altered call

altered call August 11, 2011

True story:

Many years ago I went to hear a famous Christian musician at a local church. During his performance, he asked if anyone was going through a really difficult time right now. I certainly was. We had just gone through a church split and I was really hurting. He asked us to just raise a hand so that we could be prayed for.

I raised my hand.

Then he invited those who raised a hand to just stand. Well, everybody saw me raise my hand so I felt obliged to stand. But already this was going down a road I didn’t want to travel.

I stood.

Then he asked us to just step out and come down to the front so it would be easier for us to be prayed for. Again, I couldn’t just sit down.

I went down to the front.

So there I was standing at the front with several others who were hurting and just wanted to be prayed for. Then the singer started talking about the fact that we were suffering because we didn’t have enough faith. It was because of our lack of faith that there was suffering in our lives.

He just lost a fan.

Then he said that the reason we didn’t have faith in our lives was because we weren’t believers. We weren’t Christians. We were overcome with sin and darkness. So he invited the elders of the church to come around with gospel tracks and lead us all to salvation. Others came around with membership cards for that church so that this fall into sinful suffering would never happen again.

What a humiliating time that was! What made it even more humiliating was that some of the people who’d left my church during the split were there. They must have been thinking, “I never did think he was a real Christian!

I laugh now.

True story.

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  • Bo

    Wow, that must’ve been painfully embarrassing. I grew up with altar calls but in my denomination now, they are not used. I am glad for that. This is one powerful justification against using them–often they seem to be times of manipulation rather than simply an introduction to faith.

    Thanks for sharing this. I reposted this on my Facebook page.

  • cool!

  • OMG. That is just such bull shit. I’m sorry for you and the others this happened to. Too bad you can’t say who it is so we can stop buying his music!

    We were at my husband’s uncle’s funeral in June. The pastor who did the service had the nerve to proselytize. It’s not enough that people are grieving, let’s add guilt and shame too.
    The only good to come out of it was a discussion on the way home between hubby and me as to what our wishes for our funeral service will (and won’t) be. No proselytizing, no hymns played at slower-than-normal speed (I’m thinking they can play Stairway to Heaven @ my funeral)etc.

  • I can proudly say that, having found myself in situations with altar calls about three times in my life, I never raised a hand or ever went up front. Never, ever, not once.

    But I do go to communion as often as I can, confessing myself sinful with the rest of them and rejoicing in forgiveness, life and salvation received there with them. This I do about twice a month, more than willingly and unembarrassed.

  • Jesus.

  • Oh how awful! Any church that doubts your salvation is bonkers, but especially over just being sad about if being a Christian means you’ll never be sad or hurt? Give me a break.

  • Sister Marie

    I never cease to be amazed at the secrets that God “reveals” to those who in faith, believing hold a microphone in their hands.

  • It got you where you are today? Necessary if insufficient cause? Free of it? Free at last, free at last, great god: free at last?

  • Miriam

    Ouch, I remember one particular altar call where they invited us to come forward if you had not experienced the joy of the Lord. I was quite depressed at the time so went forward (reluctantly). There was a group of people praying, but the lady who came up to me told me a joke instead.

  • So much internalized BS.

    This is why so many fall prey to these preachers. It’s all about ‘ME’.

    Ah…no it isn’t.

    I’m with Brigitte. The only altar calls I answer are the ones to receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins.

  • Moral of the story: Never put up your hand unless you know what’s going to follow. At St Aldate’s, Oxford, raising your hand would frequently be accompanied by a call to step forward for prayer, or for those around you to put their hands on you and pray for you.
    But perhaps one didn’t want all that attention!!

  • fishon

    Had a well known evangelist, in a huge meeting, ask me if I had been “Baptize in the Spirit?” I told him, Not in the way he was saying it had to be. He then tried to get me to come forward. I got up, yep, I did, but I walked out. Of course, to be honest, not sure how I would have reacted when I was a new Christian?

  • halavana

    You departed forthwith. Right? Anyone who makes such a blanket statement about people he hasn’t even really met isn’t much of a counselor.

  • good story fishon! it’s happened to so many.

  • I don’t like altar calls and, where I’m currently attending, they’re not just for salvation or for “baptism of the Holy Spirit”; they’re used for healing, if you want some sort of personal/spiritual/financial/etc. breakthrough, etc. I don’t answer them. I figure, if God is present at the altars, he’s also present in the seats. Not to mention, yeah, embarrassing. Ugh.

  • Martha

    Can you say “manipulaton”? How about “coercion”? “Dishonesty”? I could go on…

  • Connie Smith

    David, what a humiliating experience! And just downright self-righteous and cruel all at the same time. It made me cringe! Can’t think of a better way to drive people so far away from Christ you couldn’t rope them and drag them back.

    I believe in alter calls, as in come to the alter, kneel and pray if that moves you. That is what it is there for. And where I go that is what is done. They always tell you where to go if you want to talk to someone for whatever reason.

    And Martha, I certainly agree with you. You could keep going with negative terms to decribe that so-called Christian act.

  • “embarrassment” – literally: to be behind bars. You can go to any roadhouse in McDowell County N.C. a student told me, and you’ll still hear some lady cry out LOOK, Touch me like that again and I’m calling the constable and embarrass your ass!”
    Pray for disembarrassment. Pray for disillusionment. How else get better & good? May I have an amen? Do I hear an amen?

  • JP

    WTF? That is unbelievable – an invitation to receive prayer being used as an opportunity for a verbal beatdown and condemnation session?! I wonder how many people thought this was normal, good and/or right to do at the time?

    And many church leaders puzzle over why people leave the church to never come back or don’t blindly submit to authority. I love it when someone diagnoses my ‘condition’ without even knowing me and assumes he knows better than me on my issues (or seems to have no grid for God allowing suffering to both Jesus and his followers).

    Glad you can laugh now … I think I’d be tempted to unplug the sound system or publicly call BS if I witnessed such ridiculousness today.

  • Charles

    It’s to bad you didn’t have the presence of mind to call him out right there in front of the congregation. You were probably stunned at the time.

  • Fred

    I’ve seen that a bunch of times. The more people at the front, the better the speaker feels. And if he’s just “passing through” he doesn’t even have to worry about lasting impact.

  • Theo

    Maybe you left this part out, but I’m wondering why you didn’t say anything to any of the elders?

    It seems like these people were totally in the wrong and sinning against you, so why did you leave them to their sins?

    Jesus taught that our brothers who sin against us need our help:

    “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” – Jesus in Matthew 18

    James teaches that grumbling against people is equivalent to judging them.

    “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” – James 5:9

    Pardon me if I’m misunderstanding your heart. If I am, I would love for you to elaborate on it.

  • Theo: You need to really try to understand the nature of spiritual abuse. In such situations, even though I was a pastor myself at the time, I suddenly found myself in a situation that was publicly humiliating. To challenge it at the time or to leave would have potentially increased my humiliation. It would have put the spotlight even more on me, which is something I didn’t want. It was better to ride out the storm, so to speak. This is the nature of much abuse: you are mistreated and you will be further mistreated if you challenge it. I’m not proud of it, but it was a victimizing experience that is perhaps too subtle for some to understand or appreciate.

  • JP

    Well said in your reply to Theo, NP. I don’t think you are ‘grumbling’ at all 🙂 I too have been shocked/humiliated into silence when mistreated (though nothing public quite on this level) – I find it often takes time to even figure out what the heck just happened afterwards and these situations are extremely hard to challenge in the moment.

  • Theo

    nakedpastor: Fair enough. I suspected there was more to your thoughts than, “Man, look at these people! They don’t act like Christ!”

    > It was better to ride out the storm

    Agreed, but once the storm calms down, what happens? There are some sadly misinformed Christians out there, perhaps with hearts eager to follow Christ’s example. Do you leave them to their lies?

    I don’t think pointing things out in the moment is the right way to do things, but I think letting that sort of thing slide is what God wants either. That’s why one of the passages I cited tells us to start one-on-one. Then it’s not a spectacle. And if you get nowhere, you add some third parties for perspective. And then if you still get nowhere, you see your offender as a mission field, not a monster.

    > you are mistreated and you will be further
    > mistreated if you challenge it

    Oh yes. In fact, Jesus promises us mistreatment if we follow Him.

    Look, it’s vital to point out things Christians to do hurt people, especially to the offenders. It just seems you presented a problem without a solution. Considering yourself a victim, even if it is justified, is not a solution.

    If a young Christian experiences the same situation, what would you have him or her do? Did *you* handle things the way you wanted to? What would you have done differently?

    I think you have an opportunity to follow up on this with some great instruction.

  • i’m not writing this blog to be an answerer but a questioner

  • Theo

    Okay. Then please forgive a fellow questioner for asking a few of his own. I wish you well.

  • “Agreed, but once the storm calms down, what happens?”

    Answer, in the case of many who experience spiritual abuse, including good friends of ours:

    You leave.

  • theo: no need to forgive. i wasn’t brushing you off. sorry if i gave that impression. but i’m serious: i don’t want to come across like i have the solution to everything. i don’t. well… i do… and that is please stop… my blog is more about challenging and posing questions and uprooting what i think are unhealthy ideas and practices. i love your questions. bring ’em on!

  • Ed

    If you paid to hear that musician, I’d seriously write and ask for my money back. That’s just rude. Too bad you didn’t ask that musician to show you Biblically how what they were doing was correct.

    I know a minister who says if you get prayed for for healing but aren’t healed, you’re in sin. Some of his congregation ‘pretended’ to be healed so he wouldn’t rail at them.

    What are these ‘leaders’ thinking????

  • Jason

    Seen that trick before and now, so have you 🙂 It’s not clever

  • Oof.

  • lost for words, the things we do to one another in the name of God…

  • > This is the nature of much abuse: you are mistreated
    > and you will be further mistreated if you challenge it.

    Yes. Agree totally. And, within an church setting, “further mistreatment” doesn’t just come from the abuser himself, but it seems like everyone who is invested in the church (elders, members and, perhaps the worst of all, aspiring members) joins in.

    Reflecting on an incident that occurred many years ago, I am convinced that the (spiritually) weaker brethren were the greater antagonists, possibly for fear of being picked on themselves should they be seen as anything other than wholly supportive of the church leader concerned.

  • I remember one Easter Sunday morning, when the pastor asked everyone in the congregation to stand up. Then, he asked everyone who was saved to turn around a face the back of the building. You can guess what happened, as we turned around, we were facing those who were not “saved.” As I looked into the eyes of a woman who was still facing forward–I will never forget the look on her stunned face. I felt horrible. Now, I can’t even remember the point that the pastor was trying to make that day, but I remember the look on that woman’s face. So glad I’m not “saved” anymore.