mgpcpastor's blog

What About Altar Calls?

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Thabite Anyabwile provides some commentary about why he does not utilise ‘altar calls’ based on the following ten points made by Ryan Kelly.
While ‘altar calls’ are not prevalent in Australian Presbyterianism, the fact that they were popularised by Charles Finney (who was, at one time, a Presbyterian) invites us to think about our understanding of salvation, how God brings it about in an individual’s life and the means by which He does so.
I’ve also attended meetings where people have responded to invitations that don’t really involve repentance and faith in Jesus and these have later been referred to as ‘salvations.’ (Not in Presbyterian contexts, in case you’re wondering.) So some clarity about purpose and outcome would be useful for those who do use some sort of call or invitation system, as well.

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.

One thought on “What About Altar Calls?

  1. This is a major issue in Thailand. Altar calls and sinner’s prayer type evangelism is the default in 99% of Thai churches. I’ve written several blog posts on this topic.

    A book of the history of the altar call was written by David Bennett (an Australian, if I am not mistaken) and Iain Murray has written a helpful little book called “The Invitation System”, looking at it through the lens of a Billy Graham crusade. Both very helpful resources.

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