Altar Calls: Why you should refuse to “walk the aisle” (Part 1 of 3)

Grant Swart

In all likelihood, Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) can be attributed with being the “father” of the altar call. Years before our Lord effectually called me to repentance and salvation, I was once also duped into responding to an altar call which promised elaborate, but false, assurances of salvation. Wonderfully though, the Lord placed severe doubts in my mind at the time, regarding the possible validity of the ritual. What I regarded, back then as being my reliance on simple common sense, led me to distrust the embarrassing proceedings of the altar call I had responded to.

Needless to say, not much changed in my life as a result, in the days, weeks and months subsequent to that day. Great was and is the Grace of our Lord and true Saviour. I also now know that it was not only common sense which led me to doubt the honesty and biblical integrity of the altar call. I never responded to a single one again, praise be to the Lord.

In a three part posting, I will attempt to shed a little light on this unbiblical practice which has become commonplace and even expected in certain evangelical circles. Furthermore, it has had the effect of turning many away from true faith due to its magnificent failure, and has shamefully blighted the true Gospel due to the lie which it so often sells.

Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1823, Charles Finney did not begin giving public invitations (altar calls) until long after Methodists had made the altar call a regular part of their camp meetings. Finney, however, did more than anyone to establish altar calls as an accepted and popular practice in evangelicalism. Finney regularly called anxious sinners to the front of the congregation to sit on an “anxious bench” or “anxious seat”. There, they would receive prayer and often be preached to directly.

The altar call was also one of Finney’s famous “new measures.” He was convinced that ministers could produce revival by using the right methods, and that the altar call “was necessary to bring [sinners] out from among the mass of the ungodly to a public renunciation of their sinful ways.”

While many embraced Finney’s “new measures,” others were wary of the theology behind them. Finney believed that Christ’s death had made salvation possible for all. Human depravity was “a voluntary attitude of the mind,” not a nature one was born with. Conversion, therefore, depended on the human will being persuaded to repent and trust Christ. According to Finney, the altar call was a very persuasive tool to move the human will.

Biblical ministers rejected Finney’s confidence in human ability and his reliance on the altar call. They believed human beings were born with a sinful nature. Sinners were unable to trust in Christ until God changed their hearts. The error of the altar call is that the call for a public ‘response’ confuses an external act with an inward spiritual change. The altar call effectively institutes a condition of salvation which Christ never appointed.  Altar-call evangelism results in false assurance and a high percentage of those who go forward to “receive Christ” soon fall away.

Despite criticism and obvious error, the altar call continues to grow in popularity and acceptance. It has almost become a permanent fixture in popular modern evangelicalism.

And what are the results that we see from this system? Churches full of people who demonstrate no evidence of true conversion, but simply point to “a decision” as proof that they are saved. That’s not where Scripture points us for assurance. Instead, Paul tells us to “Examine ourselves to see whether we be in the faith.” One of the bases of our assurance, according to Paul and John, is whether or not the process of sanctification is taking place in us. “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

If one is truly saved, then GOD WILL change them. But it seems pretty obvious that we have evangelical churches full of unchanged people. But they can point to a “decision” and so believe that true conversion has taken place even in the absence of spiritual fruit.

But we must trust the power of God’s Word to convince, convert, and change lives (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; Romans 10:17). We must call all men to Christ, but by acknowledging the sovereignty of God in the conversion of His elect, not the manipulations of men and their altar calling.

Parts 2 and 3 of this posting will take a more in depth look at the incorrect application and presumptuous nature of “walking the aisle” to altar calls and why you could be justified in not heeding them.

 

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12 thoughts on “Altar Calls: Why you should refuse to “walk the aisle” (Part 1 of 3)

  1. Matthew 10:32  Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
    Luke 12:8  Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:

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    • Ed

      In Part 2 and 3 of this article, the typical argument for altar calls, is discussed. Please be so kind as to read those sections as well. Matthew 10:32 and Like 12:8 are commonly used in support of the altar call, even though the altar call did not exist in any form until the eighteenth century, so why would there verses to support a practice which did not exist? Altar calls are a “new measure”, an invention of men, and there are no reports biblical or historical before around the eighteenth century.

