12 August 2009

New series: communicating better — altar calls

by Dan Phillips

Though we prize the preached word, we Calvinists are not always the best at communication to those who are not already with us.

I can speak from experience. Even after I'd become a convinced Calvinist, I continued to find that Calvinists had some awfully dogmatic odd opinions that they virtually never explained — certainly never explained well. (This first will be a specific example.)

I puzzled my way to answers, but not easily. I'm now pretty convinced that a lot of folks who I heard snorting these positions did so themselves because all the other CCKs (Cool Calvinist Kids) also snorted them. They wanted to fit in.

This series (probably both short and very occasional) will be about those kinds of positions and statements.

I'm going to introduce a few such popular Calvinist positions, and open the meta for advocates of those positions to explain the rationale in under two hundred words. Speak in words any Christian can understand. Do not preach to the choir. Be pointed, plain, precise, helpful.

There are no prizes except the knowledge that it may help literally thousands of people express truth better. I'll try to pick a winner. Or a few winners.

NOTE: I will only allow answers, or discussion of answers. I do not plan to allow argument about the position. That isn't the point of these posts.

FIRST CASE: altar call

What in the world is wrong with an altar call? Don't Calvinists believe in evangelism? Don't you believe in preaching the Gospel? Don't you believe in calling sinners to Christ? Didn't Jesus say we should confess Him before men (Matthew 10:32)? Didn't Paul say confession with the mouth was essential to salvation (Romans 10:9)?

What is your better idea?

Answers should address all these points.

Remember: discussion, on-topic, 200-word limit.

Ready... go!

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

BTW, for anyone who says "Aigh! Too much Phillips!"

1. I sympathize, truly. Think of me. I get it all day, ever day.

2. Backstage vicissitudes necessitated some juggling. Pray for my betters' soon return. I know I will.

Gary said...

The problem with many altar calls is that they border on manipulation rather than a response to truth. It is eliciting a purely emotional response to the altar call rather than a eliciting an emotional response to the truth of the Gospel.

Matt said...

The problem some Calvinists see with altar calls is that it can encourage a form of emotionalism that coerces people to "make a decision" due to pressure, an emotional high, etc. Such a "decision" is not necessarily a sign of true conversion. True conversion involves repentance, self-hate, a passion for God's glory, and a feverish desire to grow in holiness and sanctification.

An emotional decision which is not borne of genuine repentance and trust in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ can and will lead to defection, lack of holiness, etc.

Of course we still want to obey the biblical mandate to evangelize, and will do so. Best, though, is to leave the Spirit to do the convicting work of making dead souls alive (Ezek. 36:25-28; John 6:37, 44; 10:26-29; 16:8-11). This working of the Spirit may be quiet, private, without much fanfare.

The aim of evangelism is genuine conversion, not merely a public profession of faith (Matt. 7:21-23).

Gary said...

I think we have to be clear that emotion in and of itself is not wrong. We MUST have an emotional response to the gospel.

Incidently, my all-time favorite sermon on election -- Spurgeon's "God's Will and Man's Will" -- ends with what sounds strangely like an altar call. He outright begs his audience to believe, carefully removing ever excuse they would have for not believing. No, he doesn't say "come down and pray the sinner's prayer", but the language is very reminiscent.

"Why, then the Lord speaks to you this morning, to you if not to any other man in the church, he speaks to you and says-”Whosoever wishes, let him come.” You cannot say this does not mean you. When we give the general invitation, you may exempt yourself perhaps in some way or other, but you cannot now..."

Chad V. said...

I'll start with my better idea which isn't really mine at all.

Altar calls were totally unheard of for almost the first almost 1850 + years of the church. So what was wrong with the way evangelism was happening before the contrivance of the altar call?

The altar call has no warrant in scripture. There is no altar in a Christian church. An altar is a place of sacrifice and part of O.T. worship and Christ has made the final and only sufficient sacrifice. It is done and there is no need for one anymore.

Men do not fulfill the requirement to confess Christ before men or confess with their mouth by the altar call. We must confess Christ before men in our daily lives before the world consistently in every day situations and some more extreme situations like persecution. It absolutely cannot be fulfilled by the altar call.

The altar call is really just a man made ritual, a man contrived method of approaching God. Its also a man made excuse for claiming that new converts are confessing Christ before men when they have missed the point of what it means to confess Christ before men.

DJP said...

Chad, you worried me, but...

197 words.


I really don't want to have to delete; I hate having to do that.

Lee Shelton said...

Matt summed it up quite well.

I've run into many people who point to their experience at the altar as evidence of their conversion -- even those who clearly aren't living for Christ. Anyone can "pray the prayer" and even really mean it at the time. The altar call places emphasis on a one-time event and practically ignores the concept of sanctification. The real proof of salvation is not that one made a decision years ago but that one is continuing to grow in faith and produce fruit (Matthew 7:17). If "the heart is deceitful above all things" (Jeremiah 17:9), why complicate things further by promoting emotionalism?

Jay Miklovic said...

The altar call, not found in scripture, is a creation for the evangelist or preacher and not for the Lord or the potential convert.

In our desire to 'see the Lord working' or have assurance of our ministry's validity we want results. Altar calls give us a chance to count people, see emotion, and feel good about our ministries. Unfortunately, altar calls leave the alleged 'convert' with a 'been there, done that prayed my prayer' Christianity.

Isaiah 55 is a biblical model for an invitation, but it is not fulfilled at an altar, but often in privacy after hearing the Gospel. The best invitation is often simply to say 'go home and seek the Lord until He is found.'

Romans 10:9, and Matthew 10:32 make little sense in America where real persecution is not a major issue. In light of the persecution the early church as well as churches outside of the states face, Romans 10:9 and Matthew 10:32 take on a much more difficult meaning, than going to an altar to make a confession.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty I have with the altar call is first and foremost the temptation, for preachers, to manipulate people into a decision in order to have a "successful" crusade.

Less worrisome from the sin point of view but just as worrisome from the point of view of false conversion is the peer pressure issue, either for or against responding. If the cools kids go, I probably will too.

It seems to me that Peter used altarcallish language but stopped short of the altar call itself. Yes, we must call men to repent and command them to believe the gospel, but if we truly believe in the power of God to save, are we not wiser to call them to repentance and let them decide if they will or will not?

