Quotes about Altar_Calls
Probably in our own, modern substitutes for (immediate baptism upon profession) – raising hands, coming forward, etc. – are the result of a felt need to do something for those who believe. It seems certain that those who believed were distinguished from those who did not. There is no evidence that the New Testament evangelistic preachers asked them to come forward, but there is every indication that they did invite those who believed to be baptized (Ac. 2:38). And it seems that this was the way in which new converts professed their faith in Christ and came under the care and discipline of the church.
1. The altar call too easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” (walking an aisle) with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ” (repentance and belief).
2. This confusion deceives people about their spiritual state.
3. This confusion often obscures the requirements of repentance and belief.
4. This confusion encourages people to base their assurance on a one-time event.
5. This confusion brings false converts with false assurance into the church’s membership.
6. The altar call makes conversion look like a work of man, when in fact it is a work of God.
7. The altar call confuses people regarding sacred space [that the front of the church is more sacred than any other place].
8. The altar call confuses “coming forward” with baptism.
9. The altar call distracts Christians from the main point of the service.
What’s required for salvation isn’t walking an aisle. It’s repentance from sin and belief in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15). Initial repentance and belief – conversion – can happen anywhere, in the pew or in the pub.
The Bible tells us to base our assurance not on a prayer prayed or an aisle walked in the increasingly distant past. It tells us to look at our present and increasing love for others (1 John 4:8, 20), the present and increasing holiness of our lifestyles (Matt. 7:15-27; Heb. 12:14; 1 John 3:7-8), and the present and increasing orthodoxy of our doctrine (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Tim. 4:3; 1 John 4:2-3; 15).
The “altar call” teaches the congregation to evaluate the “success” or “effectiveness” of the ministry on outward, visible actions and results.
The problem with (an altar call for rededication) is that it is not biblical. The crux of the gospel message is not a call to rededication, but a call to repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance (Matt. 3:2). Jesus preached repentance, both in His earthly ministry and as the resurrected Lord (Matt. 4:17; Rev. 3:19). If one’s previous commitment did not keep him walking in obedience, a re-commitment is no more likely to make him faithful. The proper response to disobedience is not a commitment to try harder, but brokenness and repentance for rejecting the will of Almighty God. God looks for surrender to His will, not commitment to carry it out. Rather than asking church members to repeatedly promise to try harder, churches must call their people to repent before Holy God.
Thus follows unavoidable confusion of conscience. If the person awakened has dignity and good sense, he will probably refuse to come, and then the drift of the system is to tell him that therein he has rebelled against God and grieved the Holy Ghost; hence, groundless distraction. If he is more gullible, and goes, it is implied that he has performed a saving act, or at least one that has gratia congruens. It is in vain they disclaim; for the common sense reasons, “Why so much urgency, if the means is not truly effective of something?”
How many churches today are full of people who have been psychologically pressured but never truly converted?
The invitation system…encourages people to make a response that “settles things” and, through subsequent counseling, to never doubt that decision. Anyone who is involved in personal evangelism can share countless examples of persons who, though presently living in gross sin, will nonetheless tell the evangelist that they are fine because they “made a decision for Christ” a certain number of years ago. They have never had any change in their life; they have no interest in the church, the Bible, or even God. But they have made their “decision.” Can we not see how dangerous such a system is to the souls of men?
The dangers [of the invitations system]:
1. Promoting a method not promoted in Scripture.
2. Eliciting an emotional response based upon the personality of the speaker or the persuasion of the appeal.
3. Confusing the “coming forward” with salvation.
4. Counting great numbers who only discredit their profession by their lives.
5. Giving assurance to those who are unconverted.
Do we see any example in which [Jesus] (or the apostles, for that matter) appealed for people to “come forward” either as a testimony to their decision or as an act of accepting Him?… Many passages show that Jesus and the apostles called men to repentance and faith. But no passage indicates that either used any form of “invitation system” in bringing men to faith or in confirming their faith.
For years, we have heard about the values of the invitation system. It is even widely intimated (often plainly stated) that one who fails to give public invitations could not be concerned for the souls of men. Yet could it be that the very opposite is true – that the very extension of such an appeal might be the means for deluding many into a false state of assurance ultimately resulting in their damnation?
