Coming Forward at Altar Calls – Why or Why not?

Occasionally we get asked at Victory why we don’t normally have people come forward at our altar calls. We are not against that at certain times, but there are several reasons we don’t normally do that.

First, it is interesting to note that the practice of coming forward for altar calls did not develop until the 1800’s. Around 1830 Charles Finney was the first preacher to use it regularly. For the first 1800 years of the church this was not the method used. And I think with good reason. Which takes me to the next point…

The Scriptures are clear in Ephesians 2.8-9 that salvation is not of any works.For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Salvation is a work of grace in the human heart, where conviction of sin and the need for a Savior happens through the preaching of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit, inside a person’s heart, and that person then responds by faith and and opens their heart to Christ to experience His saving power. There is absolutely no “works” involved! That means baptism doesn’t save us, confirmation or communion don’t save us, church membership doesn’t save us, and neither does coming forward in response to an altar call save us! The key thing we have to see here is no works contribute to our salvation. It is entirely the work of the Spirit inside of us and our heart response! Works and actions of faith should certainly follow the opening of our hearts to Christ, and things like water baptism are the best way to publicly proclaim we are a Christian, but they should NEVER be encouraged as the WAY of salvation!

I think sometimes we really don’t realize what we are doing in this area. I think sometimes the coming forward of people at an altar call is inadvertently more for US  than for THEM! WE want to visually see people get saved. We want the effect of the “show”! We want another notch in our gospel six-gun. And we don’t think about what’s going on inside the PEOPLE God is dealing with! Many people after the Word is preached and the Spirit is working in their hearts, they are really ready to receive Christ, but then we ask them to do something that GOD HIMSELF doesn’t ask them to do! We ask them to add “works” to it and to step out and come forward in order to be able to pray to be saved! For some people this can be intimidating, embarrassing, fearful, etc. etc.  Why are we asking people to do something even God doesn’t ask them to do!

One day I was praying and thinking about this, and God spoke to my heart “Randy, what if by you insisting people come forward to pray for salvation, you are actually KEEPING people from getting saved!” Whoa! That hit me hard! It was at that point that I started to make it simple for people to pray the prayer of salvation right in their seat, them and God, them responding to the work of the Spirit in their hearts right at that moment, just them and God together, right there. I think that is the most respectful treatment of a person trying to process what salvation is and what God is doing in their life, without adding all kinds of works and intimidating actions on them that God Himself doesn’t add! I usually do ask people to raise their hands as a sign of their faith and wanting to accept Christ, but to be honest even that is not necessary! What’s necessary, and it’s all that’s necessary, is that one is opening their heart to Christ! That can be done easily by leading people in a simple heartfelt prayer. They don’t even have to say it out loud if they are praying it in their heart! When I personally got saved, I prayed a prayer at the end of a salvation tract, but I was at my desk at work so I did NOT pray it out loud, but Whoa! I knew something had happened! I actually got set free from some demonic influence at that very moment sitting at my desk in my engineering office! Isn’t God awesome!

Now, as I said, works and actions need to follow.

So here’s also another aspect of this whole dynamic of people getting saved. No matteer how people prayed for salvation, whether they came forward, prayed out loud, prayed silently in their seat, or whatever, the only true test of salvation is IF THEIR LIFE CHANGES! True salvation is always followed by fruit in one’s life! I have seen people come forward and bawl and squall and then 3 weeks later they are gone. It was all emotion. Then I have seen people pray a quiet prayer and their whole life changed! And I’ve seen the reverse of that also. The main thing is really what goes on in people’s hearts! And that is not the result of any works! If a true work of salvation has happened, the works will follow! It did for me, and it will for anyone who truly surrenders to Christ. Let’s not make it hard for people to get saved!

EDIT: 2 caveats worthy of being added here.

First, what about Billy Graham and his famous altar calls to “Just As I Am” in huge stadiums? As I said at the top of this blog post, I am not against people coming forward in certain circumstances. In fact, in the venue that Billy Graham operated in, I think it was the best thing! My wife was saved at a Billy Graham Crusade! They only get one shot at the people who come to their crusades, and if they are going to generate any follow up for new believers, they need to gather their information, plus they give them spiritual growth information. So the coming forward of people in a Billy Graham Crusade has as many practical reasons as it does spiritual. It is also easier I think for people to come forward in a stadium situation as it is much larger, many people are coming at once making it less intimidating (in a church often it is much more up close and people are much more self-conscious), and people understand it’s the way they connect with a Billy Graham counselor who will pray with them. Are there some who maybe don’t come because it’s intimidating to get out of their seat and go down there? I’m sure there are some, but in the overall picture I think Billy Graham found the best way to connect with people getting saved at his crusades. He brings them down there. It’s important to note he also never attached the act of coming forward to salvation. Another aspect here also related to churches, that make them a bit different, is the Billy Graham counselors would often be ministering to people for 30-45 minutes. As I said, they only get one shot at it. In churches, especially with multiple services, if you want to make room and time to reach people, the practical implications of having people come forward when they are getting saved does not work well either.

Second, I will never criticize a church who brings people forward for altar calls, if they feel God has led them to do that! I am not to judge another church and how they do things! I am only responsible for where I serve! Having said that, a church who DOES bring people forward for altar calls should never criticize a church who DOESN’T, because if they do, they are making the “coming forward” somehow adding to making that person’s salvation “better”! Which is back to salvation by some kind of works, which is the whole point of this blog post. 🙂 Salvation is by grace, through a faith response in a person’s heart, and that can happen in Oh so many ways! Like it did with me! At my desk at work! 🙂 Here’s a great saying. “There is only one way to God, and that is through Christ, but there are as many ways to Christ as there are people!” Let’s not lock God into any one method!

 

 

Facebooktwitter