I’m sometimes asked by people why we don’t do “altar calls” at our services. Like the people who ask the question, the churches in my personal background pretty much all practiced “altar calls” at the conclusion of a sermon or service. I’ve seen them done in very poor fashion, and I’ve seen some pastors be really clear about the gospel, repentance, faith, and the fact that “coming forward” does not save. I date my own conversion to the preaching of Exodus 32, which concluded with an altar call.

So, why don’t we practice “altar calls”? I don’t think the pastor who practices an “invitation” at the end of a sermon is in sin, but he may not be acting wisely either. This list of reasons, compiled by Pastor Ryan Kelly of Desert Springs Church, is a pretty good summation of some of my thinking (HT: Z).

1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.

2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centered, manipulative methodology.

3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).

4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.”

5. The altar call partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.

6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only “up front.”

7. The altar call can confuse people regarding “sacred” things and “sacred” places, as the name “altar call” suggests.

8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.

9. The altar call is often seen as “the most important part of the service”, and this de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship which God has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing).

10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things He has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing), not the things we have invented. We should always be leery of adding to God’s prescriptions for His corporate worship.

Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10 of Ryan’s list are the most compelling reasons in my opinion. These would seem very serious objections for anyone who takes seriously the idea that our Christian lives and gatherings should conform to what the NT commands, models, and prohibits. Perhaps I would add an 11th: The “altar call” teaches the congregation to evaluate the “success” or “effectiveness” of the ministry on outward, visible actions and results.

Further, the need to be pastorally careful and sensitive with the souls of men needing to repent and believe couldn’t be more urgent. So, anything that obscures the reality of God the Holy Spirit’s work in conversion and the necessity of repentance and faith must be regarded–at best–a practice with potential to undermine the very work we’re giving our lives to.

Do people “respond” to the word of God at our services? They do. And we give them a number of ways they may follow up on what they’ve heard, from talking to an elder or Christian friend after the service, to scheduling an appointment during the week, to letting us know they would like us to visit with them, and so on. One thing I appreciate about our approach is that it allows us to meet, listen, question, encourage, teach and pray in a much more thorough way. By God’s grace we’re seeing people converted and profess their faith in baptism as the Spirit opens their hearts. We’re not perfect by any means. But I do hope we’re being faithful to the scripture’s commands, examples, and restrictions.

What do you think about Kelly’s list? Are you “for” or “against” and why? Would you add anything to or challenge anything on the list?

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101 thoughts on ““What About Altar Calls?””

  1. usama says:

    thanks, very helpful.

    My previous church did them at the end of every service,(even when the Gospel wasn’t preached), and assured people of their decision for Jesus.

    I served in a follow-up ministry and had many conversations where people said they had “walked the isle” a few times before but it must’ve not took.

    To me that’s one of the dangers of having alter calls as a standard at the end of a service, kinda goes along with number 5 & 3 in the list.

    thanks,

    usama

  2. Good comments. We continue to do altar calls at my church because (1) in and of itself, the practice is not a bad one; (2) it has a long history in the church; (3) tying 1 and 2 together, it is not worth the controversy it would generate to try and remove them; and (4) while I generally have a very brief gospel presentation that relates to the message, I spend as much if not more time challenging believers to commit themselves to faithful service to God during the week.

  3. I agree with what Danny Akin preached a while back that we should always give folks a chance to respond to the Word that has just been preached can be dangerous as well. In my opinion, the Word is fresh, the Spirit is active with the preaching of the Word, the assembly is there praying for both Christians and non-Christians present. If presented rightly, if gives a public profession showing that they are not ashamed of Christ before, otherwise Christ will be ashamed of them. Singing 95 verses of Just as I Am in order to manipulate is not of God. Giving a brief amount of time, rightly and biblical presented, to respond to the Word is appropriate.

  4. Joey Kenow says:

    Thought it was a great article! I do think it is one of those things that should be addressed. Many times we do things, say things, believe things without ever asking why we do them or believe them. We ought to ask why we believe and do what we do. If we are not aware of our biases and traditions we will forever be enslaved to them.
    J

  5. John Kuvakas says:

    Well said, Thabiti. I really like that you mentioned that some folks do come to Christ wile walking down the aisle, recognizing that it was an authentic experience for some. I agree that the primary danger is that many think it is the walk down the aisle that saves them. I stopped doing altar calls about 7 years ago. The reactions I received from some church members affirmed my growing apprehension about their distorted importance. I heard, “How will people get saved?”and things like, “We’ll never know how effective the sermon is!” I’d rather take that extra 5 – 10 minutes to preach the word more clearly and allow the Holy Spirit to take the head count when the sermon is done.

  6. Rev. Lawrence Hallahan says:

    Is Acts Chapter two verses 37-38, 40 an “altar” call of some sort? Not trying to be arguementative but just asking. He is calling them to repentance and faith in Jesus and they did make a public declaration (perhaps at their baptism).

  7. usama says:

    @ Rev. Hallahan

    if it’s an alter call it’s not one that is compared to what is commonly used today.

    This is open air preaching and the Holy Spirit works in the preaching and Glorifying of Jesus. These men were “cut to the heart”, which is passive. There seems to me to be seen here people being born from above by the Spirit (John 3), then asking what must they do, similar to the Ethiopian and Phillip.

    Peter shares with them what the church has been commissioned to do “repent & be Baptized”.

    At least where I live when you ask people if they are Christians or saved a general response is, “I walked the isle, signed the card, raised my hand,..etc” which might be the only way they have been taught to express what happened , but I think that it’s very shallow compared to what we see in scripture.

    cheers,

    usama

    1. NJG says:

      I agree with rhe “repent and be baptized” 100%

  8. Ruth says:

    In my previous church, there was always an altar call and rarely a full gospel presentation. They didn’t call it an altar call, they called it an invitation. After each service where the gospel was not presented but the invitation was, it led me to think very loudly in my head, “WHAT are they inviting people TO?”

