Saturday, July 10, 2010

#170-The Altar Showdown

The altar showdown is a phenomena within Pentecostal churches mostly observed in one's formative teenage years. The altar showdown is simply this: A competition between two or more individuals at the altar to which the winner of the competition is he/she who prayed the longest and/or who prayed the hardest.

Thus the participants of this altar showdown are judged by two different categories: Length and Effort.

And this altar showdown dominates the reason teenagers are seen praying at the altar for a time period longer than ten minutes.

The goal of this competition is simple: Garner enough attention from the church superiors in your persistence to pray with exuberance and length to try to assert yourself as a candidate to be a future youth pastor/minister's wife.

It is not that God is not being felt. Because He is. And it is not the case that every time a teenager prays long that it is for the purpose of the Showdown, but the fact is it is not that the forces of the altar showdown are non-existent.

SO if you are an altar showdown contestant, how does one evaluate who is winning/losing the competition?

First, the most useful tool is the squinting eye. The squinting eye sees all. And it sees its competition square in the face. Lord help he who possesses the squinting eye that sees it's competition sobbing a tsunami. The fact that one's eye is checking on it's competition while the competition is so focused on prayer that a flood is being produced via tear ducts almost cements the victory to the crier.

No doubt he who cries is signaling to the superiors how much effort and concentration they are putting into the prayer. In evolutionary psychology, a crying baby is the epitome of signaling much cost/effort in producing tears and screams in the baby and thus forces the baby's caretakers to direct their attention to the baby and try to relieve the baby's outburst through relief of whatever it needs (e.g. food, diaper change, attention).

I hypothesize that he/she who cries at the altar is in some forms doing much the same. When he/she is seen crying, and all the effort it takes to produce such a sight (including possible ridicule after service from peers regarding the emotions displayed), the superiors are forced to take note that this person is dead serious about God, and they want to preach some day or marry a dude who is going to preach some day. Of course I am oversimplifying the issue, but I can assure you that such dynamics regarding emotions displayed at the altar do take place amongst the youth.

Most youths want to get prayed for. Most youths think they are going through a lot. Most youths think their life is hard and their parents just don't understand them. It is the altar that youths seek to gather the attention that they think they deserve and when attention is given to them, it also means less attention is given to the competitor in the altar showdown. I can remember I had one friend in the youth group who was just the most frustrating altar showdown competitor ever. He was practically undefeated in altar showdowns. He cried like none other and could dance at first note of a song that will have a cool drum beat. And of course he got the most attention at the altar from elders and other adults. Most superiors don't like taking the effort and time to pray a youth to breakthrough in prayer. Rather it is much easier to pray for the person who is already in the midst of a breakthrough. Less effort, but it also shows that you care about the youth of our day. Anyways this friend was always winning the altar showdowns by showing the most response in his prayers emotionally. SO Adults would flock around him while I was left squinting my eyes praying quietly to myself with half hearted prayers wishing the prophet/pastor would prophesy for me to be a minister in the future (whereas this prophesy was constantly said over my friend).

But it was also this same friend who had no ethic whatsoever. He was the first one of my small group friends to make out with a girl, smoke pot, buy music CD's with parental advisory warnings on them (Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Korn), steal video games (from me!), wear baggy jeans, and also have chains hanging out of his pants. He was really really cool. So in short, the emotionalism that saw him win countless altar showdowns also saw him having no gravity towards an ethic of any kind.

The altar showdowns are most vicious at church camps/conventions. There, the adult superior onlookers are usually more powerful per capita than at the home church, and thus bonus points if one garners the attention of a big time speaker to pray for them. There is also the dynamic at camp/convention wherein God himself is considered a superior who is waiting to see who will pray to Him longest/hardest and thus to such a victor God offers a Word of prophesy to him/her about some glorified future in "The Ministry."

I haven't taken place in an altar showdown in years because of all the yuckiness that I finally realized was going on in my own heart (I was praying to be seen by men, not by God when I was at the altar). But I will say, the counter-action at the altar to producing a competitive altar showdown amongst friends is the hug prayer amongst friends. It's when a group of guys or girls go up to the altar and silently agree to not enter into an altar showdown with each other and thus all have their arms wrapped around each other in a semi-circle. The group cohesion assures that there won't be a defector to try to gather their own independent attention from adults. It also is like saying "let's take this week off" since the prayers more often than not are not effort based.

