Old Doxoblogy

Friday, June 09, 2006

Altar Calls

I am not against altar calls as a method of calling for repentance in certain situations. I will admit that sometimes altar calls are good and proper. Likewise, I don't think that everyone who gives an altar call is necessarily omitting the Gospel call in their preaching.

I am against the thinking that views the altar call as always being necessary in order to have effectively presented the Gospel, a la Ergun Caner. It is the Spirit working through the preached Word that brings life. Life doesn't happen at the 'front', 'altar', or 'mourner's bench'. Life happens as the Word takes root in a person's heart. The response then is not a walk to the front to display ourselves to the congregation, but a change in our daily living.

My main problem with the altar call is that we seem to be training people to look at themselves intently as in a mirror, and then sending them on their way to forget about what they have seen. We have very good listeners to the Word, but not many doers. There are two remedies to this;

1) Stop sending the wrong message to them. The altar call gives the perception that all that the Gospel requires of us is a trip to the front to converse with the preacher. This is not a proper response to the Gospel. The Gospel requires a new way of living. The Gospel is message to be believed, but it is also a life to be lived. This demand is upon believers and unbelievers alike.

2) Teach them how to hear and respond to preaching. Preaching is not a fast food meal. It is a seven course meal that must be digested and all of the minerals put to use. We must learn to meditate on the message. We must become Bereans, searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so. Our response to preaching is not so trivial that we can respond without any thoughtful deliberation. We must ask diagnostic questions of the message and ourselves. This cannot be done in a fifteen minute session with the preacher, but must take place throughout the week as the Spirit will call these messages to memory and continually apply them to our lives, creating faith and repentance, and growing us in sanctification.

Here's a great article that really gets to the heart of the matter.


bluecollar said...

"The Gospel requires a new way of living. The Gospel is message to be believed, but it is also a life to be lived. This demand is upon believers and unbelievers alike."

Perfect! That is a great way to sum it all up.

This post is so needed in the blogosphere today.

Thank you, Jeremy

Sojourner said...

I am loathe to even respond to this because I agree with 99% of what you've written here. I don't even agree with myself 1% of the time at least, so don't take that as indicative of anything significant. It's just the margin of error I leave for safety.

So then, if I agree with almost everything you say, why in the world am I still giving an 'invitation'?

For one, it's because I'm giving room for people who have been chewing over messages for two years. I don't necessarily think that the latest sermon just suddenly bombed them, but they might be dealing with something and they may want to talk to someone.

Secondly, this isn't a mere "come to the front for a minute" invitation. The counselors are actually in the back of the church. If anyone came to me with anything other than a short prayer request, I'd direct them to the guys in the back.

Finally, most people who go for counseling are not, in my experience, going for "salvation." Sometimes, it is simply someone who is hurting and wants someone to pray with. Believe it or not, some people are in such disarray when they come in that they don't really even hear the sermon, despite my exegetical prowess.;)

I do not believe that the invitation that we give is manipulative or distracting from the sermon. I could be wrong, but I certainly hope not. Our motivation is to serve, not to bloat the rolls or give false assurance.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I come from a different perspective on this, but I also think altar calls are a very bad idea.

Jeremy Weaver said...


It seems to me that what you have described in your comments on these last two posts is not an altar call.


I don't think this is a reformed/non-reformed issue. It's an issue about whether or not God uses His means (preaching) to bring faith and repentance or our means (manipulation).


Thanks for the encouragement bro.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

You know who gave birth to the altar call don't you?

Jeremy Weaver said...

Wasn't it Finney?

Daniel said...

The "mourners bench" was already in use in camp meetings (revival meetings) by the Separate Baptists before Finney made it famous by renaming it the "anxious bench" and calling people down to the altar to make decisions. Finney was born in 1792 and saved in 1817 - yet and we have literature today that tells us that the Mourners bench was being used as a place for repentant sinners to meet with the pastor after a sermon long before Finney was every preaching (referring to a description of James Jenkins preaching at Jeffrey's Creek Meeting House in the Great Pee Dee Circuit in South Carolina, 1796)

Finney certainly introduced the idea of decisionism, merging it with the idea of the altar call - but it is strictly not true to say that Finney originated the altar call. It is only that his modified twist on the call became popular by latter day evangelists influenced by Finney's revival recipe.

I think I used to know who was originally credited with the altar call - but the name escapes me - regardless - most people accept "Finney" as an acceptable answer.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Daniel, that is good info on the history of the AC. I can't find it on my computer, but there is a good article written on the AC by Spurgeon. I'm sure it is online somewhere - or we could just ask the expert: Phil.