CALLING SINNERS TO Christ – A biblical response to ‘altar call’
What is ‘altar call’? This phrase is used to refer to an appeal for an immediate public commitment to a sermon just preached, and is also called ‘the invitation’. This may involve hand raising, standing up, kneeling down, going to a counselling area or signing a commitment card. Most often it involves walking down the aisle to the front where the preacher is, "coming forward to accept Christ as your Saviour" and repeating the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and being assured that salvation has been effected and it must not be doubted. Various emotional techniques such as telling sad, tear jerking stories and playing mood-creating music in the background. Why is this method wrong?
1) The Bible Does Not Teach the ‘Altar Call’
If you will diligently search the scriptures you will not find any command or example in any verse of the Bible for using this method. Neither the Lord Jesus nor His apostles used or commanded this method even if there were occasions when they could have used it:
The Pentecostal sermon in Acts 2:36-37 had an excellent opportunity for using this method, but Peter didn’t in such an evangelistic sermon. Instead we are told that 3,000 people. The saving of those 3,000 was the work of the Holy Spirit of God and not of clever emotional appeals to come to the front.
So where did altar call come from? Altar call is an invention of a Presbyterian evangelist named Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) who was Pelagian in theology. He called it coming to the anxious seat or to the inquiry room and began using it in his evangelistic services in about 1820. It was refined by D.L. Moody and popularized by Billy Graham. Other Word of Faith preachers have taken it and it has become the order of the day.
2) Altar Call Contradicts the Biblical Doctrines of God's Grace
1. It contradicts the Bible doctrine of the depravity or the inability of man.
A man who is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) cannot do himself any spiritual good. He can’t even will to repent of sin and trust in Christ. He is dead! The Bible teaches that because of man’s total depravity he is totally unable to do anything that would bring him any spiritual good. See what the Lord Jesus taught in John 6:44 when He says, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him..." No man is able or has the power to come to me except the Father draw him."
2. It contradicts the biblical order of salvation.
The Bible is clear that in the order of salvation, regeneration precedes conversion. The Holy Spirit in the new birth enables a sinner to trust in Christ (John 3:3) only those who are born again can see or comprehend or understand or appreciate the kingdom of God or spiritual things. Arminians teach that one must believe or be converted in order to be regenerated. This is what Billy Graham taught when he says that we are "made alive by trust in Christ." The Scriptural order is regeneration - faith - conversion.
3. It contradicts the gospel way of salvation by coming to Christ.
The gospel is not, do something physical and if you will, you will be saved! We know from the Bible that, first election depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (Rom 9:16). Regeneration is the solely the work of the Holy Spirit, who like wind blows wherever He wills (John 3:8). This leads to adoption into the family of God to become His children, which also depends not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Joh 1:12-13). Coming to Jesus as He required in Matthew 11:28 is not physical, it is spiritual, it is to believe or trust Him for salvation.
Salvation is not by doing something, anything at all. Instead it is by grace through faith according to Ephesians 2:8-9. Faith itself is the gift of God and not the accomplishment or contribution of man to salvation. Colossians 2:12 calls faith "the operation of God" and Philippians 1:29 calls it a gift given. "For unto you it is given...to believe on him..." Faith is the opposite of doing something for salvation, it is trusting someone else, that is Christ, to do what you can’t do. Yet we understand that making an outward response the same thing as receiving Christ adds a condition of salvation that Christ Jesus never appointed. Works is the necessary evidence of salvation, not the prior condition of it. The altar call satisfies man’s natural desire to do something to save or help save himself.
5. It contradicts the Bible doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura means, the scriptures only. That is the Word of God, has God’s authority, it is sufficient for faith and practice, it is without error, it is infallible and final. This recognizes that there is nothing God wants us to know or to do that is not found in His written word (2 Timothy 3:16-17) But altar call is a way of promoting religious experience by other means than those clearly appointed in God’s word so it is a denial of Sola Scriptura and of the sufficiency of God’s word.