Lastly, I must make the comparison between the group prayer to that of the Cold War rivalry between USSR and the USA. Both sides knew that if one attacked the other, both would end up in a war with millions of deaths. Thusly, one of the reasons the Cold War never developed into a real war was because of something Called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Thusly, youths at times enter into a kind of group prayer with a Mutually Assured Destruction in mind should an altar showdown occur because those involved since each have the persistence to stay at that altar for a long period and each can squirt some tears in the process.....

Once again, realize this post is sociological in it's analysis and in no way discrediting the God-man relationship during these showdowns.


  1. Pity those kids who have those emotional parents that do serious damage to the altar cred of showdown participants. I'm not talking about the "healing" moments when a family does a mini version of prayer circle. It's those parents who come down to the altar with, "Finally! My child is actually praying" and cry and smile a lot with pride. Destroys the effectiveness of the showdown participant.

  2. Even more fun than this wonderful display to me is the Showdown between ministry hopefuls at camp. You know, the ones who wait till after everyone is at the alter then look around to see if anyone is noticing before making their way to the altar.

    They then excuse and pardon themselves through the crowd, casually nodding to others around the altar area whom they will be competing against that night. The search then begins for the perfect candidate, generally the teenager who is closest to the breakthrough as mentioned above is the best partner to get. You never want the one who is looking around in "partial prayer mode" as those are the hardest to get to the breakthrough point. Though the more experienced in this Pray through competition might find this as an appropriate challenge. The goal in this little competition is to gain the most points before the Youth President dismisses everyone. It starts when the hand is laid on the forehead of the one praying. Points are awarded as such, 5 points when they begin to cry, 10 points if they begin to speak in tongues, 25 points are awarded if they are backslid to begin with and pray back through, and if they fall out in the spirit you receive an extra 50 points. The minister hopeful who has the most points at the end of the night gets Leviticus knocked off of the required reading list to receive their license.

  3. When I read this ("Showdown") I immediately thought of the evangelists that use all their tools to force people to respond:

    From the emotional, tragic story, tying the text back in, or throwing out their cool title one more time. Then the "eternity" concepts. "If's not worth it. What will do you with your life?" So far so good. But when the candidate has responded, the evangelist continues.

    Now he has everyone pray for a bit and he stops everything to try again. This time with a little force. "Folks, someone is not responding. Let's all intercede." Then the candidate feels not just the evangelist pressure, but even the prayers of everyone beckoning him to come as they wail aloud. "Your prayers are pulling someone from hell this moment. Keep praying hard. Like it's your little boy or your little girl." This is a hard one not to respond to.

    Finally, if that still hasn't worked, out come the words of judgement. "You may not have tomorrow." Or "if you don't come now, your mom will grow facial hair." Something crazy like that.

    The end result, an altar spectacle, even an emotional moment, but a heart that is pulled by manipulation more than the sweet, liberating voice of Jesus.

    1. Yep, and they usually don't stay.

  4. Lee the *alter calls* you are mocking are totally Biblical.

    I paraphrased a few verses from Jude...

    Hokey tactics to compel sinners to repent? Yes indeed. Biblical, yes again...

    All from Jude....

    *** remember how God killed the unbelievers in Egypt.***

    ***He talks about snatching doubters from hell fire with fear, doing what ever it takes!***

    **God has kept some in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.** (again another fear tactic)


    ****The perverts in Sodom are to serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.**** (fear tactic)

    Sounds kinda like a desperate evangelist doesnt it? If God chose this foolish method to save the lost who are you to knock it?

    Yes God uses His beautiful Spirit to woo us sometimes, but He also uses fear, wisdom, trials, heartbreak, and even uneducated red faced preachers who can barley form a sentence to lead us to repentance.

    Don't be a scoffer.

  5. GT, you will be a lost to ever find our modern day altar call in the Bible anywhere. I have no doubt of that. That doesn't mean I oppose the "altar call," but let's not fool ourselves and think they've been doing these since the 1st Century or even the Old Testament.

    The words from Jude are in a letter... Paul, showing his balance, corrects an audience that has been given over to license (similar to Corinth and in contrast to Ephesus & other cities that are being attacked by legalists).

    After this great warning in Jude, the letter reaches it's conclusion with this:

    But remember, dear friends, that the apostles of our Master, Jesus Christ, told us this would happen: "In the last days there will be people who don't take these things seriously anymore. They'll treat them like a joke, and make a religion of their own whims and lusts." These are the ones who split churches, thinking only of themselves. There's nothing to them, no sign of the Spirit!

