I grow tired of altar calls every Sunday. It seems that those times where the Word of God is taught and then the people are commissioned to go and live out the Word is much more striking.
Altar Calls were not to be found the first 1800 years of Christianity. When camp meetings rose in popularity the preachers would call those who were interested to come and receive counsel and answers to questions. As usual, the next generation of preachers took it a step further. Soon it became a regular component in the weekly service. Charles Finny, a Presbyterian minister, came along and continued to institute “new measures”. He was convinced there was a right formula for producing camp meeting results each and every week. He felt that Christ’s death made salvation available to all. I totally agree with this thought. However, he also believed that we were not born with our depravity and sinful nature. Therefore the altar call was a very persuasive tool to move the human will. The emotional variable is too risky. Whipping people up in a frenzy and calling them to decision is good for business, as they would say. People run down the aisle and the excitement grows.
Where are they next week?
28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go, work in the vineyard today.’
29 “He answered, ‘I don’t want to!’ Yet later he changed his mind and went.
30 Then the man went to the other and said the same thing.
“‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go.
31 “Which of the two did his father’s will?”
“The first,” they said.
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!
Jesus was being accosted by the Pharisees, as usual, when he poses a question built from this passage. In reference to this topic I believe Jesus’ story expresses a similar sentiment. Preachers beg, plead, beseech, and encourage from the Word of God. Then they call for responses and they had better be public! Thus, the preacher has asked them do something [work in a vineyard] and some will say “Yes!” and come to the altar. When they walk away through the week, nothing really changes and they do not follow through. Others will say “I don’t want to do that!” Because they do not walk the aisle it is believed that either the preacher is bad or the people are bad and possibly lost. In reality, those who struggle with the Word on Sunday might go out and do it through the week.
Which pleases the Father more?
I would suggest that those who actually go and do what the Word demands are the more pleasing, more mature, and more spiritual. Those who walk the aisle weeping and moaning but do not follow through are simply having emotional cathartic moments without lasting change. They might have confessed but they have not repented.
Will I continue to do altar calls? When the Holy Spirit directs me to call for response I will. To ask people to follow the Word is critical, but there does not have to be a public showing every time. A life lived in obedience is the point. Here are a few tips in calling people to obedience:
- Discover the one idea of the text as the Holy Spirit inspires.
- Share the one idea clearly.
- Call the people to follow the one idea.
- Provide opportunities for those in need to be able to receive counsel, prayer, and further instruction as needed.
Get in the Word. Speak the truth in love. Help others along in their journey. Leave the conviction and guilt to the Holy Spirit. He’s much better at it anyway!!