Anyone that has spent much time in christian environments has likely witnessed the alter call.
The alter call is when a pastor or speaker invites people who aren’t Christians to accept Jesus and become a Christian, by saying a short prayer.
The prayer is often called the sinners prayer.
It typically goes something like this.
“God, I have sinned against you. I want forgiveness for all my sins. I believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. I want Jesus to come into my life and into my heart. Amen.”
The alter call normally takes place at a conference or during a week of church camp. Some churches will do them once a month or on specific holidays. The alter call typically happens at an emotionally charged moment. In a large auditorium full of people. The speaker has thoughtfully laid out the pros and cons.
Accept god and party forever in heaven.
Reject god and burn forever in hell.
A pretty convincing argument.
Then as a band softly plays a few cords in the background, the speaker calls people to come forward and accept Jesus.
I have witnessed hundreds of these alter calls.
I have heard the practice criticized for dozens of different reasons. But no matter the problems people have with it, they continue to happen. Many groups have modified it to fit with their ideals better. Some groups may not mention hell, as they don’t what to scare people. Some groups may offer riches, as they want to motivate people.
No matter the particularly brand of alter call one thing is clear.
The sinners prayer is an essential part of american evangelical Christianity.
There’s a problem though.
It isn’t in the Bible.
In order to read this prayer into the Bible you have to read certain verses in Acts 2 as more important than verses found in chapters like Matthew 7 and Luke 6.
Acts 2:21 says,
and everyone who calls on the name of the lord will be saved.
But then we have verses like this.
Matthew 7:21 says,
not everyone that says, lord lord, shall enter into heaven. But those that do the will of my father will enter.
Luke 6:46 says,
why do you call me lord lord and not do the things I say?
We could go down the long and winding road of all the different verses that suggest different ways to get into heaven.
We could talk about faith vs works.
We could talk about verses like Matthew 6:14 and 15 where Jesus says if you don’t judge others, you won’t be judged.
Faith vs works vs no judging?
We could talk about verses like Matthew 5:20 where Jesus says to get to heaven you have to be more righteous than the Pharisees. (The Pharisees were super religious people that always did the right thing. – Insert laughter 😉)
Faith vs works vs no judging vs extreme righteousness?
This conversation would take a lot of time. And in the end I don’t see much benefit coming from discussing which one of these, and many other, proposed methods is the best way to get into heaven.
I have a suggestion for us,
Stop trying to get into heaven.
My reasoning is very simple.
I have seen people who are working to get to heaven.
I have seen people who are working to bring heaven to earth.
Observing the two groups it becomes abundantly clear who is living like Jesus did.
Our first group strives for personal morality. They tend to read the Bible literally. This typically results in the subjugation of women, and male only leadership. They will go to great lengths to avoid things like alcohol and cussing. More often than not, they reject people of other religions and they certainly have problems with homosexuals.
Church services are focused on how to be a more morality minded person. Sermons about praying more frequently and trying to read the bible more often are common place.
Some of these churches do things for the communities they exist in. Often times hosting food pantries. Of course to get some food, you have to come to the Bible study beforehand.
In our first group the main focus of Jesus is ultimately self. How do I become more morale?
How do I sin less? How do I pray more?
How do I get into heaven?
I spent many years in communities like this. I must acknowledge that not everyone that is in these communities view Jesus in such a selfish way. I still have friends from communities like those that are very loving to all people. My description is a broad one, I realize it cannot adequately describe every individual in a conservative Christian church.
I have been fortunate to find a few communities of Christians that are not like this.
I have been able to exist with people who are focused not on getting into heaven, but on bringing heaven to earth.
In this communities I have seen addictions openly discussed, without fear of judgement.
I have seen homeless people sit in Sunday services next to college graduates. I have seen people with nothing, give anything they had. I have watched people of all types of religions and backgrounds come together to make their communities better.
In a community of people that aren’t so worried about going someplace after death, you can see Jesus living in this moment.
Hungry people giving away food,
Poor people giving away money,
People in apartments sharing their living space,
Beautiful things being made from death.
When we worry about what happens after we die, we focus on what’s going to happen after we die.
We we worry about whats happening with our next door neighbor, or the family down the street, we focus on what’s going to happen to other people.
When we focus on what’s going to happen to other people, we start to take care of other people in new and powerful ways.
We give away stuff that we actually want, we have a family in a finical crisis living with us, we move out of the safe neighborhood and into the crime ridden one.
In realizing that Jesus isn’t waiting for us after we die,
We begin to live before we die.
We begin to love those we met.
We begin to bring heaven to earth.