Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The Altar confession is a mainstay during apostolic altar calls everywhere. It occurs through two different modes.
The Altar Confession through Altar Invite.
The first one is the most popular, but also can be the most awkward. In short, it occurs as the preacher is at the tale-end of his sermon and the entire congregation is standing in anticipation of either the altar call that is to come or the fact that the altar call represents the last step until the restaurant in hopes of eye contact with their crush. At the time of the altar-call, instead of just an open invite, the preacher nuances the issue by making the altar call dependent on a certain sin/negative behavioral attitude. So those who are initially invited are those who are guilty of said sin or attitude.
This creates many a conundrum for the congregation member. Firstly, there is a stand-off in terms of whether or not to hurry the church process up and charge with full speed to the altar no matter if one is guilty of said sin that is being called for, or on the other hand refrain from confessing guilt about called sin, and stand indifferent in your pew, and in the mean time delay the church dismissal even longer because you know by the end of the day, everyone will have to find their way to the altar somehow for a dismissal to occur as dismissals occur when the the altar call has been deemed successful, which means full congregation participation.
Further, if one is to exit their pew/seat for the altar at such a confessional altar call, they are admitting to the purveying eyes of the entire congregation that they are the sinner mentioned. In other words, they are giving into the old adage, "find out as much gossip as possible about everyone else in church, but give nothing out about your own sins. This way you can judge all and be judged by none." If one is guilty of the called sin and doesn't go up at the immediate call, will their sins be any less forgiven?
But alas dear reader, I humbly suggest that we commit an overthrow of this whole process. The only way we will win the "Judge many, be judged by none" battle is by simply confessing guilt to each and every sin that is inquired upon within the church. If the altar call is for amputating limbs of innocent porcelain dolls, be the first to the altar! Be judged. Is the altar call for an adulterer? Be the first to the altar! Not washing your hands after a bathroom break? Sprint like no ones business up to the altar. Is the altar accusation for those who are listening to too much Miley Cyrus and watching the same three movies about day vampires who are horrible actors too much? Race to the altar even if you have never heard a Miley Cyrus song to date nor watched a single Twilight movie. Is the altar call for those who judge too much? Yet again confess through a race to the altar...
But why you ask? What is the better embodiment of the cross at work? Is the cross about standing above everyone and gazing at the sinfulness of everyone except themselves? And thus further enter a process of self-congratulations for not being a sinner like the others? Or is it about the lowering where upon God himself took on all our sins on his shoulders (everyone of which he did not commit) and died because of them? Thusly, the only way out of this game of judging many and being judged by none is the confess to all and further accept the truth that you are a sinner in your core and a dying human at best, and only through Christ are we anything above this fact. Further, dear reader (if you are still with me), by us being the first to the altar for confessing a sin (even if we did not commit it), we encourage others who may be too hesitant to come up to the altar in fear of judgment but badly need the help and grace that awaits them at the altar.
Okay, sorry for that rant...
Altar Confession Through Hand Raising at the Altar with all heads bowed and eyes closed.
The second type of altar confession, which is seemingly more popular, is the confession amidst the altar call wherein the preacher yet again describes a specific sin or negative mentality that is present within certain constituents of the congregation and the preacher then asks for the whole congregation to close their eyes and bow their head and then for those who know they are guilty of such sin to raise their hand as a confession of the guilt and a signal in faith that they want the Lord to help them. Thus the added advantage to this kind of confession is the fact that the likelihood of drawing the purveying eye of the rest of the congregation to be judged by them is greatly decreased (and usually draws more confessors). Of course, many Apostolics can probably recall times in their life when somehow they were drawn squint their eyes ever so slightly as to see if they could make out who may be confessing to an awkward sin or two around them (as have I done so a few times much to my regret).
Another facet of this kind of confession is in the fact that many preachers fail to clarify when the head bowing, eyes closing is concluded. Thus one is left to continually repeat in their heads after a time of hand confession "is it okay to look now?" The agony of this confusion can be great. However, with persistence and boldness we can overcome this dilemma by simply using common sense to evaluate when the confession process is done. And if we tragically lift our heads and eye lids to find us still in the middle of the confession process, quickly retreat back to head bent position and feel bad that you may have identified one or two sin confessors. And then just to alleviate the guilt raise your own hand in the guilt process to put yourself amongst the rest.
I was in a discussion a couple weeks back with a fellow peer about the utility of confession. I was proposing that because the Catholics have made the "confession" such a trademark of their faith, we have unjustifiably removed the concept of confession altogether within the church which is sad since the idea of confession is not a Catholic one (although its practical interpretation may be). Of course we have the "altar confessions" mentioned above, but when James 5:16 says "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" I have a hard time believing a trip up to the altar or a hand raised without anyone else looking qualifies as this kind of confession. Yet surely the verse is not optional, it is a command. To not have a practical outlet to have confession not only violates scripture but it also allows for a bigger dilemma within the church body wherein if people don't confess their sins one to another and thus forgo the whole awesome confessional process, not only is a "humbling" process forsaken that would come through the confession (and also a time to face the regret of the sin that would come from confession that may not exist in confession to God alone), but also the Body of Christ is removed from one of its awesome privileges and that being the ability to uplift and assist in reconciling the other believers towards Christ. If we go about our walk with God alone, we become self reliant, which is disastrous, because in such a position we can too easily confuse our own opinions and views as those of God Himself and if we can't overcome certain sins in our own self, we have negated the possibility of overcoming the sin through the help of fellow brothers or sisters.
Of course the downfall is that, the reason for our hesitation, to be honest and open about our sins is the fear of being judged. Which is of course is sad, but in part is a result of the fact that we didn't have openness in confession in the first place. And thus our sins became our own business, and the moment we sniff the sins of another, we ascend higher above them and judged them for their weirdness of the sin, because hearing of another sin from a brother has become foreign to us (and also along the way we have gotten so used to our own sins and not airing them out we forget that strangeness of our own sins).
I guess the question is: is confession possible in this day and age where egocentrism and self-identity is at an all-time high (especially in a capitalistic, democratic society where the emphasis of power is put on the individual above a collective identity)? If it is, how do we implement it? I do think the newer rise in popularity of having accountability partners is a step in the right direction, but what else can we do?