Lastly, what the altar call takes away is the opportunity for a genuine "what must I do to be saved" moment. I'm not saying that it eliminates it altogether, I'm sure that it doesn't. But is not the typical scriptural conversion preceeded by "Brothers, what must we do?"
That unforced internal turning, I think, is crucial, particularly to ones assurance. Knowing that repentance was not coerced is significant.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

There is no warrant in Scripture for an altar call during worship. When the church gathers, it is for proclaiming worth to God and for the body's edification...not for the evangelizing of those who may be present who are not saved. An altar call takes the focus of worship off of Christ and puts it on a person (one who is not even part of the body, mind you).

Even in the evangelism we see in the NT, there is nothing likened to an altar call being used. We see men like Peter, Stephen and Paul proclaiming the truth of the gospel, and then we see people reacting to that truth.

I can find no "every head bowed, every eye closed, raise your hand if you prayed this prayer and come on down front if you did" method used in Scripture.

People did not begin lamenting and repenting because Jonathan Edwards gave and altar call at the end of 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God'...they responded the way they did because of the work of the Holy Spirit as the truth was being proclaimed. The Spirit needs no help from us by way of an altar call.

DJP said...

I think the critiques being offered are high-quality and helpful. Keep it up.

A reminder, though: "My better idea is...."?

That Conservative Dude said...

Having been in services where you are hoarse from singing 247 verses of "Just As I Am" because the preacher was not closing until someone is saved. I think alter calls can be ego trips for some preachers. Provide time/place/people for guidance but don't hold hostages for ego sake. Let the spirit do it's perfect work & make yourself available to disciple wanna-bes & new-bes.

Eric Kaminsky said...

My problem with altar calls is that it does not use the discipleship model Jesus laid out for us. It is manipulation that looks like conversion, but does not always create real disciples.

Next question we would hear? hmmm
"I was converted through an altar call, therefore all churches should have one"


Israel was wicked and demanded a King and God gave them a King.
God used something that he didn't really want.

Bob said...

I believe that the altar call is simply another form of man trying to do God's work man's way. That could be a good definition of iniquity. It is a strange fire, on a strange altar, by strange methods. Truly, man is ingenious.
We used to call them mourner's benches. I guess I like that a little better. A little. But why not just preach the gospel out in the streets, and when they come in, teach them to worship?
Do you really think the man on the street knows what an altar call is or why there is an altar call? not until we train him in man's religion.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

My better idea is...

Acknowledge that there are unsaved people in your midst and call them to repentance and faith. The best way to do this is to simply preach the truth and be Scriptural in your worship.

Anonymous said...

I was going to add a better idea, but Brian said it better...

I'd just add that teaching your people well, will help facilitate a newly repentant person finding the assistance they might need after a call to repentance.

And pointing that out during the service would probably help.

James Scott Bell said...

I agree with much of the critique here. For someone to repent and confess Christ as Lord, as well as Savior, there has to be some understanding which may be lacking at an altar call moment. The better idea I have experienced over and over has been to get people into a Bible study for the essentials of the gospel and understanding of sin and Lordship. When that is done, confession and baptism. It's been my glorious privilege (thanks be to God) to have been part of this process for many dozens of people over the years who are walking strongly with the Lord today--because the decision was an informed one.

The original hearers of Peter's Acts 2 sermon all knew what repentance meant. Not so with people today. Thta's why the need for study up front.

Tom said...

As we think of altar calls today:
1. There is no such thing in Scripture.
2. There is no historical precedent for them.
3. The music and "pleas" often accompanying them usually hinge on the idea of "accepting Jesus into your heart," another unbiblical idea.
4. I would think that the functional mandate of the church that is trying to be fulfilled is to "make disciples." However, the "form" of the altar call is kind of lazy on the church's part.
5. It tends to help the "responder" to place his faith in his own work OR in the event itself, that HE responded and/or "prayed a prayer" on such-and-such day.
6. Scripture says to "count the cost," which is a mental decision and commitment to Christ. An altar call generally depends on emotionalism and timing instead.
7. It can lead to the preacher thinking HIS call saved this person.

A better way? Let it be. First, GIVE the gospel accurately in the message. Second, explain to the unbeliever to seek discipleship, to talk to someone about salvation. Third, keep your eyes open for people whom you know are not believers yet there appears to be a change in them.


allen said...

1.We call men to Person, not a place.
2. He's not down front but at God's right hand.
3.Giving a proud sinner anything to "do"--even moving his filthy feet forward-- only hardens him more in his pride.
4.It has no biblical warrant.
5.It's probably almost always for an insecure preacher's psyche--"You are a good preacher. Just look at the responses."

Anonymous said...

I would add...to my ever expanding 200 words, that I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's a sinful or bad idea, just unwise, not well thought out and easy.

It's what's done, and so we do it.

DJP said...

Allen, your ##1 and 2 are solid-gold, and worth the price of admission all by themselves.

Your #3, I suggest, illustrates everything wrong about our criticism of the altar call.

Class, why do I say that? (If my question is too subtle [or hopelessly opaque], I'm pretty well set to devote a whole post on it, anyway.)

Stuart Brogden said...

I'm with Bryan@VoiceoftheSheep.

Altar calls nearly always lead a church to focus on lost people instead of the Lord. Altar calls make people fell good.

The gathering of saints (church) is to glorify and honor the Lord, with clear exposition of Scripture.

And if a lost person is in your midst, he might see that this God is the True God and be convicted of his sin and be converted by the only One Who can save him. Even without an altar call.

Anonymous said...


I think the problem with that critism is that, in fact, we must call sinners to do something.

There is no salvation without repentance, which is something we do. That doesn't change the fact that it's a gift, but still, the prodigal must return and I must repent and believe.

The other thing is that, the grace of God notwithstanding, you and I are that prideful filthy sinner. So mercy towards sinners, in this case expressed in removing unecessary roadblocks, is paramount both in deed and attitude, otherwise I end up saying "Thank you that I am not like..."

Even the tax collector was justified because he prayed "Have mercy on me, a sinner". Without that prayer, he's not justified.

Nash Equilibrium said...