Proclaim the truth…call men to repent and believe and…leave the results in the hands of the Spirit who alone can bring people to faith.
We must learn to trust the power of God’s Word to convince, convert, and change lives (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23)…without the help of our man-made systems… We must be so convinced, or we will be tempted to add things to the preaching of the Word to secure greater commitments… Here is the real question: How powerful is the Word of God? Can it change men from sinners into saints without the use of an altar call? Will it convict and convert (as God promises), or will we need to add something that helps men “settle it”? You will never be able to do without the invitation system until you are thoroughly convinced of the power of God’s Word.
Our appeal must be to come to Christ, not to follow any prescribed method that might cause some to equate their “coming” with coming to Him.
The dangers of the invitation system are serious. The souls of men are at stake. To be biblically evangelistic, we must be certain that what we do leads men to faith, not just to decisions.
First, there is no biblical precedent or command regarding a public altar call. Whatever might be said for its use, we cannot resort to the Bible for support. Jesus nor Paul, nor any other early Christian leader used it. Did Jesus ask His listeners to come to the front after He preached the Sermon on the Mount? Did Paul say, “Every head bowed, every eye closed” as Luke quietly sang the invitation hymn on the Areopagus? Did Peter have seekers raise their hands as a sign of their interest in Christ at the end of the Pentecostal sermon?
Evangelistic preaching does say, “Repent and trust Christ now.” But there is nothing sacrosanct about getting people to occupy a certain piece of geography at the front of a building. Nor have I kept them from Christ by not having them respond to a public altar call. Rather I am offering them Christ without anything in between. I want nothing between their soul and the reality of Christ’s offer. To put something in between is a practical sacramentalism.
It is the Holy Spirit who gives assurance of life in Christ, not the evangelist (Rom. 8:16). We are to relate the basis of assurance but leave the actual assuring to the Spirit.
Is it love for the lost that will perpetuate practices producing such damning deception in so many – or is it merely love for success?
Concerns related to the altar call:
1. There is no clear biblical precedent or command related to the modern public invitation or altar call.
2. Many today equate “coming to faith” with “coming down the aisle.”
3. There is a danger of giving assurance to those who are unconverted.
4. A large number of people who are “converted” during altar calls fall away.
5. The altar call can be effective in getting people to respond even if a clear, biblical presentation of the gospel and accurate biblical preaching are absent.
6. Scripture already explains how a convert is to make his profession public – baptism and a holy life.
7. For some, the use of an altar call uncovers a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God.
If the walk forward is an outward declaration of an inner-saving decision already made by the hearer in the seat, is this just an “act of witness”? Why then are people told to “come forward to receive Christ”? How is receiving Christ related to coming forward?
The biblical method of focusing on the gospel itself, without props, and allowing God to save whom He wills, when He wills, demands the hearing of the Word. And it demands trust that God will call His elect to Himself according to His own timetable. When the Word is preached, there will be varying responses (Acts 17:32-34). Just be faithful to preach the Word…and leave the results to God. He will save His elect according to His own timing.
The real question is: How powerful is the Word of God? Can it change men from sinners into saints without an extension of an altar call? Will it convict and convert (as God promises), or will we need to add something that helps men “settle it”? You will never be able to do without the invitation system until you are thoroughly convinced of the power of God’s Word (see Rom. 10:14; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23).
1. It is wrong to put direct pressure on the will. The will should always be approached primarily through the mind, the intellect, and then through the affections. The action of the will should be determined by those influences.
2. In the end it may produce a condition in which what has determined the response of the man who ‘comes forward’ is not so much the Truth itself as, perhaps, the personality of the evangelist, or some vague general fear, or some other kind of influence.
3. The preaching of the Word and the call for decision should not be separated in our thinking
4. This method surely carries in it the implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion.
5. There is an implication here that the evangelist somehow is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work. Some organizers today even predict the results.
6. This method tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all. People often respond because they have the impression that by doing so they will receive certain benefits.
