mardi 15 novembre 2011

"Altar Call", Says Who?

Few years ago, I was reading the biography of one of the greatest revivalist of the 19th century - Charles Finney. Charles Finney had a background in Law and he used his lawyer skill quite effectively in preaching the Gospel. He was also an incredible man of prayer. However the biggest shock of all came when I realized that he did something that he described as unusually strange that he never saw anywhere. During one of his sermons, he called people to respond to his message by asking them to stand up as a sign of their commitments and to meet him. How on earth was this bizzare? Every respectable evangelist does that! More I read his biography the more it became obvious to me that what we usually see as a normal practice during evangelism called 'Altar Call' was still unknown by the Churches (Catholic or Protestants) until the 19th Century A.D. And me who thought that it was part of the usual ritual of salvation! It took me some times to digest the recently acquired information and revisit my Soteriology - study of salvation in theology. I then decided to try other ways to bring people to Christ as a way to prove that. And it worked beautifully. I was no longer bound to use only one type of system when i shared my faith. It was liberating. Since then i have been also using quite a diversity of methods and all have produced results because the true underlining principles in Helping people meet the Lord is an interior process and was not absent in my preachings.

As of a recent example, in 2009 I gave sermon to some students of the National University of Rwanda (NUR) and I made an altar call. We had an interesting small little crowd that came up to be prayed for. However 2 years later when I was again the main speaker of a similar even with still the same hosting organization -  Full Gospel Businessman Fellowship International (FGBMFI) - I changed my method and asked those who needed to be reconciled with the Lord to stay where they were seated and to just raise their hands if they wanted any help in process and my team and I would go toward them and speak with them and pray with them. We had barely hands going up for salvation prayer. It seemed to me that we missed the harvest. Just a week after the event, the leadership of the FGBMFI called me and asked me to come back to that town to give a series of foundational teachings to the new converts. It appeared that at the Evangelistic Diner they weren't interested to show their desire however afterward they became overwhelmed with what had started working in them. In brief, it was as much a success than the first meeting.

This reminded me again that we do not need to put God in a box. He can't fit in it anyway. Why do I write that? Because I came across and article that just said exactly what I have come to believe through the years and through my personal experiences and observations. It feels good to know that I am not alone in viewing things in a certain way. It feels as if I am publicly vindicated and justified for holding my views on that. It is like a triumphant moment. Here is what the articles said among other things:
The altar call does not have its roots in Scripture but instead in church practice. Prior to the nineteenth century, it was never heard of. The altar call was started by Charles Finney and popularized under D.L. Moody. In fact, when it was first used, it was highly criticized. It was viewed as man-made and manipulative. Since then, though, it has become most common and widely used, largely due to the well-known and respected Billy Graham crusades. But since it's not a biblical issue, we are free to use whatever methods we deem ethical and effective in encouraging the lost to respond to the gospel.

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