My "better thing" would simply be to state "if anyone here has decided to stop disobeying God's laws, put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their eternal salvation, and would like to publicly acknowledge this change, please do so by coming forward."

Or something like that.

Hayden said...

My better idea (since all the others have covered the reasons not to have an altar call)...

I like to have the elders and my self stationed around the church as we are dismissing and announcing something like...

"If you have any questions or would like to talk with someone about what you have heard, our elders (have them raise hands) are available for questions and/or time of prayer."

I think the confession before men part is part of baptism and is not really fulfilled by walking an aisle.

Just my .02$

DJP said...

BTW, let me again just thank everyone. These are all thoughtful, useful replies.

Matt said...

Better idea? - call sinners to repentance and be ready to do one-on-one discipleship with the sinner who has been crushed by the weight of his wicked heart. Be ready to give a reason for the hope within us, and do it with gentleness and respect.

Stefan Ewing said...


This series is a good idea, and this subject (the altar call) is a good place to start. Some great discussion so far.

allen said...

Yeah a sinner must do something-namely repent and believe the gospel.
Not walk here, say this, etc. His faith must be in Christ's work not his own. We've all heard too many say, "I believe I'm saved because I went forward...; prayed the prayer...;"
Call for repentance and faith. Set forth a crucified, resurrected, and worthy Lord. Tell the sinner all his works are filthy (Is.64:6) and the only work God accepts is Christ's.

DJP said...

Allen, you are the Czar of Conciseness.

Colloquist said...

Allen: 3.Giving a proud sinner anything to "do"--even moving his filthy feet forward-- only hardens him more in his pride.

Dan Your #3, I suggest, illustrates everything wrong about our criticism of the altar call.

Rabbit's turn: Dan, is it because a "proud sinner" doing something to be saved and being increased in his pride for doing so is not illustrative of a regenerated heart? Or is it because it appears to be a prescribed ritual (coming forward) that is prescribed by man, not God?

Allen, I do not mean to belabor the point on the back of your comment; just trying to urge Dan to take us where he is trying to go with this portion of the discussion.

DJP said...

Oh, sorry Rabbit, I'm not sure I get your question.

But neither of those things is what I was getting at.

Jay Miklovic said...

As far as a better way...

Isaiah 55 is a biblical invitation-

Isaiah preaches on long on sin, he preaches on the incarnation of Christ, he preaches the cross of Christ especially in chapter 53, then he gives an invitation in chapter 55.

Biblical, inspired, certainly a better way than our altar call.

The invitation is unbelievable apart from a working of God, our invitation should be the same.

Colloquist said...

As for altar calls: they are not for Sunday morning. The gathering of believers is for the sheep, who hear their Master's voice and, by the Spirit, are able to understand and heed the instruction of the Word. Only sheep can offer true worship, only sheep live the changed life that is evidence of regeneration and conversion.
When a church starts focusing on evangelism on Sunday mornings, then by definition the gathering is a mix of sheep and goats. Purity of worship is compromised. Goats cannot understand, so the message has to be dumbed down to keep their attention. Sheep begin starving for nourishment while goats happily crunch goat candy and go on their goaty way, unchanged but emotionally convinced they are saved because they raised their hoof when everybody’s eyes were closed one morning.

Better way: a Sunday morning focus on building up the true sheep in maturity and wisdom, through sound preaching of the Word. Sheep go forth every week, reeking of sheepiness; attracting some with the fragrance of life and repulsing others with the fragrance of death, willingly proclaiming the Gospel in its fullness and letting the Holy Spirit do the work of converting souls.

Andy said...


We as sinners are called to do something:

Confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord (to the glory of God the Father), and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead.

If, when giving an "altar call", the preacher highlights that we have no power to respond to this call without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, then what's wrong?

Is that what you were getting at, Dan?

Jay Miklovic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
x said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with an altar call, provided that peoples' emotions aren't being manipulated by anything but the word of God.

And also provided that there is good discipleship (catechesis) afterwards.

You do not need to preach Total Depravity to preach the gospel. I think part of the problem with our evangelism today is that we often tend to present a bunch of hard-to-connect ideas - as opposed to preaching the Good News about Jesus.

My biggest problem with the altar call is that, in my experience, it makes evangelism something that a preacher does within a church, as opposed to something that the whole Church does in the marketplace.

Unknown said...

One preaches or share individual the sinfulness of man, the great person and work of Christ, and the responsibility to repent because God calls all men everywhere to repent. You don't pressure them and you leave them with words of encouragement and a new testament or Gospel of John (maybe a nice tract) and tell them that if you are truely sincere in repentance and faith God will heal your prayer.

olan strickland said...

Charles Finney (nuff said)!

Reductionism – offers response without repentance; grace without guilt; prayer without perception (this turns prayer into a magical formula because the sinner’s prayer isn’t based on the knowledge of the truth but on misinterpreted Scripture). Two primary examples concerning saving prayer being based on the knowledge of the truth are the thief on the cross and the tax-collector.

The thief on the cross believed in his heart that God would raise Jesus from the dead – “when you come!” He confessed with his mouth Jesus as Lord – “in Your kingdom!” He called on the name of the Lord – “Jesus, remember me!”

When the tax-collector prayed for mercy he literally prayed for God to be “mercy-seated” or “propitiated” to him. He understood that the only way that God could have mercy on him while remaining true to Himself and His Law had to be expressed through penal substitution. People today could call on God all day long for mercy but apart from the sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection of Christ – He cannot and does not give it.

Explain the Gospel and do not alter it (almost a pun)!

DJP said...

Whew! I was afraid "God" had told you to write over 200 words... but it was only 191.

olan strickland said...

LOL! No, He never tells me to violate the Law :)

NoLongerBlind said...

I thought that Allen, in his 7:11 am follow-up comment - which prompted Dan's Czar of Conciseness award - aptly addressed Dan's suggested criticism of his (Allen's) previous point #3, i.e., "that it illustrates what is wrong with our criticism of the altar call."

Todd Mitchell said...

"Didn't Paul say confession with the mouth was essential to salvation (Romans 10:9)?"

That is the popular interpretation of that verse, but there is an alternative interpretation (see pages 6-7).

JackW said...

+1 on baptism being the Biblical way.

Tom said...

