5 Reasons Pastors Should Reconsider the Altar Call


I think (and hope) that the vast majority of pastors who practice the "altar call" do so from right motives. They want to see people come to Christ. That's fantastic. I'm all for evangelistic preaching. I think unbelievers should be addressed weekly. I do not wish to call that motive into question, but the method. I realize by calling altar calls into question, I am tampering with the "sacred cows" of some. But in my reading of Scripture, sacred cows are to be destroyed, not fed, polished, or left alone. So here are five theological reasons to reconsider the beloved altar call:

1) Ecclesiology - The altar call betrays the New Testament teaching on the church. The church is a people - not a place. The building where the church gathers is not "the house of the Lord." The front of the building is no more sacred than the bathroom in the back. The front steps do not have a monopoly on the presence of God. God's presence is not found at the front of a building, but in his people.

2) Soteriology - An altar call can muddle the congregation's thinking about how a person gets saved. Salvation is not about coming to the front. There is no efficacy in the aisle. The message of salvation is not "Come forward" but "Believe in the Lord Jesus and repent of your sins." Atonement doesn't take place down the aisle. That happened at Golgotha.

3) Christology - Jesus is the final sacrifice. After his definitive death, there no longer remains a need for an altar. For Roman Catholics, it makes perfect sense to have an altar up front. Not so for Protestants. Once for all time.

4) Access to God - As mentioned, the glory cloud doesn't rest below the pulpit. The altar is an old covenant reality.The pastor up front is not a priest. There is one mediator between God and men - Jesus Christ.

5) Assurance - I think the main practical danger of altar calls is causing false assurance. A person walks an aisle, holds the priest's pastor's hands, prays a prayer, signs the card, and is typically assured that once they are saved, so they shall always be. Five years later when a person is willfully living in sin, they recall walking that aisle and signing the card. They recall the well-meaning words of their trusted pastor. They have false assurance because of a faulty practice. This is my own experience. I walked an aisle my freshman year of high school but lived in sin for the next four years before repenting of sin in college. I am sure I caused great harm to the cause of Christ during those years, as I claimed his as Lord but did not submit to his Lordship. I know this to be the experience of many.

So for these reasons and more, I encourage pastors to get rid of the altar call. Just preach Christ. Preach his gospel. Preach repentance. Call and summon unbelievers to trust in Christ. God can save his people without an altar call. He has been doing it for 2000 years.

(If interested in more, see Iain Murray's "The Invitation System," available here for free)