July 23, 2009

Break(dance)ing Tradition

Watch this video. It will be the most enjoyable five minutes you spend today. I know it's five minutes long, but trust me...watch it:



I'll risk my man-card by saying this, but the first time I watched it, I teared up. I'm not exactly sure why, (it's just a simple YouTube video called "JK Wedding Entrance Dance") but all I know is that watching this connected me to this wedding full of people that I don't know and made me root for what they are doing.

At my wedding, we wanted to do something a little different to break "tradition". It was a huge wedding (8 attendants each) in a historic sanctuary (First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa) with somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 people in attendance. It was very formal and pretty regal, but in the middle of it, I asked two of my friends to lead us in worship using three songs. One of those songs was "I'd Rather Have Jesus" which seems like an odd thing to sing at a wedding! But, I wanted people to see Christ in our lives and his priority in our marriage. We thought we were being very different.

Compared to this processional...we were wrong! (Disclaimer: I wouldn't change anything about my wedding. It was great.)

What we did was slap a new element into a traditional wedding service. What this wedding does is take convention and blow it out of the water.

Everyone is expecting Canon in D or Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire or the Bridal March. And instead they get Chris Brown's Forever.

Everyone is expecting the slow, awkwardly-escorted walk down the aisle of height-comparable couples. Instead they get a mixture of good and bad dancing along with cheesy sunglasses.

Everyone is expecting the groom to come from the side and await the bride. Instead, he front-rolls out of the crowd of dancing attendants, then dances back down the aisle to get her.

Everyone is expecting the bride to parade down the aisle. Instead, she dances. By the time she gets there, you can almost sense a longing to see what she's going to do when she appears.

Did you see anyone in the crowd who was disappointed? Did you see anyone who was frowning? NO! They're clapping and they actually erupt in cheering when the bride appears. When was the last time you saw that kind of celebration at a wedding?

People will be talking about this wedding ceremony for the rest of their lives. Nothing else they ever see at a wedding will ever compare to this. Ever.

You can also get ready to start seeing a slew of imitators who will try to recapture this same moment at their weddings, graduations and other events. And it will all come across for what it is: a copycat...and a bad one at that.

In a weird way, I think this is a perfect picture of what my church is trying to do right now. We're trying to provide people with an experience that is unforgettable, yet still accomplishes the purpose of connecting people with God. After all, this wedding's purpose was still accomplished...they were married.

This involves refusing to defer to tradition. It's also risky, because there are people who want to see the expected week in and week out. But we're trying to reach people who are not reached by the expected. Instead of Canon in D (which is much more high brow, familiar and classical) we're more like Forever (more accessible, electronic and you can tap your feet to it...plus it involves some sketchy characters).

Why not do something different? Why not give people an experience that they won't soon forget, especially when the only other weddings they go to all do the same (or only slightly different) things? Why not give them a celebration that makes them long for the star of the show (read: Jesus) to appear and culminate what's happening?

Do the unexpected, and do it with a purpose.

July 20, 2009

You Probably Know Enough

I'm currently writing a paper that explores postmodernism's effects on a particular author's theology on salvation. He has written a book
that centers (more or less) around a central question: What if Jesus had actually concealed his deepest message, not trying to make it overt and obvious but intentionally hiding it as a treasure one must seek in order to find?

A lot of people are vying today to present the real Jesus. It seems that we are all content to make Jesus into our own image instead of trying to conform to his. Whether it's hippie Jesus, Republican Jesus, homeless Jesus, angry Jesus, loving and permissive Jesus, etc., a lot of us think we have him figured out.

In recent years, even Christians have become enamored with alternative views of Jesus that diverge (slightly and strongly) from the historic evangelical understanding of him. From The Da Vinci Code
to Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, the biblical presentation of Jesus seems...well, less interesting.

The author I'm studying says that Jesus is more interesting than we think, but we just have missed his secret message. I disagree. This is treading dangerously close to a heresy that the apostle John and other early church leaders condemned called gnosticism.

I think part of the reason that Jesus is not that interesting to a lot of Christians is not because of what they don't know about him. I think it's because of what they don't do with what they know about him. I know a lot of people who know a lot about Jesus, but their lives don't seem to match up with what he teaches. I find myself in that category more often than I'd like to admit, too.

