Preaching Articles



Inviting people to embrace the kingdom of God where Christ is worshiped as King is a community event. The Church, as the primary expression of Jesus’ kingdom on earth, is called to live out the ethic of our King. Our commission as ambassadors is to invite others into His kingdom, to be reconciled to God through Jesus and to become active members within the community that bears His name.

Unfortunately, we have turned salvation into a deeply personalized, privatized, individualized, Jesus-and-me kind of affair that many believe can happen with or without the Church.

Borrowing cues from contemporary culture, many have come to define Christian spirituality as an internalized experience between Jesus and me, while the community of Jesus into which we have been called is seen as an optional and non-essential part of the salvation process.

The Church has often been guilty of exacerbating this individualism and privatism by promoting what one fellow blogger called a "sneak to Jesus" idea. As I’ve outlined in my former post, "Why We Need to Seriously Reconsider the Whole Idea Behind the ‘Altar Call,’" our call for people to make a decision has often been shrouded in secrecy.

The standard script many pastors use during an altar call—bow your head, close your eyes, no one look around and repeat this 30-second prayer after me—has created a mindset where many people believe that responding to the call to follow Jesus is a safe and comfortable experience.

In an attempt to save people from experiencing any degree of public embarrassment, we tell them we will close our eyes so no one will see them "raise their hand." Since when did the invitation to embrace Jesus and His kingdom become a privatized, secretive and easy affair?

Hasn’t the Church been called to play an important role within the salvation process?

When the church gathers together and the opportunity to reflect and respond to Jesus is given, we should never bow our heads and look away. This is a community event, not a one person show, and the church needs to be fully aware of what’s happening to pray and to assist in whatever way we can.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that we need to keep our eyes wide open. We need to look around, not to be nosy, but to take stock of others' intentions and the seriousness of their response. What they are embarking on is a lifetime journey with Christ and His Church. And entering into this community involves Jesus and His Church, not just "Jesus and me."

By closing our eyes, we are only perpetuating the sermon of individualism preached by contemporary culture, rather than providing the counter-script of community and togetherness that the Church is called to embrace.

Personal and Public

Is the commitment to follow Jesus a personal choice? Yes. And no one can make this decision for us. We have to make it for ourselves.

However, the decision to follow Jesus happens within the context of a local church community who have been entrusted with God’s message and ministry of reconciliation, combined with the subsequent responsibility of maintaining an important role within the initiation-salvation process.

The Catholic teaching, “All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body,” is very accurate. The statement helps us to better understand and appreciate the enormous responsibility we have as Christ’s ambassadors (Catholic and Protestant) to communicate a message of invitation that is open to all, yet demonstrates the depth and seriousness of the call.

I once heard a friend say, "I church myself." The context wasn’t an appropriate place for me to respond, but I felt like saying, “Bro, this is a contradiction, a logical fallacy.” There is no such thing as "churching yourself."

The Church is not an army of one, but a body of people who live under the loving reign of God with Jesus as its King. In the power of the Spirit, they seek to faithfully demonstrate to the world, in word and deed, what Jesus has done and is doing in building His new Kingdom dream—a dream for the whole world.

A public confession is just that—public. The church gathers around to support, endorse and assist those who respond to the call to embrace Jesus and His kingdom. We’re not just attaching our spirituality to Jesus alone but to Jesus and the Church that bears His name.

The Church is a community of followers seeking the life, love and kingdom of Jesus. To join with Jesus is to join with the Church. You cannot separate the two.

Recapturing the Beauty of Baptism

Public confessions and declarations within the context of the community of Jesus are a part of what we do. And no declaration can be more public, and beautiful, than the sacrament of baptism.

In baptism, we publicly declare to the Church and world: "I am a follower of Jesus. I have been buried and raised with Him through this act. I am His apprentice and within the Church, both locally and globally, I will use whatever gift I have been graced with to serve the Church and world for the glory of God, for the extension of His kingdom and for the good of all people."

Baptism is a public confession of faith.

Baptism is a public confession that seals our decision to be a follower of Jesus and a member of His Church.

Baptism does not save us but points to the saving act that is taking place within us by Christ.

Baptism is not optional.

In baptism, we tell the Church and world that we identify with Christ and will forever seek to participate with Him and His Church in His kingdom work.

Baptism is not a private affair.

Contrary to what my friend thinks, we cannot baptize ourselves. We are baptized into Christ. We are baptized into His community by His community.

