On Altar Calls And Gospel Proclamation

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Recently, brother Les Puryear posted an article on the issue of altar calls – Differences Between Reformed and Southern Baptist Churches: Altar Calls vs No Altar Calls. Please not that Les calls himself a Calvinist, but not Reformed which is a fair position. As one might imagine from the title some debate took place in the comment section.

I like Les. I’ve met him and talked to him a few times over the past couple of years. Though I want to point out that he has made a very unhelpful and inaccurate comment in concluding the above referenced article.

If your church doesn’t want to invite people to Christ during a worship service then go ahead and call a reformed pastor to your church. But if you want for everyone to have an opportunity to come to Christ during all worship services, call a traditional Southern Baptist pastor.

These two statements conflate the altar call and the proclamation of the gospel for sinners to repent and believe. Even worse is the implication that a Reformed pastor does not preach the gospel during worship services. (It is not just Reformed pastors who are uncomfortable using an altar call.) Also note that Les is actually doing what he says traditional Southern Baptist pastors don’t do. Earlier in the article he states:

There is no SBC pastor who believes “walking the aisle,” praying a prayer, marking a commitment card, or any other methods is what saves anyone.

I agree with this statement, yet the two previous sentences imply that without an altar call from Reformed pastors there will be no opportunity for anyone to come to Christ. I.e. no altar call by the Reformed pastor equals no invitation to come to Christ. Even so, I don’t think Les believes that an altar call is what is doing the saving. It seems that in his zeal to show that Southern Baptists and Reformed Baptists are mutually exclusive groups, he’s made an error along with a very unkind painting of Reformed pastors. It’s actually not a Reformed versus Baptist issue.

Baptists Vs.

As a reference point, Christianity Today’s Walk the Aisle by Douglas A. Sweeney and Mark C. Rogers gives a brief background of the altar call.

Successful evangelists such as George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley never gave an altar call. In fact, they did not even know what it was. They invited their hearers passionately to come to Christ by faith and regularly counseled anxious sinners after their services. But they did not call sinners to make a public, physical response after evangelistic appeals.

Note that none of these men were Baptists. Yet, according to this article, their methodology did not include an altar call. The Lord saved many through their ministries though.

Methodists experienced exponential growth during the first 20 years of the 1800s partly because of their evangelistic methods, including camp meetings and altar calls.

Many people consider Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) to be the “father” of the altar call. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1823, Finney did not begin giving public invitations until long after Methodists had made the altar call a regular part of their camp meetings.

Considering these statement in light of the current Reformed vs. Southern Baptist – would some Methodists would not consider Wesley a true or traditional Methodist? And Finney, a Presbyterian in name only, was certainly no Baptist.

As I understand it the main issue some have with altar calls are their abuse, not necessarily their use. It’s not hard to find stories of abuse. I’ve personally witnessed abuse with the sinner’s prayer. Given that abuse of certain evangelistic methods do exist for some this may translate into not using these methods at all. However, method should not be the real issue.

Invitation Equals Proclamation

The real issue is whether or not the gospel is proclaimed. An invitation is a proclamation of the gospel for sinners to repent and believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and salvation. The altar call is just one method through which the gospel may be presented. An altar call may be done well or it may be done poorly. Its absence does not mean there is not an invitation.

The understanding that the altar call method does not save anyone furthers the point that this method is not needed. Not that it can’t be used, but that it is not necessary. If one makes the use of an altar call a hill upon which to die while adamantly denying the method itself has any power, then what on that hill is being protected?

An ironic observation on this issue is that the Reformed (and non-Reformed) that I am familiar with choose not to use an altar call though think it can be used as long as the gospel is presented. Then, there are others who are  not Reformed, like brother Les, who essentially deny that Reformed pastors preach the gospel since the altar call is absent.

There will be disagreement in methods among different churches. These disagreements are present in churches that are Southern Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. As I see it, the main concern for any church is not whether or not an unbeliever is called to walk the aisle, but whether or not they are called to walk with Christ.

Mark

P.s. Andy Naselli has some helpful resources on the altar call.
P.p.s. Dr. James Galyon offers a helpful analysis in What is an Invitation?

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tagged as , in Church Issues,Evangelism,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Les Puryear July 19, 2010 at 10:45 am

Mark,

Good counterpoint piece to my posts. However, I would like to clarify one thing. You wrote, “Then, there are others who are not Reformed, like brother Les, who essentially deny that Reformed pastors preach the gospel since the altar call is absent.”

I don’t think I ever said I think that reformed pastors do not preach the gospel. They do. They just don’t give anyone a chance to respond to it during the worship service. That is the problem I see with no altar call.

Les

2 Bill July 19, 2010 at 11:43 am

How did people “respond” to the Gospel for the 1900 years before the altar call? People can “respond” to the invitation of the Gospel whenever and wherever they like. Was the Gospel hindered before Finney came along?

3 Mark July 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Les,

Thanks for stopping by. My comment was in reference to the point I made earlier where I quoted your words:

If your church doesn’t want to invite people to Christ during a worship service then go ahead and call a reformed pastor to your church.

The only way I (and you) know to invite people to Christ during a worship service is to proclaim the gospel whether there is an altar call or not.

Even in your comment you speak of a chance to respond. What does that mean? Unless one responds by walking the aisle they have not responded in their hearts and truly believed? This gets right back to the issue that if an altar call does not save anyone why is it a necessary vehicle of response?

I hope that makes sense.

4 Mark July 19, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Bill,

Exactly! What does a response to the gospel look like? Must it take the form of walking the aisle? Of course, not.

5 James July 19, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Mark,

Nice points. Some may be interested to see this bit I posted last week regarding the invitation/altar call issue within SBC life.

http://drjamesgalyon.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/what-is-an-invitation-3/

6 Lalboi Singsit January 10, 2015 at 4:59 am

I believe altar call is not a biblical mandate but it emerged out of human’s enthusiasm and emotion at a particular event equating as the kind responding to the gospel. It is true as many have pointed out that nowhere it is mentioned walking an isle would mean saved in the Bible. it is by and though the acceptance of heart that makes the salvation of the gospel valid.

7 Daniel November 6, 2017 at 2:02 pm

When and where is the best time and place for ministry (practical) to take place should be the topic.
When the Holy Spirit brought personal conviction to the hearer of the Spirit filled gospel preacher, that led to repentance… how long did they tarry before baptism in the New Testament example?

How about walking that same isle or dirt path to the river (or bathtub) confessing death unto sin and life in Christ. Then begin running the race of perseverance with God’s help unto holiness.

Yes there will be tares in our harvest of souls but is not the day far spent? Remember that the Apostles baptized even Simon the sorcerer under false pretenses too (not long though did the act succeed).

Remember Timothy’s charge… do the work of an Evangelist!

Make disciples church, are not the fields white with the harvest?
How apathetic must the power starved church get before we cry for revival?
Not just in soul winning but in general ministry of hurting souls (a personal touch) that doesn’t require an appointment… how about an alter…. HINT, HINT!!!… after the Lord’s day meeting.

No more, you are dismissed benedictions… see ya later bye after the offering plate gets past kind of church….PLEEEEAASE…may God have mercy on His people!

Maranatha friends,

DSR

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