Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#112-The Open-Ended Altar Call (AHHHHHHHHHH!)


So an anonymous source recommended this post to me, and I immediately wondered what was wrong with my head in that I did not think of it previously. It was so obvious.....

The open-ended altar call to Apostolic Churches is like the undesired pin-prick after a well-managed doctor's appointment. Or perhaps it is more comparable to that dread you get when you turn on your street and see your house after having a 2 week vacation of your dreams. It's not like the house did anything bad, it just represents a whole bunch of other things: Drama, work, monotony.  Whatever analogy you want, the point is the open-ended altar call is one of the hardest things to manage within our denomination in it's entirety, and it always comes at the conclusion of a very exciting and raucous church service.

Gettin Some God...


The preacher has preached a valiant message. One of those that inspires hope, repentance, and appreciation all at the same time. The preacher has walked us through lows, highs, and lows again....and towards the end of the altar-call, we just want the preacher to invite us to the altar....we are demanding it from him...

Of course we don't want to be the early approacher because that would draw too much attention...So inevitably someone gets the altar call rolling in full force (either via preacher or via some kid in the middle of the row pushing someone at the end of the row out into the aisle which forces the issue).

We pray and we pray....and maybe if we are really feeling it we may pray longer...but at about th 8-10 minute mark of altar call (15 minute mark if it's a really good service), we begin to peel our eyes open ever so slightly to gauge how everyone else is doing with their God experience. If a preacher is nearby we quickly shut our eye lids again and act like we are passionately in prayer. If the preacher is no where in sight and it appears that the pursuit of feeling God is on the decline, we accept our fate and just sing along half-heartily to the worship music.

But then....

The Dread

At roughly the 15 minute mark of altar call, the preacher, or perhaps the pastor walk slowly up to the pulpit. They glare out over the audience....and this glaring is where it begins. They are trying to survey the Holy Ghost meter in the room via the amount of people praying.  If the only people praying are only the "early approachers" and the "front pew high jumpers" then the service will end after a verse or two of the altar call song complete with the speaker singing off key.

But if  the number of people getting their HG (Holy Ghost) on is above 25%, we have code red. We have what this post is about...You may think 25% is a little low, but if you think about it, the noise and attention one draws who is really "feelin the move" negates the "Non-feeling the HG" silence of many. I would beg to say that for every one person really "getting it" at the altar, they negate the silences of 3 altar gatherers who are voluntarily "not getting it." So with that said, those 25% begin to represent the entire congregation as a whole.

So assuming the 25% minimum is in action...

 IT will come. The worst of the worst....

The preacher/pastor dismisses church....

Except....

It's not really a Dismissal....

It's actually your funeral....

 Because the dismissal was not one of those gleeful dismissals where everyone knows church is complete....

It's rather quite the opposite...it was one of those dismissals that says church is far from over and if you leave now, you will forever be condemned to the ranks of half-hearted Pentecostalism from here to eternity. You are the "luke-warm" who God will spew out of their mouth....

And how do we know this is the case?

Because the dismissal went something like "You are free to leave the altar now. No one will judge you if you do. But if you want to continue at the altar seeking God, you are more than welcomed to." Maybe the speaker adds, "this is one of those altar calls where people get their Calling tonight."

Usually the guilt is not explicit but rather implied.....


The decision making-process


So now comes the toughest part....

You don't want to be a back slider showing how uncommitted you are to the calling of God's spirit.

So you don't leave immediately....


Perhaps you pray for one of the one's who is getting it...


Or perhaps you wait for a few more to filter out of the sanctuary...and at such a point you know that you certainly can't be condemned because there were others more rebellious, and besides, Sis. So-and-so is really spiritual and she just left....

It's an art that needs to be learned....

but then there is an opposite extreme

What if you are the one is really "getting it" or if you linger at the altar too long..,..

then you either classified in the same breadth of the "early altar approacher" or a show-boat/suck up who is trying to signal to the pastor that you are ready to preach your first sermon....

This is not an easy dilemma...


One thing is for sure though, there is no real talk of Matthew 6:7-"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."


It's kind of sad that we measure some of our spirituality by the length one prays...

36 comments:

  1. This is the stuff I have been thinking my entire life....and you have just happened to write it all down. Best website ever...