    I don’t think it is bad to invite people to respond to the gospel. Obviously. But if the invitation has more to do with how great a particular church is, and wouldn’t you like to be a part of us, then I think it is confusing at best and damaging at worst (see Kelly’s point #4 above).

    Confusing things like aisle walking and church membership with salvation is damaging enough, but combined with the doctrine of eternal security, twisted by man-centered theology, it becomes lethal. The worst thing about how they teach eternal security is that they so often teach it in a context where people understand it to mean, “So, if I walked the aisle five years ago, I can squander the rest of my life in sin and still go to heaven. Guaranteed.” Satan wins every time a person becomes convinced that he is saved when he is not, in fact, saved at all. There is almost no greater vaccine against Truth than that.

    More time and attention to the Truth and clear, scriptural presentation of the Gospel is a much better use of our corporate time together than standing uncomfortably with our heads bowed and eyes shut while we are encouraged to walk forward.

  9. Denny says:

    And what happens if they die before you get to talk to them.In Acts they were added to the Church daily.There of coarse are when people were baptized. The eunic said what hinders me from being baptized. Whe God calls and should discussed with that right then and right there.To many time we are in a hurry to get out of church and go eat and have fellowship. The fields are ripe for the harvest.God calls us to work the field plant the seed and if we will reap the harvest.Thats a really good deal in my book.He rewards us for something he does himself. We just have to be a willing servant.Lets plant some seed and see what does with whether we are in church our homes work or the checkout counter. I say let go of our insecurities and let God get er done with im using us for tools.God bless you all.

    1. Denny,

      A person just might get saved in church without an altar call. Present the gospel, present how we respond to the gospel, call sinners to repentance, and trust the Lord to do what he will. Walking the aisle is not a necessary element in salvation and needs not be part of a church’s service in order to lead sinners to Christ.

      1. Phil Baker says:

        God didn’t save me during an alter-call. He plucked me from darkness while at home watching TV! Preaching the gospel is our mandate, discipling people is our mandate and allowing God to be God is our mandate. In my opinion, the alter-call is a product of Arminianism. As a pastor I still witness God’s saving grace within my flock without them.

  10. Guy says:

    Recently lead my congregation to abandoned the “altar call”. It was an interesting process both for me personally as I came to realize more fully why I didn’t support it and for the church to have to wrestle with what was a “tradition” rather than a response to the biblical data.

    BTW, we survived…

    1. Euless Darren Minor says:

      Guy,

      I am interested in what you faced. Our churches “have always” practiced altar calls. Up to the last ten years no one ever talked to anyone on the altar, but now it is commonplace. I have been extremely burdened to help get back to the right way but I am finding that the “progressives” have literally taken over. At least I need your prayers, your counsel would be appreciated if it is well tied to Scripture.

  11. john says:

    ive always appreciated the way calvary chapel philly does their altar calls.
    for years, pastor joe never did one. then after the Greg Laurie Harvest crusades swept through town, some people who had been affected by it, but not come to christ yet, started coming up during the last song of the service.

    and ever since – pastor joe will give a simple invitation on occassion (especially when his message has had a more evangelistic bite to it.) it never feels like a let down if noone comes up, or if he does not give one.

    “One thing I appreciate about our approach is that it allows us to meet, listen, question, encourage, teach and pray in a much more thorough way.”

    i also appreciate that whenever pastor joe focht DOES have people come forward, he always says at the end of the service – “now DONT go away!”

    because its never more than a few people (as opposed to at evangelistic crusades), all the pastors are able to come up and ask tons of questions to the people who’ve responded, offer counsel, pray. and they also have special literature to give them.

    i love it – because i’ve never heard of a church before that only started doing altar calls after people started coming up on their own (being lead by the Spirit?).

    there is a great bit in Tullian Tchividjian’s book “do i know God?” where he defends his grandfather (billy graham)’s use of altar calls and the clarity graham had in his approach. i think its in chapter 1.

    1. Travis says:

      Caleb,

      This is what we do, also. We simply call it “prayer ministry”. We have a team of people, who have been trained and released by our Pastors, who are available after every service to give hands-on prayer to anyone who would like. Our Pastor does give specific things to receive prayer for, as he feels led by the Holy Spirit, but there is always time to receive prayer for anything. There are times where he would ask if anyone would like to repent and give their life to Jesus, but it does not happen every week.

  12. Caleb says:

    Thabiti,

    Would you distinguish between an altar call and a ministry time? A ministry time being a short time after the sermon that gives space for anyone to respond and get prayer. There’s not a specific invitation (most of the time) here, but could be. But it’s not a response just for those who want to give their life to God, but anyone who wants prayer for anything. We establish trusted leaders at the front to pray for those folks.

    Anyone else have something similar?

    1. ualtaher says:

      Caleb,

      After the sermon we have a response & prayer time with a worship song and pastoral staff to pray with people during song. Just as you said not just to respond to salvation , but to anyway the Gospel preached is changing them.

      usama

    2. Travis says:

      oops…I replied to the above comment, my fault.

      Caleb,

      This is what we do, also. We simply call it “prayer ministry”. We have a team of people, who have been trained and released by our Pastors, who are available after every service to give hands-on prayer to anyone who would like. Our Pastor does give specific things to receive prayer for, as he feels led by the Holy Spirit, but there is always time to receive prayer for anything. There are times where he would ask if anyone would like to repent and give their life to Jesus, but it does not happen every week.

