The other day I was thinking that it would be nice to have a particular topic to discuss each week, something to ponder and discuss over the course of an entire week. With all the pressure to come up with new posts, it is hard to really engage in any type of meaningful conversation. And it’s hard to really dig into a discussion when topics are constantly changing. So my humble solution is called The Monday Muse. Each Monday I will post a question to be considered, discussed, and even debated for the remainder of the week. I will still submit other posts throughout the week but The Monday Muse will be a focus point of sorts. If we can all focus in on one topic per week then maybe we can explore issues in a little more depth.

Technically, it is Tuesday so I’m already behind for this week. However, here is the question for the week.

Is the alter call a necessary or deceiving tool within the church? 

4 Replies to “The Monday Muse

  1. I’ll start the discussion. First define what you mean by alter call? Are you talking about the action of physically going up to the alter to pray to be saved or are you talking about the challenge that a speaker gives calling people to repent and be saved?

    If it is the first definition, I wouldn’t say that it is necessary for salvation or even as part of a salvation message. The act of going before others is not necessary, and may lead to people coming forward who only want to seek attention. In this way it may be deceiving for an evangelist who is counting lives saved. The question to ask here is “Should an evangelist be concerned with the number of lives that are coming forward to be saved saved, or with just obeying the Lord and sharing the gospel.

    Is it deceiving to the person that came forward. I don’t think so. They know their heart and why they are going forward. With every spreading of the gospel message, some seed will fall on rocky soil, some on a firm path, some amongst the thorns, and some on fertile soil.

    Though I must consider the other purpose of an alter call, which is the first step of discipleship. When someone comes forward at an alter call it allows believers to know who they should follow up with in encouragement through discipleship. On this point I think an alter call is a matter of preference or conviction for a church, pastor or evangelist. I’ve seen situations where the pastor or speaker has only asked that if you made a commitment that you find a believer to follow up with. I assume that the reasoning behind this is to weed out the attention seekers from the committed through personal initiative and desire.

    Hopefully my thoughts made since and spur further discussion or comments. If my thoughts are a little disjointed I must ask forgiveness as I’m only typing with one had while holding a squirmy baby in the other. 🙂

  2. An alter call can be either very useful, or very deceptive. The way I see it, everything depends upon how it is used. I grew up in a charasmatic home and church, and so every Sunday the alter call was given and people wept and cried…but nothing in their lives changed. The alter call was a means to the emotional high people associate with the experience of the Holy Spirit and God (not to say that nobody experienced either during those services, mind you), rather than truly growing closer to God.

    In all, I would agree with Jonathan when he says that the alter call is not necessary for salvation, but I would even take it one step further and argue that the practice of the alter call is less of a Biblical institution, and more of a Western Christian, cultural practice. I would extend this to say that it falls under something like a Kierkegaardian view of the whole thing.

    Alter calls are not bad in themselves, by any means–but I have witnessed their misuse, and overuse, firsthand. There is a time and place for everything, and at the end of the day I suppose the judgment must be made by the one who initiates the call.

    But I am interested: what do you think about the idea that alter calls may have more to do with culture than actual Biblical tradition? [Disclaimer: I apologize for any typos or grammatical errors–I’m about to run out the door to class!]

  3. Ooh, good one! I like this.

    Having not grown up in the Baptist Church, though being a member now, I aways found the concept of an obligatory altar call somewhat unsettling depending on how it is presented. It can many times come across very mechanical and forced, and in those cases I wonder if ‘the call’ does more harm than good.

    In those instances there is often more emphasis placed on the physical act of ‘coming down the aisle’ and ‘praying at the front of the church’ then there is on spiritual transformation. As if success is gaged by the number of people that come to the front of the church during the closing hymn – sadly, I think that is a gauge of success in some churches.

    I appreciate a pastor who chooses to spend his time teaching scriptural truth rather than drumming up an emotional response. Yes, I think we should have time to respond to the message once the message is given, but I think that response can be carried out outwardly at the front of the church, or more internally in a personal act of worship. I don’t know that either one is inherently more spiritual than the other.

  4. Kudos to Jonathan for a great display multi-tasking. I couldn’t have said it better with a baby in my hands.

    I think one of my biggest concerns with the “alter call” is that it often creates the sense that walking an aisle magically changes people. So many people find assurance of salvation by pointing back to a moment in time when they walked an aisle. However, Scripture tells us that assurance is found in a progressive change toward godliness.

    However, I do believe it depends on how it is presented. As you mentioned Jonathan, if a preacher speaks of repentance and belief in Jesus Christ and has people come forward as a way to follow up with them and pray for/with them then it can have value. If the preacher simply says to come down the aisle so that you can be saved without explaining what is meant by “be saved” and how one truly is saved, then it is more than dangerous…it is deceitful.

    I think practically it is often used as the only means by which a person is saved or called to respond to Jesus within many churches. The result is that a person equates being saved with walking an aisle. You aren’t saved unless you walk the aisle.

    I would definitely say that the alter call is a product of culture. It was born out of the Awakenings when revivals were common. How might people respond in this setting? Come forward to receive Jesus.

    I think it can be used but it should be carefully explained and it should most definitely include a call to repentance and belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

What Do You Think?