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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Altar Calls

This is not a threat, it's just fact. If you don't download the podcast from May 22nd, Hour 2 from Way of the Master Radio, I will be forced to keep blogging about it.

The Altar Call. During the radio call-in show, the conversation eventually lead to altar calls in church. Here are some interesting observations from Way of the Master:
Todd Friel: You know, not that Charles Spurgeon is the authority on everything. (Ray: He's pretty close.) Todd: Very, very close, actually. But when he would do an "altar call" if you will, he didn't have people say a prayer, go out in the aisle, walk toward the stage. Instead, he commanded them to repent on the spot. Don't leave this place until you are right before God! And so the onus was on the individual because he never ever ever wanted to have the sermon be some illiciting of emotion, get them to say a prayer, and then they think that they are saved when the are not.
An observation from Ray Comfort:
I've experimented over the years and I've done this. I've said, "If you want to get right with God, come to the front. Um, "If you want someone", and 80 people responded, so let's just pick out one time it happened, 80 people responded, so I said to them, "When you pray, if you would like someone to come and pray with you, along side you, raise your hand." Not one hand got raised. I was so surprised. And it showed me that people just want to get with God intimately and say "God forgive me," and pour their heart out to Him. And often we put people along side them when really they don't want anyone else with them. It's between them and the Lord.
This does not mean an altar call in itself is evil, though I think we should be very cautious (and perhaps suspicious) of it's use. Here are some of my reservations about altar calls:
    Where is the altar in our church anyway? Typically, we consider that to be the "staging" area of the auditorium. Do we send the message that the platform is more holy than other areas? Are we creating a Holy of Holies when our Savior already ripped that curtain?
    Am I necessary? Most people I have ever heard give testimony of their response to an altar call, probably to a 10:1 ratio, the person remembers the preacher more than the text of the message. That shouldn't be.
    Spritual prestige. I hate seeing "altar calls" at BNYC (seriously, I hate it). Not only do students clamor to the front of a room filled with thousands, but there are video cameras there to record their "commitment." Either peer pressure or popularity is too big a distraction for most of us. Altar calls can often be swayed by the response of the crowd, more than a person's response to the Spirit.

Having been an intinerant speaker at one time, I've felt the expectation from a Body to give altar calls. Somehow, that seems to be a standard to show a church is serious about living out the Word. (I've even had a person leave our church, claiming we weren't serious enough about following it, proven by our lack of "altar calls.") However, in place after place, I have seen an altar call given that has nothing to do with the rest of the sermon. (ie. people responding to trust Christ when the gospel has not been presented, or promising to give up porn when lust has not been addressed) Clearly a person may feel conviction from the Spirit in areas not directly addressed by the speaker or the text, but when the preacher calls for response that is incongruent with his message...I find myself suspicious.

Whether or not I understand why we call them altar calls, I think they can be proper at times, if handled properly. However, like all things, theology must precede methodology.


  • At 2:51 PM, Anonymous mcgriff said…

    or even worse than an alter call is how some large event evangelists have people in the crowd and at the end of the "preaching" he gives the alter call, and those people that are with the crusade get up and come forward with no other reason then to make it easier of others to come forward.

    I too do not like alter calls, raising the ends, or perhaps my least favorite (thought it is evangelism) - the "unspoken prayer request". I mean what person doesn't have an unspoken request.

  • At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Brad said…

    I wonder if a proper focus on Christian baptism wouldn't satisfy the church's apparent felt need to invent new initiatory rites like hand-raising and aisle-walking.


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