I am always astounded when someone stares at me in disbelief when they hear me say, "I don't give an altar call." As though I have somehow fallen into some heresy and lost any compassion for lost souls. Let me make this qualifying statement...I'm glad some people give an altar call after their sermons. It makes me happy that some form of the Gospel is being presented in their worship (sarcasm intended). But the necessity of the altar call in an effort to tack the Gospel on to our preaching is worrisome. The problem, in my opinion, lies in the death of 'Gospel Preaching'.
What is Gospel Preaching?
Gospel Preaching is the only Biblical form of preaching there is. It is preaching that transcends personality types, delivery styles, and so-called cultural relevance. It is expositional preaching based upon clear exegesis of the text. It is preaching that demands a response, both from unbelievers and believers alike. It is Christian preaching.
When and why did Gospel Preaching die?
Gospel Preaching has always been around. At times the light of Gospel Preaching has shone brightly, and at other times it would have been extinguished completely, if not for the grace of God in preserving a remnant. So when I say that Gospel Preaching has died, I don't mean that it has been done away with, I mean that it is a very small minority of preachers who are still Gospel Preachers.
Gospel Preaching began to die during the 'ministry' of Charles Finney. Finney made the altar call the means of grace in his ministry. We can get a glimpse of what must have been the content of his preaching through his various writings, none of which are helpful for understanding true Christian doctrine. Finney was wrong on many points, especially the Gospel. While many would not endorse Finney's message, they liked the results that he produced and so he was welcomed across the country. The downfall of the acceptance of Finney's false doctrine was unconverted 'believers' and a diminishing of the perceived 'need' for Biblical preaching. After all, the altar call is where the results took place.
Since Finney, the altar call has usurped the place of Gospel Preaching in many pulpits across America. A shift occurred that made the altar call the central focus of the service and made preaching just another step on the way to the 'invitation'. Gospel Preaching died.
What is the goal of Gospel Preaching?
The goal of Gospel Preaching is just that, proclamation of the Gospel. Obviously every text does not recount the passion of Christ. And yet, every text in Scripture must be interpreted in light of Christ's passion. Gospel Preaching seeks to interpret Scripture in such a way that the Christ crucified is always central.
So when we read that we have been freed from sin, law, or death, we must keep the Cross as the central message by showing that Christ's death is what has freed us from sin, law, or death. If we read in the Old Testament that the law demands the death of all those who do not obey, then we must keep the Cross central by showing that Christ as our substitute took that penalty on Himself at the Cross. If we read that Jael hammered a tent peg into Sisera's head,t hen the Cross must be kept central by showing that the temporary deliverance that Israel gained through Jael as a deliverer is a shadow of the coming deliverer who would crush the head of the serpent. If we are told by Paul to live lives worthy of the Gospel, then the Cross is kept central by announcing that we died with Christ and rose again with Him as new creatures who are free to live lives worthy of the Gospel.
Finally, the goal of Gospel Preaching is the formation of Christ in the hearers through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit who creates a response to the Gospel in the hearers. Gospel Preaching doesn't need an invitation tacked onto it because the Holy Spirit is active in it, it calls for a response of faith and repentance from both saved and lost, and it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes.