Part of the historical legacy of the altar call is that it provided safe harbor for the creation of an entirely new nomenclature. Altar call language is now repellent clichés that drop out of the mouth of the conversionism preacher as inevitably as browned leaves fall off a giant oak at the end of fall. These vapid clichés are as difficult to find on the lips of an expository preacher as a Przewalsk’s Horse is to find in central Asia; and as frequently found on the lips of the conversionism preacher as are Wal-Mart’s in the Deep South.
Without further ado here is a list of gospel-kryptonite, otherwise known as altar call clichés, produced by the culture of conversionism:
“Every head bowed; every eye closed”
These words are the on-ramp to the altar call. With heads bowed and eyes closed, the preacher uses his pilot-over-the-intercom voice to engage in a group spiritual therapy session. Remarkable obedience to this command is worth further study by high school teachers and Leavenworth prison guards.
The aforementioned spiritual therapy session is often termed, “spiritual business,” implying some sort of negotiation or deal that the slumped-over, head-in-the-hands subject is haggling about with God.
“Decide for Christ”
The spiritual business culminates in a decision, kind of like deciding what to order when you finally step up to the counter, but instead of choosing between hamburgers and chicken you are choosing between heaven and hell. The world has yet to find a person who honestly would choose a lifetime of horrific torture.
“In a crowd this size . . .”
After the first three clichés have been used, if no one has done any spiritual business, the preacher will extend the spiritual therapy session by saying, “in a crowd this size, surely there is someone who needs to get right with God.” This portion of the cliché bonanza resembles college football overtime, and when it is over you look up and realize the game has mercilessly confiscated four hours and forty-five minutes of your day.
“If you prayed this prayer and really meant it”
This is the conversionism preacher’s version of rounding third and heading for home. Spiritual business has been conducted (eyes closed the entire time, I might add) and the hell-hating, heaven-chooser has called down the irrevocable power that comes with muttering the “sinner’s prayer.” The preacher then assures the dittoes that if they prayed the prayer, “and really meant it,” then they are a Christian and get to lick lollipops in heaven on the streets of gold for eternity. Again, the search is on for the first person who has actually said the sinner’s prayer and not actually meant it. This cliché overlooks the fact that everyone meant it when they said it; just like they really meant it when they said they would love their wife till death do them part.
Now, obviously we are having a little fun with all this, but the broader point shouldn’t be missed. These are not just clichés, but reflections of what so many think, even if they themselves don’t use these clichés. That is why a study on the history of the altar call is so urgently needed.
The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call is available on Amazon.
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