If I can think of one way to help ease the privatization and individualization that has captured the attention of the Christian Church, it is in this—baptism.

Rather than rely on our ineffective altar call invitations, maybe we need to recapture the beauty of baptism as the sign that demonstrates our understanding of the commitment required in serving Jesus and His Church.

Recapture | Remember | Return

If we tell people all they need to do to become a follower of Christ is to bow their heads, close their eyes and repeat a 30-second prayer, what are saying about Jesus?

It doesn’t seem like we believe this thing to be all that valuable after all. I mean, even the initiation process to become a member of a community social club is more difficult than this.

The invitation is open to all, but the cost is steep, not cheap. To say that salvation is free is a misnomer.

When we tell people that something is free, it immediately loses value. We don’t place value on those things that are free. If it doesn’t cost us anything, we are quick to dismiss it.

Salvation is not free. It cost God much. And it will cost us much, too.

So…

Let us recapture the costs associated with becoming a follower of Jesus.

Let us remember those costs the next time we’re tempted to offer a cheap, 50 percent-off sales pitch to people during a Sunday morning church service.

Let us return to embrace the sign, symbol and sacrament of baptism for the essential salvific element it is, as we invite others to join with Christ and His Church in God’s kingdom work at home and around the world.

“Follow me, as I follow Christ.” —The Apostle Paul

Jeff K. Clarke is a blogger and an award-winning writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. The goal of his blog is to place Jesus at the center of our discussions. From there, all of our questions, ideas and reflections are placed through the filter and lens of a Jesus (Re)Centered.

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David Scott

commented on Mar 14, 2015

I disagree kinda...becoming a Christian/follower is VERY private AND can and often happens when we are ALONE w/Jesus. The church is to be a TOOL and a help to GROW in Christ and as we grow, we are a part of this tool to help others grow in Christ. Eight of the nine gifts of the Spirit are for OTHERS. God uses OTHERS to speak to us therefore the need for the church community, not to make a conversion a "party". Let folks come to Christ on a personal level. Let them GROW in Christ on a PUBLIC level, in church!

Jimmy Batterton

commented on Mar 14, 2015

To David Scott, Jesus didn't say upon this rock, I will privately build individuals who will follow me on a personal level of any way they see fit. NO, He said If you are going to tote the Cross, you better count the cost! The idea of church is a corporate body of "cross-toters" expanding God's Kingdom. Even though each person must work out their salvation with fear and trembling, we are commanded to bear one another burden, and build each other up in the most holy faith! My altar calls are always "every head up and all eyes looking at me" because I want people to know this commitment they are making to Christ must be a public confession, but at the same time, the church is with them to help them and celebrate with them. If someone is really serious about making Christ the Lord of their lives, the last place they should hide that is in the church!

Anonymous

commented on Mar 14, 2015

I agree with many points in this article, especially "Baptism is not optional", but I take exception with: baptism not being for salvation for starters. Acts 2:38 says that baptism is for "remission of sins", not public profession of faith. If you are not baptized, how then were your sins remitted? Peter commanded them not only in Acts 2:38, but also in Acts 10 in the saving of Cornelius' household and throughout the book of Acts it was preached and taught to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. Also, what about the infilling of the Holy Ghost as preached throughout the books of Acts, spoken of in multiple places throughout the NT by Paul? Do you not preach the baptism of the Holy Ghost in the service? Altar call is for: repentence, receiving the Holy Ghost as evidenced by speaking in tongues and being baptized in Jesus name as Peter, Paul, Phillip and Ananias all commanded the NT believers. Is anyone preaching the same message of the Apostles in the modern day church?

Daniel Bentley

commented on Mar 14, 2015

First of all, there is no altar call in the Bible. The altar call is man made.

Anonymous

commented on Mar 14, 2015

Agreed that the idea of an altar call is in the modern day church, but what we do there is what is up to that church as to whether or not they follow the bible and compel people to repentance, baptism and being filled with the Holy Ghost(speaking in tongues). That's the bible way of what we would refer to as an "altar call" I suppose :)

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Mar 14, 2015

Thank you, my brother, for a Biblical directive on Christian Baptism. What you have proclaimed, I did as a Seminary professor. My surprise was that the students who came from evangelical churches and claimed to have confessed Christ as Lord and Savior, never planned to be baptized since their "Bible Teaching Church" only would schedule a baptismal service when requested by an individual. There are not many evangelical churches who teach that baptism is the New Testament declaration of one's faith in Christ for Eternal Life.