7. You are encouraging people to think that their act of going forward somehow saves them.
8. It raises the whole question of the doctrine of regeneration. This is the most serious thing of all. This work is the work of the Holy Spirit, and His work alone, no one else can do it. And as it is His work it is always a thorough work; and it is always a work that will show itself.
9. No sinner ever really decides for Christ.
Whosoever shall confess me before men…(Matthew 10:32). The point to be settled over this verse is straightforward: Is Christ here saying that by an act of confession we become Christians or is He teaching that one indispensable mark of those who are Christians is that they live a life which openly acknowledges Him? Is not the modern evangelistic call to confess Christ by coming to the front, in order to receive Him by faith, a reversal of the New Testament order? To confess Christ is the spiritual duty of a Christian. It is no part of the gospel to say that compliance with certain outward duties will help us to become Christians. Yet the whole invitation system inevitably gives the impression that “confessing Christ” by moving forward is in order to conversion.
Baptism and coming to the front are two essentially different things. One is an act which confirms the promises of salvation to believers, the other is a device intended to help men become believers. One bears witness to salvation, the other is represented as actually accomplishing something towards our salvation. One is an action commanded by Christ, the other is not.
The invitation system harmonizes with certain features in our psychological make-up leaves it open to serious objections. These critics argue that the way conversions are produced under this system by a pressure on the will is little different from the way in which “conversions” which make no claim to be Christian at all often take place. The “conditioning” of a large crowd of people in a controlled environment, with methods of persuasive suggestion leading to a demand for a public response – an emotional release – is psychologically certain, they say, to provide results regardless of whether the crowd meets in the name of religion, entertainment or politics.
We are not for a moment asserting that no one is converted where the invitation system is employed, only that the system has, in reality, no connection with rebirth. Some are converted in spite of it, and not because of it.
Those who have reservations about equating immediate post-sermonic calls for physical response (initiated by a planed appeal for such) with following the will of God desire strong biblical rationale before they can approve it. Baptism, incorporation into a believing group, regular worship and fellowship with other believers, and day-by-day pursuit of holiness and acts of Christian love – all these have the character of confessing Christ before men and are specifically commended, as well as notably exemplified, in Scripture. Where is either the mandate or example of the engineered call to “come to the front” stated as an act of obedience to God’s call to repentance? When walking down an aisle is tantamount to following Christ and professing Him before men, the biblical idea of godliness has vanished. The system that relies on the altar call encourages these perversions.
1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the New Testament.
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 (Ryan Kelly).
However one chooses to interpret Revelation 3:20, it must not be thought that the sinner possesses the power to open his own heart to Christ. Only God can do this (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; James 1:18). Although God’s sovereignty in salvation does not negate our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to all men, we must never suggest to people that the power to convert their hearts lies within them (Psalm 110:3; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) (Darryl Erkel).
The sinner’s prayer has sent more people to Hell than all the bars in America.
Disciples are not made going forward to an altar, but by being baptized (Mt. 28:19)! This is the biblical way in which repentant sinners…publicly declare their faith in Jesus Christ (Ac. 2:41; 16:15, 31-33).
In the history of the world, no one has been saved by the power of answering and altar call, or by the power of raising a hand, or by the power of saying “the sinner’s prayer,” or by the power of “inviting Jesus into your heart.” That is not what saves you. It is the power of the gospel that God uses to redeem your soul. It is by faith that the power is wrought in you.
"I would like to go into the enquiry-room." I dare say you would, but we are not willing to pander to popular superstition. We fear that in those rooms men are warmed into fictitious confidence. Very few of the supposed converts of enquiry-rooms turn out well. Go to your God at once, even where you are now. Cast yourself on Christ, now, at once, ere you stir an inch!
Sometimes shut up that enquiry-room. I have fears about that institution if it be used in permanence, and as an inevitable part of the services… If you should ever see that a notion is fashioning itself that there is something to be got in the private room which is not to be had at once in the assembly, or that God is more at the penitent from than elsewhere, aim a blow at that notion at once.
