Revelation on Elevation

Another news story was launched on Elevation Church and this time it is about Spontaneous Baptisms. The NBC affiliate in Charlotte, WCNC, has been doing some investigating reports on the church. Some say it is a witch hunt while others point to the history of PTL as valid reasons why this reporting is important.  One of the main campuses of the church is only a few miles from my church.  I have friends who attend the church and I am finding that these stories are talked about in almost all of my social circles, personal and professional.  Recently there was a blog post that came out showing a coloring page given to children and it has added additional fuel to the fire. 
Some of my Facebook friends have asked my opinion on the matter and I told them I would respond. Now that I have drawn a line in the sand I feel I need to say something but I have been wrestling with how and what to actually say.  
I wrote one draft of a post but then after reading another clergy’s thoughts on what is happening I realized what I need to say.  So here it goes…
I am an Ordained Elder of the United Methodist Church and have grown up in the UMC all my life.  I love our theology, structure and holding down the extreme center socially and theologically.  I went to a Presbyterian college and received reformed theological training and theology but I became more United Methodist the longer I was there.  I am not Southern Baptist and have never been.  I have only attended a few Southern Baptist churches and have limited experience with SB pastors.  Although, my daughter does go to a Southern Baptist Preschool and I have family who are Baptist.
I say this because the Southern Baptist theology and polity are not things I am all too familiar with.  I know a little but not enough to make myself an expert.  I know we don’t agree theologically on many things.  I know I have had some recovering baptists in my congregations over the years and I know others who are recovering methodists in baptist congregations.  
I celebrate our differences because we all look at the world differently.  We need different theologies so that we can speak to as many people as possible and work together to bring forth the Kingdom of God.  We can agree to disagree on our views of baptism, church structure and other points of theology.  It is okay!
Elevation Church is a Southern Baptist Church although you will not find that anywhere on their site or campuses.  I know that Pastor Steven is doing some wonderful things over there.  How could he not to be only 34 and have a congregation in two cities and growing it to over 14,000 people?  I hear the music is incredible and the production put into each worship service is amazing, although I have not ever been to a worship service there.  
When some of the other news reports came out I asked some of my Elevation friends their thoughts.  I did this because how Elevation is run and organized is vastly different than my denomination and experience.  I was curious what others thought, not in a judgmental way but in a “I want to learn more about this” way.  
With all this said, here is my $.02 on Elevation Church.  It is different than my church in almost every way.  It is structured differently than my denomination and the church I pastor.  We hold different views when it comes to baptism and visioning.  I have listened to some of Pastor Steven’s sermons via podcast and there are some places where we agree theologically and others where we disagree, although I can find that in about every minister, even within my own tradition.  Elevation ≠ Indian Trail United Methodist.  Good?  Bad?  I am not to judge, all I know is we are different.
Would I hold a Spontaneous Baptism service…no because we have a different theology on baptism.  Do I agree with the planting of 15 people to get up when Pastor Steven asks people to come get baptized?   To me that walks right up to that line we shouldn’t cross in worship and resembles a little bit of Jonas Nightingale to me.  But once again that is because we see things differently.  I think the news report was a little unfair and reaching when it talks about “mining for good stories.”  I think all pastors and churches are looking for good stories to help share people’s experience at their church.  I don’t see anything unBiblical about that, but since the church published guidelines with those directions in it, it does make them a easy target.
I finally realized where I should look to form my opinion of Elevation Church…scripture.  As it says in Acts 5:38-39, “So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” I will not judge nor try to fight against God. I will acknowledge our differences but we worship the same God and believe in the work and salvation found in Jesus Christ.  That is my opinion on Elevation…if is of human origin, it will fail and if it is of God, it will thrive.

I will pray for their church, as I hope they would lift mine up as well, and I will continue to do my part to build up the Kingdom of God in the community we share.

Altar Calls – Why?

While I was on paternity leave I had some guest preachers come in. We had a soon to graduate Divinity School student, a retired clergy, and our District Superintendent. I as heard from my ‘spies’ on how the service went they gave good reports on all of them. One ended 15 minutes early and one 15 minutes late. What struck me was one gave an altar at the end of the service. “Apparently he had some deep Baptist roots,” one of my ‘spies’ told me. During the course of that next week I ran into other parishioners and they all mentioned the altar call. It got me thinking…why don’t I do altar calls.

I don’t do them because they leave a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, it is seems to have a very Baptist connotations to it and I find my self trying to define myself as non-baptist here in NC. One of my professors in Divinity School said, “There’s more Baptists than people in North Carolina.” I am not talking bad about Baptists, don’t get me wrong, I am merely expressing that being United Methodist is not the same as Southern Baptist.

I have been to some congregations, Baptist, Pentecostal and Non-denominational where altar calls have been given and I have often thought, “Did they really think there sermon was that good?” Or it seems shallow and an attempt to manipulate emotions, especially when youth are involved.

I do feel that there are times when altar calls are important and useful. On youth retreats there are plenty of non-churched people and a call to take following Jesus seriously is a good idea. An offering to accept the gift of salvation is great. But, once again, when it is done out of an authentic place and lead by the Spirit, not the ego of the speaker. I turned a youth retreat into a revival one summer just because I was yawning, but that is another post for another time.

Getting back to the point, why don’t I do altar calls? That question has haunted me for a while and then I remembered what we ask our members at the time we welcome them into full membership through profession of faith. We ask them, do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? Then we ask the congregation, do you, as Christ’s body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?

Why, when I ask these questions, do I need to do altar calls? I have done calls to prayers for certain things but never to ‘raise your hand if you accept Jesus.’ I don’t because even if a visitor is in my congregation, my hope is that person will be welcomed into the body of Christ and when that person is, they will answer these questions and profess that Jesus Christ is their Savior. If they were members of other churches than when others join they will be asked to reaffirm their belief and commitment to Christ.

If I were to continually call people to be ‘saved’ then wouldn’t I be negating what we, as United Methodists, profess before we join the Body of Christ? Would that wash away our membership vows and make them an oath we say before joining a social club?

I stand by the questions I ask and the answers that are given.