One of the most regular, and familiar parts of the current contemporary mainstream evangelical church service is the altar call.
Whether for first time believers walking the aisle wanting to hand their lives over to Jesus, or old mainstays in the church that go up for prayer for some sin or struggle in their life. Inevitably, and without fail, there will always be those repeat offenders that return week after week. Those repeaters run the aisle after every service, needing prayer for the same thing again. You could almost throw out a “see you up here next Sunday!”, as they walk back to their seats. I don’t make light of this, and actually appreciate the honesty it takes for someone to say, “Yup, it’s still there.” I remember in conversations, the attitude of some of the most “solid” christians, was that the problem lied with the person needing the prayer. “They’re here again because they aren’t really believing God for the answer. They have a weak faith.” People would often link some lack of blessing, or deeper understanding of God, to a person’s sin or struggle, and their alleged unwillingness to walk in victory.
To be frank though, who could walk into a church sinless? (All the Sunday school alumni out there know the answer is always Jesus) As I grow to hopefully better understand, I started thinking differently about this.
Is it any wonder that the same people week after week run up for an altar call, hoping once more for deliverance from some sin or struggle, only to come back the very next week for the same thing? They wonder desperately, “Why do I still struggle? Why have I not been released from these awful sins?” They run up in hopeful expectation for the answer, and they don’t get it. Sure, with emotions running over, they feel the “presence” of God, and believe and trust that God has now done His part. But they come back the next week, re-burdened(if it ever left), running up, asking for another touch of God. To be honest, this was often my own response, and I know I’m not the only one. I, and others, have done this week after week. We’ve also been given steps, and plans, and books, and all these other different ways to combat sin in our lives. Now, those things may not be bad, but they missed an aspect of the process that often goes overlooked, because it’s assumed that the person should know this already, and be walking in it by now. I’m not talking about a word or deed that finally seals the deal between you and your sin and struggles. There is no magic bullet. But what I, and others never heard in those moments with hands raised high, waiting for the spirit, being anointed with oil, or laid out on the floor, but desperately needed to hear more than all of those things applied was, “You are forgiven. Christ has paid your penalty. There is no more shame or guilt, and when you come back next week, I’ll tell you the same.”
All Christians sin EVERYDAY! Maybe it’s not in the same areas as before, and maybe it’s not always in actions but in thoughts. But because of that, what we all constantly need is forgiveness, and we need to hear about it over and over and over. I would even go so far as to say that the one person we need to hear from the most is our pastor. The one who is supposed to shepherd us and care for our souls. We need a constant reminder of how forgiven we are, because forgiveness is a picture of the awesome and wonderful Grace of God.
No one walks into a church on Sunday free from sinning for the week. Most, whether we admit it or not, walk in with (and maybe even walk back out with) some level of fear and/or guilt. We do because no matter how hard we try not to, we measure ourselves against the sermons that tells us how we should be living, or against the people we know who seem to have it all together, and we want to blend in. We all have the tendency, due to a sinful nature very much still a part of us, to do our best to be whitewashed tombs, to be the outside of the cup.
What we need is grace poured out from the cross. What we need to know is that God calls us, and accepts us, as his own, despite our struggles and shame, our sins and difficulties.
We need to hear about forgiveness, and not just on the big Christian holidays. I know I still do.
We need the forgiveness empowered, and displayed in the tangible body and blood of communion.
We need the forgiveness that we were washed and sealed with in our baptism.
We need it every day, and if you forgive my redundancy, we need it every hour as well.
We should be reminded of that forgiveness ALWAYS.