  13. Micheal says:

    I challenge my people to respond to the Gospel and God’s Word every week. I do not call it an alter call, but it is a challenge to respond. The Gospel always demands a response!

  14. A. Amos Love says:

    I like Ryan’s list a lot. Especially #1 and #10.

    “1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.”
    “10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things *He has prescribed, not the things we have invented.*
    We should always be leery of *adding to God’s prescriptions* for His corporate worship.

    I’d like to add a few things believers do, and have, that seem to be “absent from the pages of the NT.”

    Seems today many have a title, Pastor/Reverend. Anyone in the NT with the Title Pastor/Reverend?
    Were any congregations “led” by a Pastor/Reverend? Any Pastor/Reverends hired or fired in the NT?”

    Are there any: Pastors, in Pulpits, Preaching, to People, in Pews, in the NT? It seems when folks come together in the NT, every one has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation and all things are done for edifying. 1 Cor 14:26. We are all brethren. Mat 23:8. Every one can, and is expected to, participate when the saints come together.

    What do we do when title/position, Pastor/Reverend/leader, is also “absent from the pages of the NT?”

    I’m Blest – I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul… Jesus…

    1. Daniel says:

      Good questions. Just some thoughts on that. It seems to me that the title reverend should be abolished with reference to someone in a ministry position. Only God should be revered. However, the word pastor is the englishised version of the word “shepherd” which is a term used by Peter with reference to elders/leaders of the church (see I Peter 5:1-5). So in that regard, Timothy is a “pastor” preaching to people (see II Timothy 3:16-4:2). I don’t know if they sat in pews, but they sat somewhere when he preached. Given that the type of seating is not mentioned at all in the Bible, I would assume pews or chairs or on the floor, would all be acceptable, maybe???

    2. A. Amos Love says:

      Daniel

      You write… “Timothy is a “pastor” preaching to people.” (see II Timothy 3:16-4:2).

      I checked those scriptures. They never mention Timothy as a “pastor.” Can’t find any scriptures in the NT saying Timothy is a “pastor.” Can you? Or anyone else with that “Title.” Especially like we have today, with their name and title on lot’s of stuff. Diplomas on walls, office doors, business cards, secrataries desks, Sunday morning bulletins, street signs, and everyone knows who the pastor is. Why? And pastors being hired and fired: what’s up with that. :-)

      Jesus humbled Himself, made Himself of NO reputation, and took on the form of a servant. Those scriptures do say “Preach the word.” But all believers can do that. 1 Cor 14:26. When searching the scriptures I find NO special Clergy-class, seperate from the others, in the NT, assigned to do all the preaching.

      Is that – “things we have invented?“ And “adding to God’s prescriptions?”

      And the question is “Anyone in the NT with the Title Pastor/Reverend?” Or, Senior Pastor, Lead Pastor, Executive Pastor, Reverend, Holy Reverend, Most Holy Reverend, Doctor, Clergy, Pope, Cardinal? etc…

    3. A. Amos Love says:

      Daniel

      Seems Timothy being a “pastor” is also “absent from the pages of the NT”

      Seems Jesus is the only one with the “Title” Shepherd.

      Jer 50:6
      My people hath been lost sheep: *their shepherds* have caused them to go astray,

      1Pet 2:25
      For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto
      the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

      And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
      them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice;”
      and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
      John 10:16

      One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – Jesus

      Peace..

  15. Nate Steuer says:

    SPOT ON!

    If folks would realize the unbiblical nature of altar calls and the deception satan has used with them we would have a lot less False Converts out there.
    The book “The Graham Formula” by Patrick McIntyre addresses the history of their practice coupled with the “repeat after me…” deception.
    Here is a video synopsis of that book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oi5PR96Efs

  16. Nate says:

    The altar call IS present in the NT. Peter gave an altar call at Pentecost. In the sermon presented, people asked what they must do to be saved after the Holy Spirit convicted them and Peter gave an altar call, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” If not, how would they have known what to do? The text gives no weight to the 3000 people saved seeking out Peter after he finished preaching, e.g. they came down the aisle.

    Furthermore, if you tell your congregation that they should seek you out after the sermon if they have questions about their spiritual condition, then you have given an altar call, just not an immediate one. Otherwise, dont tell the people they should come and see you should they have questions. Leave it to the Holy Spirit, otherwise you may have given them false hope. LOL…

    Look, telling someone if they walk the aisle they will be saved is wrong, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t tell people that the elders, deacons, pastoral staff will be available for them if they want to know how to saved, have further questions, etc.

    What if someone came down the aisle at your service without an altar call because they are under conviction? Are you going to send them back to their seat and tell them to wait until the service is finished? And, yes I have preached where this has taken place.

    1. Phil Baker says:

      I agree with your comments. But I have yet to hear an evangelistic sermon that is as whole, concise and contextual as Peter’s was. Most sermons fall way short! Let’s also keep in mind that the birth of the church was happening at that time. Good response though!

    2. Ben says:

      Nate, if you are suggesting we always follow Peter’s example in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, shouldn’t the response be immediate baptism rather than an altar call? Sadly this could never happen in someone’s church because we would rather require membership classes before we baptize anyone. I also would not suggest that this is a function of every Sunday’s service, though it should not be out of the question in any service (except of course at places like my church where we actually have to set up a portable baptismal due to structural limitations). I sort of like Harvest Bible Chapel’s model to have a “reaping Sunday” planned throughout their calendar where those whom the Lord has been working on in the previous months have the opportunity to publicly declare their belief in Jesus Christ.

      While the gospel demands a response, the response is inward belief that transforms. It is not external movement toward the front of a church. That transforming belief has water baptism as one of its first acts of obedience. This is the model of the early church.

