At the end of 6 1/2 years of seminary in Dallas, I can tell you that I look a bit different than when I started. I put on quite a bit of weight, more than I am comfortable with. There are certain parts that just flat out embarrass me, which is why I try to take pictures from certain angles. These are the parts that have really been impacted by the weight gain, like my middle section. I hate what it looks like and long to be back to a certain weight. I want my body to look a certain way, at a certain size and it just doesn’t.
Well, if you are a Christian and reading this I think you know where I’m going with this analogy. If you are committed to a particular church model/structure/paradigm, we might find that there are those practices that are out of step with Scriptural faithfulness. When I consider my very eclectic doctrinal journey through varying church paradigms, I confess to having a two-fold reaction. On one hand, I cringe at some of the stuff I’ve been exposed to and foundation for abusive tendencies. On the other hand, through that journey, I’ve been privileged with the example of so many who sincerely love the Lord and want the best for His church, even if I thought the methods were not supported by Scripture.
I came across this post a while back, What if a Presbyterian minister gave a good, old-fashioned altar call? Now that I am in a Presbyterian church, I can’t imagine this ever happening. Just mentioning altar calls (and other forms of experientially oriented “worship” tactics) reminds me of the many years of emotional manipulation I observed. But I was sobered by the balance of the article;
Therefore Reformed friends, take it easy on our Christian brothers who call people to Christ after their prefered traditional manner. Cut them some slack and quit throwing the “Regulative Principle” in their face. Joshua called people to “choose this day whom they would serve.” Jeremiah called people to “circumcise themselves.” John the Baptist called people out into the wilderness to be baptized afresh. And Jesus commanded people to publicly and boldly proclaim their faith before men. Sure, any religious rite, ritual or traditional can become emotionally based, man-centered, and manipulative, but this does not necessary mean all are wrong in their practice because some are wrong. God has done some very good work through altar calls andinvitations given by his ministers in his evangelical church.
And now a word to my Non-Reformed friends. Come on, take it easy on your Christian brothers who call people to Christ after their traditional manner. I am fairly sure Jeremiah did not have a wooden pulpit and an altar/platform with steps. I am fairly sure he did not ask individuals to raise their hands or throw a stick in the fire. And I am absolutely sure they did not sing, “All to Jesus I Surrender” fourteen times. Jeremiah was not influenced by Charles Finney, and therefore he was comfortable calling people to repent according to his own cultural manner. So my fundamentalist and broadly evangelical friends, please do not consider your Christian brothers to be worldly compromisers who care not about calling people to Christ simply because they issue forth God’s call in a different manner than you and your tradition prefer.
What a unifying message! Not because he’s saying that church practice and liturgy does not matter, but because he recognizes the core message is turning to Christ. Even if the altar call can be manipulative, it still serves a purpose for those who genuinely experience regeneration and truly repent. Sure it might produce some false conversions, but more importantly, for those who genuinely experience regeneration, their steps to the altar reinforce this conversion.
I confess, I’m quite quick to get on my soapbox about the benefits and faithfulness of Presbyterian worship as I wrote about in Refreshment for the Soul. It is mainly born out of a desire for Christians to experience worship that I believe truly invokes rest in Christ and provokes love of God and neighbor. But I also realize I am not alone in my commitment to what I think is faithful ecclesiology born out of convictions from the study of Scripture and church history.
But at the same time, given the increasing number of Christians who have been so worn out from bad church experiences that they want nothing to do with it, that there is some kind of commitment to corporate worship should be applauded and encouraged even if it promotes a model we don’t agree with. Sure they may be participating in a paradigm that we don’t think is the most faithful to Scripture, but given the reality of increasing abandonment of any type of church structure, I fear that too much “bashing” will just reinforce the disinterest and work against the church that Christ said he is building.
I also grieve at the insistence that those who adhere to a particular paradigm must ALL be like X, as if faithful, pastoral types are exclusive only to their own model. I particularly find this true with those who reject any kind of institutionalism or hierarchy citing abuse and manipulation in the structure. So any leader from that model must be the same and people are not really getting shepherded. On the flip side, you have adherents of higher church models dismissing home church gatherings as those who aren’t serious about Christ or his church. While we may maintain that our own model is faithful to Scripture, where do we get to judge that those who participate in other models must not be taking their shepherding role serious? We don’t and we shouldn’t.
The bottom line is that Jesus said HE will build the church. If our eyes are on him we may be able to relax them when they land on others.