Welcome to Carnivorous Caribou

Sunday, October 28, 2007

DJW, Altar Calls & Gospel Preaching

I reproducing the reasons from Preaching & Preachers that Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to explain why he did not regularly practice altar calls. As I've stated earlier, some misunderstand a lack of altar calls as an apathy for soul winning. It's important to understand reasons why ML-J resisted this newer (relatively) practice. Reasons 1 & 2, Reason 3, Reasons 4 & 5, Reason 6, Reason 7, Reasons 8 & 9 and Reason 10 have already been addressed.

I don't presume to be on any level comparable to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I completely agree with all 10 (well, 9) of his reasons. Yet, I'd like to add one more reason that ML-J did quite address. (Perhaps we can pretend it was the elusive number eight).

Altar calls diminish the need for clear gospel preaching.

At first, this seems counterintuative. Messages that are followed with altar calls are typically considered quite evangelistic. However, many times, the sermon itself is not evangelistic, but simply the altar call is.

I remember listening live to the "pastor" of America's largest "church." As he waxed on about Christians having better fuel economy, surrounding ourselves with more positive people and overcoming obstacles, he completely neglected any mentions of Christ, the cross, sin or grace. His "sermon" did not deal with man's depravity, God's righteousness or the great exchange. No mention was made of heaven or hell or even life beyond the grave. Not only did the message lack biblical accuracy, but it's complete avoidance of the gospel prevented even a remote assessment of it being evangelistic.

However, then came his altar call. As he called people to stand and act, he then laid out certain terms (yes, he called for action before he even explained toward what). Within the altar call, he then spoke of sin, Christ, the cross...he even uttered the word "repentance." Suddenly, he's got a group of people standing and responding to a message that seems to include elements of the gospel.

But would Paul simply rejoice that the gospel was preached? Shouldn't we just celebrate that elements of the gospel were present?

Well, techinically, the gospel was not preached. The gospel was given a brief moment. The gospel was quickly presented. The details of the gospel were shared, but it was not preached. In essence, an altar call can often allow us to mop up the damage from a message that was not centered on the cross. However, because people were challenged to trust Jesus, most would never think to examine the message. Consider some of the problems if the gospel is not made clear until and altar call:
    1. Again, the sermon and altar call become two separate entities. The "action" does not even derive from the sermon.
    2. The gospel is given very short treatment. It is not developed over the course of the message, but handled quickly at the end.
    3. The challenge becomes only immediate and introductory.
    4. The gospel challenge appears to be severed from the text which was preached.
    5. Any action/challenge given during the sermon is separated from the gospel. To call people to action outside of understanding the gospel is legalism.
My experience has been that messages with altar calls typically to do not call upon the sinner to repent until during the altar call. Proper preaching requires that the call be rooted in the gospel. This call should come the whole time as the preacher is working through the text.

To return back to the question of Paul...Yes, I think he would rejoice whenever the gospel is preached. But when it is actually preached, an altar call is not necessary.


  • At 12:20 AM, Blogger Dave B. said…

    I agree with the necessity of clear gospel preaching. I also think your proposition of rethinking alter calls is a great idea. I would be interested in your thoughts on tracts, street evangelism, camp fire talks, door to door, and other evangelistic methods that have come from the crusade movements.

    In my experience these types of evangelism ask for a decide now or i wont let you go home/walk away/sleep a min until you let me know what your decision is. I've often wondered how often this is the Biblical approach.

    Off the cuff and with no time spent even looking i can think of a couple specific instances that seem to express urgency but context is to be considered as well.

    Heb chapter 3 or is it 4 "Today if you hear HIs voice, do not harden your hearts" "Today is the day of salvation" - Granted to a specific audience.

    2 Cor 5 Our ministry is one of reconciliation where we plead with others be reconciled to God. (paraphrased)

    I also have seen a ton of our churches but a lot of emphasis on this type of evangelism... many of these churches would read what you are suggesting as a change in methodology... what implications would this have on our evangelism practice, process, teaching, etc.