    20-21But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God's love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life!

    22-23Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.

    24-25And now to him who can keep you on your feet, standing tall in his bright presence, fresh and celebrating—to our one God, our only Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Master, be glory, majesty, strength, and rule before all time, and now, and to the end of all time. Yes.

    Yes, manipulation is never a tactic Jesus used to compel people. Showdowns for people to "come forward" to validate your ministry is not in scripture. The only compulsion if one of love. These "pulling your from hell" moments have thrown emotional band-aids over hearts that are forced from the hands of God and into the hands of manipulative, I-need-a-good-altar-to-get-a-good-check evangelists. You don't have to like my opinion... but it's mine. What's not opinion, however, is that none of what we are talking about is in the context of altar calls.

  6. Furthermore, I've never heard more false prophecy than during those moments. "Someone will die if they don't respond" isn't uncommon, striking fear in everyone. It's amazing that the Spirit can speak to someone but only in vague abstracts, never commissioning a minister to an individual, but saving the good stuff for the performance on center stage.

    Continue the altar call tradition. Cease the manipulation. Go heavy on love, and do some reflection about what place judgement has with the charismata in the NT church.

  7. Graceful Threads,

    You have my head spinning. While your point about the bible using "fear tactics" (for lack of a better word) seems obvious, I had never considered it. We hear preachers occasionally use these fear tactics (although from what I understand, it occurs last than in the past decades), and the NT seems to remind people of their damnation if they sin.

    As I thought about it more, I started thinking, is the mention of hellfire and judgment in the NT there to scare people into coming to God? Or is it there to keep Christians separate and holy from those who are going to hell (who are not Christian)? The point seems irrelevant, but in Jude, the book is written to a people not to listen to those false apostles. I don't see a fear of the souls of the believer so that repentance may come, but rather the condemnation falls on the bad guys of Jude. Paul many times talks about the waiting judgment of the sinner. The question is, is Paul mentioning the possibility that the judgment is for some of the people he is writing to or is it written as a reminder that the people you used to associate with and the people who are insulting you Christians, will be receiving the great reward in hell..

    I honestly have no idea of the answer, because I haven't gotten my bible out to look. But I am just throwing that possibility out there (that hell isn't mentioned to create fear, but rather to keep the Christians as they stand holy in reminding those Christians that their nasty non-Christian neighbors are going to hell).

    Good thought though.

  8. I don't think I've ever witnessed the altar showdown, but that may have more to do with me not understanding what I'm seeing.

    In regards to the frightening people, you do raise an interesting topic for discussion, Graceful Threads. I'm going to have to partially play off of Joel's post, in that, one's interpretation of the use of hellfire and damnation language in the text is heavily dependent on the perspective from which one reads.

    When I read Paul's letters or even Jesus's warnings, I don't tend to perceive them in the same vein as the red-faced Sunday night preacher who just damned everyone to hell who wasn't in the altar. I see them as highly practical warnings, that is to say, hell's a real place, this is how you get there and here are the steps you take to get to heaven (ie not the steps to just stay out of hell). Emotionalism doesn't have such a central place there, as in the highly charged altar call.

    If emotionalism works to get some people to lower their defenses and have honest conversations with God in the altar/pew/car/wherever, then I suppose it isn't in my place or anyone else's to criticize it too heavily---that is, until it becomes institutionalized as the only means by which one can have an experience and, further, that that experience, and not the overall orientation toward God, is sought after as an ends. Then there is a problem.

  9. ****If emotionalism works to get some people to lower their defenses and have honest conversations with God in the altar/pew/car/wherever, then I suppose it isn't in my place or anyone else's to criticize it too heavily---that is, until it becomes institutionalized as the only means by which one can have an experience and, further, that that experience, and not the overall orientation toward God, is sought after as an ends. Then there is a problem.*****

    This sums up perfectly how I feel.

    Whatever works. Compel them. Scare them. Love them. Woo them. Shame them. Guilt them. Whatever it takes. Hell is real. Jesus is God. He is worthy of our utter and complete surrender. Period. Jesus knows how to twist our arms and speak our language. Its His specialty to (seemingly) hurt and skeer us into obedience. :) Ask Jonah, David, Peter and Paul.