      The question is whether that “decision” made by men at an altar call is genuinely motivated by a sincere repentance and faith or whether it is an emotional response to external stimuli such as swelling music, heartfelt pleas from the pulpit, or a desire to “go along with the crowd.” Romans 10:9 makes it clear that genuine salvation comes only from heartfelt belief, which will then result in a verbal confession of that faith.

      The danger is in looking to the prayer or the response at an altar call as evidence of salvation (Matthew 7:22). True salvation results in a life of continual sanctification as the Holy Spirit within the true believer produces more and more of His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) as evidence of the reality of saving faith.

      “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7)

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  2. I read your article. I found your opinion just another opinion by a mere human being. If a person responds to an altar call it can definitely be the work of the Holy Spirit. Once the seed is planted and the soil is good and willing, it wil grow. This happens by the Grace of God and Him alone. I definitely do not believe in predestination. Seeing that a human is made up of a spirit, soul and a body, at some point the body must turn and this is a willing action or conscious decision. Our dear friend which in his time added a great deal to the work of the faith ( namely Jehan Cauvin, a frenchman by birth) describes his first conversion as suddenly and his second conversion (sic) as a process of inner turmoil in which a lot of decisions were made. In giving opinions one opens yourself to criticism. (ADMIN EDITED ) I have always believed in admitting my mistakes publicly. I came to the Lord the hard way. Public humiliation was the road the Lord chose for me. Being humble is a gift from God. I am not looking for endless discussions. This is simply my opinion. I got hold of a book “50 reasons why you are a Hypocrite” by Zac Poonen. The purging effect was tremendous and silence befell me. For the record I want to state that I will never judge a fellow Christian. I will enter my inner room, lock the door and pray to God (The Father of Jesus of Nasareth) for His will to be done in my life and those who I encounter daily.

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    • Thank you for commenting here. I hope you also read parts 2 and 3, which more clearly illustrates the biblical position regarding altar calls. I must agree that my article cannot be anything other than a mere human opinion, for that is exactly what we all are, mere humans. In none of my writings have I ever, nor could I ever, claim to be anything more than a mere sinful human being, saved only by Grace and the Blood of our Lord.

      You cannot read that which is written by any man and expect to receive thereby a divinely inspired message, as that is the explicit authority carried only by the Holy Scripture, the Word of God. That same fallibility can be ascribed to the work of Zac Poonan and all other authors, which is why I find it unusual that my article is particularly indicated as being mere opinion.

      Regarding the person who responds to an altar call: there have obviously been many who have come to Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit, even at altar calls. We are very grateful to our Lord for those, but they are people who have responded to the Holy Spirit, not the altar call. Salvation is by faith alone and faith comes by means of believing the Gospel. Not the altar call, neither the person making the altar call, nor the respondent to the altar call, has any power or control over when or where the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. God is omniscient and omnipresent and does not require man to intercede on behalf of His Holy Spirit.

      While it is true that, as you put it, “the body must turn”, that is not something which an unbeliever would have the will or ability to do. Romans 3:11 makes that abundantly clear. Also the Apostle Paul describes his own similar predicament as regarding the flesh in Romans 7:14-25. If it were not for the working of the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:24, 25), Paul would have been unsaved and lost in his sin. Nothing Paul ever did could have moved him from being an opinionated sinner to a position of salvation.

      Therefore, while the process of sanctification (the second conversion spoken of by Calvin), is lifelong and follows on justification (the first conversion), it is not because of what we do ourselves to earn it, it is because of what the Holy Spirit does in the life of the believer. We cannot impress God.

      Humility, you speak about, is also admitting that our salvation is not because of what we can do for God or what we can change in ourselves to qualify ourselves for eternal life. If that were so, there would have been no need for Jesus’ complete and perfect sacrifice. There is no humility in claiming or publicly admitting that one has had a hand in one’s own salvation. See Romans 4:2, 1 Corinthians 1:29, Romans 9:16. I know how you came to know the Lord and I am ever grateful for the miracle of His Grace in both of our lives.