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  2. SOOOOOOOO FUNNY!! HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA

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  3. Had many laughs while reading this post. And all too true... lol

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  4. Perhaps this is the real problem with "modern-day Pentecost". We do not know how to tarry in prayer. Having recently discussed this with someone of late, it is actually sad because people are too impatient to actually pray deeply enough to change. I do not really take things like this as a joke, for it indicates the demise of a once-powerful movement; we become charasmatic like everyone else.
    -P

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  5. For one...we are technically charismatic bc we utilize the gifts of the Spirit.

    Secondly, who says you have to tarry in prayer at the altar of a church? Living in God's presence isn't dependent on attending stirring altar calls. It's comes in desiring most to please God.

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  6. Consider people who take hours out of their schedule to pray. Ask them if its necessary to pray at least two hours a day. Ask them if they were more spiritually attuned. Secondly, a person's walk with God is very much dependant on their response to the Word of God, preached or otherwise. How far, exactly; how deep can one go in prayer if 15 minutes at the alter is maximum. Or is that just for poor backsliders and sinners? God does teach us to wait upon Him, and tarry in prayer. What about intercessory prayer? Does this happen in 15 minutes? This is rather disturbing. I am thankful for a Pastor that teaches prayer and emphasizes it.
    -P

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  7. P,

    I do not know who you are, but i sincerely am loving what you add to this website. Honestly, thank you for adding a much needed voice here.

    My question P, is very much the same as Stanton's. I think the onus of your argument would lie on the simple fact that tarrying is biblical. But yet, where is this idea of tarrying biblical? Especially in the new testament?

    If we put all the weight of how long one prays or a movement prays (or tarries) for an answer from God, we are really making God in our life dependent on our humanity. God's grace is free. The moment we believe his grace must be earned by some ritual that says God's love is dependent on how long we pray and tarry, we are limiting the cross. It's not that we shouldn't pray, or pray long at times, but we cannot put any value in the function. We don't pray to earn God's love or to see God move. Rather we pray because we know God's love and because He has moved and will continue to move.

    So i guess P, where is this concept of tarrying at in relation to the cross/ the new testament?

    Thanks,
    Joel

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  8. P, everyone else isn't "charismatic." Believe me. I know it might be hard to believe, but there are worse things even more spineless and watered down folks could become nowadays. Have you ever met an NPR listener? Yikes. Besides, "charismatic" is so 1997. The current deprecatory term for people we end up like when we fail to stand up, grow a backbone and be real Apostolics is "emerging church."

    Praying deeply enough (which I assume is gauged by the length of time you stay at the altar?) isn't what changes you, it's what you do after you leave the altar area that matters and that is evidence of change.

    This post is funny, but it sidesteps the true, urgent matter at hand that is imperative that we all realize: there is both a lukewarm backslider and an early approacher lurking within us all. Once we come to terms with that fact and open ourselves up to fully embrace the one that emerges as the Spirit leads, we'll cathartically cleanse ourselves of the open-ended altar dilemma.

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  9. So it's not charismatic anymore, but the "emerging church". Thanks for the enlightenment.

    Much as I laugh hysterically at some of these posts, there is a fine line that is crossed sometimes and there seems to be a lack of common sense as to where that line is.

    This blog is definitely an "emerging blog".

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  10. Actually we prefer the term Roman Catholic, but I guess emerging or emergent works as well

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  11. Actually, it's still "Charismatic" for those who operate in spiritual gifts, and "emergent" for those who don't do enough.

    Instead of gathering the humor from the post, "P", as he affectionally is known, puts his nose in the air. He can't read it for what it is and KNOW it's true. He can certainly relate. But he'd rather pretend and highbrow us bottom feeders.

    Fact is, there are moments the Spirit causes us to pause in life. Sometimes at home praying. Sometimes at church. Sometimes at work or school. The problem is that this behavior is EXPECTED in some Pentecostal circles as a proving grounds for one's spirituality. Also, many people tend to emotionalize every good word from God. It's easier that way. That word becomes a moment, a few days and then it's time to "pray through" again. Let the Spirit help the Word settle in your heart. That doesn't take ecstatic frenzy. But let it settle. Chew on it and meditate on it through the week.

