Sunday, January 5, 2014

Is Altar Call Biblical?

As a child I attended a very traditional fundamental Baptist church. You know the kind; a long skirt wearin', KJV carryin', altar call havin'. While I have come to believe that none of these are essential to a good church, I am specifically going to focus on the altar call. You will have to forgive me if I ramble. I am not so good at getting things like this out, but never the less, writing them helps me sort out holes in my reasoning and I certainly enjoy hearing comments when I post something like this, but be kind please :).

Anyways, back to the point. We have flitted back and forth between churches quite a bit. I am not particularly proud of this, but when Karl and I first got married we felt an obligation to stay at my "home church". I mean, I had literally grown up there having attended school and several services a week. He was a new Christian so relied on my um, expertise, to guide the decision on where we went. When we tried different churches, even up until recently, we always went to ones that were nearly identical to the church I had grown up in. Not surprisingly, we weren't being led to stay at any of those either! After several discussions we tried a few churches that were far outside of my comfort zone. When we found the one we believed the Lord was leading us to, we took a hard look at what was different. There were many things, the style of preaching, the less legalistic approaches to dress and Bible versions, but none stood out more than the fact that they followed a more traditional order of service and there was one big thing missing: altar call. Altar call is a staple in a IFBC church. I have never been to a Baptist church in general that didn't have an altar call, but I would be shocked to my core to find an IFBC church that didn't have one. After much studying and prayer we have both come to the conclusion that while we do not believe that altar call is in and of itself wrong, we do both believe that it is a bigger hindrance than a help to evangelizing. Here is why:

It often creates an emotionally manipulative atmosphere. I know this isn't usually the intention but, think of the altar calls you have witnessed. There was likely an emotional introduction to the call begging you to accept Christ as savior while slow, soft music beckons you to come just as you are. I have found myself caught up in this sort of manipulation. Coming to the altar under emotional coercion will most likely not result in a true conversion. Which brings me to my next thought:

The Sinner's Prayer is deceiving
. In an IFBC the "Sinner's Prayer" is a big tool. The prayer itself it completely fine. It is a prayer of repentance, the declaration of faith in Christ and the asking of forgiveness and salvation. Most of us who are born again, will have said some sort of prayer similar to the traditional Sinner's Prayer (I don't necessarily believe the prayer is required to be saved. The prayer is simply an out-loud manifestation what of the new believer is doing through the conviction of the Holy Spirit). However, this prayer is held so highly in regard to so many Protestants that it can be deceiving. Saying a prayer does not save us. Without the opening of our eyes to the need of a savior by the Holy Spirit, and true repentance, the Sinner's Prayer accomplishes nothing. Now, as a Christian whose eyes are opened, I know this, but combine this rote prayer with the emotional manipulation that altar call can produce and how many walk away thinking that because they said a prayer they are now saved? Again this leads into my next thought:

It produces false converts. I went to the IFBC for about 23 years with a few years sprinkled in here and there up until about a year ago. I saw many many "converts" stand in front of the church. Including close friends and even myself. I can attest that there are some converts as a result of the altar call, but if we are to judge by fruit produced, I can also attest that for every 1 true conversion there were dozens of false converts. And oh! How many times I heard the story of how someone walked down the aisle to get saved but later realized they themselves were a false convert. Even the pastor at the IFBC I attended told that story! Thinking back to those I watched converts at the altar, very few were baptized and even fewer continued to come to services. I don't claim to be able to judge the hearts of those who did not appear to follow through with their faith, but the Bible does tell us that we can judge a tree by it's fruits and for most altar converts, the fruit just doesn't seem to be there. If every person that walked up an aisle and said a prayer was truly converted our churches would be over flowing!

Of course, there is nothing in the Bible the specifically forbids the altar call, but looking through scripture will also not reveal a single specific instance in which an altar call was used and it appears to be something that was only relatively recently added to church services. Yes, some people will be saved as a result of the altar call, but can we afford to be pragmatic about something that is also potentially causing such large numbers of false converts?

There are many things I am reconciling as my faith matures and I have had to make changes in order to line up with what I believe to be Biblical. Altar call is not something that I focus on much but when I do think about it enough to study it, I can't seem to bring myself to being ok with it.

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