By Jeff Clarke on Mar 2, 2015
If we tell people that 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 we saying about Jesus?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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