      1. Ben says:

        *could never happen in most churches… not “someone’s church”… sorry

  17. David says:

    It is one thing to mislead a novice into thinking that coming forward or raising a hand is equivalent to turning to God and away from idols. It is another to deny that God can use the outward means of hand raising and coming forward in a larger framework as one means to the ends of salvation.

    It is one thing to distract from the corporate worship of God by over-emphasis on evangelism. It is another to neglect evangelism.

    It is one thing to manipulate. It is another to persuade.

  18. John says:

    I don’t believe anyone will be hindered or prohibited from putting their faith in Christ/being born again by not having an altar call, as this event is between an individual and God Himself and can take place anytime and anywhere. I agree that baptism is the Biblical means of declaring this faith publicly. I don’t think an altar call is ‘wrong’ however but clearly it has been wrongly used at times and I’d say overused.

    I think if you’re going to make use of it, do it when it relates directly to the message preached. If you are preaching primarily through books of the Bible (as opposed to topical/cherry picking as a primary method) you are going to have all kinds of claims that God’s Word is going to put on folks hearts, to have an altar call for salvation after preaching on finances/giving or what a marriage is to look like, et al seems forced and directing attention away from the area the Word would be convicting as it is preached. Certainly the gospel of Christ is the foundation for all our lives so making it part of every message is appropriate but much of the Word is for those already saved to examine their lives and be doers not only hearers. The Word of God is living and active, you don’t have to preach an ‘altar call’ sermon each week, unbelievers can be affected by the living and active Word of God in Leviticus or Song of Solomon as you preach primarily to those already in Christ. Perhaps the ‘altar call’ mentality has helped create churches that are ‘a mile wide and and inch deep’? Hearing continuous calls to come and put your faith in Christ but then not move people on (from ‘the elementary principles’)to become disciples because they don’t preach about what that means.

  19. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    I don’t know, but I’ll make the following speculations:

    (*) Some people became followers of Christ after an “altar call.”

    (*) Some people thought they were converted and think of themselves as followers of Christ after responding to an “altar call” but they are fooling and deceiving themselves (perhaps unintentionally and unknowingly) that they are Christians when, in fact, they are not regenerated and not Christians.

    Q: Have you ever judged that someone’s not a Christian even though they say that they are a Christian?

    Q2: If so, did you lovingly inform that person that you don’t think they’re a Christian even though they said that they were and are?

    Q3: After you told them that they weren’t a Christian and they still need to become a *genuine* Christian, how did it go?

  20. Bo Fawbush says:

    I do give an altar call at the end of the sermon. However, I do stress that walking forward does not save. I agree with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones that too much pressure can be applied to the will out of guilt, apart from the work of the Spirit. Therefore, the altar call at my church is very low-pressure. Often, my interaction with individuals is after the service is completed.

  21. Clark says:

    thanks Thabiti,

    i was always present during these altar calls during my early years of faith at my youth group retreats, and it seems like the “altar call” puts too much pressure and emphasis on the present confession of the man (“going forward” as mentioned in #3,4), and not enough on the regenerate work of the HS.

  22. Pastor Matt says:

    Not only does the altar call lack a biblical foundation, historically speaking, altar calls are relatively new on the Christian scene… less than 200 years old. They came about by a man named Charles Finney.

    At our church we have an altar call once a month when people are invited to come forward to receive Christ. That is the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of communion. :-)

    Thanks for the post.

    Pastor Matt
    http://www.pastormattrichard.com

  23. Raymond Armstrong says:

    Altar calls have no historical precedent before the 19th century. A serious rise in weak or vague professions of faith coinsided with their rise in popularity. As a result of this unscripturalpractice we have an evangelical “desert” of false believers. These weak “believers” are then vulnerable to almost any kind of quasi “Christian” doctrine. second “blessing” prosperity “gospel” liberty “theology”. The truth is becoming swamped in a tidal wave of emotional silliness, decision based wooliness and false christianity.

  24. J.D. Arnold says:

    We have an invitation at the Southern Baptist church I pastor after every Sunday morning service. I am inviting people to respond to what they have just heard. I also invite them to Christ but I explain that walking an aisle and praying a prayer is not what saves you. The goal is not to get people to come forward, but to get them to respond to what the Lord has been dealing with them about. We do not measure success by the invitation, success is measured by personal and corporate obedience to God.

  25. Mark says:

    I once witnessed an alter call after a 5 minute “sermon” that contained no scripture and no gospel. It was merely a call to “give your life to Jesus”. All participants were told that by raising their hand (in the case), they had indeed secured their eternal salvation. I almost cried. Probably 100 people could live with the false security or a false conversion. Most people end up doing many alter calls because they see that the biblical criterion for new birth doesn’t seem to fit them yet. In my opinion, alter calls are mostly just another work that people do to try to secure their man-centered, decisional rebirth.

  26. Kendall says:

    I agree– while I don’t think that “alter calls” are bad in it of themselves and that some can be done with right intentions, I do think that the habitual practice of them week after week is dangerous. 

    The moving of the Holy Spirit does not need to be acted out only by “coming forward.” I feel like habitually performing them on a schedule misleads the individual into thinking it’s the end all of becoming a Christian..”all you have to do is come forward and repeat these magic words and you’ll go to heaven when you die!”

    It is nurturing ignorant and immature Christianty. 

  27. Scott says:

    How would altar calls work in an animistic culture where decisions are more group and family oriented? Things are more “individualized” here in the US so it works better, but ultimately we have to look at our context and use practices that will remove obstacles since the gospel itself is already a stumbling block. In my opinion, there are places in the US where altar calls (a time for response to the preached word) will work and other places where they would be inappropriate.

