As an Evangelical Christian, you may be familiar with altar calls – a tradition where the preacher invites people to come forward to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Altar calls have been a fixture in many Evangelical churches for decades, with many believers considering them an essential part of their faith.
However, some people are starting to question whether altar calls are truly biblical. In this post, we’ll explore the problem with altar calls, examining why they may not align with the teachings of the Bible.
What are Altar Calls?
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Before we dive into the problem with altar calls, let’s define what they are. Altar calls are typically a part of the sermon, where the preacher invites people to come forward to the front of the church and make a public declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ. The preacher will often ask people to repeat a prayer, signaling their acceptance of Christ as their Lord and Savior. The practice is sometimes accompanied by music, with the congregation encouraged to sing hymns or praise songs as those coming forward are prayed for by the pastor or other church leaders.
While altar calls have become a common practice in many Evangelical churches, it is important to understand that they are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. This is not to say that they are necessarily wrong, but it does mean that we should examine them in light of the teachings of the Bible to determine whether they are in line with God’s Word.
Altar Calls May Be Misleading
One of the main problems with altar calls is that they can be misleading. Some people believe that simply walking forward and saying a prayer is all that is required for salvation. However, this is not necessarily the case. The Bible teaches that true salvation comes from a genuine belief in Jesus Christ and a willingness to follow Him. In Romans 10:9-10, it says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.” True salvation is not just a one-time event but a lifelong commitment to living a Christ-centered life.
Another issue with altar calls is that they may give people a false sense of security. If someone comes forward during an altar call but does not truly believe in Jesus Christ, they may think that they have secured their place in heaven. However, this is not the case. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
It is important to remember that true salvation is not simply about saying the right words or performing a certain action. It is about having a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ and living a life that is pleasing to Him. While altar calls can be a powerful moment in a person’s faith journey, they should not be seen as the only way to come to faith in Christ.
Altar Calls May Pressure People
Altar calls may also put unnecessary pressure on people to make a public declaration of their faith. Some people may feel uncomfortable coming forward in front of others, even if they do believe in Jesus Christ. They may feel like they are being forced into a decision or that they are not ready to make a public declaration of their faith.
In Matthew 6:5, Jesus warns against making a public spectacle of one’s religious activities, saying, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”
Furthermore, altar calls can be manipulative. Some preachers may use high-pressure tactics to persuade people to come forward, even if they are not ready to make a public declaration of their faith. This can include guilt-tripping or shaming people into coming forward, which is not in line with the teachings of the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, it says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” The same principle applies to accepting Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. It should be a personal decision made out of a genuine desire to follow Him, not because of external pressure or manipulation.
Altar Calls May Oversimplify the Gospel
Altar calls may also oversimplify the Gospel message. Some preachers may present the Gospel as a simple transaction – come forward, say a prayer, and be saved. However, the Gospel is much more than that. It is a comprehensive message that encompasses the entirety of the Bible, from the fall of man in Genesis to the redemption of humanity through Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, it says, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” The Gospel message is not just about saying a prayer; it’s about understanding and accepting the fullness of God’s plan for salvation.
It is important to remember that salvation is a process, not just a one-time event. While coming to faith in Jesus Christ is certainly an important step in that process, it is just the beginning. The Bible teaches that salvation is a lifelong journey of growth and transformation. In Philippians 2:12-13, it says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
The Biblical Alternative to Altar Calls
So, if altar calls may not be biblical, what is the alternative? Instead of focusing on a one-time decision, the Bible teaches that true salvation comes from a lifelong commitment to following Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” This means that salvation is not just about making a public declaration of faith but about living a Christ-centered life every day.
The Bible also teaches that salvation comes through hearing and believing the Gospel message, not through a specific action like coming forward during an altar call. In Romans 10:17, it says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This means that instead of focusing on altar calls, we should focus on preaching and teaching the Gospel message in a clear and comprehensive way, allowing people to come to faith in their own time and through their own personal decision.
Altar calls have been a longstanding tradition in many Evangelical churches, but as we have seen, they may not be entirely biblical. Altar calls can be misleading, pressure-filled, manipulative, and oversimplify the Gospel message. Instead of relying on altar calls, we should focus on preaching and teaching the Gospel message in a comprehensive and clear manner.
This does not mean that altar calls are inherently wrong or should be abandoned altogether. Rather, we should approach them with a biblical understanding and use them in a way that does not put unnecessary pressure on people or oversimplify the Gospel message. Altar calls can be a powerful moment of decision for some people, but they should not be seen as the only way to come to faith in Christ.
Ultimately, what matters most is the condition of our hearts and our commitment to following Jesus Christ. As we strive to live out our faith, let us always remember the words of Jesus in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our focus should be on living out the Gospel message in our daily lives and demonstrating the love of Christ to those around us.