Some of the more adventuresome times of my life are when I am following Jesus' call to a radically different life. It has taken me amazing places and has often required courage that I didn't have at the time.

If you find Jesus as a less-than-interesting character, then try actually doing what he says. Then let me know what happens.

July 15, 2009

Best of Humanivy

After a long hiatus, I've tried to kick the ol' blog back into motion, which has brought me some new traffic. I haven't done this yet, so I figured I'd post a "most read" list from the past year and a half. Enjoy:

10. World Beard and Mustache Championship. I haven't seen the results, but I'm sure it was a scream.

9. Life in Mississippi--Satan is Dead. A funeral for the dark lord, himself.

8. CNN Asks a Great Question. How will theological conservatives respond to the possibility of Sarah Palin as their vice-president when those churches have historically limited the role of women in their congregations?

7. Why Humanivy? I explain the name of this blog.

6. The Proper Use of the Pulpit. A look at Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments.

5. Caution--Name Drop Approaching. This was written before Mac Powell from Third Day led worship at First Hattiesburg in March 2009. It details how we know each other.

4. The Cartman Prophecies. All it takes to turn a non-Christian pop song into a Christian song is to replace "baby" with "Jesus".

3. Barack Obama: The Quintessential Postmodern Candidate. Written before Obama had locked up the Democratic Nomination for President.

2. President Obama. Written on the eve of the November 2008 election.

1. Come On Down to the Barn. This one, you've just got to watch and read.

July 14, 2009

Fix it Yourself...

Yesterday, I told you about a guy selling VHS tapes at a flea market I recently visited. Besides being a peddler of old movies, he had an antique buffet table for sale for $75. The only catch was that it was missing one of the handles.

When we inquired about it, he told us the price and said that it was a good piece of furniture. "Oh, and by the way," he said, "the missing handle is in the drawer. You just have to put it on yourself."

How many people do you think would figure this out just by walking by and looking? And is the flea market so busy that he doesn't have five minutes to put the handle on? Is this a pride issue? If you want it, you've got to do it yourself?"

How about putting the handle on yourself, sir, and charging $100 for the buffet. I guarantee some will pay the extra $25.

Sometimes it only takes a little extra effort to turn something average into something desirable. The problem comes when we expect those we're trying to reach to make the effort before we do.

July 13, 2009

A Dying Medium

A couple of weekends ago I was invited to check out the Mobile, AL flea market with some friends. It's your typical hodgepodge of "if it's junk you can find it here" stores and booths.

At one particular booth, the man running it was in the process of setting out somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 movies on VHS tapes. My first thought was "how sad."

You can buy a DVD player for about $20 now. Are there really that many people left that will buy these tapes?

My feelings went from sad to worse, though, when I realized something else. Not only was this man trying to offload a dying (nay, dead) medium...but four stalls down, he had competition. Another man was also selling scores of movies on VHS.

I don't know what's worse: trying to sell something that almost no one is buying, or trying to sell something that almost no one is buying and realizing that you have competition.

How many churches are still clinging to practices that are engaging fewer and fewer people, all while looking around and realizing that the churches around them are doing the exact same thing? If you want to succeed in your mission, then sometimes you've got to offer people what they need in a way that works for them...not for you.

The guy selling fresh vegetables for a few cents cheaper than the supermarket had a line waiting to talk with him.

July 10, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 8)

I'm finishing up posting parts of a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.

Conclusion

Though it is used widely in churches and revivals still today, it is clear that the history of the public invitation has not been rooted in proper theology or even ancient church practice. It is also clear from history that many preachers changed their theology to reflect what was happening in their meetings, services, and revivals. Ministers and revivalists used pragmatism, ego, and even greed as a reason to persuade people to give a public profession of their faith. Problems arose from those who have confused “coming-forward” with genuine conversion leading to countless false conversions. These practices rely on the methods of the invitation rather than on God’s sovereignty and mercy. Some of these methods are even dishonest in the way the invitation is given, and any such practice should be avoided entirely.[1] Churches that adopt this form of evangelism should be aware of the history of the altar call, and be prepared to avoid any similarities of those who have used it improperly. When seen as only a tool for evangelism and used in a clear and proper manner, then there is no doubt that the Lord can use public appeals for salvation and for His glory, so long as the methodology follows the correct theology.