I'd also add this:

In a big church, there are often lots of people on a given Sunday who "respond." In a small church, not so much. For the pastors in both situations, it can have a negative effect. It has the potential of leading him to believe he's a good preacher to have all these people respond.... or his message was bad, and no one did.

Obviously this says more about about the pastor than the altar call... but why put the temptation there, when there's no reason for it? If the gospel is indeed given during the message rather than kind of weakly tacked on to the end at the altar call, then let the Holy Spirit do the work.


Penn Tomassetti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Penn Tomassetti said...

Simple: "Repent and be [immersed]..."

Steven said...

I believe that an alter call, done and understood in its proper context, can be a good thing. Procedurally, it can serve as a mechanism for becoming a member of the church (by church I mean a particular assembly of believers). It can additionally serve as a good way for those that are regenerated by the immediate preaching of the word to receive some encouragement and examination. As long as we are not telling people “if you do this you will be a Christian”, but rather using it as an opportunity to examine verify a person’s new birth and encourage, it is very useful. I think that an alter call is one procedure for encouraging one another and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:22-25.

For those that are relying on the lack of biblical warrant for an alter call, I would submit that neither is there a biblical procedure (as opposed to standard) for calling a pastor, but most churches have a procedure in place for such an event.

My bottom line is as long as we properly recognize an alter call as procedural and not substantive, it can be a good thing.

Jugulum said...

allen said,
"3.Giving a proud sinner anything to "do"--even moving his filthy feet forward-- only hardens him more in his pride."

Dan said,
"Your #3, I suggest, illustrates everything wrong about our criticism of the altar call.

Class, why do I say that?

Rabbit tried answering by talking about the issue. The substance.

But that forgets the point of the series: Clarity of communication.

Dan said,
"Even after I'd become a convinced Calvinist, I continued to find that Calvinists had some awfully dogmatic odd opinions that they virtually never explained — certainly never explained well."

So, Dan, my answer: You weren't saying that Allen's #3 was invalid. You were saying that it's obscure. Sure, if you already know what he's talking about, you can understand. But if not, you can't follow it.

There's a difference between talking about a destination, and telling people how to get there.

Allen's 7:11 comment, however, was in "words any Christian can understand", which was Dan's challenge.

NoLongerBlind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...


NoLongerBlind said...

Is that an intentional play on words?

Alter call: Calling new believers to profess the supernatural change that they believe the Holy Spirit has brought about within them.


(Sorry Dan - I deleted and revised before I saw your response!)

Penn Tomassetti said...

I realized I'm supposed to answer every question in my comment...

1. An alter call has no Biblical basis, it is something else... an invention perhaps, tradition.

2. Evangelism every Saturday at 69th St. in Philly, you are welcome to join us if you have a passion for the gospel being proclaimed!

3. The gospel means the good news... preach it!

4. I like calling sinners to Christ the Isaiah 55:1 way, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the alter..." no, rather it says, "Come to the water!"

5. confess him before men in baptism, evangelism, testimony and persecution.

6. out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Baptism (i.e. immersion) was the original alter call (Acts 2:38).

DJP said...

Oh well, NLB. Just makes me look prescient.

Jugulum said...

P.S. I said, "There's a difference between talking about a destination, and telling people how to get there."

Regarding why Calvinists are sometimes bad at explaining things:

Maybe we get absorbed with the beauty and majesty of the destination--the truth about God and his way. (Maybe it's from a right spirit of humble worship, and maybe it's from the way that "knowledge puffs up".) So we wax poetic in precisely-constructed, concise statements.

And we forget that we're supposed to be leading people to the truth, not just describing it.

DJP said...

I just want to go on-record as saying that I'm in favor of alter-calls.

Captain Obvious said...

I believe the altar call creates spiritual manipulation. People simply cannot be convinced of receiving salvation. They cannot be persuaded to follow after Christ because the music is beautiful and because the preacher is saying that if they were to be in a car accident on the way home from the service, they would die and go to hell. If someone makes the decision to follow after the Lord because of those reasons, then they will not truly be submitted to God and to His expectations for the lives of His children. In reality, they are not being led by God’s goodness into repentance, but rather by guilt and manipulation. They will not understand the issues of grace and faith.

Don't Calvinists believe in evangelism?

Of course Calvinists believe in evangelism. How does the “altar call” equate to the gospel call? Altar calls are not consistent with the Bible because the Bible says we are to be sober minded in all things (Titus 2:6). We are not to make spontaneous decisions without thinking them through, especially the decision of making a life-long commitment to surrender to Christ Lordship which is the most important, monumental decision we could ever make.

NoLongerBlind said...

Practical Sanctification: The progressive, on-going process where-by the Holy Spirit alters a Christian towards the predetermined goal of Christ-likeness.

Alter call: The exhortation for giving one's testimony of his/her life prior to Christ, the process or moment of coming to the conviction of one's sinfulness realization of the desperate need for a Savior, and resulting Spirit-wrought change - alteration - in one's life.

Jugulum said...

The Reformation was an alter call, too! (How can Calvinsts be against it?!?!?!?!?!?)

NoLongerBlind said...


Should read ....the process or moment of coming to the conviction of one's sinfulness and subsequent realization of the desperate need for a Savior,.....

~Mark said...

"My better idea is..." to do so-called "altar calls" more carefully, rather than eliminate them. No, not everybody who responds to an altar call is serious, but neither is every near-death conversion.

In my understanding, the heart of an "Altar call" is a clear exposition of the Gospel truth, followed by an offered opportunity to accept Christ's salvation. Unless y'all have more than that in mind when you think "altar call", that's a strong start to making disciples.

No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Baptism (i.e. immersion) was the original alter call (Acts 2:38).

There were altars in the river where the disciples were baptizing? Who'd have known?

DJP said...

that's two votes for altar calls.

BrentOf course Calvinists believe in evangelism.

But I'm sure many of our readers would "amen" my experience that there are people so wedded to the altar-call as the chief means of evangelism that, if you're opposed to it, you're opposed to evangelism.

To which I'd say (A) not at all, but (B) some of the responses above would feed that impression, unintentionally.

Associate-to-the-Pastor said...


