Abandoning Altar Calls
"Fewer people are walking the aisles of some of Southern Baptists' leading churches. And the pastors couldn't be happier about it." So begins an article entitled, "Alternative altar calls offer repenters options," released by the Associated Baptist Press on April 30, 1998. The practice of calling people to walk to the front of the congregation at the end of the sermon is equated with evangelism in the minds of many evangelicals and Southern Baptists. Failure to issue such a call for physical response has been cited as conclusive evidence that a preacher is not evangelistic. Now we learn that a growing number of mega-church pastors are abandoning or modifying the practice. Several pastors are interviewed in the article. The reasons they give for their shift in practice tend to be primarily pragmatic and psychological. "'There are people like me who don't like to walk forward in front of people,' said Frank Pollard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss....'A lot of people by their natures don't feel comfortable coming down before a large group,' echoed [Steve] Stroope," pastor of Lake Pointe Baptist Church in Rockwall, TX. One of the pastors, however, addressed the practice theologically. Bob Roberts, of Northwood Church in North Richland Hills, TX, is quoted as saying, "In the past, the invitation was designed to 'get 'em down the aisle.' But we have to come to grips with the fact that God does the saving." Interestingly, all of the pastors agree that, whereas Southern Baptists have commonly held that "walking the aisle" is equivalent to making a public profession of faith, biblically, baptism is the public profession. As Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, CA, notes, "the altar call is actually a modern invention." Despite that fact, historian Bill Leonard, states that, "Over time, the invitation has created the 'sacrament of walking the aisle'--an outward sign of an inward act." Perhaps this new trend will provoke a fresh study of God's Word on the matter.
Reformed Baptist Studies
The Association of Reformed Baptists Churches in America has announced the opening of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies in Escondido, CA. The Institute will be housed in Westminster Seminary. Dr. Jim Renihan has been named the founding Dean. Classes will begin in the Fall of 1998. Two classes to be offered in the first semester will be Distinctives of Reformed Baptist Theology and Reformed Baptist Pastoral Ministry. Inquiries should be directed to IRBS, Dr. Jim Renihan, P.O. Box 300771, Escondido, CA 92030-0771.
Lollars Commissioned by North American Mission Board, SBCThe first joint commissioning service between the newly formed North American Mission Board and a reorganized International Mission Board was held April 30th in Somerset, New Jersey. Among nearly 100 missionaries, Bill and Sheri Lollar were commissioned following their February appointment to serve in the Florida Panhandle. Bill has been the Graphic Design Editor for the Founders Journal for the past four and a half years, while planting a new church (Grace Heritage Baptist) in the Pensacola area. Previously, he planted churches in Nebraska and Michigan. He joined the Church Planting Department of the Florida Baptist Convention on February 1, 1998, as a jointly-funded field missionary with NAMB. Sheri received her appointment as a Church and Home missionary, staying busy with four children and serving as Bill's administrative assistant.
Working with thirteen Baptist associations from Pensacola to Tallahassee, Lollar works with each Director of Missions to discover strategic locations where new churches can be established for the glory of God. He also seeks to develop partnerships with established churches to share people, equipment, finances, and prayer support for the initial start-up of mission churches. As a mentor to each church planter, meeting monthly to provide fellowship, encouragement, training, and accountability, Lollar spends about forty percent of his time traveling the fifteen-county-wide territory. In spite of the large territory, he rarely spends the night away from home. He remarks, "It's a great opportunity, after all these years of planting churches, to share my experience with other mission pastors. They seem to enjoy having someone available who has been there, who can challenge them to be faithful ministers of the gospel in the midst of sometimes very difficult and lonely circumstances."
Sharing a bit of his passion for new churches, Lollar adds, "I think we should get busy planting new churches! It's much easier planting new churches than reforming those who don't want reformation. With the fresh winds blowing across the landscape of Southern Baptist life, we need our best men to step forward and put their hands to the plow." He suggests that churches and pastors committed to the doctrines of grace ought to lead the way in establishing hundreds, if not thousands, of new churches across the United States. "Shall we just say we're committed to missions and evangelism, or will our labors and sacrifices resemble the spirit of the church at Antioch?" Lollar asks. "Our Arminian brethren wait expectantly, and rightly so, to see if we bear any real likeness to Carey, Rice, Taylor, and Judson. May God grant that we do!"
Inquiries about church planting in Florida may be directed to Bill Lollar 7606 Harvey Street, Pensacola, FL 32506. E-mail: BillLollar@aol.com or phone: (850) 455-1969.