It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over… Some of the most glaring sinners known to me were once members of a church; and were, as I believe, led to make a profession by undue pressure, well meant but ill-judged.
The problem is that many people cling to the symbol but never understand the reality it is intended to represent. Most likely, tens of thousands of people have “invited Christ into [their] hearts,” thinking that a mystical experience is what saves them. Then, they go on their merry way, living their lives as they did before. If you were to ask them, “How do you know that you are going to heaven?” they would respond, “Because I invited Christ into my heart.” But if you probe, there is nothing beneath the shallowness of that reply. They did what someone told them to do, but never really embraced the Savior.
I am glad you know when persons are justified. It is a lesson I have not yet learnt. There are so many stony ground hearers, who receive the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits. That makes me so cautious now, which I was not thirty years ago, of dubbing converts too soon. I love now to wait a little, and see if people bring forth fruit; for there are so many blossoms which March winds you know blow away, that I cannot believe they are converts till I see fruit brought back; it will never do a sincere soul any harm.
When did pastors and evangelists stop relying solely on the evangel and start relying on methodological innovations? Neither this mindset, nor the methods that flow from it, can be traced back to the apostles. The fact is, altar call methodology is a relatively recent innovation.
Every biblical evangelist will, as part of his preaching, implore his hearers to repent and believe. Some may even invite hearers to come forward at the end of the meeting to speak with a pastor or counselor in order to learn more about the gospel, ask for materials to read, ask questions about the Bible or what they heard in the sermon, etc. But no truly biblical evangelist will assure a person that he will be saved if he will, at a particular moment in time, decide something, say something, or do something in response to an invitation. Contrary to the biblical goal of gospel preaching, which is to make men humble, penitent, and wholly dependent on God, such invitations and assurances actually serve to increase self-reliance and build unwarranted spiritual confidence.
The preacher may not mean to convey this, but his actions and words so strongly imply it that the listener cannot help but think that he must do something beyond merely believing if he is to be saved. Likewise, the one who does respond outwardly as instructed cannot help but assume that he has gained something of eternal importance by doing so, even though outward responses often reflect no corresponding inner reality. And when the meeting is over, the one who did not respond as invited cannot help but believe he has missed the “opportunity."” Most evangelists who favor the altar call method also strongly affirm the doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone). But the charge that their methods appear to contradict this doctrine cannot be easily dismissed. If nothing related to salvation is gained by a person’s outward response to some form of altar call, then what is the reason for asking people to respond in these ways if they want to be saved? Are people saved by faith alone or are they not?
Altar call evangelism rarely produces lasting fruit. While the initial statistics are often impressive, the numbers of those who bear the biblical marks of regeneration are usually minute in comparison. D. A. Carson calls attention to this disturbing pattern in his book, A Call for Spiritual Reformation: “To what extent do those who profess faith at world-class evangelistic meetings actually persevere, over a period of five years from their initial profession of faith? When careful studies have been undertaken, the most commonly agreed range is 2 percent to 4 percent; that is, between 2 percent and 4 percent of those who make a profession of faith at such meetings are actually persevering in the faith five years later, as measured by such external criteria as attendance at church, regular Bible reading, or the like” (Baker, 1992, p. 24).
The truth is, altar call methodology creates more problems than it solves. Most “decisions” produce only what the unchanged human heart is easily and deceptively able to manufacture on its own – false religious zeal and moral resolve. The only difference is that in this case, all is done under the banner of Christianity, as opposed to some other religion. While we should rejoice that many have been truly saved through these methods, we should mourn that many more – likely the vast majority – have been left in a worse condition than before.
The altar call is “old fashioned” in only a very relative sense. It is old fashioned to us at this end of the twentieth century, but it first arose more than eighteen centuries after Christ. Now this may not prove that the altar call is wrong, but it surely demonstrates that the non-practice of the altar call is not wrong. If neither Jesus nor His apostles employed the method, and if they never commanded such to be done by the church, then it obviously cannot be wrong to decide against the more modern method. It is not a question of Biblical necessity but of modern custom and convenience. A church which refuses the practice can never be criticized for that refusal; indeed, such a church is at that point more in line with the apostolic church than are those churches which have adopted it.