  28. This is a way of starting someone out on rocky soil right off the bat. I would not want to be responsible for this.
    Jeff

  29. Ryan Kelly says:

    Thabiti, thanks for referencing my 10 theses on the altar call. Just for the record, I wrote those down about 5 minutes before an elders meeting many years ago, when several folks in our church had been asking why we don’t do them.

    Because of the brevity of the list, I have some suggested further reading for those still struggling with abandoning the altar call. These would answer basically all of the questions that have come up in the comments:

    David Bennet, The Altar Call (expensive, but excellent)
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0761818391/

    Iain Murray, The Invitation System (small booklet)
    http://www.amazon.com/Invitation-System-Iain-H-Murray/dp/0851511716

    Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism (thick, but worth the work)
    http://www.amazon.com/Revival-Revivalism-Iain-H-Murray/dp/0851516602

    John Nevin, The Anxious Bench
    http://books.google.com/books?id=CNcpAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=nevin+anxious+bench&hl=en&ei=OF2_TYe6CbTPiAKxmNGPAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Banner of Truth article on Charles Finney and the “Anxious Bench”:
    http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?1071

    Banner of Truth quotes Lloyd-Jones on the Altar Call:
    http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?422

    Monergism.com has several other links on Altar Calls:
    http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Evangelism/The-Altar-Call/

    Andy Naselli has a good summary of the important links (many already repeated above):
    http://andynaselli.com/the-altar-call

  30. Phil Baker says:

    Martin Lloyd Jones covered this topic very well in his landmark book entitled Preaching and Preachers. His rejection of the alter call was based upon how preachers appeal to the emotions and will of men. He calls those two things faulty foundations to build gospel truth upon.

  31. Robert Richardson says:

    I would only add to your excellent article that the altar call is an example of “the tradition of the elders” insituted by well-intentioned men that has the unintended consequences of transgressing the commandments of God(Matt 15:2-6). If we are truly committed to the great commission, we must not only make disciples but be prepared to nurture their growth from spiritual infancy to maturity. The practice of this tradition has produced far more people who have the assurance of salvation than have ever been regenerated by the Spirit of God.

  32. Rod Dewberry says:

    What we do instead of an altar call is celebrate communion at the end of every message… which produces 3 significant moments 1. every message must transition into a discussion of the importance of the death, burial, ressurection. 2. Every participant is given clear understanding of who should and should not participate in communion … 3. those who question where they are in Christ are encouraged to connect those in the congregation who are either leaders or mature believers able to articulate the need for repentance.

  33. Jay Beerley says:

    I am really dumbfounded. Since when did someone’s abuse of something negate its effectiveness? You can also manipulate personal evangelism, too. Guess we should stop that.

    Furthermore, name one time where in the NT where it explicitly says people gathered for a formal worship service time that included music, preaching and an offering.

    I just can’t see where inviting people to respond to the gospel is bad. There’s no way you can convince me that that action is unbiblical. Manipulating certainly has no part in it. But having a portion of the service dedicated to response is unbiblical? Over critical.

    Does Paul not say in 2 Corinthians 5:11 that, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” Do you just present the gospel as, “hey, take it or leave it. It doesn’t matter.”

    I love Reformed soteriology, but this critical culture can sure be a beat down.

    1. Phil Baker says:

      @ Jay
      You said, “Furthermore, name one time where in the NT where it explicitly says people gathered for a formal worship service time that included music, preaching and an offering.”

      I disagree with this statement based on the biblical evidences that support music, preaching and offerings at gatherings.

      Acts 2:42-47 clearly illustrates that teaching and offerings were present in early churches.

      Colossians 3:16 clearly illustrates that worship singing was present in early churches.

      Please provide Biblical evidences for alter calls. I’d like to know what Scriptures Finney used to build this practice on.

  34. Phil Baker says:

    @ Jay
    You said, “Furthermore, name one time where in the NT where it explicitly says people gathered for a formal worship service time that included music, preaching and an offering.”

    I disagree with this statement based on the biblical evidences that support music, preaching and offerings at gatherings.

    Acts 2:42-47 clearly illustrates that teaching and offerings were present in early churches.

    Colossians 3:16 clearly illustrates that worship singing was present in early churches.

    Please provide Biblical evidences for alter calls. I’d like to know what Scriptures Finney used to build this practice on.

    1. Nate says:

      Act chapter two! Peter gives an altar call when he responds to the reply of the people of what they should do. He tells them, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” As I said earlier the text provides no weight to a notion that 3000 people came to Peter after the service. He gave an altar call!

      Furthermore, if you tell people to meet with you (as the preacher) or to meet with the elders, deacons, or pastoral staff after a service if they have questions about their spiritual condition, you just gave an altar call. You just didnt allow them to walk the aisle while the service was still officially happening. If you are against altar calls, then make no statement of what people should do at all. Allow the Holy Spirit to work on them and if the Holy Spirit convicts them, they will come and see you. By the way, don’t go personally evangelizing anyone because you might have to give an altar call (ask them if they want to receive Christ as Savior). As Jay said, just because something is done poorly by some we shouldn’t get rid of it completely. I

  35. Jay Beerley says:

    @Phil

    I don’t see in those passages where it states that those are occurring in a “worship service.” If we’re saying that Acts 2:42-47 is describing a worship service, I’ll assume you gave away all of your possessions this past Sunday to those in need. I guess we could also assume your church meets every day. Why is Peter’s call a few verses before hand for the people to repent and be baptized not to be followed in our worship services?

    Further things not specifically mentioned in NT:
    youth and children’s ministries
    Sunday School/small groups
    choirs
    ushers/greeters
    church private schools
    nurseries
    “Christian” books

    Phil, do you ever personally give anyone the opportunity to respond to the gospel?

