The fourth session of the True Church Conference 2010 was presented by Jeff Noblit concerning Altar Calls.
Altar calls are wrestled with and struggled with. An altar call is a system at the end of preaching of coming forward to receive salvation.
1. Old time religion or new fad?
The roots of the altar call go back to the 1830’s and the revivalist Charles Finney. He may not have been the first but he was the most popular, because of all of his new measures. Before Finney, there was no organized method to call people forward to be saved at the end of the sermon. Whitefield and Edwards did not do so. Spurgeon rejected the idea and warned against it. Nothing can be gotten in a private room or in front that cannot be done in the midst of the assembly.
But if there was no system, what did people do before Finney? If you don’t call people to the front, how can they be saved? Dallimore notes that Whitefield refused to count those who were saved at the end of the service. Whitefield returned months later to see if there was fruit. There were false converts, but there was a lot of lasting fruit of the First Great Awakening. But the Second Great Awakening focused on immediate results and immediate declaration of salvation. No looking for the proof of fruit. And that is the fruit of the Second Great Awakening, the lack of fruit.
Billy Graham has the same system. An immediate altar call and an immediate declaration of salvation. Graham’s invitation used the words “come” and “quickly” often. There was minimal fruit in the churches in the cities after Graham departed. The watchword is immediate pragmatism.
2. Consequences of the Altar Call
The modern invitation system has had serious consequences on the church:
a. perfection (people need a second work of grace)
b. carnal “Christians” (no change in life)
c. redundant baptisms
d. no church discipline (how can you discipline the entire church?)
e. church splits
f. loss of the glory to God
3. What do the scriptures say?
What system does the Bible give for an invitation? Nothing. The Bible has nothing about an organized invitation. Scripture tells us to make disciples. See 2 Timothy 4:3-5. The work of an evangelist is work. It shouldn’t take only a five minute invitation and three minutes of counseling.
There are invitations in the Bible, but this word “invitation” is far too narrow. We are called to beg, command, urge, preach, reason with men to be saved. We are called to tell men to repent, believe, drink. The Holy Spirit fell on people as they were standing, not those who came forward.
4. Final Considerations
a. The gospel is the invitation. Not something after the gospel is preached.
b. The Spirit gives the invitation. And He is not confined to three verses of a song at the end of a sermon.
c. If a person has heard the word, the seed may grow any time.
d. Don’t go too far into the ditch on the other side of the road. Men still need to be called to repent and be saved.
e. We must avoid works-salvation in our invitation. Walking to the front cannot make you a Christian.
f. Evangelism does not depend on giving a closing invitation.
g. Shepherd the people into sound practice. Those who believe in grace should have some. See Acts 18:24-27.
h. You cannot pull out all the tares among the wheat. Tares bring humility.
i. Maturity is the proof of doctrine. See 2 Corinthians 3:2