December 3, 2018
by Alex Lillenberg | I briefly worked for a church that routinely practiced an alter call and sinners prayer to the same 65 congregants each week. While the sermon varied in analogy and text, the final 30 minutes of the Sunday morning sermon came to the same conclusion, we must pray a certain prayer to be saved. The pastor would say, “while these are not magic words, they are crucial words that we must believe in our hearts if we want to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Week after week, it was the same thing. While the church had Bible studies and programs for the kids in the neighborhood it lacked authentic discipleship for its congregants. The church has a problem when it makes a fraction of the Gospel, the entire Gospel. The PR issue at hand becomes an entire group of people that have prayed a prayer and desire a relationship with Jesus, but have no understanding of what comes after the prayer. While the pastor may have said it was not magic, it sure felt and appeared to be magic when it required no work on the congregant and had no life altering decisions beyond that Sunday morning.
There is a serious problem with contextualizing theology to the point of taking it out of the context it originated in. For example, this particular church body emphasized the few passages of scripture that make salvation appear to be a one time- irrevocable- decision. The understanding of the greater narrative is lost when this happens. The result is that the same person could raise their hand week after week and pray the prayer without truly encountering the risen Lord. When this happens the Church unjustly feels they have done the work of the Kingdom, and the congregant, misinformed, believes he or she has done what it takes to be saved from eternity in hell. The Gospel is not an insurance plan. It is not about a one- time decision to get you through this life until you are on streets paved of gold. Ultimately, this theology gives reason to not care for the poor and the least of these. It is also provides a substantive, yet false reason for not caring for the planet
This is not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is now and not yet and requires that we press into the way things ought to be. It requires that we fight back against a theology of being chosen and more superior than others. Ultimately, it requires that we put love above all else. Loving people does not reduce the Gospel down to asking them to pray the same prayer each week. Love in action is walking alongside people when they are hurting or broken no matter where they might be in life. If we lived this out consistently, we might avoid the PR catastrophes the church so often faces.
Alex Lillenberg graduated with a Master of Social Justice. She is a mom of two and lives with her husband in Santa Barbara, CA.