Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Revolving Door of Recommitment

"Maybe you've been a Christian for a while, but recently you've fallen away. You've been doing things you know you shouldn't..." Altar Calls aren't just for unbelievers. If you've spent any length of time in American Evangelical Culture, odds are at some point or another, you've probably recommitted your life to Christ. If not you, everyone has that one Evangelical friend who answers every altar call they attend. In American Evangelical Culture, committing your life to Christ is like New Year's resolutions: everybody makes them. Everybody breaks them. Everybody makes them again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, an altar call generally consists of a pastor inviting people to come to the front of the church, kneel in front of the altar, and give their life to God. After providing an invitation to those who have never done so, they put out a call for anyone who has previously dedicated their life to Christ, but has fallen short of God's standards.

This endless cycle of recommitment leads me to wonder if we have part of this equation wrong. Is the cycle that we've created through this insistence on "committing your life to the Lord" one of devotion or one of shame? It seems to me that the most frequent motivation for people to return to the altar and recommit their lives to Christ isn't devotion, but rather shame and guilt over some shortcoming they have had in their lives. Is this evidence of our view that God's job is to fix our lives? And when we find that our lives still contain some degree of brokenness, we assume we must not have done this right the first time? Perhaps the people we see that answer these calls frequently aren't the ones with the least commitment, aren't those with the most lacking, but those with the largest sense of shame.

That isn't something I readily know how to fit into the gospel. It's a process that saddens me, because I feel that at this point church becomes a place where people try to hid from their pain rather than confront it and start the difficult process of working through it. They seem to be looking for a quick fix. It makes me think that Peter Rollins is onto something when he says the contemporary church reminds him of a crackhouse. As he says,

"In other words, what if the church could be a place where we found a liturgical structure that would not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties. A place where we are invited to confront the reality of our humanity, not so that we will despair, but so that we will be free of the despair that already lurks within us, the despair that enslaves us, the despair that we refuse to acknowledge."
I can't help but believe that such a place would not entertain the endless cycle of recommitment. I think such a place would release many from the burden of shame they now struggle to bear.
Video of Peter Rollins speaking on this topic can be found here.