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.



[1] See Whitesell, 65 Ways, 52, for a suggested practice that borders on deception.

July 09, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 7)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

The Twentieth Century

With the “new measures” firmly engrained in the profession of revivalism, a new generation of evangelists were ready to follow in the footsteps of Finney and Moody. During the twentieth century, few new methods were developed. Instead, this new group of revivalists would modify and refine the methods that were already systematized in the previous century. At the time of Moody’s death, Samuel P. Jones, a Methodist circuit-riding preacher, was the most popular evangelist in America. Know as the “Moody of the South”, his campaigns were said to average two thousand converts.[1] While he occasionally used the inquiry room, Jones preferred holding “after-meeting” services for mourners concerned about their salvation. Often, he would shake hands with those coming forward and say, “God bless you” to them, give the crowd a brief exhortation, only, and turn them over to clergy and counselors who urged them to sign decision cards.

R. A. Torrey, successor to Moody, saw over one hundred thousand converts from 1901-1905. His practices included the use of several rows of empty seats where people could come forward for prayer and counsel from trained workers. During this time, other trained workers would work the crowd for five minutes pleading with those who had resisted the first altar call to give themselves to Christ.[3] A.C. Dixon took over the pulpit at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London filling the pulpit once held by Charles Spurgeon. He implemented a “come-forward” invitation that was foreign to Britain, and thus, received much criticism.

In the second decade of the twentieth century, Billy Sunday, the “baseball evangelist”, led revivalism to its climax. His 1915 campaign in Philadelphia was said to have seen over forty thousand converted. Early in his career, he first made appeals for anyone under conviction to come forward. Workers were then sent into the audience to urge others to come. Finally, he would have the choir begin to sing as others would begin to flood the front.[5] In later years, his public invitations generally consisted of inviting those who wanted forgiveness, and to have the personal “peace with Christ” that comes from “accepting Christ” to “hit the sawdust trail”.[6] This phrase originated from a campaign he led in Washington State, where lumberjacks would leave trails of sawdust behind them as they went into the deep forests, in order that they might find their way home.[7] Sunday made the same concept apply to his revival meetings. In his services, this amounted to coming forward, shaking Sunday’s hand, and then signing a decision card. The person coming forward was then handed a booklet assuring them that they had been converted. Sunday’s invitations were often pleas of reason to those resisting coming forward, and were often devoid of “any real religious content.” He believed that humans were not such bad people at heart. His semi-Pelagian views led his invitations to mainly focus on those who were interested in decency, against alcohol, or felt like Christianity was the “manly” thing to do. His main intention was to make the average citizen “give up his bad habits, profess his belief in the fundamentals, and pledge himself to join a church.”[8] Sunday’s career declined in his later years for numerous reasons, mainly including criticism of his commercialism and an erroneous prediction of the end of the world in 1935.

Billy Graham is considered to be the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century, and continued leading crusades across the globe until his recent retirement. He gave his first public invitation early in his career at a small Baptist church in Florida where three or four people came forward at the end of his sermon. In 1945, he preached to over three thousand at a Youth For Christ Rally in Chicago where more than forty people responded to a public invitation. As his crusade ministry began, he developed his own style of invitation that is still in use at crusades and churches today. According to Streett, this Graham-style invitation consists of preparing hearts for the invitation through his sermon, transitioning into the invitation, answering the question of how to be saved, calling for public commitment, and then having those who would respond move forward to be met by counselors who usually take them into a separate tent or meeting area.[10] While none of these practices are new, Graham has been able to refine them into a style that is uniquely his. Streett does, however, make clear that Graham “does not believe that merely making a public profession is a guarantee of personal salvation. Without the inner working of the Holy Sprit, an outward profession is meaningless.”[11]

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.



[1] Streett, Effective Invitation, 101.

[2] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 304-05.

[3] Streett, Effective Invitation, 101-02.

