The Altar Call

By: Beau Bogus

I grew up in a broadly evangelical church. I grew up going to church almost every Sunday (which I do consider a blessing) and associated church with a few things: praise and worship choirs, youth groups, and dramatic altar calls. We all know the routine. The Pastor closes his Bible, he gives instructions like “I want every head bowed and every eye closed!” Obviously not everyone is meant to follow these instructions because all of the sudden the lights dim and the choir begins to quietly sing “Just as I am.” He then leads people in a prayer which is designed to hit all the mechanical points that lead directly to salvation. The prayer is prayed privately in the pew. Once the allotted time is over, the invitation to walk the aisle is given. The choir continues to pray as or until people begin to walk down. This is the altar call. This is the culminating point of the service.

While I have serious issues with this process, it is not in and of itself the main problem. The main problem that I have seen is the result of the emotional altar call, the false conversion. You see, people put the emphasis on “the moment”. The moment they heard the message. The moment they felt convicted. The moment they prayed the prayer. The moment that they walked down the aisle. This moment is marked by significant emotions. Let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a conversion being an emotional experience. That is common for many people. The problem lies in marking the conversion BY the emotion. The issue which will almost inevitably rise later is that emotion always passes. Once the emotion of the experience is gone, it can often lead to a crisis of conscience which causes people to question their salvation. When this happens (and I thank God that falsely converted people do question their salvation), they resort back to the mechanical prayer which they believe was the mechanism which led to their salvation in the first place. The process then repeats itself ad-nauseam.

I ask, do we see this in Scripture? Is there one instance where we see someone pray a scripted prayer like “The sinner’s prayer” and then receive Christ as Lord and Savior? I have never been able to find one in scripture, however, I’m open to correction. The fundamental problem is that in many churches, Salvation is something that is done by the individual rather than being done to the individual by God. Now don’t get me wrong, prayer is a perfectly valid response to conversion. However we as a church should simply follow the New Testament prescription which we see in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”. This idea of belief in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ necessarily leads to a turning away from sin. The fruit of this regeneration is a life that is being progressively (often painfully slowly) sanctified and made more Christ like.

May we emphasize the monergistic nature of salvation coupled with the sanctifying spirit of the Holy Ghost to confirm this great salvation which we have in Christ Jesus!

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