While I was on paternity leave I had some guest preachers come in. We had a soon to graduate Divinity School student, a retired clergy, and our District Superintendent. I as heard from my ‘spies’ on how the service went they gave good reports on all of them. One ended 15 minutes early and one 15 minutes late. What struck me was one gave an altar at the end of the service. “Apparently he had some deep Baptist roots,” one of my ‘spies’ told me. During the course of that next week I ran into other parishioners and they all mentioned the altar call. It got me thinking…why don’t I do altar calls.
I don’t do them because they leave a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, it is seems to have a very Baptist connotations to it and I find my self trying to define myself as non-baptist here in NC. One of my professors in Divinity School said, “There’s more Baptists than people in North Carolina.” I am not talking bad about Baptists, don’t get me wrong, I am merely expressing that being United Methodist is not the same as Southern Baptist.
I have been to some congregations, Baptist, Pentecostal and Non-denominational where altar calls have been given and I have often thought, “Did they really think there sermon was that good?” Or it seems shallow and an attempt to manipulate emotions, especially when youth are involved.
I do feel that there are times when altar calls are important and useful. On youth retreats there are plenty of non-churched people and a call to take following Jesus seriously is a good idea. An offering to accept the gift of salvation is great. But, once again, when it is done out of an authentic place and lead by the Spirit, not the ego of the speaker. I turned a youth retreat into a revival one summer just because I was yawning, but that is another post for another time.
Getting back to the point, why don’t I do altar calls? That question has haunted me for a while and then I remembered what we ask our members at the time we welcome them into full membership through profession of faith. We ask them, do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? Then we ask the congregation, do you, as Christ’s body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?
Why, when I ask these questions, do I need to do altar calls? I have done calls to prayers for certain things but never to ‘raise your hand if you accept Jesus.’ I don’t because even if a visitor is in my congregation, my hope is that person will be welcomed into the body of Christ and when that person is, they will answer these questions and profess that Jesus Christ is their Savior. If they were members of other churches than when others join they will be asked to reaffirm their belief and commitment to Christ.
If I were to continually call people to be ‘saved’ then wouldn’t I be negating what we, as United Methodists, profess before we join the Body of Christ? Would that wash away our membership vows and make them an oath we say before joining a social club?
I stand by the questions I ask and the answers that are given.