    I dont think there is a right or wrong way to *win* someone to Christ. Whatever works, and I think we can see so many different examples of Jesus using many varied gifts and talents of different members of the body to reach different people and cultures. Jesus practices diversity. :D

    If we elevate a formula above Jesus Christ then we have a problem. If alter call *has* to be loud or emotional then perhaps we've made the method more important than the Maker.

  10. I'm sorry, but shaming and guilting people into "coming to God" is not Biblical. We come to Him to be free from guilt, condemnation and shame. I agree that perhaps God may have used some harsh methods when prophets or people who were already followers of Him refused to obey (like Jonah and the others you listed), but Jesus never twisted anyone's arm into following Him and neither should we. Jesus said "whosoever will" to take up his cross and follow Him, not whosoever is guilted and shamed into it.

  11. Wow. At least they just came out and said it without beating around the bush. That avoids the endless round-and-round.

    Shame them? Guilt them? Scare them? Wow them? Amazing how much we rely on US to bring people to Jesus, and not relying on the compelling of the Spirit to work in that area. Amazing how many Messiah-complexes we get with evangelism. Just amazing....

    At least everyone can read it for themselves.

    Manipulation. Manipulation. Manipulation.

    Tired of it.

    Tired of seeing good people buying into a load of poo because they attach an emotional experience to it.

    Sickening. Deeply sickening. And this here, is what has become of the beautiful Gospel.

    *shaking head*

  12. "Jesus knows how to twist our arms and speak our language. Its His specialty to (seemingly) hurt and skeer us into obedience. :) Ask Jonah, David, Peter and Paul."

    Unbelievable logic in this post. Jesus twists our arms? Really? Don't let me hear your church say that whole "Jesus is a gentleman" cutesy phrase every again. He pursues us. FTR, Jonah's experience was about his mission, and he never changed his heart in the end. David was chosen. Paul was chosen. Moses was chosen. Abraham was chosen. On and on and on... and IF Jesus beat us upside the head until we believe (which is counter to the entire story of faith -- otherwise he wouldn't have had to send his son, come in flesh, and die for you), what gives YOU the right to play the part of GOD?

    Friends, you are hearing the heart of the matter with Classical Pentecostalism with that issue.

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  14. ****I'm sorry, but shaming and guilting people into "coming to God" is not Biblical.****

    Of course its Biblical. Shame and Guilt are God given mechanisms placed within our hearts that lead us to confession and repentance. Guilt is good, it is what drives us to the alter. You cant repent without a proper sense of shame. The world says that guilt is not a healthy emotion and should be avoided at all cost. I dont believe it. Shame is an indicator that we are sinful and wicked without Him. Guilt compels us yeild to Him. If we arent guilty then why do we even need an alter?

    Hes holy, we're guilty.

    Now once you are saved I know the enemy likes to keep condemning and accusing us but thats a whole nother post....

    ******Jesus never twisted any one's arm into following Him and neither should we.*****

    Jesus did all kinds of offensive things. he told people sell all, hate their parents, dont attend your dads funeral. He told that woman at the well she was loose. He twisted more than a few arms.

  15. Yes, Jesus does twist us and break us and mold us, He causes us to suffer. Yes He does.

    Are you serious? Are you really saying that He never uses suffering/pain to cause us to yield?


    Read your Bible, better yet, look within your own heart. Are you ever stubborn? Do you ever need His correction? Does He ever hurt you to help you? Have you ever needed a good fall to remind you of your desperate need?

    He does what it takes and its not always pretty. He is relentless. Unstoppable. No one can pluck us out of His hand. When He gets ready to save us He will do what ever it takes and sometimes the process is painful.

    Just sayin...

  16. GC, before I even interact with your valid points, I will ask you to consider if we are talking about Jesus doing these things in his Sovereignty, and in an authentic way, or if this is the tool of his children to use, which is always manipulative and not authentic. That is the first question. Is that the Good News?

  17. Graceful threads, I see what you're saying. Yes, Jesus did offend a lot of people, and God does use painful things to mold us in our walk with Him. But what I'm talking about and what I don't agree with is an idea that an evangelist or whoever has a license to use manipulation to produce a desired response.

    In addition, the examples you use of Jesus' supposedly "twisting arms" aren't manipulative. He told the truth. To people who claimed to be followers of Him or who claimed to want to follow Him, He tested their commitment.

