19 August 2008

Altar Call Anyone?

By conservative estimates I have heard approximately 1200 altar calls in my life. For years I pretty much gave up on them but recently I have been rethinking the idea of an altar call, or a response to the Word, or a response to the presence of God in your life.

First of all I found the constant drumming message of salvation offered by my home church's pastor to be bit much. Everyone was a Christian, baptized, rededicated at least 3 or 4 times, so the constant call to come forward and accept Jesus got old, in my view. You could say I became cynical of the whole enterprise and have yet to ever issue one, until this summer...

Why? Well the reality is that most of the folk who come to church as guests or visitors are not Christians, or they are lapsed Christians, or folk who have never been properly challenged to follow Christ. I say this will be the norm for my time as a pastor rather than the exception. So I started issuing invitations at the end of my sermons. They are not full-fledged altar calls but invitations to walk the Christian life with me, with one another.

A couple of weeks ago I asked for to join me on the pilgrimage. One woman came up during the time of peace and said she was ready for the pilgrimage. On another occasion I asked folk to cultivate a daily practice to remind them of God's presence and love. One woman left a pebble in her shoe, even switched it from foot to foot so as not to develop a numbness to the prick of the pebble.

Then while reading book #31, The Integrity of the Church, by E. Glenn Hinson I came across this quote from page 130: 
Although justifiable criticism may be made of actual practice, invitations in Baptist churches in America to respond to the word by commitment or renewal of the covenant are doubtless an authentic way of manifesting this response. The earliest Christian preaching, at any rate, included such appeals.

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