“I began my sacramental education in a rural Baptist church. There, every service ended with an altar call. Music plays as the pastor waits expectantly to receive anyone who is ready to make a decision to follow Christ. The decision, once made, indicates salvation…”
“In the end… I was surprised to find [in the Anglican tradition] every essential feature of my Baptist heritage amplified. The scripture was held up and read aloud. We confessed our sins together. And there at the end of the service was an altar call. In many respects it was the same sort of altar call I had always known: I rose and went up with the same gnawing need for salvation.
“But the differences were vital. I was no longer alone, but walked together with a throng. Instead of going up alone, the whole congregation had deemed itself unworthy, and rose along with me. The altar had a kneeling rail, and a place for my outstretched hands (my approach was expected!). And here at this altar the Lord himself met me, accepted me, fed me with his body and blood, and promised to keep me in everlasting life.
“Above all, the Church did not rebuke the form my Baptist faith had taken, instead she enfleshed it. I had not been wrong to desire to approach the altar again and again. All that was needed was for the Lord to truly meet me there.”
As a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace – the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, Divine Liturgy, the Mass) serves many purposes and functions in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian. One I had not really considered was as an “altar call” (not a regular feature of my Methodist upbringing, but not entirely unknown, either). But it makes sense! A lot of sense.
Precisely when and how one receives one’s salvation, and whether or not one can lose it thereafter, are matters that can be and are debated among Christians (I am inclined to believe “at Baptism, when we become regenerate by water and the Holy Spirit, are received into the Body of Christ, and marked as His own, forever,” and “no, unless one consciously, willfully, and overtly ejects it” – and even then, like the Prodigal Son, one can repent and return to the Lord); but one thing which I think we cannot debate is that we are all in need of both strengthening and reassurance as we walk our Christian journey through life.
The Holy Eucharist provides both, in the Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!