Against Unchurchly InterPraise Revivalism

4 thoughts on “Against Unchurchly InterPraise Revivalism”

  1. Just because something is done in Scripture, does that fact alone make it something that should be done? Does the fact that worship was conducted a certain way at a certain point in Scripture mean that is the only correct way to do it?

    I would answer “no” to both of these questions. Although I wasn’t at InterPraise this fall and am not entirely sure of what you speak, I am aware that there is a wide variety of forms of worship practiced by Christians today. I do not believe that there is any one “right” form of worship, so long as that worship is in spirit and in truth, as Jesus puts it in John 4:23. Indeed, in that passage, the Samaritan woman is attempting to get Jesus involved in the “worship wars” of her own time, but he does not take the bait, instead cutting to the core of the matter: what is the posture of our heart in worship?

    Or consider Paul, who says that he became all things to all people so as to win them to Christ (1 Cor. 9:22). There are many forms of worship and Christian practice that may be acceptable to God. We have, as Paul says, freedom in Christ. The ceremonial law has been abolished (Col. 2:16–17).

    Although I will not dispute those who have critiqued Charles Finney and his insidious influence on the evangelical church (see, e.g., Warren Cole Smith, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, 138–42), I hesitate to extend this criticism to all altar calls. After all, is the altar call so different from John the Baptist’s calls for the Jews to repent and be baptized (see Luke 3:1–18)? I would argue that many of those who are in the church but who have not truly embraced the Gospel (and there are many, I hope we can agree) need to hear John the Baptist’s message just as much as the Jews did in his time.

  2. » Just because something is done in Scripture, does that fact alone make it something that should be done? «

    Not automatically. Many have concluded from the realities of post-Constantinian faith – rightly, I believe (though I haven’t given the matter as much thought as I should) – that the precedent in Acts of property sharing in the Church could no longer work the same way.

    » Does the fact that worship was conducted a certain way at a certain point in Scripture mean that is the only correct way to do it? «

    In the details, no; in the outlines or in the essence, yes. The basic structure and the elements used from the beginning encode the apostolic faith, doctrinally and otherwise, in ways that radicalism never will. There are indeed notable differences among the Didache, Luther’s Deutsche Messe, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Calvin’s Strasburg liturgy and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, as one may expect, but also considerable continuities. Several of these, in turn, are ‘the same’ but also celebrated differently in different cultures (compare the Slavs, the Greeks and the Arabs).

    While recognizing the place of diversity, however, we do need a somewhat principled way to discern good and bad. Though not a Regulative Principle partisan (because there’s always been a degree of creative reimagining, and all the more now that the freedom and maturity of faith has come to Jew and Gentile alike), I do think good intentions or the mere possibility of edifying effect are both insufficient measures of whether a given kind of worship is good or appropriate. If things are conducted in such a way as to displace or undermine not only venerable tradition but dominical institutions themselves, I object.

    Even absent wrong hearts in an individual case, similarly, I might question or oppose some kinds of applause during Lord’s Day worship as unedifying. My view is that applause is reserved for God alone during worship, from beginning to end, but I may oppose clapping for guest speakers or for newcomers even when those who are clapping are doing so in praise to God for his goodness in providing a guest speaker or a place for newcomers, because such applause – arguably much more than the much-maligned sign of the cross – so easily becomes misunderstood and then misapplied.

    » I hesitate to extend this criticism to all altar calls. After all, is the altar call so different from John the Baptist’s calls for the Jews to repent and be baptized (see Luke 3:1–18)? «

    The point exactly of John’s baptism, as far as I know, was to herald Christ for specifically that time, which is probably why the Old Testament prophets didn’t baptize penitent Israelites (but cf. Lv 8.6 on baptism as part of the priestly ordination rite). Since Christ has already come, we have by his institution the much greater baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. This progression seems to point again to the sacraments as the normative setting for God’s gracious action.

    » I would argue that many of those who are in the church but who have not truly embraced the Gospel (and there are many, I hope we can agree) need to hear John the Baptist’s message just as much as the Jews did in his time. «

    There will always be tares, of course, both at any given time and at the end of the age. But my thought probably mirrors Nevin’s: if baptism is God’s own pledge given once and only once to each member of the covenant (despite the protests of the Donatists), the point’s to call all the covenant members, whether currently true believers or not, to believe now and continually, receiving Christ with faith as declared in his word and offered in the Eucharist.

  3. What’s wrong with a little Christian gatorade? Is the altar call that you’re blasting so different from a Franciscan retreat, or an exuberant fascination with a trendy new theologian? Or is it just messier? I was “saved” in a Pentecostal church, so I’m feeling your qualms about the manipulative potential of corporate ecstaticism (purposefully a suitable nonword), but go easy lest you trip up your Christian brothers.

    You’re obviously very bright and well-read, perhaps even atypically consistent and stable, but in targeting individualized redemption or renewal, don’t look past your own subjective (a fundamental portion of the human gift of free will) interpretation of the Gospel – which after Jesus necessarily involves the Holy Spirit. I have seen many Christians (you would refer to them as herds of lemmings, I suppose) respond well to revivals. Of course, charismatic churches are most influential among the poor (less holy?) among us. Christians that are still dealing with drug abuse, sexual perversions, etc., can find great encouragement in variations of altar calls like those you discuss.

    You may pick apart my statements like you did John’s, and I’m sure that you are fully capable of citing numerous texts to support your position. Just don’t hammer the keys so forcefully that you drown out the chorus of heavenly hosts rejoicing for the wandering souls turning back towards Christ, however that may be.

  4. Sorry for the delayed reply, but I seem not to have gotten an email alert for your comment.

    I’ll readily admit my discomfort with some distortions in Pentecostalism, perhaps the existence of Pentecostalism itself, though the problems I point to are at least several decades older than either Pentecostalism or the charismatic movement. While not an absolute cessationist regarding tongues and prophecy, I do regard the manifestation of these things today as irregular: in these last days, the author of Hebrews notes, YHWH has spoken to us by his Son, the final revelation.

    My main concern’s with the shortcircuiting of genuine Christian piety through the omission of the regular ministry already given by God in the preaching of the word and the giving of the sacraments, a ministry that no calling on earth can exceed in godly authority and dignity. No doubt many Christians want to find the Holy Spirit elsewhere, but ‘in these last days’ (for the last days began with Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost) I’m convinced that what Christ has instituted must remain central to how we understand the work of the Holy Ghost. One interesting Pentecostal theologian interested in developing a mature theology of the Church is Simon Chan, whose Liturgical Theology is available for preview on Google Books.

    Certainly a Franciscan retreat, like a tent meeting, can become a mountaintop experience that Christians come to demand as a means of sustaining grace (and likewise the writings of, say, N. T. Wright or Stanley Hauerwas), but in my view this is exactly what necessitates my caution on the most commonly abused events (revival-style meetings with their Second Great Awakening trappings) in favour of what God has given since the days of the apostles for the life of the holy Church throughout all the world. My aim is not to quench revival, nor primarily even to fight Montanism, but to urge honest evaluation of future practices and focus on the core practices of the faith.

    As for after Jesus, I’m very hesitant to use such a phrase: by the Holy Ghost working we do have Jesus, unmitigated, and the point is that Jesus is the key. Many Christians do deal with a very painful past and a very painful present, but ‘come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you’ applies no less to the Holy Supper than it does to what the human mind deems most encouraging to itself. Where the Holy Ghost has worked and Christ been glorified, let all give thanks, lest we blaspheme Christ by excluding those we think unworthy. ‘We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.’ But let the Church act responsibly to follow the way set forth from the beginning and handed down through the centuries.

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