A man’s willingness (or unwillingness) to come to the front of a church building says nothing about his willingness to come to Christ. Walking in front of a crowd has nothing at all to do with the conversion process, and we have no right to create such a false category of “public declaration of faith” and thus pronounce the Biblical requirement fulfilled. We have every right indeed, we have divine right to require baptism as this outward and public profession of faith. And we have every right to expect that faith to continue to be evident in life. But the altar call is another matter entirely. It is an artificial, man-made requirement which, by virtue of its human origin, is a matter of no consequence whatever.
No one is ever saved “as a result” of an altar call. We are saved only as a result of the gospel… We don’t want them to think that in order to be saved they must walk an aisle. No! We want them to know that if they look to Christ even while they are seated they will be saved. And so we must tell them that. We must make the message very plain that they must go to Christ, and to go to Him requires no physical movement whatever only a look of the soul… This is too important a matter to erect needless obstacles or distractions. They must be directed not to a geographical location in a building. They must be directed to Christ.
The modern altar call further runs the risk of confusing the idea of mediatorship. Who is our only mediator? With whom does the sinner need to do business if he is to be saved? Must he talk to you? To me? No, he must do business with Christ, for He alone is the one who can bring us to God. But instructing a man to “come and talk to a personal worker” may well confuse matters. It again distracts from the One of Whom he should be thinking. The sermon itself is the invitation, and it gives direction to Christ and to no one else.
The modern invitation system…reveals a misunderstanding of the role of the preacher. The preacher’s duty is not to “get decisions.” His duty is to proclaim the good news and exhort men and women to go to Christ. This is the means which God uses to save. We preach, and God Himself uses the word preached to “get the decision.” (What a woefully inadequate term that is! Saving faith is so much more than a “decision.” It is running for rescue!) These roles must never be confused… The role of the preacher is to exhort men and women to faith in Christ. That is all. And that is enough. God is well able to do everything else.
This modern practice has tended to promote false assurance… We all know so many who “know” they are Christians, because they were baptized as infants or as adults for that matter. The same is true of countless people who have “walked the aisle.” They were assured that if they would “come forward” and “make a decision” they could be saved. They came, and there some well-intentioned personal worker convinced them that because they came and answered “yes” to the various questions and then prayed “the sinner’s prayer” that now they are saved and no one should ever make them doubt it! Then they left. And they went back to the same old life they had. They made no real public profession of Christ, but because they did as they were instructed they “know” they are safe. This is a needless problem which we have created.
There are serious dangers in the modern invitation system. It is not a Biblical practice but a relic of nineteenth-century American evangelical tradition. It confuses the nature and object of saving faith. It confuses mere professions of faith with true, saving faith. It fosters false assurance. It distracts thinking away from the workings of God in the inner man. It mistrusts the God-appointed means of preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. It mistakes the role of the preacher. And it rests on an unscriptural view of human ability.
The preacher’s duty is not to “get decisions.” His duty is to proclaim the good news and exhort men and women to go to Christ. This is the means which God uses to save. We preach, and God Himself uses the word preached to “get the decision.” (What a woefully inadequate term that is! Saving faith is so much more than a “decision.” It is running for rescue!) These roles must never be confused… The role of the preacher is to exhort men and women to faith in Christ. That is all. And that is enough. God is well able to do everything else.
Saving faith is not a decision that is made, and it is not a mouthing of a certain formula. Even if the formula is recited in prayer, this is not saving faith. Manipulating a person to say go through certain motions and say certain words does him no good whatever. This is not saving faith. This is dangerous indeed. Can a man really be saved by saying “yes” to a series of questions? Have we done them any favor by allowing them to think so? This is a misunderstanding of saving faith. It is a confusion of professed faith with true saving faith. This mistake has resulted in the unprecedented number of false converts which this century of evangelism has produced. Decisions and numbers there are, but the “converts” are notoriously unconverted. This is a direct result of confusing decisions with true faith, and it is a blight on the church. It is also inevitable. And it is shameful. And it is harmful, for we have convinced unconverted people that they are safe.