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Altar Calls

By John MacArthur


      I noted for you earlier, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, Paul shunned manipulative oratory. He didn't do like many preachers do today. He wasn't into manipulating his crowd, he says in chapter 2, verse 1, of 1 Corinthians, "I didn't come with superiority of speech" (that's oratorical ability), I didn't come to bowl you over with my oration, I didn't come with "wisdom."

      He says, verse 4, "My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom" (I didn't use technique; I didn't use manipulation). I didn't want your faith to "rest on the wisdom of men" (literally, the wisdom of their information or their approach). He said, I came to you with God's wisdom; I came to you in God's power; I came to "you in weakness in fear and in trembling."

      He didn't use techniques that excite and stir, and move people's emotions to achieve results. He preached the Scriptures (listen to this) to the mind! Many preachers today (and I suppose through history) are good at the art of persuasion--they know how to move people to respond without the Scripture being the issue. They can manipulate them emotionally, and frankly, that kind of stuff really prostitutes the preacher's stewardship, because it makes him no different then a secular persuader. Now, I want to talk about this for a moment because it is an issue.

      A number of years ago, a man named Duane Lifton (sp.) who is now pastoring back in Tennessee, wrote a very interesting article called "The Perils of Persuasive Preaching." There are a number of things in that article that are worth understanding. I share them with you because I want you to be alert to what some people endeavor to do, and what you can see them endeavoring to do with crowds of people. They claim to be preachers, and in fact are not preaching the Word of God, but are manipulating the people.

      In this particular book, that Lifton and his article quotes, called "Hypnotism--Fact and Fiction," Frederick Marcuse (sp.) reports a research study conducted at a large eastern university,

      The researchers attempted, through hypnotic suggestion, to induce a convinced and vocal atheist to become religious. The attempt was so successful that it had to be halted and all suggestion removed from the subject's mind. When his entire attitude towards religious faith changed, after only three sessions, and for the first time in his life he began to attend church, the investigators decided that the ethics of the situation prevented them from pursuing their research any further.

      They could literally make atheists religious by manipulating their minds. While the example is admittedly a dramatic one, it serves to raise a monstrous question, "Would it be possible through hypnotic suggestion to create a believer--quite apart from any work of the Holy Spirit? And would such a person really be a child of God?" Such questions, he writes, "are not simply academic."

      Psychologist, James McConnell has said, The time has come, when if you give me any normal human being and a couple of weeks, I can change his behavior from what it is now to whatever you want it to be--if it is physically possible.

      I can't make him fly by flapping his wings, but I can turn him from a Christian into a Communist and vice versa.

      Although, researchers have shown that audiences are not nearly so malleable as once thought, nevertheless, skilled persuaders, including some who stand in the pulpit are often able to exert a tremendous influence on other human beings. And they do not have to resort to such dramatic methods as hypnotism. Consider for example, the words of the well known social scientist, Milton Rochiche (sp.),

      Suppose you could take a group of people, give them a twenty minute pencil and paper task, talk to them for ten to twenty minutes afterward, and thereby produce long-range changes in core values and personal behavior in a significant portion of this group. Suppose further, you could ascertain quickly, and that you could predict accurately the nature and direction of these changes. My colleagues and I, have in the last five years, achieved the kind of results suggested above. As a result, we must now face up to the ethical implications that follow from the fact that it now seems to be within man's power to alter, experimentally, another person's basic values and to control the direction of the change.

      That is from "Psychology Today" magazine. If you have any questions if that is true, just remember what I have told you in the past about how many psychologists are creating false memories and restructuring a person's entire life with fantasy, and causing those people, by manipulating their thinking, to believe that it is the real story of their life.

      Preachers who are gifted communicators, and who are articulate, and who use the emotional techniques, and the sad stories, and the tear jerking approaches, and who get the mood music playing behind the scene, and can create the kind of manipulative environment, can effect in people behavior changes and even alter their basic values--and never need to use the Word of God. But what is the result? What is the ultimate result? Is it true regeneration? Of course not! The only legitimate tool is the Scripture. The only legitimate bridge to change--is the mind. Lifton also says in this article, In an excellent article on attitude change, in the "Handbook of Social Psychology, Volume 3" psychologist William McGuire suggests that human attitude change may be broken down into at least five steps of levels (this is interesting). This is the process people go through when they change attitudes: ATTENTION, COMPREHENSION, YIELDING, RETENTION, and ACTION.

      In other words, they move across that kind of spectrum. They go from attention (something gets their attention) to comprehension, to yielding, to retention and action. And he writes, "The hearers must go through each of these steps if communication is to have ultimate persuasive impact, and each depends on the occurrence on the preceding steps." The traditional approach to homiletics seems to suggest that the goal of preaching is the third step--YIELDING.

      Probably, you have experienced that, there was attention--the preacher got your attention. Then their was certain amount of comprehension, and then they started talking about you need to surrender, you need to yield. They started to play the organ, the mood music began. Maybe you have been in a meeting where they "played and they played" and they kept telling people to raise their hands, "come down the aisle," and they tried to force or manipulate the YIELDING, and not with clarifying truth, but with sounds and sights. They will even tell you, "We have all of these people that we start down the aisles, just to prime the pump, because it gets a flow going and people get caught in the flow." That is sheer manipulation!

      I am not saying that people can't be converted in a situation like that, but I am saying that people who aren't being converted get swept up in it. The people who are converted, are converted because they comprehend the truth, and because the Spirit of God effects the transformation.

      Now, Lifton says, "I suggest that the preachers goal should not be viewed as the YIELDING step at all, but the previous step--COMPREHENSION." I want to let you know that I agree with that absolutely. I think it is the preacher's responsibility to get ATTENTION and COMPREHENSION. It is the Holy Spirit's responsibility to produce YIELDING, RETENTION, and ACTION--that's not my job.

      It is not my task to manipulate you to do something emotionally. All the slick techniques, all the gospel marketing packages, all the pulpit histrionics of jumping and stomping and flailing around and beating the organ, and doing whatever they do to create the mood. All the sad stories, the mood music, the endless invitations, the hand raising, the walking, all of that kind of pressure is not preaching the Word. It has nothing to do with COMPREHENSION.

      The decision of yielding, surrendering and then retaining and acting, is between the hearer and God, and not the hearer and the preacher. It is the Holy Spirit's work.

      Preaching is proclaiming saving truth, sanctifying truth, and strengthening truth from Scripture, the rest is up to the Holy Spirit. So Paul says, I was entrusted with the proclamation. That's all that I can do. All I can do is to get their ATTENTION and bring COMPREHENSION. The message is the Scripture, and since the message is the Scripture, beloved, it should be patently obvious to everyone that the proper kind of preaching should be "expository preaching." That is the only legitimate way to be true to the divine message.

      You know as well as I know that I could manipulate people with stories. I mean, you could tell a tear jerking story and effect emotional trauma on people. You can move people with things other than the Scriptures, but you are working on their feelings and not on their mind. The message is Scripture, and if the message is Scripture and the preacher is to preach the message he has to preach the Scripture, and preaching the Scripture means you must exposit the Word.

      It is strange to me but the Master's Seminary stands in some ways unique, with just a few other seminaries across this country that are interested in teaching people how to do expository preaching. How hard is it to figure out that we should be doing that?

      By the way, I was happy when Dick Mayhue (the Dean of our Seminary) told me that the book that our faculty wrote on expository preaching was given the award "Book of the Year" by the "Preaching Journal" which is the professional journal of preaching. They named it "Book of the Year." Also, the EPA, the Evangelical Press Association has nominated it for the "Gold Medallion Award" and it has been nominated even in "Christianity Today" for the "Book of the Year in its Field." Obviously, that book is having an impact because there is such a deadness out there in the terms of understanding the importance of expository preaching.

      The preacher's job is not to force his people, by some manipulative process, to YIELD. His job is to make them comprehend the Word of God, which will save them, sanctify them, and strengthen them.

      What does it mean when we say "expository preaching?" To "exposit" simply means to "explain the meaning." It means to preach the Bible in such a way, that the meaning of the Bible passage is presented entirely and exactly as it was intended by God. That's the challenge--the divine Word coming through the preacher.

      Walt Kaiser (sp.) wrote in his wonderful book "Towards Exegetical Theology," It is no secret that Christ's Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it--"Junk Food." All kinds of artificial preservatives, and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using food or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their physical bodies. Simultaneously, a world wide spiritual famine resulting from the absence from any genuine publication of the Word of God continues to run wild and almost unabated in quarters in the Church.

      We have got to get back to preaching the Word of God. What a calling. What a calling. That's our calling. That's what God has commanded us to do. Just so you cannot get off the hook by saying, "Well, I am glad that you were talking to yourself--I'm not a preacher!" Listen to Mark 16:15, "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.'" You may not have a pulpit like I do, but you have a mandate from God, don't you? To preach the truth, to proclaim it wherever you can.

      Father, thank you for our time in your Word this morning and the reminder of the priority of the means of preaching. God raise up many preachers, right out of this congregation. What a task, what a duty, what a privilege, what an amazing calling, to stand in the line of the Prophets, and Christ Himself, and the Apostles, and the preachers of the past who proclaimed the Word.

      Oh God, I pray that you will raise up many preachers. We thank you for those men in our seminary who are learning now to preach your Word, who will bring the message that saves, and sanctifies, and strengthens. The message that justifies and sanctifies and gives hope for glorification, who will faithfully open the Book and teach it. God raise them up and make them powerful as was Paul. May all of us reach the potential, wherever it is where we can preach truth, to whatever small congregation, from whatever small pulpit, even a "one-on-one" make us faithful to be proclaiming your truth. We pray in Your Son's Name. Amen.

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