    1. Phil Baker says:

      I certainly hope and pray that my personal life and ministry line up with Scriptures! Every week I call for my students to respond to the gospel. Either to the cross or to resurrected living. I simply refuse to call them out of their chairs so I can parade them before everyone else. Instead, I encourage them to speak to a trusted friend, parent, adult leader, or to me after the service.

      1. Jay Beerley says:

        I certainly don’t think “parading” has to be what a public call to respond to the gospel is. People who responded to Peter’s message were immediately baptized. I guess that was pretty public. In fact, verse 40 said that Peter continued to exhort them. It wasn’t a one time, “I’m not pressuring you” thing. I know I cannot convince people to come to Christ. Only the Spirit regenerates a heart. But without a plea for the gospel, it frankly doesn’t ring true to the Spirit of the NT.
        Check out these videos: http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=6499
        The problem is reformed peoples’ fear of compelling people to Christ.

    2. Rod Dewberry says:

      The reason our church opted out of the altar call was simply a desire to refocus the response on the core principles of the faith and not emotional propositioning … not because we couldnt find a chapter and verse that shows evidence of it as a 1st century church practice.

      But I am earnestly waiting for someone to response to the list of 7 items Jay posted as being absent from the scriptures that are common practices in many churches today beyond the altar call issue ….

      Lets not dialogue like the JW’s do … remain intellectually and biblically honest and please help me understanding how …

      youth and children’s ministries
      Sunday School/small groups
      choirs
      ushers/greeters
      church private schools
      nurseries
      “Christian” books

      …are acceptable practices in light of the logic used to defeat altar calls?

      1. Phil Baker says:

        I’ll respond to this.

        The first thing I’ll say is this. Saying that practices that are aimed at serving one another, worshiping God, and educating the body is a pretty feeble way to try to justify the use of alter-calls. Nothing personal here but to infer that serving, singing, and education are just as absent as alter calls are from the scriptures is ridiculous. Here are some verses that support the below practices, see them in parentheses under each category.

        Youth and children’s ministries
        Sunday School/small groups
        Christian books
        church private schools
        nurseries
        (Deut 6:4-9, Prov 22:6, Col 1:28, Col 3:16)

        choirs
        (Neh 12:31, David addresses his choir director 55 in the Psalms, Hab 3:19, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16)

        ushers/greeters
        (Gal 5:13, 1 Pet 4:10)

        1. Rod Dewberry says:

          @ Phil,

          Every passage you sited highlights a principle

          1. Children should be taught
          2. Believers should be Teaching and admonishing one another
          3. the Singing of hymns
          4. The group use of instruments in worship

          but none of them prescribe a specific sunday morning practice/methodology

          if your chior example was both a description and prescription of methodology for the church then all choirs would have to be male and have trumpets as the primary instrument.

          So are there any biblical principles that support creating an opportunity for unbelievers to respond to the gospel?

          Altar calls may not be an air tight practice but in principle they provide opportunity for response ..which is biblical.

          Worship is undeniablly a biblical principle … but a long drawn out cacophonus solo rendition of “How Great Thou Art” could undermind the principle. But that does not mean a solo is now unbiblical … simply because is was done poorly and took the focus off of Christ.

  36. But but but…..isnt there a verse that says Paul made an altar call in Athens or Ephesus or yeah atleast Corinth? Okay but Elijah built an altar and….okay i give up. No altar calls are not there in the bible. Thanks Thabiti for the post. I am reading your book by the way, “The Decline of African American Theology.” Four more chapters to go!

    1. Rod Dewberry says:

      Micheal,

      Does your church have/do any of the things included on this list…

      youth and children’s ministries
      Sunday School/small groups
      choirs
      ushers/greeters
      church private schools
      nurseries
      “Christian” books

      if so please the appropriate chapter and verse, biblical pattern, or implied principle that makes them more noble that altar calls …

      BTW my church does not have altar calls so there no need to revist that topic with me

  37. Jay Beerley says:

    Michael,
    My point isn’t that they are there. My point is you probably do a lot of stuff in your daily practice of the faith and in your church that isn’t there either. But the principles are there. Can you point to a Scripture for everything you do in your walk of faith?

  38. James pedley says:

    Alter Calls can cause people to give praise and glory to the good style of preaching, and the pastor, as opposed to Christ. So it can get to a point where, people are talking about how many people came to Christ this week at their church, lifting up the name of pastor__________. I’m sure nobody would want to run that risk of getting God’s praise. Humility is hard enough to maintain. It’s not that I’m for Peter, Paul, or Apollos, lol. I’m for Christ! and I didn’t see him using these man made things we use today. I wonder, in these mega churches, how many alter call converts do the pastor’s follow up, like the follow up in Acts 2?? forgive me if that’s out of place. Just an uneducated thought to consider.

  39. Back in the early 80’s the late Keith Green had a series of articles about what he viewed as “Is Our Gospel the Original Gospel?” He was very much against altar calls and considered it an “added” part of the Gospel.

    The entire series is here: http://www.iinet.com/~passtheword/GOSPEL-REDISCOVERY/our-gospel.htm

    1. In replying to my own message:

      The original Greene article is here:

      http://www.lastdaysministries.org/Articles/1000008643/Last_Days_Ministries/LDM/Discipleship_Teachings/Keith_Green/Whats_Wrong_With.aspx

      The other article uses his as a take off point. I think Keith’s article is better.

  40. Chris Donato says:

    Just two things:

    #1 — We the church do things all the time that are “simply and completely absent from the pages of the NT.” This has little to do with whether or not something is right to do. The harder question is, does it follow the trajectory laid out in the pages of the NT. I think numbers 2–10 suggest no.

    -and-

    Unfortunately, in numbers 9–10, the parenthetical list of the “truly more important parts of corporate worship” lacks a big one, namely, the sacraments.

