Several sources have expressed alarm over a self-indicting “How To Guide” from Elevation Church called “spontaneous baptism resource kit.” This church has claimed a “sun stand still” “miracle” after baptizing 2,158 people, and now it claims it can export the same type of results to other churches. But its techniques have critics crying foul.
Christian and mainstream sources alike are taking exception to the Elevation Church’s “kit” because in it the church admits it plants people in the audience who will be the first to move in order to get the stream of baptisms started. As the “How To Guide” itself says, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when pastor gives the call.
“Sit in the auditorium and begin moving forward when pastor Steven says go.”
“Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.”
It further instructs to have people to “act as human door props” to facilitate movement. They are reminded to “Smile and clap showing people you are excited they came forward.” Then, it says to have 30 to 60 people in transition hallways to create a “critical mass” of people moving about. It says to manufacture the emotion: “Create an atmosphere of Celebration for those being baptized as they walk toward the changing rooms…this needs to be HUGE and over the top celebration!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
This may sound fraudulent and even scandalous. One blogger has called it “emotional manipulation.” Another termed it “McDonaldized Christianity.” But let’s face it: it’s only a logical outworking of Arminian “free will” theology. How so?
Simple. If there is even the slightest element of human will needed to come to faith in Christ—even the slightest, microscopic atom of human will—then anything, short of overt sin, that we can do to help anyone overcome any obstacle to that decision should be employed and applauded when it succeeds. I don’t see how anyone could argue otherwise. I don’t care if that means clown suits and cookies, it should be done.
If, in this case, in our culture, an important inhibition to an particular action in front of a crowd is some kind of fear to buck the herd instinct, or fear of attention, or whatever, then technique that remove that inhibition or fear should be welcomed. Again, I am speaking for the Arminian here. In fact, no Christian of any stripe that believes in “free will”—Roman Catholic, Arminian, Finneyite, etc.—should have any criticism of this practice at all. They should all be joining the over-the-top celebration!
But part of the embarrassment to many Christians here is that Elevation Church, perhaps in giddy oblivion, actually admitted they use such tactics. Truth be known, professional evangelists have been using such plants for decades. Ever seen the immediate and robust streams of responders at Billy Graham crusades? They come down every isle, in the most visible places, and they were always at the bottom of the stairs even before George Beverly Shea could sing the first line of “Just As I Am.” Think there weren’t plants there? They would probably never admit it.
Admission or not, the practice goes on, and it cannot but go on because it is the logical result of Arminian theology. Elevation Church’s open admission, and indeed serial manufacturing, exposes a long history of free will evangelism for the assembly line into which it has very often been turned. Very often, I say. The altar call itself evolved out of such manipulation techniques as Charles Finney’s “anxious bench”—a spot where fence-sitters could come get a front-row dose of the evangelist’s bellowing persuasions. From Finney to Moody to Sunday to Graham, it’s been variations on a theme, if not just repeating the same refrain. It’s play the right song, tug on the heart strings, raise that hand, walk that aisle, every head bowed every eye closed, sign this card, check that box, sing that verse again brother—do whatever you need to do to get that person over the emotional hurdle of making that decision. It’s always gone on. Elevation Church just embarrassed them all by being so uninhibited as just to say exactly what they do.
That it’s packaged as a “kit” to be exported and reproduced elsewhere is just icing for critics.
It has long been a criticism of “free will” theology that it reduces evangelism to the level of mere human persuasion. But with persuasion comes persuasive technique. Enter marketers. Sure it’s McDonaldization, but what’s wrong with that? If “saving souls” is the main end-game of your Christian faith, and if the free will is the last hurdle of salvation, then why would you not what the help of an army of marketers, managers, assembly lines, pre-packaged directions, techniques, tools, processes, and networks of support farms and professionals who can claim “billions served”?
I would go above and beyond McDonald’s even. “Billions” heck. I would go for a Google.
But then again, I am not an Arminian. I don’t believe there’s even an element of human “free will” involved in accepting an “offer” or responding to “altar call.” Before regeneration, the will is in bondage. It cannot respond. It is God’s grace that unleashes the bound will so that it can be free to embrace Christ in faith; and when the Spirit frees the bound will, that will will inevitably embrace Christ in faith.
The will is not struggling in the sea in need of a lifesaver to grab on to. It is a dead corpse, floating face down in the water, in need of divine resuscitation back from death to life.
Men don’t have a free will by which they can choose to come to Christ. They have a God who frees them to come to Christ, and once freed, they will. There is no “free will,” only a “freed will.”
It’s only from the standpoint of Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace, that it makes sense to criticize manipulative tactics such as these audience plants used as catalysts for mass baptisms or altar calls. It is encouraging that some Christians seem naturally uneasy when a church like Elevation tells it plainly. But Elevation is just a mote. Free will theology is the plank. Let he who has ears hear, and he who has eyes see clearly.
Baptism is Not Enough would be a great place to start.