Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Altar Calls

I've driven the GD out to Winnipeg to return her to the bosom of her family and have much to write of the trip through Saskatchewan and our holy pilgrimage to Rouleau but I want to download my pictures first....so later.

On the trip I spent some time thinking about the service we had Sunday in Coaldale. It was Settlers'Days last weekend and is our custom all the churches organize a joint service for the Sunday. It was in the field behind the Sportsplex and about six different churches had representatives involved. It was a nice service with some good music lead by a praise band from one of the Mennonite churches. I really enjoy our ministerial when I get to it and they had done all the work organizing the service. All I had to do was show up and do the final blessing.

I don't really remember our conversations about what the theme would be other than that it was good for us as Christians to gather together. I had to chuckle though when much of what was said was a kind of altar call. The guest preacher told the story of his own conversion, of how he was raised in a good home and thought he was a Christian until a young woman he was interested in told him he wasn't. He was drinking and brawling and she told him he wasn't living like a Christian and six months later he fell down on his knees and gave his life to Christ. Now we might think we are Christians but maybe aren't and need to give our lives to him.

Looking around the congregation of folks meeting on a beautiful July morning in a field in the middle of town I thought it rather unlikely that there going to be many people there who would respond to such an altar call. It seemed likely most of them probably think that they are Christians. They might struggle with faith, they might anguish over their sinfulness, but I think they probably understand themselves to be Christians involved in this struggle. Sanctification was probably more of an issue than justification.

But maybe I'm wrong and someone was responding in their heart to his words. My problem is that I've never found altar calls all that moving. Years ago I attended a friend's Pentecostal church with her and they had a visiting preacher who was determined to convert that congregation. He preached an altar call that was still going on after two hours when we slipped out that door. He was determined that people were going to come up and give their lives to Jesus but he really was preaching to the converted.

The sermons that have grabbed me heart and mind are not the ones that raise doubts about whether I've actually 'given my life to Jesus' because isn't the point that we are always 'justified and yet still sinners'? I know that my following of Jesus is fraught with moments of doubt, looking back, distraction, losing my way. I give and then I try to take it back all the time. The times that call my attention back to what I have set my heart on are the times when I see others following Jesus and I realize I'm going off in the wrong direction. The preacher told us that when he was drinking and brawling he wasn't really a Christian and after he prayed in a particular way he was. Maybe. But his story sounded a lot more to me like the story of the prodigal son who had lost his way and then came to his senses and started home again. I wished he had told us more about what it was like when the father welcomed him home. I wanted to hear more about what it is like for him to be a follower of Jesus. It is always the lives of saints that convict me of my shortcoming and spur me on to a new commitment.

1 comment:

aaronorear said...

Sometimes I wonder if that need to "convert" the congregation isn't at the heart of the splintering of Protestant churches...here he's saying we need to be holier. We're a LOT holier than him! Let's go start our own church!