[4] Murray, Revival, 410, 410n, claims that not one public appeal was made at Metropolitan Tabernacle in Spurgeon’s lifetime, and that “he was against any regular use of inquiry meetings.” He notes that Lewis Drummond, Prince of Preachers, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1992, 657, advances this theory. Murray refutes this claim on the basis that when the Tabernacle was being built in 1860, the public invitation was not in use in Britain. Streett, Effective Invitation, 97, notes the different types of public invitations Spurgeon was said to use, and mentions the architecture of the Tabernacle as a hindrance for a “come-forward” invitation.

[5] Streett, Effective Invitation, 103-04.

[6] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 410.

[7] Street, Effective Invitation, 104.

[8] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 434.

[9] Ibid., 446-448.

[10] Streett, Effective Invitation, 110-21.

[11] Ibid., 110.


July 08, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 6)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

Dwight L. Moody

Dwight Moody was the first to organize citywide campaigns for evangelistic purposes by using several denominations, holding services for thousands in large venues, and using some form of public invitation.[1] If Charles Finney created a profession out of revivalism, then Moody made it a “big business.”[2] Known as the “great evangelist of love”, Moody’s practice of ministry was shaped early in his career in 1871. That night, he preached on “what shall I do with Jesus?” and sent the crowd home to think about it and come back the next week. Within twelve hours, the Great Chicago fire had erupted, killing over three hundred, leaving tens of thousands homeless, and destroying Moody’s church. He vowed never again to delay an invitation for the audience to respond. Under the influence of teachers and leaders of the Brethren denomination, Moody began to develop his use of the public invitation.

Earlier in his career, Moody’s methods were more aggressive. In the 1860’s, Moody was know to roam around his congregation in order to publicly confront individuals in order to inquire about their salvation. Those who hesitated or responded negatively were often asked to kneel so that Moody might pray for Christ to save them.[4] Moody then moved to the use of the inquiry room in 1873, followed in 1875 by having those in the audience who desired salvation to stand.[5] In 1887 at Cambridge, Moody and his traveling companion, Ira Sankey preached to a crowd of university students who wanted to upset the services. After three nights, Moody made a public appeal for anyone wanting to know Christ to meet him and Sankey in a group of unused seats. He repeated the appeal three to four times before people began to move towards the gallery.

Moody was not tied to one form of public invitation, but rather used what he deemed to be the best method for the circumstances. One author claims that Moody never used the anxious seat, but the evidence proves contrary.[7] Once at Oxford, he asked those seated in the front to leave their seats so that those concerned for their souls could come forward and sit in them. This occasion is rare, though, and it appears that Moody mostly preferred the inquiry room. He can be credited, however, for the introduction of two new facets to the public invitation. The first was the use of a singer working with the preacher as a supplement to the invitation. This role was often played by Sankey, who sang the gospel as Moody made the appeal. A second innovation was the introduction of organized counseling led by lay people. Due to the size of Moody’s campaigns, there were often too few pastors to counsel with the numbers who were making decisions. Moody recruited lay people to assist in counseling, and eventually set up the Chicago Evangelization Society to train them for evangelism. This Society was the beginnings of the Chicago (Moody) Bible Institute in Chicago.[8]

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.



[1] Bennett, Altar Call, 139.

[2] McLoughlin, 166.

[3] Moody was particularly influenced by the Brethren preacher, Henry Moorehouse, who focused more on the acceptance of rational facts about Christ. He did, however, use the inquiry room, and on occasion had congregants stand in order to accept Christ.

[4]Bennett, Altar Call, 140.

[5] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 261, refers to Moody’s conversations in the inquiry room as “little more than ad hominem, a sort of spiritual brow beating.”

[6] Ibid., 142, quoting G.E. Morgan, R.C. Morgan, 210-11. The author of this book was an undergraduate at Cambridge at this time and attended the revival meetings.

[7] Cawardine, Transatlantic, 17.

[8] Ibid., 144-45.

