Sunday, November 11, 2007

Altar Calls: 10 Reasons Not to Do Them

It's interesting that my friend Zach blogged about this several days ago. Lately I'd been thinking a lot about the validity of the "altar call" after hearing Kevin, a seminary friend, explain how he dealt with people who commonly requested that his church do altar calls. I used to be part of a church that did altar calls, so have lived on both sides of the practice. I must admit that the practice seemed a bit contrived. Of the handful of folks who came forward after a message, the majority of them were "regulars" who were always up there crying and repenting of something they did during the previous week. Every once and a while I have people ask for us to do them at Parkview. This is why I appreciate that Ryan, the teaching Pastor at Zach's church, recently put together 10 reasons why they don't do altar calls. Pretty interesting.
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.


James said...

I think I agree, save for the latter half of 9 and the whole of ten. I really dislike the term "God prescribed," partially for the connotations and also the idea. I don't recall Scripture becoming that specific in methodology. Isn't most of our methodology (including this very post against altar calls) based on empirical data as well?

Scott Sterner said...

James, the last half of 9 and 10 definitely smack of "regulative principle" which comes from reformed traditions. It's probably safer to call these elements "primary means" of grace as referenced in the scriptures versus elements prescribed by God, even though I have a feeling you won't like that language either. :)