Do pastors still call people to the “altar” to repent and/or publicly confess Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior? In church buildings where I attended meetings as a young Believer, there were two long benches at the front of the church called altars. Each Sunday morning and night, after the pastor preached, he would make the plea for sinners to come forward and give their hearts to God. If no sinners came, he invited the people to gather around those altar benches and pray.
Some people came and remained at the altar for a period. They recognized that some individuals had serious needs, and would gather around, pray with, and intercede for them. Some of the ones that came remained less than a few minutes. Other ones did not go to the altars. Instead, they milled around fellowshipping.
People can say what they wish about “altar calls,” but in the days when many people were strongly committed to God, those altar benches received a lot of tears. Many a soul convicted of his or her sins wept on those benches in repentance. Many mothers prayed and wept over lost children. Men, big strong men, accomplished men, wept in humble submission. Their souls longed for a more dedicated and powerful relationship with God. Many people were set free from bondage, received solutions to problems and answers to serious questions. Many people were healed.
I have witnessed people gather around altars for hours, sometimes in large numbers, as they ministered to people and each other. It is a powerful phenomenon to witness. There was much weeping for the joy of God’s intervention in their lives. The spiritual atmosphere during such a time can only be called amazing.
What a contrast to the proud and arrogant ones today that have no tolerance for truth and become offended by the slightest correction.
People can say all they wish about “altar calls,” that there is no such thing in the Bible, and that many false salvations occur because of “altar calls.” But is Christianity better off without them?
I cannot find fault with inviting people to come and pray for whatever reason—even repentance. But I agree that “altar calls” inviting people to come forward to “be saved” are misguided, unbiblical, and do not usually produce genuine followers of Christ. Coming to the front of a church building, shaking the pastor’s hand, and repeating the “sinner’s prayer,” is also unproductive. Although God can use what He wishes to bring souls to Him, few people are likely brought into His kingdom by those rituals.
Those methods have provided a bad image of “altar calls.” It would be a positive thing if the term were dismissed and replaced with something more indicative of the benefits of people gathering to pray.
One becomes a genuine child of God, goes from darkness to light and is redeemed from bondage to sin, exclusively by the work of God’s anointed word and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I never call people to come forward to “be saved.” I challenge them to repent—which could occur where they are sitting, or kneeling at an altar bench. Also, if the Holy Spirit convinced them to surrender to God during the preaching of His Word, I call them to come and present their first public witness and testimony. I inform them that the most friendly place to make their public commitment to God is in a meeting of the Believers.
In my strong opinion, it seems superfluous to preach, recognize that the Holy Spirit is moving powerfully on people and that something very amazing is happening in their lives, but refuse to provide an opportunity for that work to be expressed.
The Calvinists may say, “Don’t be concerned. If they were the ones predestined to be saved, they will be okay.”
The Once Saved, Always Saved adherents may declare, “It does not matter how they believed, or whether anyone knew. They became eternally saved even if they never express it publicly or show any fruit afterward.”
Genuine redemption is an event like no other. It is neither believing one was elected before the world was formed nor a matter of lip service religion. God’s word says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” — 2 Corinthians 5:17
Something amazing occurred—something supernatural! Someone went from darkness and death to light and life!
And it also says;
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Such a person can hardly contain the joy. They are bursting with the desire to share what they feel. But the meeting ends, people are distracted, are having a good time, and children are running around.
Truly, someone could stand on a chair and say loudly, “May I have your attention, please? I would like to publicly confess Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”
But why should they have to do that? And why should we make them do that when there is a better way?
A such a cataclysmic change occurs in the individual’s life, we all know how Satan works. He will use every wile to convince that person that his or her experience wasn’t real. He will attempt to convince them that it was merely emotionalism, a decision made in the heat of the moment, and not something to be taken seriously.
There is a good reason for why God’s word requires a confession of faith as a condition for redemption. One cannot simply acquire Christian status by hanging around Christians, attending church meetings, and pretending to be one of God’s called, chosen, and faithful. There must be conviction deep in the core (heart) of the individual, surrender, and commitment, and he or she must declare it boldly and wholeheartedly to the world. If that confession is not made, it is worse than NOT saying “I do” in a wedding ceremony.
In Revelation, the martyrs overcome Satan, but not by avoiding martyrdom. Consider how and why they were deemed to have overcome.
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” — Revelation 12:11
Their testimony began the moment they believed in their deepest core and publicly confessed Christ as Lord and Savior. Giving people an opportunity to make that public testimony in an atmosphere conducive to such a faithful statement is imperative. They are accepted into the Beloved (Christ Jesus). It is important that the Believers, members of Christ’s Body, know that someone has been redeemed from the darkness. Furthermore and importantly, people need to physically and emotionally witness and experience that spiritual bond with their fellow Believers.
The wooden benches have nothing to do with it. What if the wooden benches were not there? I want them to be there, but I do not believe that they are necessary for people to be redeemed, healed, delivered, or ministered to in any other way. A designated place at there front of the church building and nothing to do with it. It was humbling the flesh, rejecting pride, and unashamedly making one’s surrender to God public.
It is wrong to claim the wooden benches have spiritual power. It is just as wrong to ignore God’s work and declare public expressions of commitment to God as fraudulent. The methods by which people come out publicly and powerfully as Believers should not be restricted by what offends us. People have committed their souls to God in many different circumstances and venues—even in prisons or jails. It is a presumptive and dangerous move to quench the desire of someone that the Holy Spirit is dealing powerfully with. Why have a meeting, worship God, preach His truth—and then, when someone is brought to a point of decision, dismiss the meeting and stand around laughing, making small talk, and fellowshipping? That’s about as cold and calloused as it can get toward an amazing supernatural event.
Thus, I ask again, is Christianity better off now that “altar calls” have all but ceased? If the apostasy ended “altar calls,” can we call that a good thing? If the current great apostasy caused “altar calls” to cease, we should conclude that their absence was proportionate to waning spirituality.
I believe “altar calls,” or whatever one wishes to call them, should be reinstated. Call it “the invitation,” or don’t call it anything, but just make time for the fruit of God’s anointed word and the Holy Spirit in people’s lives to be made manifest.
However, before the “altar call” can be restored, rushing mighty wind and holy fire must shake and convince the ones that God has truly called. God’s unadulterated word must be preached by men who stayed in the fiery furnace until God called them out.
The younger generations need to experience and witness piercing and anointed preaching and the phenomenon of souls awakened to God’s holiness—their lostness bowed under and surrendered to powerful conviction. The fact that they are not experiencing and witnessing that supernatural interaction of God with humanity may be the reason church meetings have either become cold and formal or carnal activity has been introduced to make their meetings more exciting and endurable to the flesh.