On the Altar Call

Recently, some friends and I were discussing some of the issues in the Southern Baptist Convention in light of an article from Christianity Today explaining the numerical decline of Southern Baptists. All of us agreed that a lack of personal evangelism is at least part of a complex problem. One point we discussed at length was the altar call. Consequently, I have been thinking about this issue and decided to share these thoughts with others.

I do not believe that altar calls are biblical or helpful for many reasons, but I will share three reasons. They are in order of importance: 1. The Bible does not command it as an element of worship, 2. Altar calls undermine the biblical ordinances Christ instituted for his Church, 3. Altar calls hide Christ.

Before I expound these three arguments, let me be clarify a few issues. First, for me, the rejection of altar calls is not because I hold a certain view of God’s work in salvation. I’ve never really liked altar calls even when I was a young Christian and did not have a coherent soteriology. I have always thought that they are psychologically manipulative and did not see the point. Obviously, as I’ll explain my belief has matured, and I am not simply dismissing the altar call as a preference. Second, I absolutely believe (and practice) inviting people to faith in Christ whenever I preach. It is also appropriate to give time for a response to the gospel and/or the sermon, but that response does not need to be made publicly or at an altar. I do not believe it is spiritually helpful or biblically required for a sinner to walk an aisle, come forward, or raise his hand to be saved. So, I am 100% for inviting sinners to respond to Christ, but it is unbiblical and unhelpful to require or pressure a sinner to come to the front of the church.

First, I do not use the altar call because the Bible does not command it. This argument is the decisive one for me. Even if there were no other arguments against the altar call, the fact that the Bible does not command it is sufficient reason to reject its use. The Bible teaches that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by Himself…He may not be worshipped…[in] any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” [1] This regulative principle is plainly taught in Deuteronomy 12 (See especially verse 32). Moreover, the death of Nadab and Abihu illustrate the danger in ignoring this principle (Lev. 10:1ff). God teaches us how he desires to be worshiped throughout Scripture. There are five main elements commanded in Scripture for the New Testament church: reading/preaching the Bible, prayer, congregational singing, observing the two biblical ordinances, and collecting offerings. Adding or subtracting from the biblical elements of worship is unbiblical and spiritually dangerous.

I’ll deal with arguments two and three later. 

[1] The Baptist Confession of Faith. 22.1.

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This entry was posted in Altar Call, Conversion, Regulative Principle, Southern Baptists and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On the Altar Call

  1. Where would you find collecting offerings as part of worship?
    Should not the reading of scripture and preaching be distinct elements?

  2. Jeremy Lee says:

    Thanks for your comment, Glenn. I find the collecting of offerings as part of worship in 1 Corinthians 16:1ff. My primary reason for associating it with worship is that it is done on the first day of the week, the day the church gathered for weekly worship. If you disagree, please, feel free to comment further. I welcome the interaction.

    As for Scripture reading and preaching being distinct elements, I agree; however, I am not in this post trying to give a full explanation of the regulative principle. I am only briefly stating the principle to argue against altar calls.

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