I have over the years developed some serious reservations about alter calls. I grew up in churches that used them sometimes singing what seemed like 100 verses of Just As I Am without one plea? I have even given a few alter calls myself. I have largely abandoned the practice.
I was sitting at a table eating some years back at a Bible conference I was attending and listening to some conversation going on between a couple of other preachers. One of them said in reference to a mutual acquaintance that "he did not even give invitations anymore." The reason given for this was that he had embraced Calvinistic doctrine. Well, I too have moved away from what has become a standard invitation but it has nothing to do with Calvinism.
John 8:30 - As he spake these words, many believed on him.
I am teaching through the gospel of John in the adult Sunday School class and last week I was studying through the passage around John 8:30. This short verse got me to thinking about "invitations," alter calls. What is wrong with simply expecting and even encouraging people to believe as we are speaking these words.
Some things I have come to understand about alter calls.
The typical modern day alter call has no counterpart in the New Testament.
There is an invitation issued in the New Testament but it has nothing to do with walking an isle, or saying a prayer, but simply being called to repentance and faith in Christ.
The modern day alter call was popularized around the turn of the last century by Finney.
So what did people do in the first 1900 years of church history with no isle to walk and no one pleading with them to come to an "old fashioned alter." It may be old fashioned, but it is not New Testament. What is an alter doing in a Baptist church. Has a very papist ring to it if you ask me. I think our preaching needs to have more pleading with sinners to repent and believe on the spot.
Coming down the isle can leave the impression that this is a part of being saved. In fact the way some alter calls are conducted one would be convinced that you cannot be saved with out coming down the isle, taking the preacher by the hand, kneeling at an old fashioned alter and repeating this prayer after me. Certainly makes for a stirring invitation but I am afraid it may also make for a good many false professions. I have taken to addressing people right where they sit. I have taking to exhorting them to believe on Christ right where they sit. Without batting an eyelash, raising a hand, lifting a foot, or walking an isle.
The success of the alter call becomes the gauge of success and the moving of the Spirit.
I would rather see people walk out of the building permanently changed rather than walk down an isle in an emotionally charged invitation. I have ceased to look for full alters but for full hearts. There is not one thing that can be taken care of at the first pew, or in front of the pulpit that can't be taken care of on the fifth, tenth or last pew. Heart work is spiritual work and the location of an individual in the building has no impact one way or another on God's ability to do his spiritual work in the heart.
Alter calls have paved the way for much abuse.
Raise you hands if the Lord has spoken to you tonight. I see that hand, I see that hand, I see that hand. And not a hand one has went up. The use of music to stir the emotions and illicit a response. The idea that one is hindering the Spirit of God if they do not come to the alter while God is dealing with them. Is there anyone here tonight who wants to be saved. I see all those hands. Well if you are sincere then please just say this prayer after me.
Why does anyone have to raise their hand???? Where is the Scriptural precedence for such a practice. Of course every head is to be bowed and every eye closed. Like that really happens. God does not need to see their hands raised so he will know with whom to deal. I do not need to see their hand. All of this is nothing more than emotional manipulation. Preachers use it to varying degrees.
Then of course when it comes time for the alter call the preacher issues his most passionate pleas for sinners and backslider to come. His passion should be in his preaching not in seeking to create an emotional response. We want Holy Spirit conviction! We do not want preacher generated responses! If the Holy Spirit is not convicting then I do not want to create anything that would deceive me into thinking that He is. By the way, the evidence that the Spirit has moved in a service is not seen at the alter call. It is seen in the coming days, weeks, and months in the lives of people as they interact with their community. It is seeing lives transformed. I don't need to know during what service it happened. I just need to be content to let the Spirit do his work. I have lost any desire to have a full alter. Instead I have opted for having a church full of people who pursue holiness, love righteousness, care for sinners, and stand up for truth!
I want to pastor people who are changed where and as they sit and listen to God's word.
I don't do alter calls. Sometimes our service simply concludes with prayer. Sometimes we provide a moment of silent reflection usually the piano player selects a hymn and plays softly. Not to create an emotional response but to deaden the impact of any minor distractions. I may have a few final words of exhortation to saints and sinners and then we leave the last few minutes for people to conduct business with God!
Just a few thoughts about alter calls.