Saturday, February 21, 2009

Where's the Altar Call?

Cedarbrook attracts a wide variety of people from diverse church backgrounds. You'll find a smorgasbord of experiences from Catholic to Pentecostal to Lutheran to New Age and who knows what else! It's that way by design. We want to be inclusive but people with strong church backgrounds always wonder why we don't do what they are used to doing. Like in the early days we got a lot of people asking why we never said The Lord's Prayer. (Short Answer: Jesus didn't give us the prayer as a ritual for church services. He gave it as a model for prayer.)

Someone just asked me why I never invite people to "accept Christ" at the end of the service or provide an "altar call" (inviting people to come forward as a sign of their commitment to Christ, ala Billy Graham). That is very common in evangelical churches (churches whose mission is to tell others about Jesus. I consider Cedarbrook evangelical) and something that was done all the time at the church I attended way back. This is what I wrote back...

Great question! I never do an "altar call" type invitation. I have nothing against it. For some church cultures it's very appropriate. Occassionally I'll call people to make a commitment to follow Christ. I've asked people to pray a prayer of commitment now and then. I could probably do this more often. What I'm trying to avoid is getting people to prematurely make a "decision" for Christ that only gives them some kind of false assurance of connecting to God. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus every day, not someone who prays a prayer once to relieve their guilty conscience. So I stay away from anything that implies salvation is an event and lean toward things that communicate that it is a 24/7 lifestyle. I think my messages regularly challenge people to deny themselves and put God first. If my ministry encourages people to develop this kind of lifestyle then I feel pretty good about the results.

Having said this, I do think that for many people there is a moment in time when a decision is made to follow Christ. I don't want to diminish this in any way. For some it's a gradual awakening. That's what happened in my life. For others it all gels in a moment and they pray and tell God that "from this moment on I'm yours".

I hope this helps. I'm happy to answer other questions. Fire away.


Anonymous said...


Understand that Jesus and you are more interested in making fully devoted followers, than people who think they got their "Get out of Hell Free" card stamped and leave the church eight weeks later. (Barna)

How do you explain Acts 2:37-38 and "Brothers, What should we do?"

Are we completely passive in our salvation?

Remy Diederich said...

Oh, I don't think so. It's like any relationship, you have to engage. You have to accept the love offered and respond. I just don't want to reduce it to a formula. We humans would never treat each other like we often treat God! No one would tolerate someone following a formula to relate to them. Why do we think God is so simple minded? If our faith is genuine we will live it out every day and over time. This is a marathon not a sprint. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Can you elaborate a little more on gradual versus moment? I always feel a little lost when you have mentioned this before. Maybe it's my evangelical background.

Maybe use an analogy like marriage to help explain? I assume at some point in getting to know Lisa, it became clear that you wanted to marry her. But you weren't really married until you said your vows, until what I think you are calling a "moment". I'm not saying your ceremony or vows had to look like someone else's or be able to recall all the details of the whole thing (or even remember the anniversary date!), but there had to be some point where you were offically in a marriage relationship vs. dating.

I guess I am not clear on what you define as "gradual". It sounds like a vague, undefined relationship or following. When does someone cross over from "dating God" in a sense to marriage?

Thanks, Remy, for any clarity you can give.

Remy Diederich said...

Well, I think you've provided a great analogy in marriage. I'd agree with that. I asked Lisa to marry me and then proclaimed that commitment with a ceremony. Baptism is like the marriage ceremony in my mind. And I think the "proposal" is the prayer of commitment. I don't deny that everyone has to "accept" Jesus into their life at some time. My point was that I don't like to force it with an altar call. For some people it can be a very moving experience. For others it can merely be going through the motions and I don't want to encourage that. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I want to tell you that I really appreciate not having the alter call. I grew up in the Assemblies of God and we would have an 'alter call' almost every week. If you didn't go forward in agreement with whatever the sermon was about that particular day, which few people dared to NOT go forward, you were looked down upon.
I also love the marriage analogy!