Altar Calls – Are they Biblical?

You’ve probably at one time or another heard an altar call. You may have even responded to one. Maybe it sounded something like this.

I’m going to ask you to get up out of your seat right now – hundreds of you. Come and stand in front of the platform and say by coming I want Jesus Christ to forgive my sins and I want to know I’m going to heaven. I want him to take over my life and be the director of my life.

Up there—down there—I want you to come. If you are with friends and relatives, they will wait for you. Christ went all the way to the Cross because He loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps and give your life to Him.

This was an invitation to accept Jesus Christ by Billy Graham at one of his many Crusades. You can close your eyes and almost hear his distinctive voice, hear the music, and hear the clapping as 100s of people flood the aisles toward the altar.

This is an example of what is called an invitation or an altar call. Isn’t awesome!?!

There are those that refute this practice. They will tell you it isn’t biblical. A quick search of the Internet on the subject of altar calls results in much information on why some churches use altar calls and why some don’t. There is much debate on whether they are biblical or not.

Objections

Some churches and religious organizations object to the use of the altar call for a variety of reasons.

According to the Gospel Coalition, the following is a list of objections to altar calls:

  1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the bible (NT)
  2. Based on bad theology and man-centered, manipulative methodology
  3. It confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.”
  4. It deceives people about the reality of their spiritual state.
  5. It partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.
  6. It misleads us to think that salvation happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of a services and only “up front”
  7. It is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.
  8. It is seen as the most important part of the service and de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship like preaching, prayer, fellowship and singing that God has prescribed.
  9. It is man invented and not prescribed or glorified by God.
  10. The “altar call” teaches the congregation to evaluate the “success” or “effectiveness” of the ministry on outward, visible actions and results.

Other objectors say the altar call is not a biblical practice but a relic of nineteenth-century American evangelical tradition introduced by Charles Finney. Charles Spurgeon said it is a false view of human ability. 

The Root of the Debate

Predestination versus Free Will (Calvinism vs Arminianism)

At the root of whether altar calls are biblical is debate between Predestination and Free Will or Calvinism versus Arminianism. Let’s take a look at a few definitions.

Calvinism – Doctrinal stance and belief that God predetermined who would go to heaven and who would spend eternity in hell. Predestined (chosen) and no free will to accept or reject salvation through Jesus. As a basis for predestination, Calvinists state God chose people for His purpose. Examples Calvinists cite are as follows:

    • David
    • The Levites
    • Abraham
    • God chose or elected those for salvation

Calvinists site the Greek work, eklektos in Romans 8:33 which says, “who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”.

Arminianism – Doctrinal stance and belief that God gave mankind free will which teaches every individual has the ability to choose or not chose salvation through Jesus when presented. The following verses are cited for support of free will belief:

    • Joshua 24:15 – And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
    • John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Biblical Evidence For Altar Calls

After researching this topic, I say altar calls are not “unbiblical”, in fact, they are biblical. I cite the following verses which support altar calls:

  • Matthew 10:32 – Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.
  • Luke 12:8 – Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.
  • Matthew 4:19 – Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
  • Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.
  • Matthew 19:21 – Follow me; Mark 1:17 – Follow Me; Mark 2:14 – Follow Me
  • Act 3:19 – Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20 – Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

Let’s take a look at the physical healing in Mark 10:46-52 which gives a picture of an altar call.

  • Blinded by our sin – 46Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging.
  • We realize just who Jesus really is – 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
  • People tell us we don’t need Jesus – 48 Then many warned him to be quiet;  but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
  • We hear His calling – 49 So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”
  • We must die to self – 50 And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.
  • We ask for salvation – 51 So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.