3) Altar Call has done Great Damage to the Cause of Christ
At least three things that the invitation system does that has caused a great damage to the cause of Christ of the gospel:
1. It produces great numbers of obviously false professions of Christ.
This can be proved in three ways:
a) Very few are baptized after this ‘conversion’
b) The same people respond to other altar calls, an indication that they know that they had been really been saved.
c) For most of those who respond, there is no visible fruit of the Spirit. No corresponding moral transformation as a result of responding to this call.
2. Altar call fatally deceives too many who respond to it.
Those who respond are made to believe that they are spiritually right with God simply because they have walked to the front, have repeated the sinner’s prayer or have filling in a card and have been assured by the preacher of their conversion. Large numbers of those who have come into the churches with such counterfeit conversions have stayed there as formal, dead and deceived professors. I have known many people who have been awakened after years of such deception to realize that in their trips to the altar they did not come to Christ! How many people are in hell today because of this deception?
3. The altar call produces scepticism and bitterness in many who respond to it.
Many people who have sincerely and honestly gone through the invitation system have recognized that nothing actually happened to them, and so have known that they were deceived. As a result there are many who think that Christianity is a fake, it means nothing at all. They tried it and it didn’t work and they know it is not real and so they have concluded that the experiences of others are false also. Ultimately this has produced scepticism and hostility toward the gospel and because of this realization many have fallen away from Christianity altogether.
In his day Charles Spurgeon commented on the damage done to the cause of Christ by the use of the altar call. Iain Murray in his book "The Forgotten Spurgeon" quotes Spurgeon as saying, "I should like to go to the inquiry 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 a fictitious confidence. Very few of the supposed converts of inquiry rooms turn out well. Go to your God at once, even where you are now. Cast yourself on Christ, at once, ere you stir an inch!"
Why do the churches keep on using this unscriptural practice of giving an altar call?
1. Failure to search the Scriptures like the Bereans. All of us have a tendency to accept things as being right without comparing them with God’s word to find out if they really are true.
2. Pragmatisms. Desire for large numbers as the yardstick for success in ministry. The deception that whatever works or appears to word is good.
3. Lack of faith and trust in God the Saviour. Do these people believe that salvation is of the Lord from first to last? Can they trust that God can save without human inventions and fleshly wisdom and methods?
What is the Biblical method of inviting sinners to Christ?
Preachers who do not give altar calls are often criticized as not being evangelistic. They are asked, “How can people be saved if you don’t give an invitation?”
a) Christ’s invitation is found in Matthew 11:28 where he says to sinners, not, Come to the front of the church but "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
b) Point sinners to Christ. Tell them to repent of their sins, all of them and cast them to the cross of Christ. Peter told those who asked them what they shall do (to be saved), he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). Beseech them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and they would be saved (Acts 16:31). If we are to be true to God’s word we must direct sinners to Christ and not to the aisles in the church building or to the preacher.
The sinners' prayer or rather, the preachers' prayer which is part of the invitation system/altar call is a tool of the devil, the deceiver. He uses it to deceive the nations into the stupor of thinking that they are saved when they are in fact vaccinated from it!
An example of how to call sinners to Christ:
We thank the Lord of grace whose hand of salvation cannot be chained by anyone or anything, including such human inventions like altar call. The work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating sinners is as irresistible as God is unchanging. Any sinner - blasphemer, atheist, insolent infidel, reviler, murderer, persecutor, murderer, adulterer, idolater, liar, suppressor of truth, or any sinner even the king of sinners can be saved, even now. If a prostitute went to Christ now, she would be saved. Blasphemer can find full forgiveness of sin in Christ if he repented now. A thief, and fun wielding gangster can have his soul become a saint’s soul. So flee to Christ for full pardon whoever you are. Request Him to have mercy on you, being a sinner. Ask him for the cleansing by His crimson blood, and though you have been pitch black with sin, the precious blood of the Lamb who was slain will make you as white as snow. Come every soul by sin oppressed there is mercy in the Lord.
Recommended Readings on the subject:
· Adams, James E. Decisional Regeneration
· Chantry, Walter Today’s Gospel, Authentic Or Synthetic?
· Murray, Iain The Invitation System
· Hulse, Errol The Great Invitation
· Achok, Elly Hells Best Revealed Secret