    God is relentless and unstoppable and will do whatever it takes to draw us unto Him. But we aren't God. And an evangelist isn't called to manipulate people into serving God.

  18. GT,

    I honestly admire that you are sticking to your point, and if coming back here over and over again in spite of it being a 3-on-1 wrestling match via discussion. You have handled yourself well.

    But I want to task three more questions (much in the same vain as what Chantell and Lee just wrote).

    If we are allowed to use God's manipulation tactics then...

    Am I allowed to go into my unsaved neighbor's house and bring in a very very very bright lamp that is so bright in fact, that when turned on, will blind my neighbor? And thus as he is blinded, I tell him that he needs to go to my church in order to get healed? (As God did to Paul)

    Am I allowed (only in theory) to follow my neighbor down to Miami, and as he is about to get on a cruise ship I put a sack around him and kidnap him and take him up to Maine where I have a private swimming pool on reserve. I put the neighbor into the pool...where lo and behold there is a giant killer whale that is extremely hungry and let the whale eat the neighbor, and then just assume this is all God's providence for only when the neighbor will pray in the mouth of the whale, he will then be saved?

    Can I drive into my unsaved cousin's knee caps telling him that the next few weeks he will spend in bed should be a few weeks to focus on God?

  19. #1 It's not our place to use judgement or condemnation, shame, guilt or manipulation to "bring someone to Christ" because when it comes down to it, we can't do it anyway. We may get someone to give into us, but not necessarily yield a heart of faith toward Jesus.

    #2 Jesus didn't use guilt, shame, or condemnation. He used grace. Grace, when we see it and feel it, causes us to see our dead life for what it is: death. From that, we seek life. The Prodigal Son for example. The Father didn't come manipulating the son, he came loving him. He didn't wait for the son's rehearsed speech about and HIS manipulating plan of how he would earn his keep working for a hired servant. Instead he loved him, restored him, brought grace to him. The result was sincere and genuine repentance. WHen grace comes, our own heart condemns us. It's death. When we taste life, death isn't too flavorful anymore.

  20. The "ends justifying the means" wrongly views faith as something that can be "produced," "accomplished," or "constructed." It misses the mystical element of faith and the central role of the Holy Spirit calling on men to repentance.

    To say it doesn't matter what we do as long as they respond to the altar and cry is narrow-sighted, one-dimensional and really shows a lacking view of faith.

  21. Repentance is not movitating bad people to be better people -- Jesus did not even come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.

  22. It's idolatry to use fear tactics to play the Savior of the world role and try to win people toward Jesus. We are saying that WE are the Savior, and refusing to rely on the Spirit to "draw all men unto repentance."

  23. I can't help but read these comments and think back to the 1st Apostolic sermon... In Acts 2 Peter began preaching by saying the end of time had come. He then went on to show from OT prophecies that Jesus was the Christ. His closing point: "God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." It's no wonder when the people heard this message they were cut to their hearts.

    If you want to call them scare tactics, they were always used. But the biblical way of using scare tactics is, like Chantell mentioned, to proclaim the truth. And the truth is scary! The preaching of the NT often included the truth that we are lost and headed for destruction if we do not put our trust in Christ.

    Joel don't be silly! Of course we are not authorized to wreak havoc in other people's lives in the hope that this will bring them to God. We do not know people's hearts or how they will respond to circumstances, but God does. Instead, we are called to proclaim an absolute and objective truth-We are all sinners headed for Hell, but Jesus died so we could be saved. Thank God that He saved us from Hell!!

    "Scare tactics" are completely biblical, as long as we are being completely honest. And if we are being completely honest, our message will be scary at times!

  24. Although I understand the points of both sides of this, I will say I am a little disturbed that a God-called preacher, feeling a strong burden on his heart, trying to relate what he feels to the congregation, ultimately wanting *us* (saint OR sinner) to see and feel his burden - is automatically called a "manipulator" if he uses a "fear tactic" to motivate us to the altar.

    Sometimes I am honestly not sure I can relate to much on this blog. Where I come from - for the most part - when a God-called preacher stands pleading - yeah, even using "fear tactics" (so-called by this post) - I think it is understood that he is trying to relay the true burden that God has laid on his heart. Because it doesn't happen often, I happen to take it as the preacher trying to get through to us the way God has given it to him.

    Maybe there are manipulators, I don't know. Maybe it comes down to how much respect is given to the ministry as a voice of God.

    Just my thoughts....