      You state clearly that you do not believe in predestination. I do not see how you can choose to interpret or disregard all of Scripture which clearly speaks of God’s Sovereignty, foreknowledge, omniscience, foreordination and omnipresence. Before time, God knew everything about everything.

      The Apostle Paul was chosen by God. Paul did certainly not intend working for God, he intended working against God, but God had predestined him to salvation.

      The Apostles did not choose God, He chose them. John 15:16, Luke 6:13 and other verses. If they had chosen Him, did He then make a huge mistake in admitting Judas Iscariot to the twelve? Or did He choose Judas knowing that He would be betrayed by him? See John 6:64, 65. Also John 15:19.

      God also predestined Abraham, David, Moses and Noah and to do what He willed. God chose Jonah and predestined his life. God predestined all the prophets, God predestined all their prophecies. God predestined all as yet unfulfilled prophecy. God knew what He was going to do with the world before He created it through His Son, He predestined everything to happen as He determined and as He chose for His Glory. God knew that Satan would betray Him before it happened, He predestined Satan also to be thrown into the lake of fire forever. If it were not so, how is that prophecy to be understood?

      Predestination is integral to all of Reformed theology, because it is integral to the message of salvation and the work of Jesus Christ. It forms the heart of the way we believe we are saved. It is immovable from the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of election, the doctrine of inability, the many biblical doctrines of faith, the Westminster Confession, and is one of the cornerstones of the protestant faith. Predestination is exactly what the Roman Church did not want it’s subjects to read about, because by obscuring God’s Word and basing salvation on sacraments, the church held control over the people.

      Romans 8:29-30 tells us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Ephesians 1:5 and 11 declare, “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Predestination is a biblical doctrine. The key is understanding what predestination means, biblically.

      The words translated “predestined” in the Scriptures referenced above are from the Greek word proorizo, which carries the meaning of “determine beforehand,” “ordain,” “to decide upon ahead of time.” So, predestination is God determining certain things to occur ahead of time. What did God determine ahead of time? According to Romans 8:29-30, God predetermined that certain individuals would be conformed to the likeness of His Son, be called, justified, and glorified.

      Essentially, God predetermines that certain individuals will be saved. Numerous scriptures refer to believers in Christ being chosen (Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 8:33, 9:11, 11:5-7, 28; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10). Predestination is the biblical doctrine that God in His sovereignty chooses certain individuals to be saved.

      In addition, the Confession of Faith of the church (read at every sermon) which you have regularly chosen to attend with me, essentially bases that Confession on the doctrine of predestination, as does the Pastor at that church in virtually all his expository preaching. How do you marry your statement that you do not believe in predestination with the Word of God, or do you choose to reject that enormous part of Scripture?

      Much Grace to you, my friend.

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  3. Calvinism Destroys God’s Grace
    Calvinism is contrary to God’s grace itself, which stems from God’s love andunmerited favor toward man. To accept Calvinism is to proclaim that God does not love all His creation and that nullifies His grace. It makes God unloving and unjust to most men on earth. Calvinism restricts God’s love to only a part of His creation and makes a lie out of God’s statements that He loves the world (John 3:16). God is love and that is His very nature, therefore He cannot go against who He is and deny His love to some because He chooses not to love them. God says He is love and He cannot go against His nature. God’s sovereignty does not allow Him to deny who He is.

    How then can the Calvinist accept that God is love, when they believe He withholds his grace from most of the world. Not one word in the Bible limits God’s love. God’s love is offered freely, and is only limited by sinful men who will not accept His love. But that is not God’s fault, but man’s. John 3:15-16 states plainly “God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son.” If you truly believe that statement from God’s word, you cannot be a Calvinist. Man goes to hell because he is a sinner who rejects God, not because God decreed him to burn in hell and refuses to allow him to repent (Romans 1:18-23). It is a perversion of God’s sovereignty and His grace to conclude He would violate His own nature and withhold His love toward the world. God is just and therefore His justice demands that if a man rejects His grace, and Christ’s payment for his sins, then the man must pay the debt himself. Yet, 1 John 2:2 states clearly that “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) (extract from bible.org)

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    • Joanne

      It seems you have Joined forces and put in a huge effort with Day By Day for Christ Face book page (should be called hatred for fellow believers Page) and Jonathan Kirby and Deborah from DTW in attacking other fellow believers. It also seems you have read Rob Bell’s Satanic book Love Wins.

