Tuesday, October 21, 2008

a quick thought

last night i told a local minister, my wife and a close friend that my tradition often uses altar calls. in fact, in my childhood a church service wouldn't have been complete without one.

i also told the group, probably with more pride than i would like to admit, that i have never offered a traditional altar call, but i have offered opportunities for christians to react to the call of reconciliation, to bury their hatchets with their brothers and sisters and get on with the mission of Christ.

now that i think of it, i may have offered an altar call or to when i was doing supply preaching in little churches throughout central illinois. but i'm getting off point.

what i unexpectedly realized in the midst of this brief conversation with the aforementioned crew, is that if the altar call focuses solely on calling those outside the church to repent of their sin and come in, and if no corresponding imperative of equal or greater force is placed upon the confessional, cruciform community during the same service, then i think the altar call is a cowardly device that focuses attention on the perceived deficits of those outside of the community and so enables the community to ignore its own inability to walk in the way of Jesus.

that being said, i think that calls to action, altar calls and the like have a place within the confessing community. however, i think that most of these imperatives should be aimed at those of who have chosen to follow instead of those who dwell outside or on the margins of our community.


Beth said...

This is an interesting reflection. From where I stand, it immediately evokes a point that is commonly made in liturgical theology circles, that the free church "altar call" structurally replaces the ancient call to everyone to come forward for communion, and in a sense serves the same kind of purpose (commitment, encounter).

However, I've never heard anyone take that equation into the territory your post implies -- that apart from being an encounter with Christ, the eucharist has inscribed in it the kind of sending/reconciliation/transformation narrative for believers that you are wishing had more of a ritualized place in the tradition you come from.

g13 said...

thanks for the feedback beth. i had never thought about the altar call replacing the calling forth for eucharist. that perception seems to be accurate and it makes my stomach turn.

since my tradition does celebrate eucharist on a weekly basis, it would be great if we could emphasize the sending/reconciliation/transformation narrative that is implicit in the sacrament.

thank you for considering my ideas and pushing them one step forward.

Rags said...

Very good point, Gentry.

g13 said...

thanks rags.