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"Receiving Christ and the Altar Call"

From my earliest childhood through my teenage years I was in a denomination which put great emphasis on giving an Altar Call, or as we usually called it, "The Invitation" to come forward. Having been taught it all that time I also began to impose it upon others when I became one of those expected to do the Inviting. Therefore, my experience concerning this practice is first-hand. Even back then I knew there were no direct scriptural commands warranting such, and that "Coming Forward" in itself was not receiving Christ, but I figured since it seemed to work so well in getting people to respond then it must be good. Those of us "in charge" sometimes discussed this reality privately, but we did not dare put a question mark on one of our most "sacred" practices. When one is wise in his own conceits he cannot see the truth because his wisdom is ignorance disguised as concern for people.

Let us first look at receiving Christ. Receiving Christ is to "believe on his name" having been born of God and God alone (Jn. 1:12-13). Such believing as this is done "with" the heart (Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:10). Also, it is "with" the mouth that confession is made "unto salvation" [notice it is not "to get" salvation] (Rom. 10:10), and this confession is made to God by "calling upon" Christ’s name (Rom. 10:11-14). This is scriptural believing and confessing, and by grace it takes place whenever and wherever the Spirit brings a person to that point within their soul having heard the gospel of Christ. This can happen during the message (Acts 10:44) or at the close of the message (Acts 17:32-34). The fact is this may take place, having heard the gospel, long after the message itself is over (Jn. 12:10-11). Nevertheless, hearing the gospel is vital to receiving Christ. Sadly, in many places emotional pleadings and psychological ploys are methods used rather than preaching Christ to people.

To deceive people into thinking that they can come forward to some man ordained "altar" at the end of a message [or during it for that matter] and repeat some prayer [usually concocted by someone else] giving mental assent to historical facts about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is not salvation. Inviting people to come forward and "get saved" or come to some altar and "pray for salvation" is nothing more than ignorant and rebellious men leading deceived people into a false hope.

Why is it that some are unwavering in this practice? One, because their religious practices are most dear to them. Two, because the infusion of "numbers" of confessions is seen by them as the proof of their ministry. Three, because some men love holding authority over people’s actions. Four, and foremost, because they do not believe God Himself is able to bring men to believe on His Son! Moreover, the gospel they preach, which is in deed not the gospel of God’s Son, is one that depends upon men’s actions rather than being a declaration of the person and work of Christ in salvation.

Those who have believed should be encouraged to make public confession of Christ, and the way to this is first by being baptized. But how do we get people to acknowledge they have believed? By preaching Christ. They will acknowledge Him and seek to obey Him. We must take note of the early disciples of Christ and their ways. In the book of the Acts they preached Christ and exhorted men and women to repent and believe, but NEVER did they give Altar Calls or Invitations to encourage this. Still, they had results, albeit the results from some were mocking and persecution while those ordained to eternal life believed.

When will a person begin to see the error of these Altar Calls and Invitations? It will not happen unless God is pleased to show them the error and falsehood of "their" message about Christ. False methods generally extend from a false message. When one believes God has done all He can do and now it is up to men then whatever it takes to get man "to do" what he is supposed to is the logical conclusion. Proper practices cannot flow from heretical doctrine. The sad fact is most people deceived by false practices seem to be deceived in such because they believe on a false Christ. Those who have been brought by God in grace to receive Christ as He is revealed in scripture begin to question common practices they cannot find in God’s word. While this may not all come in one mighty rush, it does come little by little. If they are surrounded by these common practices a time will come when they may begin to wonder if the common doctrines they hear are erroneous as well. Their sincere intent to seek God’s truth may begin by asking others, "Why do you believe this?" or "Why do you practice ‘such and such’ when God’s word does not say these things?" Their sincere intent is perceived by others as an attack and the battle will ensue with ridicule and persecution against them, but those called of God will persevere.

Altar Calls or Invitations are most beloved by this religious world which calls itself Christian. Whether or not they admit it this is their way of salvation. To all who seek God’s way the reality is that the truth is an assault against the very hope on which the religious world bases their eternal destiny. The gospel is good news but those who seek to proclaim it are not messengers declaring life to all who hear it (II Cor. 2:14-17). While error is the enemy of truth, truth is also the rebuker of error. Since error is the prevalent message among the majority then the majority will not receive those who hold to truth. The truth confronts the conscience of those in error and guilt springs up as a mighty well. The only way to confront their guilt is to demonize the truth and make it the problem. When an altar is where one thinks he has found Jesus and truth declares He is revealed only in scripture and received only by faith in the heart then that one will demonize the truth. When a person says Christ is only revealed in scripture and received by faith in the heart but then makes the "Altar Call" a good method to encourage that, these show the lack of confidence they have in the message they preach, and, in the power of God’s Spirit to bring salvation to pass. When one has received Christ by grace through faith as revealed in scripture under the power of the Holy Spirit he does not need an altar nor its invitations. Such as these will reject man made methods for what they are -- idolatry. These two cannot fellowship together. Years ago a lawyer heard brother Henry Mahan of Ashland Kentucky preaching "The Gospel" and his response was along these lines, "If I believed in my clients like that man believes in his gospel I would never lose a case." Is this the KIND of gospel most preach? No! But some do preach such a gospel, and it is the gospel of God’s Christ who came to save His people from their sins. God’s gospel needs no Altar Calls for it goes forth according to the sovereign purpose of God with the power of the Spirit to call out the people of God.

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