    Some are also under the false assumption that we "must" pray 2 hours a day. The same people who throw these guilting commandments out are one's who live with the hidden sin of their own hypocrisy. Turn prayer into a ritual (same for Bible reading), checking-in the clock with Jesus, and you've done nothing more than create religion. Inspire believers to talk to Jesus. Don't worry about the time. Inspire believers to read their Bible, don't worry about the length. Let them grow in Christ and quit the comparison of yourselves one to another (sounds like a Pauline statement). It's not advocating LESS of God, prayer or Bible reading, it's advocating a new perspective.

    The name-calling does nothing for a discussion, by the way. Charismatic, emerging, etc... in fact, it sounds rather juvenile.

    Quit taking yourself so serious. Realize the humor, laugh -- it's good for the SOUL.

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  12. Anon P

    Interested that "emerging church" seems to be recognized as a negative thing by some.

    If we never emerge into the 21st century, we will never be recognized by the people living IN the 21st century.

    Unless you live exactly as they did in Biblical Times, or I'll even stretch it for you - unless you live as the Amish do, you are a part of the emergent church.

    Get over it. No offence, but God doesn't concern Himself with the non-biblical traditions you and your churches carry on with.

    -RJ

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  13. Just as a point of clarification, I was being tongue in cheek by saying that "emerging" is the new "charismatic." I don't think either is/should be a negative or disparaging term.

    I think it's hilarious that "charismatic" as well as now "emerging" is used by some as a condescending put down to describe people who don't line up to the way "real Apostolics" are supposed to spiritually comport themselves . . . ooh, I feel another post brewing . . .

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  14. Perhaps some clarification is needed. The charasmatic term I used was in reference to gropus who believe, not in the truth, but in a mimicking of the truth. Learned tongues, as opposed to actual tongues as the spirit gives the utterance, and imitation of Pentecostal believers. It has been a term traditionally used to describe churches such as that with people I know for quite some time. RJ: I find it amusing that you assume we have non-biblical traditions, I would like to know what evidence you based your conclusion off of.
    Sara: I am all for laughing at humorous aspects of being Pentecostal..mocking alter times is not something that is funny to me. At camp meetings within my district, the pre-service prayer began two hours before church. It does take deep digging in prayer, and I will have to disagree, the more time you spend in effectual prayer, where you are in the spirit realm, the closer you are to God. The more time you take to dedicate your life to God, the more in tune you are going to be with the spirit. I do not particularily care if I am called self-righteous; I know from experience if I do not spend a lot of time in effectual prayer, my spiritual state would not be conducive to withstanding the pressure of the world. My pastor teaches a daily prayer life. The more effective you are in prayer, the more time you will WANT to spend in prayer. The entire post is reflective of the good old post-modern attitude of instant gratification.
    I am not saying time=quality. But often it takes quite a while to get to a point where one can be used in the spirit, and those who are used in the spirit are those who spend hours daily in prayer.
    -P

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  15. Sara, thank you.

    Chantell, you got me all befuddled now....I thought it was "emergent" that was the new over-arching term. But you're saying "emerging" is the bad word? Oy vey...can't we have just one term that sums up all the vagrants who are confusing Satan as God?

    P, you have yet to provide scripture for your new found "tarrying" theology in that the more you pray, the closer you are to God. I really need scripture. It's one thing for Paul to do it. It's another thing to say that the nearness of God is dependent on the amount of prayer one contributes. There is nothing wrong with praying, but the place it has in your understanding of God and his grace I find rather tasteless...and quite dependent on works as a form of justification to be near to God.

    Really, before you critique again, please come with scripture.

    Jesus handles this situation very cut and dry in Matthew 6:

    And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

    He then gives the Lord's prayer as to how we are to pray. Now if you are saying to get closer to God you must pray longer, you are calling Jesus a liar.

    Please, scripture....that's all i'm asking...

    Or else I would venture to say you are on the bounds of extra-biblical revelation for how we ought to deal with God...(through hours of praying)

    And no, I Thes. 5:17 will not really work here.

