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What About Altar-calls?

Our question this time is interesting: "What is your view of calling people from their seats to the front of the church, as response to a preacher's call 1) to those who are not yet Christians to commit themselves to Christ, or 2) to those who are already Christians who want a confirmatory blessing through prayer or the laying on of hands? Does this practice have Biblical authority, benefits or dangers?"

Calling people to the front of a meeting is sometimes referred to as an "altar-call." As far as any Biblical authority for this practice is concerned, however, there is none. It is another example of how all sorts of practices creep into the worship of the church which are not Biblical, are based on bad theology, and are dishonoring to God. Romish worship is filled with such practices, but so is the worship of most evangelical churches today.

We believe that this practice is not only unbiblical and God-dishonoring, but dangerous. Indeed, we see no benefit in it at all.

What are the dangers? They are three, we believe:

(1) The practice historically arises out of the revivalism of men like Finney, Moody, and Sankey, and is inevitably associated in people's minds with their theology, i.e., that I make, by my own free will, the decision whether or not I will be saved. This teaching, that my salvation, and indeed the grace of God Himself, and the power and value of Christ's death depend on the choice I make, is wrong.

(2) In the case of unbelievers the practice is dangerous, because it suggests that all that is necessary for salvation is "coming to the front," or raising one's hand, or other such actions. This has resulted in thousands who claim salvation for themselves on the basis of such a response, but who show none of the fruits of God's grace in their confession and life.

This unbiblical practice and the unconverted "converts" it produces has even resulted in the invention of new kinds of Christians. Some talk of "carnal Christians" who has been "converted" but who remain carnal in conduct and walk. Others, in defense of these unconverted "converts," deny "Lordship salvation," and say that a person can have Jesus as His Savior, without having Him as Lord of His life (Christ's Lordship means that we belong to Him completely, also as far as our walk is concerned).

No new convert ought to be allowed to make any kind of public commitment, until that commitment has been to some degree tested and he himself been instructed in the truths of the Christian faith. This is especially important in light of the emotionalism and high-pressure tactics that characterize so many evangelistic meetings.

(3) As far as Christians are concerned, the practice is dangerous in that it becomes for many a way of drawing attention to themselves and detracts from the public and communal worship of the church.

The means of grace and blessing in the church are the preaching of the gospel, the sacraments, and public prayer, in which all God's people are called to participate. If we desire God's blessing we ought to seek it through the means He has provided and not by putting ourselves forward in a meeting or by calling people to do so.

Indeed, that individuals be singled out this way, or put themselves forward in this way, draws our attention in public worship and evangelism, from God Himself. He and He alone ought to be the center of attention when the people of God meet together.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 12
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002


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