  41. nightshift says:

    I agree with your comments, however, i don’t feel the alter call is a bad move in and of itself, but it does have a way of affecting whether people feel that they’ve had a “good service” or not, my old church used the alter call, and if no one came forward the pastor would approach people and draw them out of the pews to pray for them, as inexpeinced as i was i thought ‘this man surley hears from God’ until i had a chance to speak to him and he made a comment about psycology, and i put 2 and 2 together, but i think it gives genuine people a chance to come make a tangible statment, (maybe they are inexperienced and don’t know how else to come to Christ) but it shouldn’t stop at the alter call, it should go furthur as you’ve described your church as doing, (too much emotion = no roots) i think the dangerous methods produce those men and women who our Lord describes in the parable of the sower, those who recieve the word gladly but have no roots in themselves(matthew 13:20-21)

  42. A. Amos Love says:

    Rod – Here’s another list looking for scripture refrences.

    I also hear folks saying: My church, your church, our church, my flock, my people.
    Can’t seem to find those terms in my antiquated KJV.
    Seems, like alter calls, those terms are also “absent from the pages of the NT.”

    Here are a few more terms about church “absent from the pages of the NT.”

    In the Bible…

    Did anyone ever *join* “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *lead* “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *go to* “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *Pastor* “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *Tithe* to “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *bring their friends* to “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *collect money to build* “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *apply for membership* in “A Church?”
    Did anyone ever *give silver, gold, or money,* to “A Church?”
    Were there any *buildings* with *steeples and crosses* called “A Church?”
    Were there any – Pastors – in Pulpits – Preaching – to People – in Pews. ;-)

    Seems “Church” in the Bible always refers to people, God’s people.
    Jesus, He is the head of the body, the Church. (The ekklesia, the called out one’s.)
    It is called “the Church of God.” Aren’t they His people, His sheep, His Church?

    Does the Bible ever refer to “The Church of God” as a building, an institution,
    an orgainization, a denomination, a $ Corporation?

    Should a “Disciple of Christ” call a corporation – The Church? AAARRRGGHH ;-)

    Jer 50:6
    My people hath been lost sheep: *their shepherds* have caused them to go astray,

    1Pet 2:25
    For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto
    the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice;”
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – Jesus

    1. Thabiti says:

      Dear A. Amos Love,

      Have you ever heard the phrase “one trick pony”? Seems, friend, whenever there is any mention of church polity or practice you launch into this same set of assertions about pastors, leaders, and a host of other things.

      Really, friend, your comment is only tangentially related to the post. The topic is altar calls and the list of specific critiques offered re: the practice. So, let’s not get of topic.

      And by the way:
      Did anyone ever “join” a church (Acts 5:13-14)
      Did anyone ever “lead” a church (Romans 12:8)
      Did anyone ever “go” to a church (Acts 5:12; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; passim)
      Did anyone ever “pastor” a church (1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 20:28; Eph. 4; etc)
      Did anyone ever “tithe” to a church (plenty gave beyond a “tithe”; see, for example, 2 Cor. 8:1-7)
      Did anyone ever “bring their friends” to a church (the disciples gathered their brothers; the woman at the well brought an entire town to see Jesus. How does that happen today? It happens when Jesus is placarded before the people in the preaching of the gospel–Gal. 3:1)
      Did anyone ever collect money to “build” a church (Paul accepted money from the Philippians and it’s not impossible that he used it to rent the Hall of Tyrannus–; And if the church to be built are the living stones, he took collections to “build” the church in Jerusalem–Acts 16)
      Did anyone ever “apply for membership” in a church (what do you suppose their public profession and baptism are? Don’t let “apply” throw you onto erroneous conclusions, as if the church didn’t practice membership and take it seriously. They took it so seriously that one’s membership could be revoked!–1 Cor. 5; Matt. 18; etc.)

      I could go on. But the point very simply is that in your wooden, hyper-literalism you’re rubbing the plain meaning of the NT right off the pages. You’re using straw men to argue for something that in the end denies basic elements of the NT church’s life–things like pastors and leadership and giving!

      From now on, let’s stick to the topic at hand. No more rants on things off topic or things too obvious to deny.

      Grace and peace to all,
      T-

    2. A. Amos Love says:

      T

      Thanks for the response and calling me friend.
      One can’t have too many friends these days. ;-)

      Sorry about being off topic. Please forgive me.

      I foolishly thought I was on topic when I read your questions at the end of the article…

      “What do you think about Kelly’s list? Are you “for” or “against” and why?
      “Would you add anything” to or challenge anything on the list?

      I thought “I would add something” to Kelly’s #10. It really spoke to me…

      “10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things *He has prescribed, not the things we have invented.* We should always be leery of *adding to God’s prescriptions* for His corporate worship.

      Watching the religious system constantly *adding to God’s prescriptions* is certainly a pet peeve of mine. I’ve watched congregation after congregation NOT doing what *He, Jesus, has prescribed:* And continually teaching and doing *the things we have invented.* I think Jesus warned “His Disciples,” in Mark 7:13, about “Making the word of God of non effect through your “traditions.” (Traditions = things we have invented?)

      You responded to the questions I asked about “church.”
      I do have some questions and comments about the scriptures you quoted.
      IMO – Most of those scriptures have nothing to do with “The Church of God.”
      If I’m allowed to, I’d like to reply. If not I’ll understand.

      I didn’t like it much when someone had the courage and persistence
      to warn me about “The Traditions of Men” I was in bondage to,
      and was making “The Word of God” of non effect in my life.

      I now thank God He would send some folks to challenge my beliefs.
      All things do work together for good.

      Be blessed in your search for Truth… Jesus…

  43. jim says:

    Just a few thoughts …

    To draw a hard line either way on the issue of altar calls seems to cause an unnecessary division.

