Should we use altar calls in our evangelism?
Genuine conversion - its something every true child of God wishes to see. As Christians, we all pray to God for souls to be saved and thankfully, this is happening all across our world. We also seek to reach out to people at home and abroad with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is both a privilege and a duty. What we often fail to question is our own methodology in evangelism. We all have traditions. Some of them are biblical and helpful; others are not so.
So what about the altar call?
It may be something of a surprise for most Christians in our day to learn that the "altar call" is very much a modern day invention in Church history, made famous by the heretic Charles Finney. It may sound like extremely strong language and even ridiculous to some people for me to class Finney as a heretic. He is perceived by many as one of the great heroes in Church history, especially for his efforts in evangelism. Yet I do not say these words lightly. If I met someone on the street (who did not have the famous name of Finney) and they denied the substitutionary atonement of Christ, justification by faith alone, and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (amongst other things) I would immediately seek to lead that person to Christ. If they remained convinced that these biblical doctrines were error, I would be very surprised to see that person in heaven. Yet Finney clearly denied these major doctrines (for more on this, read his Systematic Theology and these articles and lectures here)
Before Charles Finney, the "altar call" was basically unknown. The likes of Martin Luther, George Whitefield and C. H. Spurgeon, great Evangelists in the history of the Church, were men who shook entire nations as they were used mightily by the Lord in evangelism, yet never once did any of them use the modern day "altar call."
In our day, it is often assumed that a preacher has failed in some way if he does not call people forward in a service to prove their commitment to Christ. Yet, in spite of its wide use, questions remain: is it a helpful practice? Is there a reason why so many who make a public show of faith in an altar call are nowhere to be found even weeks afterwards? Can this practice of the "altar call" actually be harmful in the long run? and.. is it even biblical?
What follows below is a video segment (9 minutes, 34 seconds) taken from a larger 12 part series by Mark Kielar and the Christian Research Network that is well worth watching and may well provoke much thought and discussion.