Thinking Out Loud

April 29, 2016

Camp Memories (4)

The camp that I worked at was large enough that the food services operations had been contracted out to a catering company. Some of the teens who got hired were friends of other people on our junior staff, but there was no screening of anyone in the sense that our staff had to have a recommendation from a pastor, a youth pastor, and enclose a copy of their personal testimony.

All this meant that our dishwashers and housekeeping staff — who were Christians — regularly interacted with non-Christians who were cooks and bakers. Furthermore, the cooking staff got to attend any of the special events that were taking place in the evenings — special speakers, concerts, etc. — which meant that over time they had a number of questions about what we believed.

Evangelizing the people from the catering firm became a priority for the dishwashers (guys who fell under my supervision) and the housekeepers (girls who lived with the female bakers and cooks).

As Labor Day approached, two of the bakers were close to crossing the line of faith, but there was no indication that this was happening anytime soon. This increased the level of concern — and prayer, I hope — on the part of the housekeeping staff to the point where they upped their game in terms of pleading with the two who had expressed some interest.

img 042916I will say this: Regardless of your views on soteriology, or any aspects of the monergism/synergism debate, there is something to be said for the line from the Billy Graham radio show, “This is your hour of decision.” And there’s, “Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation.” And don’t forget, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Even if you believe that salvation happens as process and not in a moment of crisis, I believe there is still always a defining moment.

Then, on Labor Day Monday, in other words on the same day, and possibly within an hour of each other, the two girls decided it was time to make that commitment.

So the housekeeping staff were ecstatic.

And they ran and got me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I had never been in the spiritual delivery room before. I just thought it was interesting that after evangelizing and sharing their faith journey all summer with the two catering staff members, they felt they needed a professional to lead the actual conversion moment. And they thought that I was that professional. (We did have people with theology degrees on staff, but…)

So, not knowing what I know now, I felt it necessary to have them “pray a prayer” because that’s what the Bible says you do when you want to enter into eternal life, right? (Well, it does and doesn’t.)

Girl One joined me in the dining room, which was an appropriate setting given their summer had consisted of preparing the food which was eaten there. I told her that I was going to give a line and she simply had to repeat it after me. She did. Smiles. Hugs and high fives.

Then Girl Two came in and after a brief discussion, I told her to simply repeat the prayer after me. I was on a roll now. Any chance there’s a third person waiting outside?

“Dear Jesus;” I said.

“Dear Jesus;” she repeated.

“I acknowledge that I’m a sinner;” was the next line.

Silence.

“I acknowledge that I have sinned;” I repeated with slight editing.*

“I can’t pray this;” she said. 

Wait, what?

At this point I could have concluded that she just wasn’t ready; or that she’d felt coerced into this moment; or that peer pressure had resulted from the other girl’s decision. Or perhaps she just couldn’t give intellectual assent to committing to follow Christ. Or maybe I’d worded it wrong and she didn’t want to think of herself as a sinner.

For all those reasons, I could have just suspended this and suggested she think about it and get back in contact with the camp or her new friends at some point in the fall.

But I didn’t go that route. Instead I opened my mouth and this came out:

“Then just tell God, in your own words, what you want to say to him right now.”

I have no idea what she said next; I only remember that it was sincere, it was beautiful and it passed whatever was my ‘sinner’s prayer’ litmus test. And there were more smiles, more hugs and more high fives…

…Today I know so much more. Entering into new life is more than a prayer; it’s a commitment to live a new life in a new way under the Lord-ship of Jesus Christ even when the cost is difficult. But for that day, that would have to suffice.

There was little time to arrange for follow-up, but I heard some encouraging news in the short-term through my housekeeping contacts, and we did have monthly camp reunions — this was a huge camp — back then which kept some staff in touch in a world before email, texting and social media.

In the years that followed, I got to pray with other people while doing itinerant youth ministry** as a guest speaker in various churches; but there was never another moment like this one.

I’m just so thankful that I was there when needed and when the opportunity arose.***


*After 11 weeks at camp, I think the doctrine of sin had been clearly defined, but today, if I was going to introduce a prayer at all, I would probably word it differently.

**I got to experience some interesting situations and meet some great people in itinerant ministry, but there is something to be said for working in a local church environment where you really get to know the same people over an extended period of time. At camp, working and living and sleeping in community created some close relationships, but eleven weeks seems like such a short time and the nature of the organization made follow-up challenging. I love the context for ministry that camp creates, but it’s important to recognize the shortcomings of any evangelism model.

***It’s easy for an organization to miss the importance of ministry to its workers. Some of the greatest life-changes are taking place at the staff-level and it’s important for senior staff to see the summer as a two-pronged program.

 

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October 1, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Gospel Van

Photo: Drew Dyck

A fresh crop of October links! Mind you, they’re all dated September. But they’re new to you.

Yes! The links are still also at Parse, the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today. Click here to read there!

For our closing graphic we return to TwentyOneHundred Productions’ Facebook page, the gift that keeps on giving. 2100 is the media division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  (We poached another one from them for tomorrow…I feel like I should make a donation to my local IVCF chapter…) Click the image to link, or follow them at this page.

Books of the Bible

March 12, 2013

“He said the prayer, that’s enough.”

Altar Call 1

The sinner’s prayer produces false converts.

I was going to use this as an item in tomorrow’s link list, but it truly deserves a much larger audience. This appeared at Arminian Today.

I remember once attending a Baptist church with a buddy of mine.  At the end of the meeting, the Baptist preacher gave a typical, “bow your head and close your eyes” type of altar call in which he asked people to “accept Christ into your heart today, before it’s too late.”  A young teenager “came forward to receive Christ.”  The preacher spoke to the lad, prayed with him, and then announced that the teenager was saved and was a candidate for baptism to which they had a quick congregational vote on the matter and a man raised his hand to second the pastor’s vote for the teen’s baptism.  They then asked us to come up and shake hands with the teenager and welcome him into the family of God.