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  16. Prayer is the way we communicate with God. In order for the spirit of God to mix with our spirit, we must be in submission to Him. This is how people recieve the Holy Ghost. Therefore, no it does not matter HOW LONG you pray, my point was, typically people do not get very far in prayer when they only pray for 15 minutes. If you can, that is fantastic. I am not one of those people. The same goes to responding to the Word of God (ie: praying at the alter). If you can pray for 15 minutes and have it make a serious impact on you, or if you can recieve the Holy Ghost in that amount of time, great. Most people (not all) who are seeking the Holy Ghost take a longer time to pray. No, we should not be time focused, however, because of our humanity, it takes TIME to surrender ourselves to God, and as children of God we should be willing to spend whatever amount of time necessary to pray on a daily basis. For most people, it is quite a while. Besides, it should be a priviledge to pray and spend time in the spirit..
    Just sayin.
    -P

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  17. I can see the humor and I can see the concern. Personally, I don't find this post that funny. Yes, it's true to an extent but I guess the thing that bothers me the most is how we, the younger 'emerging' generation, have become so cynical of our heritage.

    Ask Sis. Nona Freeman about praying after a message is preached. What about Verbal Bean, JT Pugh, or Arlen Guidroz? I'm sure these truth bearers would tell you that battles are won and lost in an altar after the Word of God has come forth!

    Maybe that's the point. Let's be realistic. We don't have the same power that the pioneers of our faith had. Could it be because we've become so calloused and high-minded? I hope not. I believe, though, it's because we've lost the passion for prayer and a true love and appreciation for the Word.

    Please don't get me wrong. I am in no way saying that if you don't spend 15 minutes in the altar that you've just stamped your one-way ticket to Hell. What I am saying is that it's a symptom of a problem that has been creeping it's way into the church and has found a lodging place in the younger generations.

    I remember as a child, and I'm only 31, staying at the church until 11:00 or later after Sunday night services because of the altar services. Now, I'm an adult. I'm on the praise team, and by 8:00 it's discouraging to see 5 in the altar, 30 wandering through the sanctuary, talking, laughing, children running up and down the aisles, and virtually every pew empty.

    I condemn no one, but I don't necessarily want the 21st Century to accept us because we've abandoned the altar. What we need is a re-emergence of passion and prayer...around the altar...after service. Remember, the bread of life has just been broken. Why not stay a little while and let it digest while in the presence of God - - not in the presence of your friends at a restaurant.

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  18. One of the earlier posts compared the platform to a stage and I think the same can be said of the altar. If we want to think that the altar call is free from performance we are deluding ourselves, and worse, failing miserably at fooling God. This is not meant to imply that all people in the altar are faking it or anything so crude as that. What I will say is that there are traditions, a discourse if you will, of appropriate altar-manners. These are not Biblical, they are hand-me-downs.

    Perhaps the really uncomfortable question that this post is actually asking is this: Given what we have seen and experienced in church from the countless times we've been, is there a pattern--a script--that church follows? If Clifford Geertz spent a year going to random Pentecostal churches, could he apply a "Thick Description" of the service and come out with an over-arching structure? I would hope not, it would certainly undermine our contention that God is in control. At heart, this post and this blog beg the question, is God really in control or have we allowed the scourge of Western Subjectivity to elide God's active will?

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  19. To the Anonymous just above Chady: Thank you. You expressed perfectly my opinion without sounding highminded.

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  20. "What I am saying is that it's a symptom of a problem that has been creeping it's way into the church and has found a lodging place in the younger generations."

    What's the problem you are suggesting?

    Every generation is different. There was a time when church was held 5 nights a week. Because we don't do that now, is that a barometer of our spirituality or erosion? I think it identifies with each generation and should not be an expected tradition. How does this generation express and respond to God's voice differenly than Nona Freeman's (there are many)? Chady put it well.

    This generation is not doom and gloom. We all have our moments at the altar (or an altar), it may just not be at the end of a sermon in front of everyone (or it may). We can't set rules and constructs on every behavior and identify it as a norm. That's equally dangerous.

    Take the Spirit out of the box. He moves in more ways than our small tradition allows.

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  21. "Why not stay a little while and let it digest while in the presence of God - - not in the presence of your friends at a restaurant."

    Sure, stay awhile. That doesn't mean 30 minutes snotting in the carpet, and then pressuring the young fellows if they aren't so inclined. You know how it goes, the reluctance and then the speaker, starting to panic that he didn't "preach it" gets back up and screams in the mic some emotional deal about failing to respond, and then everyone guilts themselves in the altar.

