I do not see any reason for an altar call.

Posted: February 1, 2010 in altar call, Calvinism, theology
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

For starters, let me state that my family did not attend church, so my church experience growing up was very limited due to reasons I do not wish to discuss at the moment. When I was a teenager, I became agnostic and stayed that way until the Lord saved me when I was 23 years old. I felt the conviction of God on a Tuesday night as I lay in my bed. By the Grace of God, I was brought to repentance and saved by His power. I have never had the altar call experience for salvation, and to be honest I never put much thought into the alter call until this past year.

Over the past year, I have been doing a lot of study and prayer for God’s will in my life. I have been asking God to reveal things to me as I study the Bible. I’ve been praying that God cleans up my life and teaches me through the Holy Spirit. I started pondering the altar as I watched people being compelled by the pastor of my last church to come down to the altar to pray. I felt a little uncomfortable during this invitation. I was not uncomfortable because of sin, but I was uncomfortable because I started to question why people were being called down front to pray when they can pray from where they are.

But this leads us on to another of these great Calvinistic principles. For we also believe in the absolute sovereignty of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit—who is the sole author of regeneration—works when, and where, and as, He will.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Isn’t this also obscured by the use of the invitation system? Oh yes, perhaps the Holy Spirit is mentioned. Perhaps it is even said that no one can be born again except with His power. Yet for all that is said that we can appreciate and approve, the fact remains that the all-important truth is obscured. It is obscured in much the same way that it is in Roman Catholic teaching. Here too we find a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and of grace. No one can be born again without the power of the Holy Spirit. But how does the Spirit work in the Roman Catholic view of things? That is the crucial point. And when we learn that the Church is a kind of storehouse of grace, and that everything is accomplished by sacramental means, we also see that the one who really performs the decisive act is the sinner. For it is he alone who determines whether or not this tremendous power is released. This is what Warfield called ‘the powerhouse view of grace.’ And all the talk about the tremendous generator, the transformers and the wires, cannot disguise the fact that everything depends upon the one who throws the switch. But isn’t it really the same conception that is suggested by the altar-call method? Is not the impression created that the power of the Spirit is there—even in an unusual degree—and that it is readily available to all—but that it is man himself who has to turn on this power? Once the meeting is ended, and the invitation has been allowed to pass, the opportunity will be gone! The power will not be there, somehow, in the same manner and degree— within reach, as it were. Isn’t this the impression we receive? Isn’t the altar-call itself thought of as the means of releasing this power?

But why should we think of the power of the Spirit this way? It is true, thank God, that the word of God is quick and powerful. God does use the foolishness of preaching to effectually call His people. But how does He accomplish His purpose? Is it not by having Paul plant and Apollos water? Isn’t the word like a seed that is planted in order to grow “we know not how?” And is it not God himself—in His own time and way—who gives the increase? If man is dead—and the Spirit quickens whom He will—then what do the surroundings have to do with it? One must indeed hear the true gospel preached. But this of itself is not sufficient.

“If Jesus Christ were to stand on this platform tonight” said Spurgeon, in a great Sermon on God’s shalls from Isaiah 53:10, “what would many people do with him? If he were to come and say, ‘Here I am, I love you, will you be saved by me?’ not one of you would consent if you were left to your will. He himself said, ‘No man can come to me except the Father…draw him.’ ‘Ah! we want that: and here we have it. They shall come. They shall come. Christ shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands.”

The writer was brought to repentance and faith while playing in a dance hall. Is there a more unlikely place than that? Or do we not rather err when we think in such terms. Should we not, rather, expect the sovereign Spirit to work in ‘unlikely’ ways? The altar-call system, to say the very least, does not do justice to this Scriptural truth. It does not minister to the forming of a proper conception of the Spirit’s work. It rather tends to inculcate the utterly erroneous notion of the sovereignty of the human will. Yet in actual fact, man’s will is in bondage.(source)

Why do we have altar calls? Why do we play soft compelling music during altar calls? Where is this found in the Bible? Seriously, I’m asking because I have not found any reference to asking for altar call salvation and playing music during the invitation.

My problems with an altar call for salvation:

  • I do not see a need to have an altar call for salvation. I see no example in the NT where we are taught to perform altar calls.
  • When the Holy Spirit convicts mankind to repentance, the Holy Spirit does so by the preaching of the Gospel. Where does the Bible says that God will lead people to an altar when they are under the conviction of the Holy Spirit?
  • Compelling people to come to the altar for salvation is nothing more than a works-based salvation that depends on our ability to lead people to Christ vs trusting God to save them by His ways.
  • The altar call via coming forward, raising hands while heads are bowed and every eye closed, repeat after me, and/or signing a card puts the emphasis on “us” rather than on the power of the Holy Spirit.

My problem with altar call for prayer and repentance of sin:

  • We are the body of Christ, and our body is the temple of God. Therefore we have the Holy Spirit living in us. We can access our Father through Jesus Christ who is our High Priest. We do not need an altar or any type of sacrifice to come before God in prayer.
  • It places the altar as an idol to which we must come in order to pray. It places a special emphasis on the altar that makes it seem a more effective way to talk to our Father.
  • It takes away from the fact that we can easily approach the throne of God through prayer any time. The way the altar call is presented makes it seem like the altar is a superior way to approach the throne of God.

In conclusion, I do not see any need for any type of altar calls. It serves us better to simply preach the Gospel and depend on the Holy Spirit to draw mankind to repentance. It’s best that we leave salvation to the Lord because salvation belongs to the Lord. When we need to go before our Father in prayer, we can do this anytime and anywhere; we do not need a special alter in church to approach our Father in Heaven. Yes, we can have places that we pray and seek God’s will in secret, but this does not justify altar calls.

When we sin, we need to approach our Father when we are convicted of this sin by the Holy Spirit. We have instant access to Jesus Christ who is faithful to forgive us of our sins. I really dislike the special emphasis that is given to a place in front of the pulpit called an altar. We can go before God in prayer anywhere without the need of a mystical altar. Actually, we will be far better off to learn to go to God in prayer when we sin as soon as we are convicted of that sin. This type of power cannot be seen in the once or twice a week access to the church altar.

Here is a video that covers the altar call very well from a Calvinist perspective.

I’m not debating that people cannot be saved by this type of invitation method. I believe that God saves who He wills to save in spite of these types of methods. I think that many false confessions are the result of altar calls. Since I have been a Christian, I have heard many people say that they responded to an altar call at age X only to truly get saved at another time because the altar call confession was brought about by emotion instead of the power of the Holy Spirit.

So what are your thoughts about the altar call for salvation, prayer, and repentance?

  1. Gregory J.S.Burrows says:

    I get the drift of this.I think it has some merit.I do not think an altar call is a bad thing, but it can be if it is made out to be something other than what it is.We can and should challenge people to respond to the Gospel.Remember too, that something like Calvinism can also become an idol.Who says that Calvinism is completely correct?Shake off labels to better understand truth.God calls us to himself, yet we must respond to be saved.We must not blame God for Man’s rejection of the Gospel.It is His will that ALL be saved.People should be taught that we do not need altars and pulpits.Public expressions should be for mutual learning and edification.What has definitely been overdone is the Sinner’s Prayer repetition that has been also given to the congregation to repeat when someone responds to an invitation.It may be better to openly ask the inquirer about why he has come to the altar and allow him to state his convictions and what he has understood in the message or about the Gospel.Then perhaps he can be prayed for-not for salvation, but for the will of God and power of God to be manifested in his life through receiving Jesus and being filled continually by the Holy Spirit.

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