July 07, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 5)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Charles Finney and New Measures

While the emotional appeals of the frontier camp meetings were taking place in the early nineteenth century, such measures were virtually unheard of in the eastern United States. Church leaders occasionally used the “inquiry room”, but only to counsel with people from Scripture—and, not because of spiritual distress.[1] In 1828 in Virginia, Asahel Nettleton would not hold inquiry meetings unless the number of those needing further help was greater than private meetings could accommodate.[2] This would soon change with the advent of the ministry of Charles G. Finney and the introduction of “new measures”. Exactly how “new” these measures were is up for debate. Most of his methods, especially the anxious seat, were adopted from practices that the Methodists had been using for three decades. Finney’s major contribution was popularizing the use of these public invitations. Early in his ministry, Finney experimented occasionally with different types of public invitations, but never settled on one consistent practice, nor did he always offer the appeal. In those years, Streett says that Finney would ask “anyone anxious about their souls to stand at their seats as a sign of a repentant heart.”[4] During his first ministry position at Evan’s Mill in New York, Finney modified his form of public invitation. After a series of sermons that produced no visible response, he gave an unusual and confusing invitation. He admonished those in the crowd who wanted to accept Christ to stand, and those who were willing to publicly reject Christ to remain seated. This left no proper response to anyone in the audience who was already a Christian, leading the crowd to storm out. The next night, he made no appeal, yet many sought him out later that night seeking counseling. In 1826, he began the practice of calling forward those who had already been converted to receive extra counseling. Then, in 1830 at a revival in Rochester, Finney began consistently using the anxious seat.

As Finney continued the use of the anxious seat in his services, he began to develop a new theology of conversion. Beginning in the 1830’s, Finney delivered a series of lectures on revival where he stated his belief that unregenerate men could change their own will to follow Christ, and thus be converted.[5] Critics attacked this “new theology” that was being used to defend these “new measures”, along with its use of emotional ploys. John Nevin said, “no conversions are more precarious and insecure than those of the Anxious Bench.”[6] Finney defended the use of the anxious seat saying that it, in fact, “prevents a great many spurious conversion,” and that dating back to the apostles, “the church has always felt it necessary to have something of the kind” to publicly demonstrate someone’s faith.[7] Finney argued that these methods were necessary to convert men and “to bring them to submission.”[8] He claimed that the use of the anxious seat always led to the multiplication of converts, which must be the work of God’s divine power.[9] These ideas led to the development of his belief that revival was always available if Christians would agree in prayer and in faith. Thus, the altar call, through Finney’s theology and practice, became a tool to induce revival, and anyone opposed to it became an enemy of that revival.


Finney’s popularization of the altar call led to a new generation of evangelists using similar practices. In 1832, the same year that Finney’s ministry began in New York City, a magazine inspired by the local revivals ran a series of articles on how to conduct these “revivals”, including instructions on the use of the “anxious seat.”[11] His lectures on revival also encouraged the use of the public invitation, and his practices were adopted throughout America and Britain. One commentator said that Finney tamed “the exuberant camp meeting and tailor[ed] it to fit the local church.”[12] Bennett also notes, “the modern practice of evangelism…built, as so much of it is upon the altar call, owes probably more to him than anyone else.”[13] Murray states, “before the 1820’s the altar call…was little known in most churches.”[14] In contrast, William McLoughlin wrote that, “after 1835 it was an indispensable figure of modern revivals.”[15] By the 1840’s, Finney began preaching a doctrine of sanctification that stressed perfection. His altar calls became, according to McLoughlin, “spur-of-the-moment decisions lacking in depth or meaning,” leaving the anxious seat a “stereotyped and forced ritual.”[16]

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.



[1] Ibid., 216.

[2] Ibid., 232-3, 233n. Autrey, Basic Evangelism, 131, claims that Nettleton began using the inquiry room in 1817. His source is Whitesell, Sixty-five Evangelistic Invitations, 16. Whitesell offers no source for his claim. This appears to be erroneous, since Nettleton opposed the use of such “new measures” (see Murray, Revival, 230-37), and was only known to use them as stated.

[3] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, eds., 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 69.

[4] Streett, Effective Invitation, 95, citing Henry B. McClendon, “The Mourner’s Bench” (Th.D. diss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1902), 16.

[5] For a full treatment of Finney’s theology of conversion, see Murray, Revival, 244-50, and Bennett, Altar Call, 108-13.

[6] John W. Nevin, The Anxious Bench, (Chambersburg, PA: German Reformed Church, 1844), 83.

