Continued from previous entry..
Many hard-line fundamentalists will take a firm stance against modern and post-modern church growth strategies, i.e. ‘The Purpose Driven Church’, or strategies used by Crystal Cathedral, Joel Osteen, and Willow Creek. I think that Christians are right in the rejection of these strategies because of their focus. That focus is on psychology, creating a feeling. These strategies utilize the scriptures as man’s tool for converting souls. This is crazy when you think about it. The scripture is God’s revelation to man, it is not a tool, it is truth. The scriptures are not something we use for a purpose; they are something we present as a truth. (Churches that focus heavily on social reform and lightly on evangelism typically view scripture as a tool to bring about reform, on the other hand churches that are focused heavily on evangelism often view the scripture as the believers tool to win souls.) Once again the scripture is not to be used as a tool by man period. It is the POWER OF GOD unto salvation, it is God’s tool, He is the one, the only one who has the authority to use it. We will submit to it, we will present it, we will preach it, and teach it, and sing it, but it is only God who will empower it, and use it for His purpose. Often times the fundamentalist, altar-calling church is so quick to criticize the post-modern church or mega church that it doesn’t even take notice that what they are criticizing they are also practicing. The mega church generates emotion to get the guard of the sinner down and then slips in the gospel. The altar call is no different, the preacher will pick and choose the verses to use as a psychological tool to break down the sinner and when the sinner is in an emotionally defeated state the preacher presents the gospel, opens the altar for all to come forward. In both situations tools are used by man to generate response, and by pragmatic reasoning both methods are excellent because they net large results. However, the results are rarely permanent and life changing. The net result is often a non Christian who feels unjustifiably right with God because they came to the altar at one point during an emotional experience.
Why must we use the scriptures as a tool to generate a response at the altar? Are we to use the scriptures as a tool so that we may condemn the world of sin? Or, are we simply to present the scriptures as the truth that they are, and let the Lord cause the Word to collide with the law written on the hearts of mankind so that he can bring his glorious redemption. The altar call is unnecessary, that is unless you need to see results to trust that the preaching was ‘good’. The Lord will work a mighty work in a man or woman when the word is preached and truth gets a hold of their conscience and heart. Whether the Lord blesses the preaching to the sinner’s heart at the church, or at the sinners home, or in the sinners car or anywhere else is up to the Lord, yet in our quest for seeing the response we have created the altar call. The altar call focuses more on the decision than on the work of God unto salvation. When we see an altar call take place we get nervous at first that nobody is going up, and then we start to get excited when people start walking forward, and then when that prayer is prayed we are overcome with joy, what a mighty work of God we think. Yet we all know too well that many of these professions at the altar prove to be false and therefore we have rejoiced not at the work of God, but at the decision of a man to come forward in an emotionally altered state. I remember all to well when a friend of mine came at an altar call and I remember the tears shed and the joy felt and yet to this day 7 years later this friend has not shown an ounce of regeneration. It felt real at the time, but only because it was a carefully crafted moment in time used to generate an emotional response out of an unsuspecting unbeliever.
So what should we do? Should we refrain from emotional preaching? Absolutely not, the word is filled with emotion and to preach unemotionally would be to leave out some of the full counsel. What we cannot do is try to manufacture emotion by carefully crafting our messages to elicit a response. We need to trust that God will use the plain preaching of His word to redeem His chosen people. Often times we feel a person must know their exact moment of conversion and thus the altar call provides a means of ‘knowing’ that exact time. This is not necessary, it never has been. Personally I can remember a time when I was not saved, and I can remember time past after being saved, yet the in-between time when God did a powerful work and turned my heart is all a blur that kind of runs together, and frankly I am ok with that. I personally do not need an exact moment in time to verify in my heart that God performed a mighty work in me to turn me away from sin and death and toward Him.
Finally the altar call often serves as a distraction from the preaching of God’s word itself. How many times have you left a meeting and the altar call experience is what you remember the most. The preaching may have been excellent and God honoring, yet that all too often fades into the background after experiencing the emotionally filled altar call. The Lord will use good preaching to bring many sinners to the cross right in their pew, the trip to the altar is merely added pageantry. I would contend that those who did respond to the altar and were saved the Lord had begun changing them during the preaching and would have done the work just fine without the altar, and those who go to the altar without being saved are the ones who looked to the emotional altar call for their salvation.
Well that is enough of a rant for this topic.