1. Too often, it is manipulative. Repetitive music, salesman-like pressure, sometimes dim lighting, etc.

2. Many times it doesn't fit the sermon. Some preachers feel it is always necessary to give an altar call, so they just kind of tack it on at the end. This is bad: maybe more an indictment on their preaching, but still bad.

3. It can confuse people when they attempt to think back to the act of walking and connect it to their conversion.

Better idea? Make the preacher and other leaders available for counsel directly following the service. The weight and power of good Gospel preaching lies in the explanation of the text and then systematic, gut wrenching, surgeon like application to everyday life. When the Spirit moves through preaching, it will still be moving 10 minutes later in another room.

Sometimes it seems like the use of the altar call to persuade people is emphasized more than good solid preaching; that is the much larger problem.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Now that I took my shot at a better way, I'd like to define a worse way:

"If there's anyone in the audience who wants to *accept Jesus into their heart*, no need to embarrass yourself, just send me a text message right from where you're now sitting..."

NoLongerBlind said...


LOL! New must have for the modern-day pastor: Blackberry (with texting plan, of course!)


The Blainemonster said...

I think an altar call is a fine idea; at some point the option to respond to the Gospel must be put to people. However, I am often concerned that I seldom hear the need for sorrow and repentance brought to bear on the situation. There are probably quite a few folks who get "saved" so they can be happy, not because they're under the weight of conviction.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Sad to say, there is probably some youth pastor out there actually doing text-message altar calls... sigh.

allen said...

Q. Doesn't the very concept or image
of an altar--implication,the place where the sacrifice is made-- undermine the cross? Has not the perfect, final, never to be repeated sacrifice been made?
Is the front of the building more holy or blessed by God than, say, the pew, foyer or the parking lot? Let's just call it the front of the building and not give the impression that God only works there, and on our signal.

Bryan Wayne said...

My first time commenting . . . and this is my third attempt on this thread.

As a newly reformed Christian I can say I have found the same problems many of you have expressed with the altar-call.

I have found one pastor that instead of abruptly ending the service where there had been the altar-call for so long, and still is, in many churches... he replaces it with this:

After the message he prays, and then opens up the area commonly referred to as the altar (though there is no altar) to those seeking Christ, seeking answers, seeking conversation. I think he has referred to is as "spiritual business" on occasion. He asks that if you don't have any business to take care of please exit the room quietly and reverently so as not to disturb those that do. He, as well as other members of the pastoral staff, deacons &/or elders stay down front to help and counsel with anyone that needs it. (I know for a fact that he abhors the sinners prayer so I know none of them will be leading anyone in that hocus pocus)

Terry Rayburn said...

It's important to actually preach the Gospel (the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ's death for our sins, burial, and resurrection, and the salvation available for all who believe in Him).

This necessitates bringing Jesus Christ into the message (HT to Spurgeon, who pointed out that just as every road leads to London, so every Scripture passage leads to Christ, and we should always take that road).

Way too many sermons (expository and otherwise) end with, "If you'd like to be saved [or receive Jesus Christ, etc.], come down the aisle".

And I've wanted to shout, "Who's Jesus Christ? You never even mentioned him in your sermon!"

When the Lord and His Gospel are preached, some will believe, altar call or not. That's a promise.

NoLongerBlind said...

@Terry R.:
And I've wanted to shout, "Who's Jesus Christ? You never even mentioned him in your sermon!"

Careful, you'd be labeled as a terrorist; some may think they're at a Town Meeting....

That Conservative Dude said...

Blogger stratagem said...

Now that I took my shot at a better way, I'd like to define a worse way:

"If there's anyone in the audience who wants to *accept Jesus into their heart*, no need to embarrass yourself, just send me a text message right from where you're now sitting..."

I prefer to text Jesus directly and skip the middle man & since he is on verizon it's free for me.

On a serious note, I went into this assuming Dan was just referring to Sunday worship service but as I reread the original question, Dan did not qualify when the altar call occurs. I still believe my 1st reply as related to Sunday worship services. But as for revival, evangelism or special services designed to reach the unsaved I think that is the time for it. People are generally there for that reason.

Mike Westfall said...

The T in TULIP says altar calls are ineffective. The U in TULIP says an individual's response to an altar call is ineffectual. The L in TULIP says not all who respond to an altar call have a wedding garment (so to speak). The I in TULIP says altar calls are unnecessary. The P in TULIP says... Hmmm.. Ok, I need to extricate myself from my own cleverness here.

Better idea: Preach the Law and the Gospel. Let the Holy Spirit do the work.

Mike Westfall said...

Oh yeah! The P says that an altar call given at a "revival" service is redundant, just like the whole rest of the revival service.

Aric said...

Child says, “Dad, I want to put my trust in Christ. I need him to save me. How do I do that?” Father is a recovering sinner’s-prayer-necessitarian becomes confused and unsure of himself. He ultimately counsels the child that, just as in Acts 2, there needs to be repentance. The father then helps the child to confess his sins and acknowledge a need to depend on Christ to be saved. The father then realizes he just had an altar call of sorts and ponders what to do . . . .

There’s the background. Here’s my response. If by altar call you mean a time to pray with someone to confess sins and profess a trust in Christ, then it may be a necessity – especially when you have children coming to you. To make sure the altar call is part of the better ideas, I think you need to make sure an emphasis is not placed on a formula or certain prayer. Repentance takes all forms. I also think you need to constantly counsel/remind the person (child in this case) that salvation is found by trusting in Christ alone. As that person matures, then more details can be given.

Anyone with children who have faced the I-can’t-do-a-sinner’s-prayer-but-what-do-I-do-dilemma, any thoughts (email if DJP doesn’t want this rabbit trail messin’ with his meta).

Steven said...


What play on words were you referring to? Obviously I did not do it intentionally.


NoLongerBlind said...

Just havin' some fun, Steven.

No offense intended.

danny2 said...

1. Proper preaching of Christ should not require a separate appeal at the end, but the call to repentance should be woven throughout the sermon.

2. Confessing Christ in a room full of other people who have also done so and are longing for you to do it is not the "confessing me" that is in the face of persecution before a world who thinks you are stupid or nuts.

3. We already have a physical display for repentance and sin...it's called baptism.

4. Altar calls tend to appeal to the will while bypassing the mind...thus "decisions" are made apart from the doctrine of Christ.