[7] Charles Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, (New York: Leavitt, Lord & Co., 1836) in Robert R. Mathisen, ed., Critical Issues in American Religious History: A Reader, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2001), 159.

[8] Murray, Revival, 246, citing Charles Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, (New York and London, 1910), with introduction and original notes by W.H. Harding, 116-17.

[9] Ibid., 283.

[10] Ibid., 249.

[11] Bennett, Altar Call, 112.

[12] Ibid., 112, quoting Leon McBeth, Women in Baptist Life (Nashville: Broadman).

[13] Ibid., 112.

[14] Murray, Revival, 277.

[15]William McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham, (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1959), 97.

[16] Ibid., 148.


July 06, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 4)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Kentucky Camp Meetings

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a new phenomenon began in Kentucky—the camp meeting—which was a series of services conducted outdoors, often including several congregations. These services were usually characterized by the charismatic responses of the audience who would shout or cry out, and fall out in distress while under conviction. In the earliest camp meetings, there were no altar calls.[1] Within a few years, though, the “core of the camp meeting religion” became the altar service. Sermons on the depravity of man and the final judgment were typical and led to many numbers of people responding publicly. Mourner’s benches, mourner’s tents, praying tents and praying circles became fixtures at the larger camp meetings. Prayer circles were an early form of public invitation in which preachers and laymen would hold hands to form a circle and invite anyone who wanted to accept Christ to stand in the middle. By the 1820’s, the title “anxious seat” came into use. These “altars” were enclosed areas with seating and were set apart at the front of the meeting place where anyone under conviction of sin could come, sit and be counseled. This separated them from the rest of the saved and any sinners who were not under conviction.

These methods initially intended to publicly identify those who were not saved, so that they might be instructed. At first, no one saw these methods as the means to salvation, but soon coming forward to the altar became confused with conversion. Murray states that “people heard preachers plead for them to come forward with the same urgency with which they pleaded for them to repent and believe.”[3] Other problems emerged with this new practice, too, as the scene around the altar became a place of amusement for spectators. Peter Cartwright, an itinerant Methodist evangelist, wrote of one instance in 1822 when he had to “contend with ‘idle professors’ and ‘idle spectators’ who were overcrowding the altar.”[4] He then began to make each person entering the altar confirm that they were, indeed, concerned about their souls. Others also noticed the problems that came with this new form of invitation. “Conversions” were often “short-lived”, as Johnson conceded. One observer, though, noted that “because there have been counterfeits, we must not reject the genuine.”[5] Regardless of its long-term effect, the practice of the public invitation was refined and systematized in these Methodist camp meetings. Instead of the practices of these meetings reflecting the theology of those in attendance, theology began to change to fit the practices. Murray notes that the “establishment of camp meetings and altar calls arose from the best of motives, it was the result of erroneous theology and it led to a system with consequences that they failed to see.”[6]

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.



[1] Ibid., 186.

[2] Charles A. Johnson, The Frontier Camp Meeting, (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1955), 132-3.

[3] Murray, Revival, 186.

[4] Johnson, Camp Meeting, 137, quoting Cartwright’s The Backwoods Preacher: An Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, 233-34.

[5] Ibid., 173-74, quoting A.P. Mead’s Manna in the Wilderness, 17-19.

[6] Murray, Revival, 190.


July 05, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 3)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, and Part 2.