    The Word needs no help. Let it penetrate. Teach it. Preach it. Say a prayer. It doesn't always have to follow an hour of glossalalia to be effective. In fact, that's the danger (as Sara said) of equating every Word moment to an emotional moment. Talk about it at small group, on the ride home, at the restaurant, etc. Why is that so bad?

    We make idols of everything.

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  22. Just because our generation is different than Nona Freeman's, why in the world would we think we need LESS prayer/praying through? (Wherever we pray?)

    Carnality is carnality. Humanity is humanity. Since Adam and Eve. Let's not mix up humanity/carnality with this "our generation" nonsense.

    I understand that prayer can become an idol. But let's be honest - that does not mean we should pray less. It just means that prayer and its purpose should be put in its proper place.

    I know this much, having lived for God for around 30 years, nobody will convince me that "this generation" is closer to God than the people I knew 30 years ago. In fact, I do believe the reverse to be true.

    My two cents.....

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  23. "Nothing so dates a man as to decry the younger generation."
    -Adlai Stevenson


    I was reading up on a bunch of early pentecostal history... Like the first 50 years after Azusa Street. And I couldn't help but laugh at some of these comments. Because the same things that are being said against our generation right now in this post were being said about the the two generations before us by the early pentecostal leaders. The older pentecostals of the first half of the 20th century bemoaned the lack of commitment, dedication, and prayer of those who were immediately following them....ironic, isn't it?

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  24. Anon (the 31-yr old): precisely the point I was trying to get at, but apparently had a little difficulty getting across. Whatever people feel the need to do, they will do. I just kind of wonder how deep a person's Pentecostal experience is when posts like this are getting a "Bravo", and "Hilarious". But hey, we all need to grow, even people who are new in God. Just keep truckin' and you will make it.
    -P

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  25. Maybe the problem is it's a "Pentecostal experience" and not a Jesus encounter. I mean honestly, I think the joke here is that almost every church has that cat who gets all crazy and spends like 3 hours in the altar at least once a month, is carried out drunk in the spirit, and is busted for DUI again the next week, tries to hook up with every person of the opposite sex in the youth group, etc. (you get the pic)

    Events like that seem to dispute the validity of what is happening at the altar.

    I am NOT proposing that every red hot altar service is a sham, but there are times when I was pretty sure the crowd was just feeding off emotion...I always have this thing that wonders if the whole high piercing screams of women feeling the spirit are all that necessary...but hey...to each his/her own.

    The problem is that altar services have been ritualized. It's just expected...the choir sang, the preacher preached, now it's time for the shout down fix...

    That's the underlying joke.

    It's become religious. Jesus from what I've read is not a big fan of that.

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  26. Who has advocated "less prayer?" I'm just saying, we need to put away the measuring stick, and look at our hearts, our passion and what we are doing. We worship well-intentioned idols.

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  27. “The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.”

    Speaking as a Christian who loves and lives for God, I'd be scared for my eternal life if I was in any one of your apostolic/pentecostal churches.

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  28. I would like to reccomend a sermon for you all to listen to. Its by Bro. Timothy Copeland, an old-time Pentecostal preacher.
    http://apostolicclassics.com/sermons.html
    Its called "The Ministry of Tears" and is very relevant to this discussion.
    -P

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  29. lol I grew up listening to Tim Copeland come thru our church and preach revivals that lasted months. He was known as the "hell fire and brimstone" preacher that the whole church dreaded. And that was even back then when "hell fire and brimstone" was preached A LOT and completely accepted.

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  30. He preached the revival my dad was saved in. My dad is also still in church now, 26 years later. I am thankful for that at the very least. He also preached one of our camp meetings. I do no think there is anything wrong with that sort of preaching. Some preachers have a very specific revelation of it. And if you dreaded it, perhaps praying through about it would be wise. And that message is not a hell fire and brimstone one btw.

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  31. If you don't like something I like, you need to "pray through." Love that mentality! (To the poster above)

    Nothing wrong with preaching about hell or sin, but our discussions today should always be markers to point to Jesus. He is our Gospel. It's not fear, but hope, that should convince someone to follow Him.

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  32. Excuse me.... can someone please explain what "praying through" means?

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  33. Hey, Kyle, we've covered it:

    http://stuffapostolicslike.blogspot.com/2009/10/86-praying-through.html

    Hope this helps. :-)

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  34. Somethings can be funny and disturbing at the same time......

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