  • At 9:32 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i appreciate your questions, david, for i think they lay out imporant elements.

    a) altar calls have become a tradition in many churches that has caused people to think that they are the only way to adequately call the sinner to repentance. therefore, we make a "sacred cow" out of a methodology, insisting that it is actually Biblically mandated.

    b) however, methodology is not born in a vacuum. i agree with lloyd-jones assessment that it is not coincidence that altar calls started with finney. altar calls fit into an arminian grid. (this does not mean all arminian do altar calls....for men like wesley did not).

    however, i do believe it is a process that diminishes the sovereignty of God to work in a situation. it can lead to the gospel being extracted from the preaching of the text and only slapped onto the very end. it can diminish the call to progressive sanctification, leading people to think it's about a decision (generated by emotion) that i make once and does not need to impact the rest of my life. (i could go on and on).

    but i also appreciate the Scriptures you posted. i believe (and i guess my congregation could verify or not) that i do preach with urgency. i plead with the sinner to repent and see Christ. i call for the believer to see their sin, repent of it and confess it to God.

    in a way, that's why i see the altar call as unnecessary. why call them to repent at the very end of the message? i've been calling them to do it the entire time.

    i'll write some posts in the future about how this effects tract distribution, camp fire talks, first encounter evangelism....all things which i do, but let's just say i don't put such an emphasis to "seal the deal" anymore.

  • At 5:58 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    I agree. I've actually had people wonder how someone would get saved in our church since we don't have an invitation. It's so ingrained it doesn't cross their mind that if someone is being called, they'll invite themselves. There must be a call for action, but I think the altar call is the wrong one.

  • At 6:40 PM, Blogger brother_barabbas said…

    Two things:
    1) I personally feel like you could preach with MORE urgency, Danny. (total personal opinion) The weak point of preaching the glory of God is it can become top-heavy and lack the punch somewhere around the mid-section (gut). I didn't say it did, or must, but it can!

    2) I still appeal for that shy, backward, introverted hermit (someone natured much like me) who will be far too shy to ask someone how to follow through with the conviction that they feel from a preached message. Shall we not give that person the chance to 'make eye contact', 'raise their hand', 'come forward' or some such identifying act?

  • At 6:51 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    Brother Barabbus,

    I have a question concerning your point number 2. It is just a question, and not meant to be sarcastic or mean-spirited. I think the question concerning your point is this: "Do you think such a shy person, if not given a traditional invitation, will be/ remain lost if God is calling and no such invitation is given?" Does God really need all heads bowed and eyes closed in order to work the miracle of regeneration?

  • At 7:20 PM, Blogger brother_barabbas said…

    OF COURSE He does(n't) (got ya!!)

    You bring up a good point, Darby. However, hearking to my own testimony I was first convicted of my sin / called by the Spirit / aware of my depravity at 14 yrs old. This was in a traditional anabaptist service where no invitation was given. Being a young teen, away from home, knowing absolutely no one in leadership at the church I firmly believe I would have responded had an invitation been given. It wasn't, I incubated for several months. At the end of that period I finally opened up to someone about my experience, their response was wrong. Dead wrong! I was given dead formal legalism which I floundered in for the next 13 1/2 years.

    Now, to be sure, the invitation itself would not have necessarily changed any of that. Quite possibly I would have been given the same legalistic package from this church; however, I believe the deep, emotional, Spirit-led conviction would have been at its apex, its climax, at that point which may (keyword) have had positive affect on the outcome.
    Call me pie-in-the-sky. Maybe I am!

  • At 8:11 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    Thanks for the response. I think you have some valid points as well. I'm just thankful for a sovereign Lord who cares more about your state than any fellow sinner ever could, and has brought you exactly where he wants you right now through every means that was used and not used. :)

  • At 8:52 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    of course, we're plunging into the "what-if" unknown realm that only God can peer into.

    however, i've heard you make similar statements before regarding what could have been in your conversion history. a couple of my thoughts:

    a) i don't see how an invitation and your response would have changed the course. it seems to me you still would have been encouraged to walk down the same legalistic road in response.

    b) i remember our first lunch together. you shared your testimony with me. you had pursued every route possible for acheiving man made self righteousness. every path you took just caused greater despair...until you finally sought an alien righteousness.

    i may be reading too much into your history (and it's certainly odd to hear how someone else perceives your testimony)...but i guess i see a sovereign God working mysteriously to bring a man to Christ.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home