What I heard tonight did not encourage me. This brother began his message with an attempted defense of the 'alter call' as something from God and found "all through the Bible." His attempts to justify this recent innovation were not convincing. He did not seem to understand that there is a huge difference between inviting people to turn from sin and embrace Christ by faith (which we must do!), and "herding people down front" at the end of a message (which is nowhere in the Bible). It quickly became clear that the latter was his intention. He then gave several examples of what he considered to be 'biblical examples' of God requiring individuals to "show their faith" by some action when invited to respond to Christ -- like Jesus telling the man with the withered hand to "stretch out his hand" or commanding the paralytic to "take up your mat and walk". I was grieved. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was he actually equating Jesus' gracious all-powerful command to broken people to be made whole by trusting in Christ alone, with his own intention to get us to the front of the building? Could he really believe this was the same?
His intention then became crystal clear, I believe, as he informed us that he was going to preach a message about "the minimal support of missions" after which he would invite us all "down front" to "God's alter" where we would commit to support missions. After a fairly brief message that was somewhat on point from Mt 9:35-38 (but of course filled with several 'heart tugging' stories), he then proceeded to do his best to get every person in the building "down to the alter" where we would make a commitment and someone would pray over us.
Anyone who knows me knows that I dearly love missions. I believe mission is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, and that the Great Commission applies to all God's people. I believe God calls all of us to go out for the sake of His name and declare his glory to the nations. We must do that! I wish that all God's people were zealous to go and support those who go. But this felt to me like crass manipulation. The brother from our church who attended with me and I were, the only people in the building, as far as I know, who remained in our seats. After that we left.
Since then I have struggled in my heart over this whole affair. It felt defiant to sit there while all others "moved forward" to be prayed for. But I could not in good conscience give into this show. It seemed to me that the real point was to satisfy a man's ego, not to glorify God! I do not intend to judge this man's heart (or the heart of any dear brother and sister there who did "move forward" for prayer), but this seemed to me to be an artificial device, and thus a thousand miles away from the powerful working of God's Spirit we find in the book of Acts and throughout church history. Why must we manipulate what appears to be a positive response to our message, but may in actuality be nothing more than a compliant crowd? When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, the crowd begged to know, "men and brethren, what must we do to be saved!" The response was clear because it was something God worked by His Spirit, not something the preacher suggested and encouraged in order to get an instant "validation" of his preaching.
When I got home, I picked up the missions magazine from another mission organization, HeartCry Missionary Society. What a different atmosphere I found there. As I was reading an article about a brother's call to serve the Lozi people of Zambia, my eye fell on the following :
To accomplish this goal of moving you to action, I could describe for you the Lozi’s primitiveliving conditions, their extreme poverty, or their isolation from the world. I could paint a picture of mud huts and filthy children in tattered clothes, with bellies swollen from malnutrition. I could relate tragic stories of spouses and siblings attacked by crocodiles or drowned in the river. Such stories would surely tug at your heart and move you to care about the Lozi, but only for a while. Therefore, I will not begin with an appeal to your emotions. Instead, I will confront your mind with the truth of Scripture, for I know that the deepest emotions, the most reliable and enduring impressions, must be founded upon the truth of God’s Word. In the following pages, I will remind you of what God says about the Lozi, that you might be moved to their aid.
Wow, what a difference of perspective! That's what I was longing for this evening! A God centered call to love what God loves and, for the sake of His great Name, to go out; as opposed to a manipulative call to "make a move for God right now so we can see the results."
My goal here is not to nitpick, but I am deeply troubled. I believe that ultimately the man-centeredness of our modern "gospel methods" is a perversion of the biblical Gospel...and a thousand miles away from our true calling.
There's a lot of thought and prayer that still needs to be given to this subject. May God help us work through it in a way that makes him look good, and causes us not to be seen at all.
"Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory"
For His Glory