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Becoming a disciple of Jesus just got a lot easier, thanks to your cell phone.

I’m on the record about the public invitation or “altar call,” as revivalists like to call here. (Here, here, and here.)

I don’t like it. Why? Read the posts, but for now, let’s look at one reason: You walk the aisle, you can say you’re a Christian. In most revivalistic contexts, it’s strongly implied- or absolutely assumed- that walking forward makes you a Christian.

Aisle walking, altar call invitationalism replaced baptism in the revivalistic tradition as the visible proclamation of personal faith in Christ. It also had the advantage of being non-negotiable in the mind of many “converts.” Before you said a word to anyone, you’d already “walked the aisle.” If you evangelist had done his job, “walking forward” at that meeting was all the assurance you would need for the rest of your life.

The “sinners prayer,” and “praying with someone” were additional revivalist sacraments, but the key was to walk forward. It was letting go and going to Jesus. “I have decided to follow Jesus. Well, actually, I’ve decided to walk forward. We’ll see how it goes after that.”

I’ve heard it for years: “Come to Jesus….here at the front.” In a Catholic mass, that makes sense. Not in an evangelical setting. We don’t have Jesus “up front” for you to come up and “get.”

And so, at least in my denomination and many other revivalistic traditions, millions and millions of people came to believe they had “accepted Christ” because they had done something. The “sacrament of the aisle walk” was efficacious and easy.

Really, really easy.

So I’ve heard it a thousand times. “I came forward at camp, so I’m a Christian.”

Could we make it worse? What kind of question is that?

Yes, we can make it worse. Read the following description by Lexington Herald-Leader CCM reviewer Rich Copley; a description of what replaced the “aisle walk” at a recent CCM concert in Lexington.

Then evangelist —- —– took the stage to deliver a message and a high-tech take on the invitation for people to commit to the Christian faith. No walking forward to Just As I Am, Without One Plea here. Winter Jam goers were told to text “Tony” to 38714, and they would receive a text with more information about where to go for information. Winter Jam organizers estimated 2,500 people responded to that invitation Saturday night. 

I should have seen it coming. I’m almost embarrassed that I didn’t predict it, but I’m really not part of the “texting” generation, so I was asleep at the wheel.

Will churches be far behind? Will denominations be able to resist a new way to register “decisions” for Jesus? Will it be long before I hear this from a teenager: “Well, I texted the preacher at Winter Jam, so yeah, I’m a Christian.”

It’s all so easy. So virtual. So convenient.

And we’ll be hearing stories about how the Holy Spirit used it, for which we should all rejoice. God is amazingly generous with his grace.

Don’t get me wrong. The invitation can be combined with the Gospel rightly proclaimed, and in that case texting is no worse than any other invitation, but all experienced evangelistic preachers know that in the mind of the person walking forward/texting, the wrong assumptions persist no matter how clear you’ve been that this does not save. It’s a big risk, and one that I avoid unless forced to use it.

But when it’s time to say what I think in public or on this blog, I’m going to say what I’ve been saying to revivalists for 8 years: anything a person DOES that becomes their confidence is false assurance. Christ is our assurance. Period. You are not saved by texting, aisle walking, sitting in church or preaching to stadiums. You are saved by sola fide, faith alone, simple faith, the faith of a child. You are saved by Christ, by grace and through faith.

You didn’t need to text anyone. You just needed to call upon Jesus. “Lord, have mercy.” In faith.

Then, as a disciple who has placed his/her faith in Jesus alone, you are baptized in the name of the Trinity. While God knows the moment of your conversion when no one else does (even you), your baptism represents, for the church and the world, the moment of crossing the line into the new creation.

Why is baptism not a work that we do? Because water can’t save, but Christ in the Gospel does. A baptism isn’t water. It’s the Gospel in water.

Jesus only left two outward rituals. Two. And one of them is about being able to say you are a Christian by saying “As a believer, I was baptized.”

Not, “I texted Tony” or “I prayed with the preacher” or “I came forward at camp.”

So the battle goes on. Evangelicals find a new technology and they appropriate it without thinking what they are doing to the faith once delivered. With their innovations, from the invitation itself to texting your decisions, they deconstruct the faith itself in the name of evangelism.

The entrepreneurialism of evangelicals has always been a missional strength, but it is an impulse that must be checked and critiqued, restrained and reconsidered. The use of technology can enrich the faith or erase the faith. A new generation of evangelicals taken with the possibilities of techno-evangelism but not willing to be more faithful to scripture than to the spirit of innovation will wreak further dilution and delusion upon a movement that is already as insubstantial as vapor.

Call me a Luddite. I really don’t care. Technology and evangelistic methodology are a potent mix. Playing with ways to get more decisions is another way to insure that many of those decisions are fake.

Now…..if we can just make a baptism app for Facebook. How does this sound? Instead of “I see that hand…,” “I see that Tweet…..”

Michael Spencer | ht: JT

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