Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Walking the Aisle - Invitation/Altar Call

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Walking the Aisle - Invitation/Altar Call

In most of our baptist churches across the country, the act of giving an invitation/altar call at the end of a worship service is still going strong. The implementation of the altar call rose dramatically at the height of the Billy Graham crusades, where "Just As I Am" became the staple song to get people out of their pews and to the front of the church. I am not suggesting with this post that we should take drastic measures and plea for our church leaders to eliminate the invitation next week. On the contrary, I believe the invitation time should stay, but for the right reasons. Here are a few of my concerns concerning the current use of the invitation/altar call.

First, and perhaps most important, is that the invitation/altar call can lead to a confused understanding that a person is truly converted simply because they have "walked the isle." Coming forward to an altar is not what brings about salvation for the lost. That is reserved for faith in Christ alone. The fact that a church family or an individual can point to a time when an individual "walked the aisle" is what can lead to a false security of salvation. True repentance and fruit bearing are long lost markers of a person's relationship with Christ. (Notice that Christ alone is what saves and by His power we are kept. Nevertheless, James helps us here by reminding us that true saving faith in Christ will result in fruit bearing.) Therefore, we have many people in our churches who are simply not Christians but are unfortunately not aware of this reality, partly because they once made some kind of "walking forward" effort that fell short of understanding the Gospel.

Second, the invitation/altar call has been erroneously labeled as an important "profession of faith." This has, in part, taken the place of baptism.

Third, the invitation/altar call has developed into a place to "do business" rather than a place to pray with believers. This is the case in my home church. In the year and a half of my service there, I have rarely experienced an altar call where believers were moved to pray before the Lord with one another. Our weekly worship service, we must remember, is first and foremost about the edification of believers. All that we do, from singing hymns together to the observance of the Lord's Supper, is done in unity to glorify God. I would like to see our altar call return to an opportunity not just for decision making, but also for our people to "carry each other's burdens."

Finally, most of our churches are going to continue the use of an invitation, which is great. My plea would be that pastors are aware of the potential misunderstanding for walking the isle. Paul Alexander of Capital Hill Baptist Church correctly writes that "the least that should be done is for the pastor to explain publicly that coming forward and praying a prayer should not be confused with a saving response to the Gospel. Repentance and belief is the only saving response – whether or not an aisle is walked or a prayer is prayed."


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