  25. @Josh,

    Acts 2 comes in the context of the Spirit falling and Peter explaining the significance of this. To these Jews (who likely also personally saw, heard or knew of this Jesus), He describes this new eschatological time called the "last days" and quotes from Joel 2. Then he points it all to Jesus -- and he ends his sermon not with fiery ultimatums and judgement, but with resurrection!! In other words, "what you are experiencing right now, is because of this Christ that you killed." Notice --- unlike our altar calls -- the crowd was beside themselves. They saw it. Revelation had come. They ask "what do we do?" We see it. We see that Jesus is LORD. What can we do now? And Peter speaks hope to them. There was no showdown here.

    Simply put, Acts Chapter 2 cannot be used as an example of a contemporary altar call.

  26. Scare tactics are still scare tactics. Whether the minister made up a story or "told the truth."

    If by truth, you mean that we are all sinners in need of God, and that the Good News is that this Gracious God has loved us from the beginning, then yes, speak that truth.

  27. Darla,

    I sense your frustration, and mine is just as deep for those who have turned the work of God into a personality cult, speakers who know how to work up a crowd, convince them that their emotions = Spirit at all times. They repeat their cliches, throw out their generalities, they've told of the Lord's coming for centuries (in my lifetime, I've sat through at least 100 sermons where the minister made an altar appeal using the Coming of the Lord, and even saying that the Lord would come in x amount of years), they've publicly embarrassed people ("making examples" of course), etc

    What do you do with a burden? Do you make yourself Savior? Or do you turn it over in prayer and let God work the thing out? Does burden mean we have no ethic anymore, to where we contrive some manipulative, emotional scenario to scare the literal hell out of people? I've been in more youth camps where they screamed and moaned in agony and fear than I have where I heard them rejoice in grace and goodness.

    Fear is a heavy mantle. Perfect love casts away all fear. The prostitute didn't feel fear, she was freed by love. The Prodigal. The tax collector. On and on. Turn that burden into an expression of love. Love deeply, truly, madly.

    If someone makes a decision to follow Jesus to please me, then I have done them a disservice. If they've done it to conform to group pressure then we've accomplished nothing. If they've done it out of fear -- are they really following the call of Love?

  28. When we come to the place where we understand that only Jesus can transfix and then transfigure the voice of a human heart we will understand, in part, the Gospel.

    We can't save people. Get it? No matter how "burdened" I am. I can't be your Messiah. I can't be your God. I must rely solely on God.

  29. Worst yet, is when someone is beyond "burdened" for an individual, but when they feel God spoke to them a Word for the individual. Instead going to the individual, they sermonize it for the masses, using the public pressure to help them get the individual to respond.

    It easily becomes a thing of pride. A response means you are a good preacher. A poor response means you won't be asked back. It's production-based. What does Spirit-led mean after all?

  30. Lee: I believe that love is ultimately the best way. However, when I came back to God (I first got the Holy Ghost when I was 14, left after a year, and then came back when I was 16) I came back BECAUSE OF FEAR. NOT LOVE. I was told by my sister that she had a dream that I was in hell. She didn't know what it meant, but it scared me enough that I stopped messing around. I came back, prayed back through to the Holy Ghost, and lived for TWO YEARS in a state of fear that I was going to backslide again. However, I didn't, ultimately because of the love, grace and mercy of Jesus. (It's now been 27 years).

    My point in saying this is that there are times when ONLY fear will work. I do not believe I would have come back any other way. Fear brought me to the church. Over the years LOVE AND GRACE kept me.

    Yes, the perfect scenario is for people to be won through love. However, nothing is always perfect. I am an example of that.

    I have not witnessed what you have witnessed at altar calls. But the few times "scare tactics" have been used, I believe it was in tune with the heartbeat of God.

  31. When you "came back" what does that mean? You were a "backslider?" What happened in your heart when you came back.

    Did the fear provoke love from your heart? Or a response to fear (doing whatever needed to be done)? If the latter, was that faith? Was that salvation?

    In your case, as a young girl, perhaps someone's dream (another great manipulative tool people have used in so many other situations)scared you to do your religion thing again. Hopefully, at some point, Mercy and Grace did more than "keep you" but "found you" and you found Him. Apart from Mercy and Grace we are servants to an idol called Religion.

  32. Altar calls have gone beyond an invitation to make a heart committment to Jesus. They've gone beyond hearing the "Good news" and saying and someone saying "I receive that! I want that!"