      Some questions do not deserve answers and this is one of those cases. Your comment is full of unbiblical arguments and there are more than enough sound Biblical articles on this blog that counters your Arminian point of view. Please take some time and effort to read and pray for understanding. The seriousness of your error is shocking !!!

      May our Lord Jesus Christ open your eyes to see the truth, and may he remove the spirit of hatred toward other believers, the spirit of unkindness, spirit of contention and spirit of strive from your heart. It is my prayer for you. Read and understand the real meaning of Matt 22:36-40 .

      In His service
      Elmarie

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    • The articles on altar calls do not discuss Calvinism, but address the heresies associated with altar calls and the works-based salvation it offers. Altar calls are in no way associated with John Calvin.

      Calvinism does not proclaim that God does not love all His creation. It is clear that you have not read or understood his extended work in his “Institutes”. But that is irrelevant to the Biblical Christian. Calvin did not write any part of the Doctrines of Grace which are in the Scriptures, he merely expounded on them. It is not important to understand what Calvin wrote, but what God’s Word says.

      If you are under the impression that God contradicts Himself in the Bible, you are wrong. The fact that man chose sin does not make God unloving. The fact that not all men will have eternal life does not make God unloving, it makes God just and true to His Word. According to what you say here, all men including those who reject Christ will receive salvation, because of John 3:16.

      1 John 2:2 tells us clearly that Jesus’ atonement was sufficient to save all men, but it does not mean all men will be saved. If that were so, why would we be required to believe and repent, if all would be saved, regardless? Very few men believe, and even fewer repent. Why is that? Romans 3:10-12 explains it, Rom 3:10 “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
      .
      The Gospel does not make God unloving, it is according to the Word of God. God will save whom He chooses to save and He will reject whom He chooses to reject (Romans 9:21). If you choose to reject that because you find the Doctrine is not to your liking, blame it on Scripture, not on Calvinism or any other doctrines of men. They did not write the Bible.

      Your theology rejects the following verses, in the light of the Love of God. These are from the Bible, not from John Calvin:

      Rom 9:13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
      Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!
      Rom 9:15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
      Rom 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

      Our prayers remain for you.

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  4. I believe an aspect of this article to be true. Though the ‘alter call’ may prove efficient to some who are just beginning to recognize a potential for salvation, I also see how it can create backfire and cause people to try and ‘act more Christian’, with the pressures of just fitting in with the church rather than focusing on themselves. It’s an interesting concept to bring up in light of the overwhelming amount of people who seem to create a more Christian alter ego to save face and hide the real sins that we all undergo daily. So then when participating in bible studies/ministries rather than being the REAL YOU you play the role of what a good Christian is characterized as being by not only the Bible but also what church leaders may demand or imply. Living in a fallacy I say is a damaging ailment.

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  5. the altar call, raise your hand, decisional regeneration of the false gospel of Finney, Graham and others has done more to damage the name of Christ than anything else. It has filled the church with many who merely want fire insurance and nothing to do with obeying Christ as Lord of their lives, recognizing God as their master and becoming His servant with the rest of their lives. It is a man centered false gospel of what God will do for yo rather than what you are to do for your Creator. It is the broad wide path that leads to destruction. The false church has had to invent other heresies like the carnal christian to explain why these decision makers do not manifest that they have been born again with a heart that desires to obey God follow Him and keep His word as a way if life. Though it may be true god draws a person through this false man centered religion to eventually read the word or hear the preaching of the true gospel and converts them later, if they do not repent of this what’s in it for me religion they will hear these words one day:
    Luke 6:46 “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord ,’ and not do the things which I say?

    Matt 7:21″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. 22 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?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!

    2 Thess 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
    NKJV

    Who do you think God is talking about when he says this? Someone other than you?

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  6. I just recently wrote an article on this subject. Would you please e-mail your complete article as I am very interested in this subject. Many are being duped into thinking they are saved when they are not.
    Pastor Ralph Boisa

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