A Recovering Addict Questions the Practice of Rededication

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Submitted By: Gentry  

On a sticky Oklahoma night, just before the lock-in started, a Freewill Baptist preacher stood at the pulpit, accusing, and hoping to convict us, of sin. As he spoke in escalating tones about our disobedience, I could all but feel the fires of hell licking at my feet. When the altar call came, he not only challenged people to make a personal confession that Christ was their Lord and Savior, but he challenged the unrepentant to rededicate their lives to Jesus. Although I wasn’t a member of his church, and my friends looked a little askance at my response, I quickly went forward to rededicate my life.

In an industrially air-conditioned gym at Western State University in Colorado, we worshipped God for hours on end. Although personally disgusted with the songs that included choreographed hand motions – I’m looking at you “Lord I Lift Your Name on High!” – during the quieter moments I was fixated on the joint between the ceiling and the wall just to the left of midcourt. It was there that I was convinced that Jesus was going to appear, riding on a white steed, tattoo scrawled across his leg, and a double edged sword of symbolism (I did not yet understand) rolling out of his mouth like a rollercoaster leaving the station. I was transfixed with hope and fear as I awaited Christ’s revelation, and when the Christian Church youth minister challenged all of the gym rats for Jesus to rededicate our lives, I damn near ran down the aisle. After the emotional rededication, which I think was my fifth, I ran into a girl I had been pursuing all week and who I later worked beside as we greedily worked to unravel our sacred commitments. But that’s another story for another day.

Whether I was at a Baptist lock-in, a CIY conference, or a Dawson McAllister weekend at Oral Roberts University, I was a sucker for the carefully programmed conviction and emotional rededications that served as a crescendo for these gatherings. In the buckle of the Bible Belt, almost every kid has been dunked into the death of Jesus and raised to applause and, if they’re lucky, a pizza buffet by the age of 9. For this reason, altar call cries for conversion at these events, no matter how skillfully executed, would produce paltry results. Thus, the majority of kids streaming forth at these events in hopes of beating the alarm on Dawson McAllister’s Decision Clock are rededicating their lives to Jesus. Like Jonas Nightingale before them, these kids have not only “been mistreated,” but “they’ve lied and they’ve cheated.” So they line up in hopes that Christ will settle the score before the last day comes.

I hadn’t thought about my addiction to rededication – which I kicked by the age of 19 – until the last week or two. A friend posted on Facebook that of his 10 kids attending CIY all 10 had made decisions. He stated that 4 dedicated their lives to fulltime Christian service – a commitment I also find odd because I am not aware that there is another type of acceptable service for any disciple of Jesus – and 1 made the decision to be baptized. Although he doesn’t mention the nature of the remaining 5 decisions, I’d bet my bottom dollar that they were rededications, since in those settings that’s usually the only other option available.

A couple of days after I saw the post, I talked to Raymond about an awkward encounter he had with the visiting team from a local Southern Baptist Church. His beautiful wife, who also happens to be one of my 8 favorite cousins, had filled out a visitor’s card on their first or second stop at this local “community church.” As a result they were automatically put in queue for an evangelism team to visit their new house. Although they were so new to their house that they hadn’t even brought their couch in from the garage, the welcome team stood, physically stood, for more than an hour in their house in an attempt to diagnose their salvation by running through the evangelism explosion script that includes such penetrating questions as “if you were hit by a bus and died tonight, what would you say before your Lord and Savior?” Although Raymond answered beautifully by stating that he would simply quote John 3:16 and say that his sole hope was in Jesus, the persistent visitors kept pushing for a conversion or at least a rededication. I have little doubt the guy – had to be a guy, didn’t it? – who led the evangelism team recounted their epic encounter the next Sunday morning via prayer request or Sunday School report.

Since I’m from a tradition that claims to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” and hail from a region tied by the Bible belt, I find this practice of rededication mystifying.

