As I explained in my previous post I do not believe that altar calls are biblical or helpful for many reasons, but between these two posts I will share only three of my most important reasons. In the first post, after some clarifying remarks, I explained that the single most important reason I reject the altar call is because the Bible does not command it as an element of worship. In this post, I will give two other reasons to reject altar calls.
First, altar calls undermine the biblical ordinances Christ instituted for his Church. Christ instituted only two ordinances for his church, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While baptism symbolizes several aspects of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, it is generally viewed as an initiatory rite and a public profession of one’s faith in Jesus Christ. However, in my experience, coming forward during an altar call is now viewed as more vital than being baptized. I have never had someone at a Baptist church tell me they doubted whether they were saved or not because they have not been baptized. I have met numerous people who were filled with doubt because they were too afraid to respond to an altar call. (You may be object that these persons were mislead or misunderstood, and they just need properly instructed. I will respond to this argument below.) Even if not openly stated, altar calls, which are an invention of man, are more valued in the hearts of many Christians than God’s gift of baptism.
Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are undermined by the altar call, but the Lord’s Supper is especially so. Imagine someone suggesting that a church begin celebrating the Lord’s Supper every week. There will no end to the arguments against doing so. Yet, if someone suggested that the church discontinue the altar call just one time, there would be howls of protest that we have to have a time of examination and response. However, this is precisely one of the reasons Christ gave his church the Lord’s Supper. The altar call has replaced God’s good gift to the church. Sadly, too many churches only celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a quarter, yearly, and some seldom if ever have it. They would never dream of having an altar call once a year. When God’s precious gift is valued less than the inventions of men, there are serious spiritual problems.
Finally, altar calls hide Christ. This happens in two different ways. One way that Christ is hidden by the altar call is when one believes that responding to the altar call is a work he must perform in order to be saved. Here is where the previous objection is relevant. One friend in discussing altar calls said to me that we just have to explain that coming forward does not equal salvation just as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or good works. The problem with this response is baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and good works are commanded by God whereas responding to an altar call is never commanded. Thus, we are adding non-essential extra hoops or steps to salvation that cause confusion. We are hiding Christ. When using an altar call, we are in danger of sending sinners to the altar instead of to Christ. I reject the altar call to be rid of this danger altogether.
The other way altar calls hide Christ is when a Christian is lead intentionally or unintentionally to doubt his salvation because he did not respond to an altar call. Even though I was never a fan of altar calls, I still used them initially in my ministry because I wanted to avoid any unnecessary arguments and because I was not convinced of the regulative principle of worship. Of course, embracing the regulative principle changed my mind, but the experience of seeing one of my church members struggle for many years with assurance made me adamantly opposed to altar calls. He was too afraid to respond to an altar call when he was a child and had been taught that his fear of coming forward was evidence that he was not a true believer. After many years of struggling, I was able by God’s grace to help him come to an assurance of his faith in Christ. All of this struggling was caused by unnecessary invention of man.
I reject the altar call because God did not institute it, because it undermines the ordinances God commanded to be observed, and because it hides Christ behind an unnecessary ritual. I hope you will consider these arguments as you think through this issue.