>The "Altar Call"/"Invitation" System – A Critique

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I enjoy, am challenged by, and often receive confirmation from the writings and preachings of Thabiti Anyabwile. He obviously has a great name; he also has a great heart for genuine ministry.

Here’s what he declared in response to the question, “Why don’t you give altar calls?”

I’m sometimes asked by people why we don’t do “altar calls” at our services. Like the people who ask the question, the churches in my personal background pretty much all practiced “altar calls” at the conclusion of a sermon or service. I’ve seen them done in very poor fashion, and I’ve seen some pastors be really clear about the gospel, repentance, faith, and the fact that “coming forward” does not save.

I date my own conversion to the preaching of Exodus 32, which concluded with an altar call.
So, why don’t we practice “altar calls”? I don’t think the pastor who practices an “invitation” at the end of a sermon is in sin, but he may not be acting wisely either. This list of reasons, compiled by Pastor Ryan Kelly of Desert Springs Church, is a pretty good summation of some of my thinking (HT: Z).

(note from Jack; Points 1, 2, and Thabiti’s added #11 are undeniable and unarguable. I’m interested in what some of you think…and would hope you’d express your opinion by leaving a comment)

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.

Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10 of Ryan’s list are the most compelling reasons in my opinion. These would seem very serious objections for anyone who takes seriously the idea that our Christian lives and gatherings should conform to what the NT commands, models, and prohibits. Perhaps I would add an 11th: The “altar call” teaches the congregation to evaluate the “success” or “effectiveness” of the ministry on outward, visible actions and results.

Further, the need to be pastorally careful and sensitive with the souls of men needing to repent and believe couldn’t be more urgent. So, anything that obscures the reality of God the Holy Spirit’s work in conversion and the necessity of repentance and faith must be regarded–at best–a practice with potential to undermine the very work we’re giving our lives to.

Do people “respond” to the word of God at our services? They do. And we give them a number of ways they may follow up on what they’ve heard, from talking to an elder or Christian friend after the service, to scheduling an appointment during the week, to letting us know they would like us to visit with them, and so on. One thing I appreciate about our approach is that it allows us to meet, listen, question, encourage, teach and pray in a much more thorough way. By God’s grace we’re seeing people converted and profess their faith in baptism as the Spirit opens their hearts. We’re not perfect by any means. But I do hope we’re being faithful to the scripture’s commands, examples, and restrictions.

What do you think about Kelly’s list? Are you “for” or “against” and why? Would you add anything to or challenge anything on the list?

>Shoot the Sacred Cow of "the prayer"

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How I detest the question, “Have you prayed the prayer?” No, not the prayer of Jabez (is it not interesting how that “discovery” faded into oblivion?…and thank God it did!)…but when someone is inquiring as to whether or not someone else is a Christian. “Have you prayed the prayer?” 
Ignore the fact “the prayer” is not found in the Word, and is an invention of only a century-plus history…but as David Platt points out in “Radical,” “We already have a fairly high view of our morality, so when we add a superstitious prayer, a subsequent dose of church attendance, and obedience to some of the Bible, we feel pretty sure that we will be all right in the end.”

Can anyone seriously argue his point…perhaps excluding those who think repentance is not part of the gospel?

If what you just read makes you uncomfortable or even mad, the following will probably require a trip to the ER:

“The danger of spiritual deception is real. As a pastor, I shudder at the thought and lie awake at night when I consider the possibility that scores of people who sit before me on a Sunday morning might think they are saved when they are not.


“Scores of people who have positioned their lives on a religious road that makes grandiose promises at minimal cost. We have been told all that is required is a one-time decision, maybe even mere intellectual assent to Jesus, but after that we need not worry about His commands, His standards, or His glory. We have a ticket to heaven, and we can live however we want on earth. Our sin will be tolerated along the way. Much of modern evangelism today is built on leadin gpeople down this road, and crowds flock to it, but in the ened it is a road built on sinking sand, and it risks disillusioning millions of souls.”

This is another great book; and for the second time in less than a week I give it the Hager Money-Back Guarantee. If you purchase it off the link below, read it, and don’t think it was worth your money e-mail me and I’ll send you a “refund” check. It is a significant book that I more-than-heartily recommend, especially if you tire of the typical “evangelistic” party line. The only other book that has the money-back guarantee is “MARKS OF THE MESSENGER”

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=jacksjots-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1601422210&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=jacksjots-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0830833501&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr 

>What Does It Mean To "Accept Jesus"?

>The following post is from RAY ORTLUhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=jacksjots-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1581344503&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrND. Regardless how you think about the phrase “accept Jesus”, the point Ortland makes is crucial. Between easy-believism, easy “invitations,” sloppy presentations of what is supposedly the gospel (little if any mention of our depravity, little mention of sin, void of repentance) ; it is vital to think carefully about the point Ortland makes:


You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided. There is a board room in every heart. Big table. Leather chairs. Coffee. Bottled water. Whiteboard. A committee sits around the table. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting. Constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we’re this way because we’re so busy with so many responsibilities. The truth is, we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, unfree.

That kind of person can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways.

One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote too. But then he becomes just one more complication.

The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. Please run my whole life for me.”  That is not complication; that is salvation.

“Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols.

>Can 3 uh-uhs make you a Christian?

>Struck by this comment on a friend’s facebook:

“Evangelism has been reduced, in many churches, to the “abc’s” admit, believe, confess or as one preacher put it, “if you can say three uh huh’s you can be a Christian” Paul Fries
Is it not odd that the “formulas” for evangelism are not found in Scripture? 
Reading the Word can spoil you for a lot of contemporary (within, say, the last 150 years) ideas and concepts of ministry.
It appears that the Lord Jesus always made it easier to say “no” to His “invitation” than “yes.” It is hard to imagine Jesus, or any apostle, saying “Every head bowed, every eye closed.” The call was adamant, demanding, and public.
Can “invitations” be good? Yeah, as long as it is made crystal-clear that “coming forward,” “going to the prayer room,” or even raising hand for prayer has no merit in and of itself. If the purpose of the invitation is solely to get the person to a place where they can ask questions, be pointed to the gospel, etc; that is okay (IF adequate time is given to each individual respondent, rather than a rush to “pray the prayer” ((which is not found anywhere in scripture)))
It seems vital, to me, that anyone who “gives” invitations need not necessarily learn “how” to give an invitation, but should first do a study of the “invitation system.” It isn’t that old, and perhaps that, in itself, should be a warning?

>Five Decade Evangelism

>We want “instant” conversions, full altar calls, etc. But “salvation is of the Lord” and “no one comes to the Son except the Father draws him.” This is patently clear in the following four minute video, well-worth your time:
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=7710183&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00adef&fullscreen=1John MacArthur – Study Video from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.