    I personally responded to an altar call @ 26 years old; I’ve walked the Lord since that time. (I’m quite aware that my response was to the Holy Spirit, not the altar call)

    I’ve attended a church for the last 15 years that does not have an altar call.

    To use Acts 2 to argue for or against an altar call seems silly. This historical event is descriptive of the promised power of the Holy Spirit followed by a proclamation from Peter on the reason for what the crowd was hearing. Further, Peter did not compel a response, but answered a question (obviously compelled by the Holy Spirit).

    Altar calls are not biblical or unbiblical. (see earlier posts by others)

    Altar calls are not necessary. (see earlier posts by others)

    Misuse of an altar call is not a reason to negate its use no more than eisegesis is a reason to negate preaching.

    “…Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Rom. 14:5)

    If all things are done in thanks to the Lord and in honor of the Lord, then let’s not pass judgment as Paul exhorts us in Rom. 14.

    Grace to you,

    jim

  44. Scott says:

    I hear some of what you are saying but one can also throw the baby out with the bath water which you have done.

  45. Demuth says:

    Interesting article. One thing that I really appreciate about the way that my church does its altar calls is that they are not a solely salvation-related issue. The invitation is to anyone who is struggling, convicted, or in need. There are pastoral staff standing by to offer support/advice and prayer. I have also seen where an altar call has been a hyper-emotional free-for-all that produces scores of irrelevant dedications or confessions. Unfortunately, the latter of the two seems to be far more common.

  46. Paul says:

    Alter call or not, the key of salvation is the inward working and calling of the Holy Spirit. False conversions and true conversions happen during the alter call. The point isn’t the alter call, the point is the inward working of the Holy Spirit, which produces genuine repentance which leads to a transformed life.

  47. I share a similar background and couldn’t agree more. These reasons are very well articulated, and, more importantly, consistent with Scripture’s teaching. Thanks for posting this.

  48. The op is not about whether or not you like an alter call. It is about how the gospel is presented in it.
    He has a good point, so here is a new thread. We have Scriptural basis for sermons, singing, praise, worship, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Scripture reading, and Baptism. Where in the Bible is the basis for the altar call or invitation? If there is none, why is it in our worship services?

  49. Bruce Burkholder says:

    EXCELLENT.

  50. Michael Andrews says:

    While I agree with many of these points, I can hear people who use the altar call system refuting them in my head as I read them. When I studied the book of Acts, there are two things that God confirmed to me as error. First was the altar call and “decisionism.” Second was the abuse of the sinner’s prayer. Great article.

  51. Euless Darren Minor says:

    The treatment of the altar sheds light on our trust in God. Is God truly able to save? Does He need specially trained and gifted people to “direct” or “lead” souls to Him? I was saved alone in the woods. I know that God can save anywhere and that a church can help a soul pray, but I do not like to see people being “helped” at the altar. That area should be hands off.

  52. Scott Walker says:

    The invitation to come to Christ begins when the messenger opens his mouth to proclaim Gods word.

    http://contendingfortruth.blogspot.com/2012/02/invitation-system.html

  53. Bob Kavanaugh says:

    WOW!So many opinions and strong feelings. YES, “walking the aisle” does NOT bring salvation or replace baptism (obviously). It is important NOT to place an emphasis on it and that be the focal point of the day. However, I DO understand and appreciate the fact that many Pastors feel/want to present salvation to all and as much as possible. Please do not condemn anyone for that feeling. I do feel they should be incorporated in a service, as our Pastor feels the spirit moves him. Not every Sunday or for extended periods of time. MANY people are sitting in that pew, feeling the stirring inside, wanting more and “walking the aisle” is something they want and need. AGAIN, that does NOT bring them salvation, BUT a Pastor or Member has the immediate opportunity to present salvation to them. NOT do a “follow-up” or schedule a meeting. While I appreciate the historical breakdown of who, what, where and when “altar calls” were/were not performed. MY feelings are that while Jesus may not have had an “altar”, people did flock to him or his “altar calls”.
    These are MY personal feelings, I respect everyones views. AN open discussion may lead us all to different views and new opions. MY feelings are that it is the hands of the Holy Spirit as he directs the individual Pastor during his service. Not all things HAVE to be methodical, while that is a good thing. The Spirit may move at anytime, might not be every service, at the end of a service. HMMMM…may not always be just one hour a week on Sundays!

  54. Dianne Webb says:

    I feel very strongly about this and so hope to be able to properly express myself. I think that any and every Pastor, should and must give an invitation to know Christ and to come to him out of love and faith. You do NOT have to walk that aisle or come to that altar but it is very moving when that is how you do find salvation and express believers Faith that God can and will do that which he has promised if you only believe. If a Pastor misses any opportunity where 2 or more or gathered to give an invitation to give your heart to Jesus and be his, shame on him. No Sermon is more worthy than a profession of Faith after a worthy Sermon and an invitation to change your life and live for Christ. I love and praise that Pastor that led me to salvation to this day for without him I would still be lost. He cared about my soul and not just his ability to Preach the word. In love of Christ, Dianne Webb

  55. Richard says:

    In light of all that Lord has been exposing me to, this was very helpful. I agree with the points, but I still have several questions: If we as the church don’t do altar calls or (the “sinner’s prayer” for that matter), what should we do in regards to evangelism?

  56. @ Richard

    Great question! At Redemption Hill we call for listeners to repent of their self-effort/disbelief and to trust in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ. I even encourage them to pray. But I don’t lead them in a prayer or anything like that. This method lines up pretty well with Apostle Peter’s style and method (Acts 2:37, 3:19). We’re going to add baptism this year.

    Blessings,

    Phil

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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