5. Altar calls allow people to appeal to their salvation based on the fact that they believed (past tense, one time action) rather than the fact that they believe (present tense continuous placement of faith in Christ).

6. Altar calls can encourage the Body not to engage one another (and visitors) about the sermon, but to only show you "are moved" if you came forward.

Instead, Preach Christ. Call for repentance and faith (from believer and unbeliever alike) throughout the sermon. Make yourself, elders and others available after the sermon. Engage people in small groups where they can discuss/apply/hold accountable issues regarding the sermon.

DJP said...


NLB — who, as I have gratefully experienced countless times, NEVER misses a misspelling — was funning off of your misspelling of "altar."

altar (n) = place of sacrifice
alter (v) = to change

You spelled "alter" as "alter."

Anonymous said...

Or was it "altar" as "alter"?

Mel Kizadeck said...

I'm confused. I consider myself a Calvinist and yet am very big on evangelism. I'm not sure I've met too many admitted Calvinists who don't believe in evangelism. I guess where most Calvinists go "hyper" is that they feel that evangelism (and subsequently altar calls) are unncessary because too many of them think that it's about the unsaved. Evangelism is about the believer confessing before men and preaching the good news so that the sinner may hear and be called by God to repent.
Once a believer understands that it's just as much about obedience to God as it is necessary for the unbeliever to hear, then I think more Calvinists would support evangelism (and altar calls).

Thanks for reading,
Mel Kizadeck

Jugulum said...

Here's where we need that automatic "wah wah wahhhhhh" machine.

Steven said...

I am sufficiently embarrassed now, thanks. I guess that spell check only protects the marginally stupid.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I actually feel that the "invitation" should occur under a certain species of tree... yes that's right, an Alder call!

DJP said...

Steven, you mustn't be embarrassed. I've received countless kindly words from NLB, which I've received gratefully.

The words that get you are the ones that are real words... but not the words you wanted!

Jugulum said...

And when evangelizing certain races from Middle-earth, it would be an Eldar call...

DJP said...


Jugulum said...

No, I don't think the Eldar are in World of Warcraft...

DJP said...

Dude, stop.

Or I'll point out that if Robby the Robot issued it in one of my favorite SF movies of all time, it might be an "Alta call."

Tom Austin said...

Then again, if you were evangelizing the cast of M*A*S*H, it'd be an Alda call...

Anonymous said...

If evangelizing a group who practices exclusive psalmody it would be a psalter call.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dan, you have inspired me to change my profile picture. This idea should be a great boost for street preachers everywhere. They don't have to thank me.

Stefan Ewing said...

I liked Danny2's outline.

It's in plain English, Christ-centered, and won't necessarily prompt someone who is in favour of altar calls to write you off as a hypercalvinist.

Stefan Ewing said...

Mel: I'm not so sure that Calvinists are not big on evangelism...some are not, I'm sure, but not any Calvinist who's committed to the free offer of the Gospel.

But the practice of evangelism (which is fundamentally, "proclaiming Good News") and the methods of evangelism (for example, the altar call) are two different things, and not all methods used to evangelize are necessarily integral to fulfilling Jesus Christ's Great Commission.

R.C. said...

At the church where I serve every sermon calls everyone present to repent and believe the gospel, including all of us who repent and believe the gospel. When the sermon ends, we all publicly affirm and/or reaffirm our faith by coming forward to feast with our Lord at His table. Is this an altar call done better, or no altar call at all?

Anonymous said...

The altar is the place the sacrifice is made, the killing of the thing, this is not done at the steps in the front of the church, this is done in the heart..."if anyone seeks to come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me"

The problem is not in asking people who have questions concerning salvation to come forward, the problem is in what happens when that person comes forward. They are then told...(insert Paul Washer sermon on the sinners prayer here)...to pray a magical prayer, asked if they meant it, and pronounced "born again".

There is nothing wrong with, at the end of a sermon, inviting people to come down to discuss or ask questions about salvation after the sermon has concluded and church is let out. Notice i said AFTER church is let out. There should not be a long, drawn out plea begging people to come and "make a decision for Christ". Far too many people have been manipulated into hell by a well meaning preacher pleading with carnal men to make a spiritual decision...see 1 cor. 2:14.

Mike Westfall said...

@rc: That's more like a chancel-railing call isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of thoughts regarding why I'm not in favor of an alter call.

1. Charles Finney was an arch-heretic.

2. God's grace is sovereign grace, I don't want anyone to get the impression that salvation occurs up front by praying a magic prayer (John 3:8).

FX Turk said...

(1) 100!

(2) Nobody reads my posts anymore.

(3) saying "too much Dan Phillips" is like saying "too much grace". Really? too much grace? you embarass yourself, and I am embarassed for you.

FX Turk said...

Further, let me say that I spurn all who preach in anything but the koine Greek with the funny squiggles but no punctuation, just like dear old Paul.

Mike Westfall said...

Wait. I though the meta had been derailed a dozen or so posts back. That wasn't you, Frank?

Anonymous said...


You gave me a much needed laugh, thanks.

romans923 said...

Idea: Give an altar call, one that even Calvin would approve of.

Reason: A member is "cut to the heart" and can now be told what to do in response. (assuming the Gospel was preached and is being responded to.)

Execution: Tell them in front of the entire congregation, "repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Then tell them to "go save yourself from this corrupt generation."

romans923 said...

point being, the entire congregation needs to hear this often...

"save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

it is instruction for the possibly saved soul who is standing there weeping over his sin and a reminder to the entire congregation to examine themselves...

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

Canyon's Altar Call:

With every eye open and every head raised and no music playing and no feet moving, there is one mediator between you and God, that is the man Jesus Christ. In your seat, cry out to him in repentance and faith that his payment on Calvary's cross was entirely sufficient to pay for your sins. The resurrected Christ will save you. If you have questions or would like to talk to someone, we have counselors available, but they cannot save you, only Jesus Christ can do that, I implore you, be reconciled to God through him.

And I'm a fatalist...

Nash Equilibrium said...

Now is no time to start an altar-cation.

DJP said...

Canyon Man has spoken.

Unknown said...

Hearing my childhood pastor offer an altar call each week taught me how to share the Gospel.