    We have tear drop counters, "repentance" timers make sure you do it long enough, tongue-talking listeners, tongue-talking influencers (teaching the others what they should sound like of course), counters (those who exclaim "Number 10! Number 10!"), and those who listen intently that the exact right words are said in baptism so God will not change His mind on granting grace.

    What a mess we've made.

  33. If God wanted our devotion to come from fear, he didn't even need to come and die. He could have given in tot he Temptor in the wilderness and took the easy way out. He could have been a Tyrant. It would not be hard for us to all be fearful and pledge our allegiance. Of course, that devotion would be shallow, and his Blood on the cross maintained the dignity and liberty that even Adam & Eve enjoyed -- the choice. God could have easily controlled us. But instead, he has shown his offer, even knowing there are other deceiving offers out there. The God that has pursued man since his Fall, is not content to have you follow HIm because of fear. He wants your heart more than your "I do." A heart is not given in fear. Obedience maybe. Loyalty maybe. Heart? Never.

  34. It's interesting how so much of our experience as Apos is shared, but every now and then we radically differ. I can't imagine using a fear appeal during an altar call. I took a Social Persuasion and Influence class during my undergrad and we discussed Fear Appeals. The bottom line is that they don't work very well. They might have initial high responses, but after people walk away from what scared them, their behaviors tend to revert back to the way they were before.

    Also, the Jesus I serve isn't a God who goes around scaring people. Perfect love casts out fear. And from the beginning of our faith, fellowship with God has always been a choice. If you scare someone, you take away their ability to choose freely. If I choose God because I'm scared of a negative consequence that will occur if I don't, then my choice isn't truly free. I don't follow Christ because I'm scared of hell, I follow Christ because I think He is the truest form of reality and the best way to live.

    The only way I can relate to the idea of fear manipulation during an altar service is hearing my parents talk about the sermons on hell they used to hear when they were kids, but usually when the stories are told it is with a sense of sadness that it happened, and relief that it doesn't continue.

  35. For some, the way we use an altar call uncovers a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God.

    “If we don’t provide an opportunity to respond to the gospel, someone might leave and never have another opportunity to be saved. They could die in an accident this week and their eternal judgement in hell would be our fault. Their blood would be on our hands.”

    This is a theological problem…a total misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Scripture makes it clear that salvation is of the Lord. And that whom the Lord has foreknown and predestined, He does indeed call and justify. And whom He justifies He will indeed someday glorify. Romans 8:28-30 present this chain as completed from God’s perspective.

    Our lack of obedience to the Lord when we are not faithful in calling people to repentance IS sin on our part. But the eternal destiny of souls is totally in God’s hands, not ours. It is His job to convert sinners; it is ours simply to be faithful

    So we are to trust God in all matters, including the evangelization of the lost.

  36. Paul wasnt afraid to admit that he changed up his tactics according to who he was with. When he was with Jews he didnt eat meat. Gentiles, he stooped to their level. Weak brothers, he was sensitive to their conscience. He conformed to the hearer in order to save them. He said by *ANY* mean I might save some. ANY MEANS are strong words. Paul beleived in hell. Whatever it takes.

    I think if we were to spend one second in hell we would come back telling everyone we could about Christ. Our burden would change. We would all be red faced, screaming freaks.

    Five times in Cor. Paul talked about winning people to Christ, not Christ winning people but he said I ....."that I might win the more." Verse 20: " that I might win the Jews . . . that I might win those under the law." Verse 21: "That I might win those who are without law." Verse 22: "That I might win the weak."

    Paul wasnt sitting back waiting for the Spirit to woo, just to keep it tidy, he was desperate. Whatever it takes. Paul was a evangilist with a burden. He used every trick and tool he had.

    So, you dont like the method a person uses to win souls? What are you doing that is more effective?

    I dont think there is one firm formula, rather I think Gods body is made up of many members, we all should be bearing fruit. Some trees are louder than others. Some trees are refined, some arent.

    Im not so jaded that I think all preachers are in this thing for money and ego. Sure, all humans wrestle with that but I dont think it is the driving force behind preaching.

    Hell is hot, bring on the car wrecks and house fires.

  37. I'm hearing two different fundamental views about salvation. One is with a view toward the Good News and Grace. Another is from the view that they are being saved from looking like Freddy Kruger.

