He’s a world-renowned evangelist. Millions of people have become Christians because of him. That should sound inspiring to me.
Instead, I sit in the thousand-seater church, picking at a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and mentally consider my dessert options for afterwards. Donuts To Go or an Oreo McFlurry?
I know what’s coming: an altar call. I dislike altar calls. I find them confrontational and emotionally-manipulative. (Read more about that here.)
“If you want to give your life to Jesus, please come to the front,” the evangelist says.
As a few people filter in to the front, he goes on:
“I won’t stop until we reach 100! If your friend or child or spouse is going up, go up with them. If you need prayer, come up. If your faith is lacking and you want to rededicate your life to God, come up.”
Now more people go to the front. He counts out each person.
“51! 59! C’mon, people! 68!”
I didn’t realize we were at an auction.
When they reach 100, the evangelist concludes the altar call with prayer. Then he says:
“100 people gave their life to Jesus today.”
I wipe jelly off my fingers and check the time on my watch. Oreo McFlurry.
I bet a bulk of those people came to the front because they just wanted prayer. I bet the offering at this church goes to their strobe lights and smoke machine.
Let me explain myself.
I used to roll my eyes at people who moaned about Christianity. But being immersed in the American Christian culture makes me cringe more than smile. I tell my non-Christian friends about all the crazy, messed-up things that happen. I laugh about it, roll my eyes at it, but underneath, I feel grossly disillusioned. Why do I feel like an outsider to my own faith?
I wish I could go back to being in a stoic, traditional church outside of liberal Chicago. Or even better, being in a largely non-Christian country (cough, cough, England). I saw no abuses or excesses there.
There weren’t light-up billboards advertising ministries. Or televangelists arming their marketing ploys with Bible verses. The prosperity gospel was a myth (no one actually believes that, right?) and pastors didn’t need a synthesizer playing in the background to preach (#moodmusic). There was the raw gospel with nothing extra to glamorize it.
I’m not saying I’ve seen it all. But I’ve seen enough, thankyouverymuch.
I’ve been told how we’re all united in Christ and how you can’t be an absolutist and how I shouldn’t moan about these things, yada yada yada. But what if it’s bad theology?
Last Sunday, my pastor preached on the distortion of the gospel in the church. He mentioned the hyper-grace movement and other forms of false theology.
“But,” he said, “I don’t want us to be a church against something. I want us to be for something. For truth.”
Truth. That Jesus wants us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). That we should set our mind on things above, not things that are on earth (Col. 3:2). That we should study the Bible and be guided by what it says (Psa. 119:105).
I don’t want to have just an understanding of what I’m against. I want to have a stronger grasp of what I’m for. That’s why I decided to do a Bible-reading plan with my friend. I’m exposed to Bible verses every day but it’s time I commit to a closer read. I want to get better at discerning what God’s Word really says.
I’m willing to divide over bad theology because bad theology hurts people. But I need to know what good theology is. That way, I can be for something, and not just against something.
And maybe in the midst of excesses and sensationalism, I can find that raw truth again.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon