What Is an Altar Call and Is It Necessary?
Some people have mixed feelings about altar calls. They believe altar calls are traditions rather than scriptural.
An altar call is a tradition in some evangelical Christian churches but not in all churches because some churches don't believe an altar call is necessary to the degree of having it every single Sunday.
Those who wish to make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ are invited to come forward publicly during an altar call. Some people respond to the altar call every week. If they renewed their allegiance to Jesus Christ last week, what happened during the week to make it necessary for them to go back this week and next week and the weeks to follow?
A person who does that probably doesn't understand what an altar call is. Leaders in the church should notice this behavior and enlighten people about the purpose of the altar call. Perhaps people who continually go to altar calls Sunday after Sunday need spiritual guidance in other areas.
While a new spiritual commitment is made during an altar call, other needs are also addressed. Some people might go to the altar for other specific purposes. Reasons might include a rededication after a spiritual relapse, to repent for a sin, to pray for healing, to surrender a new part of their lives to God, or to request a particular blessing.
Definition of "Altar Call" or "Altar Prayer"
The event is called an "altar call" or "altar prayer" because people are gathered at the altar that is located at the front of the church building.
In the Old Testament, sacrifices were made on the altar. It was where animals were offered and literally killed. The altar is where believers offer themselves to God. According to Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." This type of offering is a spiritual one. Believers aren't physically killed at the altar.
The Place of the Altar Call in a Service
Some churches, but not all, have their altar calls at the beginning of a church service to get it over with. That is out of order. Parishioners should hear the preached word first before making a decision to go to the altar. Nothing spiritual probably happened between the time a person left home and is invited to the altar. If some preaching is done, then perhaps there is a better chance for a person to feel the need for a renewal.
Unfortunately, many altar calls occur before the preached word. Altar calls are most effective when they are held at the end of a sermon after parishioners have been given something to think about.
In Support of Altar Calls
Altar calls began in some churches in the 1830s in the United States. Even though "altar calls" cannot be found in the Bible, many well-known pastors have helped to modernize them. They include the late Billy Graham, his son Franklin Graham, Benny Hinn, David Wilkerson, Reinhard Bonnke, Billy Sunday, and D. L. Moody.
Many churches believe that one must make a public proclamation of faith based on what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."
Another reason given in support of altar calls is that they are public acts that provide evidence of the Holy Spirit working in a person's life and that changes are expected to take place. This evidence is good for the leaders of the church and the congregation to see.
Billy Graham's Explanation
Billy Graham advocated that altar calls are necessary because it is important for people to literally get up out of their seats and walk to the altar to accept Christ as Savior. He said going to the altar is a public confession of a person's private decision. It is important for a person to make a public confession of his faith in front of others.
Graham did add that if someone feels pressured by the pastor or friends to go to the altar, then he should stay seated. He should wait for the conviction in his own heart before going forward. If someone is forced to go to the altar, then he is not going forward to meet with God. He is going to please the pastor or his friends.
Objections to Altar Calls
Some churches object to the use of the altar call for a number of reasons they believe to be valid. Their number one reason is that the Bible does not mention the practice. Another reason is that some churches believe it is intimidating and prevents those who would become Christians from making a public display of a private decision.
Some churches object to altar calls because they mislead people to believe that going do the altar and shaking the pastor's hand is all it takes to become a Christian. Many people are saved without having gone forward during an altar call. Those who object to altar calls point out that some people are given false assurance about their salvation. Many preachers have noticed that they never see some of the people again after they go forward during an altar call because they mistakenly believe that was all they needed to call themselves a Christian.
In summary, the main objections against altar calls include the following:
- Altar calls have no scriptural basis.
- Altar calls are intimidating.
- Altar calls offer false assurance about salvation.
What Should Come After an Altar Call?
It is what comes after altar calls that are important in the life of a Christian. Church leaders should not be satisfied with people only going forward during an invitation for an altar call.
There are so many other things that should follow altar calls. They include prayer, new member classes, the right hand of fellowship and sound biblical teachings. Churches fail miserably when they don't follow up on those who go to the altar.