It was also a primary tool Jesus used to draw me to Himself.

No one method of evangelism has cornered the market on acceptability, in my opinion.

I'll continue to happily invite sinners to trust in Jesus at the close of each of my sermons.

Unknown said...

Hearing my childhood pastor offer an altar call each week taught me how to share the Gospel.

It was also a primary tool Jesus used to draw me to Himself.

No one method of evangelism has cornered the market on acceptability, in my opinion.

I'll continue to happily invite sinners to trust in Jesus at the close of each of my sermons.

Marie said...

I haven't read any of the previous comments, so I'm responding off the cuff.

The most obvious problem with alter calls per se is that there is no biblical precedent for them. None. Nowhere in the OT or NT do we Christ, Paul, or any other preacher encouraging (with or without weepy musical accompaniment) to come forward with arms in V-formation to "rededicate" their lives to God. Repentance is preached, most certainly, and collective revival was sought (perhaps most memorably in the story of King Josiah). But repentance, such as preached by John the Baptist, cannot be catalyzed or "coaxed" out of people gifted at oration. Paul did not use smooth words or persuasive speech; he preached the message and let people dwell on it, search the Scriptures, and be led by the Spirit.

OTOH, a general statement at the end of a sermon telling the congregants that counselors or prayer teams are available in the corners, should they wish to avail themselves, is fine because it is not coercive. The pastor who lets it be known he is approachable post-service is acting biblically; Scripture records many seekers pursuing Christ in sincerity after He taught or preached.

NoLongerBlind said...

Steven - my humble apologies.

When you first asked what I was referring to, my hasty read-through gave me the impression that you knew what I meant, but didn't realize I was sarcastically joking around.

In doing so, I neglected to answer your genuine question.

Thanks as well to the right and honorable Mr. DJP - he of the kindly, encouraging words - for picking up on that and properly answering your inquiry!

Tom W.

Jugulum said...

I've had about enough of this altared state of mind.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I'll bet Satan has said "Aigh! Too much Phillips!" more than once. And that's a compliment (to Dan Phillips, that is).

Anonymous said...

The real problem is pastors with alterior motives.

Anonymous said...

...but a good Calvinist should do evangelism in an atlar-gether different manner.

Marie said...

and have ulterior motives. :)

JPG said...

One plan for a "better idea" may be to see how it was handled in the past. In searching some of Spurgeon's comments I came across this old Pyromaniacs post:


Stefan Ewing said...

Telephone rings.

"Hello, ABC Cleaners!"

"Hi, do you do pickup and delivery?"

"We sure do!"

"I need my pants taken in."

"Ah, you're making an alter call?"

Stefan Ewing said...

I'd get clowned for that, if this was Frank's blog.

JPG: On a more serious note, thanks for the link.

DJP said...

I should ask you to go make a comment at Frank's blog, just so that he can clown you.

Anonymous said...

The timid pastor would make a falter call.

Mike Westfall said...

... and the cowboy pastor might make a halter call.

Euaggelion said...

Being Southern Baptist I have seen some HORRIBLE alter calls.

- Men who use music and lighting to stir emotions. As they sing 100 verses of "Just as I am" until someone comes down the isle.

- "Every head is bowed and every eye is closed and no one is looking around...raise your hand if you accept Jesus into your heart, nobody is looking....I see you and you and you in the back and you sir on the front row..."

- I was even at one "revival" where the speaker said we needed to be more like "door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen" when we present the Gospel and the invitation.

- It makes a total mockery of the sovereignty and power of God, implying God needs help by manipulating people like used car salesmen or something.

But Dr. MacArthur makes the best point:

"The reason the invitation system is so dangerous lies in the fact that it leads people to base their eternal salvation on a one-time confession. And this decision is accepted as evidence of salvation, even when the individual continues to live a life of sin and rebellion." - John MacArthur, "Fools Gold?", Page 136

Steven said...

Well, here we are almost 13 hours and 100 comments later and there are some commentators that are still having fun with my little mistake. Glad to know what I am good for around here. Sorry DJP for distracting these good folks from the point of the post.

DJP said...

Oh Steven, I'd feel bad if you really felt bad. Please, truly, don'ot.

Besides, there's a consensus: the altar call is a bad idea, but the alter call is a must.

Aaron said...

I'm not going to bother reading the 126 comments that have already been posted, so forgive me if this is redundant:

My better idea about how to confess Christ before men is this: baptism.

Well, that's not really MY idea if you think about it...

~Mark said...

"Hearing my childhood pastor offer an altar call each week taught me how to share the Gospel.

It was also a primary tool Jesus used to draw me to Himself.

No one method of evangelism has cornered the market on acceptability, in my opinion.

I'll continue to happily invite sinners to trust in Jesus at the close of each of my sermons."


When done after a clear presentation of the Gospel and not as a manipulated response, it's all good.

Every thoughtful argument presented against it so far revolves around the "how".

Stefan Ewing said...


Please do not feel bad. All these riffs are not aimed at your misspelling—they're just silly puns.

Since Calvinists are so dour and serious and only frown and wear grey clothes in public, we need a little levity now and then in our otherwise Puritanical lives.

Michael G. Helders said...

"Hello, ABC Cleaners!"

"Hi, do you do pickup and delivery?"

"We sure do!"

"I need my pants taken in."

"Ah, you're making an alter call?""

- that was head on!

Matt: I think that one of the evidence that you are converted is that you confess Christ as Lord, but I totally agree with your statement.

ReformedChristian said...

Sorry, Dan and everyone. It's almost worktime and I didn't have time to read 130 reply posts. I just wanted to agree with the first 5 replies...that the alter call isn't biblical and it wasn't instituted until the late 19th century. There's some great info on this in Ian Murray's The Forgotten Spurgeon. My better idea is...nothing. Do nothing. Preach the Word and let the Spirit call who He will. They will be convicted by the Word and they will seek out aid/instruction from a church/pastor. In my case, God led me to a church...I was saved by reading More than a Carpenter. I had NO IDEA what to do after the Holy Spirit changed me. But God did...

Anonymous said...