Michael Stafford

commented on Mar 14, 2015

If becoming a follower of JESUS is a private matter, why did JESUS call the disciples to follow HIM in a very public setting? The call to follow JESUS should so excite us that we forget the setting and embrace the moment. JESUS himself said, But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven, Matt. 10:33. To keep one's acceptance of CHRIST's gift of salvation private, is to deny the savior to men. If we are ashamed of JESUS, He will also be ashamed of us.

Jonathan Hughes

commented on Mar 14, 2015

Prayer needs to be without ceasing. James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. It is not saying what sexual name you are. It us not about that or whether someone saw you in the buff.

Colin Bain

commented on Mar 14, 2015

In the early days of The Salvation Army, when people made a commitment at the Mercy Seat/front of church, they were immediately ushered into a side room to explain what they had experienced and then were expected to give a testimony to the congregation when they re-entered the meeting. Not a practice today, although testimony is encouraged in a less stringent manner, with some time between coming forward and testimony

Daniel Bentley

commented on Mar 14, 2015

Jeff, you state that "Baptism does not save us but points to the saving act that is taking place within us by Christ." But then you state that "Baptism is not optional." You need to get baptism right in your mind before you proceed. Your fellow bloggers and others who visit your pages must clearly be taught that in order to "Recapture(ing) the Beauty of Baptism", they need to understand fully that Jesus taught that baptism IS necessary. Our decision to decide whether or not baptism is necessary does not change the fact that it is. It is this type of confusion that has lead a whole lot of people away from the truth and into man-made teachings that a person can be saved by altar calls or public confessions of faith or raising of the hand. Be clear. You can do it.

Ralph G Gillard

commented on Mar 15, 2015

Whilst I do not agree with many things that go on in ?altar call? evangelism, I don?t think that Jeff Clark has got it right either. I think that the Jeff Clark (and also many others) are confusing ?following Jesus? (i.e. discipleship) with being born again. Following Jesus is and EFFECT of being born again. It is not a cause. A person gains eternal life when they put their faith in Jesus Christ ? i.e. when they entrust themselves to Him. Once they are born again and have eternal life they should follow Jesus. Jesus said ?my sheep hear my voice and follow me?, but we must not confuse cause and effect. Literal sheep eat grass and live in a paddock, but eating grass and living in a paddock does not make a person into a literal sheep. Nor does trying to follow Jesus make a person into one of Christ?s spiritual sheep. It is an ?effect? of being a sheep, not a ?cause?. I have written a book on ?What does the bible say I must do to be saved?? I anyone emails me at minlot@eol.co.nz I will send them a free pdf of the book by return email.

Jerry Dodson

commented on Mar 15, 2015

Amen.

Ralph G Gillard

commented on Mar 15, 2015

Ooops. In my comments below, the question marks should be single quote marks.

Jerry Dodson

commented on Mar 15, 2015

This article assumes you embrace the whole Finney-created notion of an altar call. I can't find such an idea in Scripture, so I don't give one.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Mar 16, 2015

This well-intentioned article about the altar call has produced quite an "altercation", if one goes by the response generated so far. Why alter the method of altar call of sincere preachers like Dr. Billy Graham, which has been accepted and endorsed by the good Lord?

Chris Hearn

commented on Mar 16, 2015

Baptism does not save. The thief on the cross was not baptized, but repented and had true faith in Christ and so received salvation. Cornelius and his family received salvation from God before they were saved. Yes, all believers should be baptized as a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ. But this is done after they have received salvation, not in order to receive it.

Anonymous

commented on Mar 20, 2015

It's doesn't matter if you go down to an alter in church, or are in some back alley. If you say from your heart" Dear GOD I know that I'm a sinner, I believe you sent Your Son Jesus to die for my sins. Please forgive me, come into my heart and lead me in the way You want me to live." This is all you have to do to receive salvation from our Lord Jesus Christ. Being baptized is important be cause it lets others know you have salvation. What our Father in Heaven wants is for us to love Him, and trust in Jesus His Son, and Love one another. GOD is our Father, He loves us and even while we are sinners, Salvation is His Free Gift to ALL who believe in Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of GOD. Everything else is growing in Faith, learning how to be like Jesus. Father I thank You for choosing me to be Your child. I pray that we, as Christians put away vain arguments and concentrate on leading others to You. Jesus is our savior, brother and friend. Love your Heavenly Father with All your heart, mind and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself.

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