I have a very dear, older saint in my church who continually reminds me that every sermon must present the Romans Road Gospel. She wants every sermon to end with new Christians confessing, “I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but I confess with my mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead so that I can live eternally in heaven.” This prayer is sometimes called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and in her thinking, such sermons should always end with an altar call where people pray the prayer in front of the entire congregation.
I politely disagree with her but putting aside my theological convictions I do try to preach a more evangelistic sermon when the biblical text lends itself that direction.
Such is certainly the case with my text for next week, Acts 9, which narrates Saul Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus. It is a rich text that I have worked with for a few weeks (you can look at my early exegetical notes here) and certainly Saul meeting Jesus should lead to the congregation meeting Jesus. Furthermore I have several new attendees for whom a “Damascus Road” moment would do a lot of good.
However, my shy congregation does not respond to altar calls, at least in the “going down to the altar” kind of way. Furthermore, as I read other articles, books and blogs, I sense a growing conclusion that the altar has had its day and is on the way out. After all the altar call is only 150 years old, which is pretty young when you consider Christianity is 2,000 years old.
So I have had to rethink the response time and do so in light of resurgence of the Lord’s Table, which was the universal Christian response to the sermon until the altar call replaced it in evangelical congregations.
So today as I put the finishing touch on my sermon I rather painfully rejected the typical altar call. Instead I wrote a congregational call and response to follow the sermon and precede the Eucharist. The confession is below. It is intended to encourage the congregation to join Saul on the road to Damascus and to confess their wickedness in the light of God’s new-found grace. It is also based off of a sermon of John Wesley’s where Wesley states, “For the Christian only 2 truths remain: I am a wretch but Christ has died.”
Feel free to add or subtract or use this in your own evangelistic sermons or private prayer and devotional times.
The regular type is the congregational confession. The bold is the priest’s blessing.
I am a wretch. I have sinned against God, my neighbor, myself and creation.
But Christ has died so receive forgiving grace.
I am a wretch. I am walking death that causes death wherever I go.
But Christ has died so receive life giving grace.
I am a wretch. I have hurt others and myself and continue to do so.
But Christ has died so receive healing grace.
I am a wretch. I am helpless to save myself and all my self improvement projects end in disaster. And all my them-improvement projects destroy the them’s I am trying to improve.
But Christ has died so receive transforming grace.
Church will you rise out of death?
Church do you receive the resurrecting power of God?
Do you hear the call of Christ to come and die and find you may truly live?
We come, we die. Christ give us life.