if he had an hour to spend in your world.
Listen and be less the center of it all. Get a picture of the people of God and the work of the Spirit that’s not all about you.
In the Assembly we thought we knew what genuine community was all about, but it was an artificial environment, a sort of spiritual biosphere. Apply these things now in your current real-time community.
I’m tired of the “invisible lifeline.” I’ve wasted a lot of time with it. I need to get some traction in the real world.