If you search the Christian scriptures, even in a cursory manner as I have, you’ll realize that there are no instructions for individuals to emotionally rededicate their lives to Jesus. There are instances of corporate repentance in places like Ezra 10 where all the men of Israel confess they have whored after foreign women and their gods and Nehemiah 9 when the body of Israel stands convicted of their failure to fulfill Torah, but there are no instances of individuals shoring up their salvation in response to one of Paul’s sermons. The closest instance I can think of to today’s practice of rededication is the people’s response to the ministry of John the Baptist, but that was a ministry of repentance and baptism that was focused on the impending revelation of the Messiah, not a ministry that focused on emotional experience as a means of discipleship maintenance.

Instead of the practice of individual rededication in the NT Christians are charged to regularly “confess our sins to one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Moreover, on a regular, if not daily basis, Jesus invited us to ask the Father’s forgiveness as we extend forgiveness to others that have wronged us (Matthew 5:12). In other instances, such as the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2, a whole congregation is called to repent and return to their first love that was presumably focused on both Jesus and the wellbeing of others.

The giving and receiving of confession. The affirmation of God’s forgiveness to one another. The collective repentance of the brokenness, myopia, and indifference of the church body. The Christian church is clearly called to these practices.

Yet we focus many of our ministries, especially those offered to our youth, on emotional rededications to Jesus and peer pressure influenced commitments to the persistent, sacrificial service that is a building block of every believer’s DNA.

So why did the practice of rededication and its inclusion in many evangelical and revivalist ministries develop? My hunch is that it developed as a metric of ministerial effectiveness. Thousands of people give millions of dollars each year to support ministries like CIY or Christian summer camps that are in many respects commendable. Because these significant inputs of cash and the untold thousands of volunteer and pastoral hours dedicated to these activities, those involved want clear benchmarks of its success.

Since many if not most of the attendees of these conferences have already been converted and are considered born again, we need additional outputs to validate the efficacy of this work. Thus, we have introduced innovations into worship such as rededication and commitments to fulltime Christian service, in order to validate a spiritual return on investment (SROI).

I have no doubt that these innovations were introduced by well-meaning people who wanted nothing more than to see more people follow the radical way of Jesus. However, I think that the biblical practice of ongoing person-to-person confession, the fulfillment of Jesus’ commission to embody and extend the forgiveness of God (John 20), and Spirit convicted congregational repentance are much more valuable practices that the Spirit will regularly use to produce good fruit in the lives of believers, the congregation, and our communities.

Lord knows my commitment to the radical way of Jesus regularly flags. I cut with words intended not to build up, but to destroy. The good I should do I don’t do. I am more receptive to lust than obedient to the law of love.

Because of the extent of my/your/our brokenness as well as the unrelenting efficacy of God’s grace, I pray that we who have chosen to follow Jesus will persistently practice personal and corporate repentance and confession so that we may be healed and become agents of healing in this world.

Although the daily metrics of our repentance and confession won’t be as impressive as the SROI produced by a week of CIY, I trust that these daily practices will ultimately have an exponentially larger impact on our lives and world.

  1. Nice, Jeff. Thanks!

  2. Great post.

  3. Great post.

  4. Thanks for your kind words guys. I thought this post might only resonate with readers from the Christian Churches, Churches of Christ tradition. I am glad it is more broadly applicable.

  5. Dude… submit this to Patrol or (gag) Relevant. It’s polished and ready to be ingested by those who need to hear it. Great writing. Thoughtful post!

  6. Thanks for your kind words James. I don’t feel comfortable submitting my writing at present, but if you want to, feel free! I’d definitely submit only to a mag like Patrol and I think the following piece on positive models of repentance needs to be included.

  7. So… did they bring dinner when then came to visit, or ask to help to move the sofa in from the garage, or… did they just probe and question for doctrinal purity? In my community, we try to share our faith by works of service, what you describe here is difficult for me to see as attractive, however they did, at least reach out somewhat to a visitor.

  8. My cousin, a nonblogger, would have to give you the details himself. It sounded like a standard Evangelism Explosion visit to me though.

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