When I got to the teen, I could tell that he really had no clue what was going on.  So I quickly said to him, “Do you understand what it means to repent of your sins?”  To which he said no.  I was just starting to explain to him what it means to repent when a woman pushed me out of the way and said loudly, “He said the prayer, that’s enough now move on.”

The teenager never came back again.

“The prayer.”  That is how many see salvation.  Just say this prayer and you are in.  Repeat these magic words and you’re in the kingdom of God.  Despite not one example of anyone “praying to receive Christ” in the New Testament and despite not one example from the ministry of Jesus where He instructed His disciples to do this, the modern evangelical church seems fixed on practicing this unbiblical practice.  One large church in Charlotte, NC likes to boast about how many “prayed to receive Christ” and they boast that thousands upon thousands have asked Jesus into their hearts for the first time through this church.  Yet not one New Testament passage is offered for such a practice.

Furthermore, compare the ministries of the great saints of God in Church History.  John Knox.  William Tyndale. William Carey. John Calvin.  James Arminius.  John Wesley.  George Whitefield.  Peter Cartwright.  Charles Spurgeon.  Jonathan Edwards. Not one of these men of God used the “sinner’s prayer” or exhorted sinners to pray to receive Christ.  They certainly used John 1:12-13 and called sinners to look to Christ alone to be saved but none of them had modern altar calls.  The modern altar call does not even appear until the late 1800′s and was especially used by men such as D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and of course, Billy Graham. Charles Finney seems to be the first to introduce what he called, “the anxious bench” where seekers could come and hear more about how to be saved.  From here came the modern practice of “coming down front to receive Christ.”  Spurgeon would call his hearers to receive Christ but he would exhort them to go to a prayer room where a waiting Christian would instruct them on what it means to truly be saved.  This is also the practice of John MacArthur today.

I believe the modern altar call has produced countless false converts.  Since sin is rarely preached against or at least is not even biblically defined (1 John 3:4), many also don’t understand what it means to be saved in the first place.  Saved from what? Saved from whom?  Why must we repent of our sins?  Why does God require repentance?  The modern church seems to have forgotten also that salvation is a work of God (1 Peter 1:3). Regeneration is not a work of the flesh that comes from praying a prayer or saying words or raising a hand. Regeneration is a divine work of God (John 3:3; Titus 3:5-7).  We cannot save ourselves.  We must cast ourselves completely upon the Lord Jesus to deliver us from God’s just wrath (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  To be honest, too often gospel messages spend too much time focused on our sin instead of the holiness and justice of God.  It is God whom we should fear and it is His laws that we have violated (Luke 12:4-5).  We should be preaching the justice of God in regard to sinning (Hebrews 10:31).

I do praise God that more and more are realizing after studying both the Word of God and Church History that the sinner’s prayer is not a biblical nor historical practice. It is not based on the clear examples of the New Testament nor upon the examples of great church leaders.  We find nothing in the early Church Fathers to suggest that they used a practice of altar calls.  The Church has preached salvation through Christ for 2000 years and this must be our message again if we are to see the lost saved (Romans 1:16-17). Salvation does not come by the tools of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) but the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Let us trust again in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and save the lost (John 16:8-11).

…In sourcing the image that appears below, I ended up at an article by Caribbean pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.  Since I believe we linked to it back in 2011 when it was published, I’ll just include the numbered points in the middle of the piece, but you can read it all at this link.

1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.

2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centered, manipulative methodology.

3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).

4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.”

5. The altar call partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.

6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only “up front.”

7. The altar call can confuse people regarding “sacred” things and “sacred” places, as the name “altar call” suggests.

8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.

9. The altar call is often seen as “the most important part of the service”, and this de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship which God has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing).

10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things He has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing), not the things we have invented. We should always be leery of adding to God’s prescriptions for His corporate worship.

Altar Call 2

Upper image source  Lower image source via source

Related item here at Thinking Out Loud

July 28, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Quite honestly, I don’t know of another Christian blog that contains as many blogroll links as this one.

There’s a rule in Christian blogging that goes something like, “By their links ye shall know them.”   If you tried to evaluate this blog on that basis you’d be really confused.

Out of about 300 or so that I visit weekly, the ones that are posted here — some regularly and a few that rotate on and off — represent a rather eclectic mix of ages, geographical locations, readership size and doctrinal preferences. (Can you find the Quaker blog in the list?)

Some of them I endorse wholeheartedly, while others contain elements which are a source of potential embarrassment.   If they seem to drift too far from their original focus, I pull them from the list, but there are those who find their way back as well.   Some are dropped because they just don’t post often enough.

One thing I want to do more of in future involves finding blogs which are either just starting out, or have never attracted strong numbers and include them in the blogroll or the Wednesday Link List.   If you have a Christianity-focused blog you’d like to promote; this is a great week to put your link in the comments section.  If you are an e-mail subscriber, here’s the list you don’t usually get to see on the blog.

Regular links return next week.

Oh, Oh, The Places You’ll Go

ADDED THIS WEEK:  Devotional blog 300 Words a Day.

VIDEO LINK OF THE WEEK:  Reflections on the Ground Zero Mosque uploaded two months ago by Acts 17 Apologetics.  A rather amazing thesis, worth the 7 minutes.

“… BUT I FEEL SO RIPPED OFF, CAN’T YOU COME UP WITH A SINGLE NEW LINK?”  Okay, but there’s a lot of reading here.   Josh at the blog Enoch Route compares the notion of  “the sinner’s prayer” to a prayer that you pray before becoming a Muslim.


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