I have seen the altar call cause new pastors to put undue pressure on themselves. To wit, a new pastor measures his Sunday success by the number of people who are moved to move their feet in his direction at the altar call. He reads "helpful" coaching manuals on "How to Jumpstart Your Altar Call" and the like. When noone is moved to conversion, he feels that he has failed his congregation and God. The church elders may even judge him by his headcount at the altar!

Of course, what we would say is that God has already prepared a chosen few for this pastor's church. God will lead them to the church and lead individuals to convert, whether through altar call or other experience, as long as it involves belief, repentance, and regeneration leading to sanctification.

That Conservative Dude said...

This whole post has become 1 big altar-cation. ***sorry, that was my altar-ego typing, he is back under control now***

That Conservative Dude said...

This whole post has become 1 big altar-cation. ***sorry, that was my altar-ego typing, he is back under control now***

bassicallymike said...

Dan said....we Calvinists are not always the best at communication to those who are not already with us.

It is difficult at best to explain the strategies of chess to someone who has only played checkers.

Alex Philip said...

There are just too many comments for me to read through to determine if what I am about to say has already been said. For the potential repetition, I apologize.

While an altar call is ok, a far better way to publicly demonstrate one's reception of the gospel is baptism.

DJP said...

You know, here's a funny thing.

1. Nobody has to read the whole meta attached to any post.

2. I don't easily remember another meta where so many people made a point of noting that they hadn't read the meta before commenting.

3. What's funny about that is that these comments come in a meta where the length of the comments is proscribed. In other words, they're all necessarily relatively brief. No one was allowed an opus.

No big point, I just think it's funny.

Penn Tomassetti said...

Some people will not even attend a church where the pastor does not give weekly altar* calls.

These folks manipulate their churches and its leaders. So the blame is not just on the pastor, but even on the members of those churches.

What is wrong with just digging a pond outside the church, inviting them to drink the living water of Isaiah 55:1 and John 7:37/Rev. 22:17, then calling them to repent and to confess the Lord publicly in the pond?

In reality, I see very few baptisms unless people witnessed to have learned the gospel by being taught for months. Even then, not all who were baptized continued persevering. But I don't think that is a reason to completely leave baptism out of the picture, which seems to happen a lot.

Also, whether you say out loud altar or alter, it doesn't matter unless you mean alter instead of altar. Right?

DJP said...

I think the problem is all the people who have been altared without being altered.

Penn Tomassetti said...


yeah, Biblical assurance needs to rest on the altered nature of a person as well as on the Person and work of Christ.

NoLongerBlind said...

You'll never see an altercation about this among those who've been truly, Divinely altered.

One would hope not, anyways......

Nash Equilibrium said...

What is wrong with just digging a pond outside the church, inviting them to drink the living water of Isaiah 55:1 and John 7:37(etc)...?

Drink pond water? I think the health department might have something to say about that! :0

Hey my mobile altar might actually come in handy there, though...

Penn Tomassetti said...


hahahaha... well drinking pond water will only wash away your sins of the past you know... after that, you have to invite at least 2 people to church every week before you can enter into heaven.

On the other hand, its better to drink the Water of Life before getting to the pond.

Penn Tomassetti said...

So, what verse in the Bible do you use to support your mobile altar?

Us said...

My opinion:

The reason Allen's #3 "illustrates everything wrong about our criticism of the altar call" is because of its tone.

Remember, Dan wrote: "I'm now pretty convinced that a lot of folks who I heard snorting these positions did so themselves because all the other CCKs (Cool Calvinist Kids) also snorted them."

And Allen's #3 snorts: "Giving a proud sinner anything to "do"--even moving his filthy feet forward-- only hardens him more in his pride."

"Filthy feet"? Though I understand what it means, and what he means, it's still a snort. "Only hardens his pride": snort. "Giving a proud sinner anything to do...": snort, label, snort.

As a person who has snorted in this way before, I have painfully discovered that this tone causes people (Christian or otherwise) to a) not hear what I'm saying, and b) slap a few labels on me--which obscure any future message I may speak.

So: #3, if addressed to Calvinists: it's really only for their ears. Addressed to non-Calvinists: it's a turn-off. Addressed to non-Christians: sounds a bit like words of a foaming freak.


Nash Equilibrium said...

So, what verse in the Bible do you use to support your mobile altar?

Wow, there are so many potential answers:
1) The Ark of the covenant looked a lot like it.
2) I don't use a Bible verse to support it, I use a utility trailer frame.
3) I support it using donations from Finneyite street preachers who can't bring themselves to preach without an altar call.

But the serious reason is that it only exists in Photoshop!!
You must be new around here...

Penn Tomassetti said...

I'm just not that good at communicating online I guess. Everyday I'm learning or relearning something new.

I was thinking of David's wagon for the ark of the covenant.

Actually, your mobile altar reminded me of what a good friend told me when I brought up baptism during evangelism, that if baptism truly saved anyone, he would haul a baptismal pool around on a wagon behind him so people could get in. :P

But in all seriousness, I better stop now or more of my poor communication skills are going to be exposed. :P

Nash Equilibrium said...

Your communication skills aren't bad, especially for your age. I actually own shirts that are older than you... and that's a good sign for you, and a bad sign for me.

Stefan Ewing said...

I see a Chi-Rho on your mobile altar there, Stratagem. ...So this is for Finneyite Romanist street preachers who want to do an altar call after their impromptu sidewalk mass? There's something very Tetzelian about it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Hmmm... could be. But a lot of reformation-era denominations also use the chi rho (Lutherans, for instance).
I would gladly rent any robes the Romanist Finneyite need, too. Denim robes might be apropos for street preaching - gotta be "relevant", you know...

Tim Graham said...

The Bible records lots of different times where calls were made (even calls to action!) and responses given in faith, but none of them bears much resemblance to the typical modern "altar call", except in the aspect of "call to action".

The problem is who's giving the "call to action".

If it's God making a call to particular action, then obedience is implied and impelled by faith. If it's a human who puts words in God's mouth by telling people to evidence their faith by performing certain actions that God has not explicitly prescribed, that's quite another thing. It's not wise to presume to speak for God without a solid biblical foundation for what you say.

A better suggestion for evangelism: Preach the gospel of salvation by grace through faith clearly. Tell people that if they hear God's voice and trust Jesus alone for their salvation, to give public testimony of that in baptism.