  38. GT,

    I think what so offends me about your perspective is that I'm understanding you to believe that God puts people in car wrecks and sets their houses on fire so that preachers, believers, etc, can use said tragedies to manipulate those people into 'following' Christ. Is that truly what you believe?

  39. Regarding Paul's "all things to all people that I may by all means save some." We must understand the context of this verse and not just use this as a proof-text for an empty ethic of how to "save the world." The Kingdom of Heaven is like.... all the parables where Jesus spoke of how the Kingdom comes, it was small, insiginificant, a beginning birth, a seed planted, etc.... this is how the Kingdom comes. Salvation does not come to us with a submission hold. It just can't.

    Paul's words should be read with regard to his conduct. In a unique time of the church (the beginning, with an interesting shared Jewish influence), Paul chose to go by Jewish protocal in order for him to get them the message. In other parts though, we find him eating meat offered to idols!

    The "becoming all things" focuses on the conduct of the individual, not on the manipulation of the crowd. To use that verse in such a way, is dishonesty. But I guess... whatever it takes, right? :)

  40. 1 Cor 9:19 has nothing to do with using scare tactics. It's Paul's explanation of not receiving patronage from Corinth.

    When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,[d] I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

    Nothing in there about using scare tactics, emotional manipulation, etc. In fact, this portion of text is rich with content that would make for great conversation on a separate topic.

    Because I trust in the Soveriengnty of God in the matters of evangelism, neither means I believe in passivity. That's a faulty conclusion. It just means, at the end of the day, I believe it is Jesus who saves, the Spirit who draws men to repentance, and that I am only a willing and broken vessel in the process. I understand my role fully. I am not the Savior. I don't have to deceive, trick, etc. I trust fully in Jesus and the Spirit to accomplish that.

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  42. Not a theologian. Not interested in arguing point for point. Just sayin if it was my son who was lost I would be thrilled to see him repent. The method used to get him there? Not so important.

    I too, worry about us elevating an emotional experience above God Himself. You know He did give us our emotions. Tears are not so we can cry at the movies. Yelling is not just for our spouse. All those emotions are Gods creation.

    Yes, the church has problems but becoming so cynical and jaded that we cant trust a young preacher who has a sincere burden? Well, thats a problem too.

    Keep an open heart, God chose this foolish method of preaching.

  43. Graceful,
    I too would be thrilled. God would be more thrilled than I though! He is more His than mine :)

    The method must have an ethic. Coming to Christ is not a production, not a sales technique. We are talking about the mystical Kingdom of God. We are talking about one's heart. Not just their emotions and mind. But their whole self putting faith in Jesus.

    As much as I would love to see my son repent, I can't be the Savior, coercing a submission to God. This is not perfect love. I'm convinced that Grace, when it is preached fully, the Story when it is revealed gracefully, is compelling enough on its own. It's His story!

    God also gave us sex, but that doesn't mean we use that to compell people to serve Jesus. Not following your logic. Screaming at someone? Did Jesus communicate like that? He screamed at hypocrites, religious salespeople in the Temple... but did he spread the Gospel with a clenched fist or open arms?

    Sincerity is not the beginning or end of trust. David Koresh was sincere. Jim Jones was also sincere. Sincerely wrong too.

    The preaching of the cross is indeed foolish to human wisdom, especially 1st Century minds, where the cross was the most degrading method of death. The idea of salvation through something so disgusting and shameful flew in the face of those who worshipped God's that it was thought blasphemy to ever make so humble as to put on a cross.

  44. Do we fully believe that God is in Control?

  45. This "ends justifying the means" is a dangerous game. One that many have seen abused in the highest form. Especially when it comes to intimate encounters with God... and those moments being shaped, manipulated to the ends of man.

    A friend of mine decided he was going to leave a church he grew up in. He realized it's teachings were not consistent with scripture, and felt God leading him on. The church he attended attempted, on many occassions, to appeal to him in times his emotions were open in those services, to insert their own word -- and of course, believing their word was God's, and that their end was God's end. It's a dangerous game. God have mercy on those who speak in vain, who prophesy falsely, and who rob the purity of the Spirit, hijacking for their own agenda.

  46. Excellent points Lee. People can and will be saved without any screaming going on at all. Usually tears are present in repentance and gratitude for God's GRACE. But they don't have to be. We are saved through GRACE alone. Our works, and theatrics cheapen the blood of Jesus. That work was finished at the cross !