Earliest Origins

The earliest recorded event of a purposeful public invitation dates to Massachusetts in 1741, and Eleazer Whitlock. After preaching a sermon as a guest in Josiah Crocker’s church in Lebanon, the crowd would not leave, so Whitlock preached a second sermon on conversion. The people became under such conviction and began crying out so loudly that Whitlock could not finish his sermon. He invited all those in distress to join him in the seats at the front of the church in order to “counsel, direct and exhort them.” [1] Two months later, Crocker was a guest preacher in Middleborough. Though no one appeared in distress during his sermon, “about one-hundred remained outside the church crying in despair.” Crocker and the pastor invited them back into the church for counseling.[2] In 1798, a Virginian pastor, Jesse Lee, recorded the events following a sermon that Asbury preached on Halloween. At Paup’s Meeting House in Virginia, those who were in distress over the sermon were asked to come together while the preachers “kept singing and exhorting the mourners.”[3] At the close of the eighteenth century, the well-known Methodist evangelist, Lorenzo Dow began using a form of public invitation. In 1797, he began asking those in the congregation who wanted prayer for themselves to stand. He then invited anyone wanting to accept Christ to stand and come forward for prayer.[4] In 1806, a Methodist minister from New York named Aaron Hunt adopted the practice of calling people forward to a “space in front of the stand, called an altar” where mourners could come and be counseled separately from the congregation.[5] By 1807, the practice of using a mourner’s bench had reached England. In 1812, a frontier Baptist preacher named William Thompson gave a sermon in Missouri where more than twenty people spontaneously rose from their seats and came forward without any previous prompting.[6] All of these events played a key role in the development of the altar call.

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.



[1] Bennett, Altar Call, 32-33. Streett, Effective Invitation, 94, records this event, also.

[2] John Gillies, Historical Collections of Accounts of Revival, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981), 404.

[3] Bennett, Altar Call, 39, quoting Lee’s Journal.

[4] Bennett, Altar Call, 63-64. Streett, Effective Evangelism, 94.

[5] Richard Cawardine, Transatlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America, 1790-1865, (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1978), 13.

[6] Murray, Revival, 226.

July 03, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 2)















I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1.

Much disagreement exists over the exact origins of the altar call. Dr. R. Alan Streett in his book, The Effective Invitation, places the first public invitations back with the first century preachers. He claims that these invitations were given until Constantine established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, thus giving every citizen the opportunity to be baptized as a member of the church. Streett states that it was after this “Christianization” of the empire that the public invitation virtually disappeared, only to resurface with the advent of the Reformation and developed more fully during the First and Second Great Awakenings.[1] Street offers no sources to back his claims, though, and few people hold to these beliefs.[2] Most scholars date the appearance of the public invitation to America’s first Great Awakening in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

While the general time period of the origins of the altar call can be agreed upon, there is no clear evidence of who first used it. Many give credit to early figures in the Great Awakening, such as Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and George Whitefield for beginning these practices. Bennett proves, however, that none of these men used such methods in the services that they led.[3] Others claim that it was Charles G. Finney with his introduction of the “anxious seat”.[4] Records show, however, that Francis Asbury was using the practice in the late eighteenth century.[5] Rather than being the idea of one man, or flowing out of one incident, it is probable that a series of occurrences led to the development of these methods that were taken and used in church and revival culture.

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.



[1] R. Alan Streett, The Effective Invitation, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984), 81-100.

[2] Streett’s work contains some historical inaccuracies and poor Biblical interpretation, but to argue these would go beyond the scope of this paper. Because he never gives a clear definition of “public invitation”, he is free to conclude that these “practices” were common to Jesus, the disciples, and other well-known church figures without giving any specific details of their methods or actions. Faris D. Whitesell, Sixty-five Ways to Give Evangelistic Invitations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1945), 15-16, stops short of saying that the public invitation can be seen in the Bible, stating rather that the “spirit and principle…is as old as the Bible itself.”

[3] Bennett, Altar Call, 1-21. Both Streett, Effective Invitation, 89-92, and C.E. Autrey, Basic Evangelism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959), 130, inaccurately portray Wesley as using the mourner’s bench in his ministry. When they do cite sources, none of them are contemporary to Wesley, as are Bennett’s. His research goes to great length to disprove this view about Wesley and the claims that Whitefield and Edwards used forms of public invitation.

[4] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), 270. Whitesell, Sixty-Five Ways, 16, says that Finney first used the anxious seat at a Rochester, NY revival in 1831, though he offers no source. Streett, Effective Invitation, 95, quoting Howard G. Olive’s “The Development of the Evangelistic Invitation”, (Th.M. thesis, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1958), 42, and Bennett, Altar Call, 112, quotes Finney’s Revival Fire: Lectures on Revivals, (Minneapolis: Dimension, n.d.), 81-87. They place the date in 1830, as does C.E. Autrey, Basic Evangelism, 131.

[5] Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism, 1750-1858, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 184.