Almost all fundamentalist services end with a plea to walk the aisle down to an “old-fashioned altar.” This is usually acompanied by standing with “your heads bowed and your eyes closed. Nobody looking around.” while singing approximately 347 verses of an invitation hymn such as Just as I Am or Jesus is Calling.
In reality, the “old-fashioned altar” is a misnomer since the practice of come-down-front invitations is not that old nor is the front of the church strictly an altar since the only blood that is shed there happens during church business meetings.
Fundamentalists have Methodist camp meetings and the work of evangelist Charles Finney in the 1800’s to thank for the modern day come-down-front invitation. What is not clear is if Finney also fathered the technique of saying “If nobody comes on this next verse then we’ll close the service” (inevitably followed by one more person traipsing down the aisle to the collective groans of everyone who has a roast slowly turning to leather in their oven back at home.)
How did they get people saved before “Just As I Am” was written in 1849? It’s almost impossible to imagine.
Scene from a fundamentalist church near you during any given prayer meeting…
As the notes of the second hymn die away, the pastor asks “Do we have any prayer requests this evening?”
Up pops the hand of Sister Pearl in the second row.
“Since my sister couldn’t get a cardiopulmonary bypass they had to perform an off-pump MIDCAB. The surgeon performed an alternative incision — I believe it was a a left anterior thoracotomy. So her left internal mammary artery was dissected from the left chest wall and stabilizer device was placed on her heart to provide support of the left anterior descending artery as the heart continues to beat. Then the left internal mammary artery was sutured to the left anterior descending artery to bypass the blockage”
“Miss Pearl’s sister” murmurs the pastors making a note on his list. “Who else?”
“Please pray for me.” pipes up brother Tom on the front row. “I have a visit with my proctologist tomorrow and he’s probably going to be prescribing me more of that stimulant laxative he gave me two weeks ago. That stuff sure does a number on me. Hopefully this straightens out my bowel movements because they have have been just terribly irregular of late.”
“Remember Tom” intones the pastor scratching another note while avoiding eye contact with Tom. “Anyone else?”
“I believe that my neighbor has a social disease” pipes up Sister Sue-Ellen sitting in the middle halfway back. “It wouldn’t surprise me the way she carries on…”
“Sue-Ellen’s neighbor” the pastor hastily interjects. “Ok, let’s go ahead and pray…”
The only certain things are death, taxes, and an amazingly detailed litany of medical prayer requests on Wednesday night.