Altar calls refer to the practice of inviting people to come forward to the front of a church service or Christian event to publicly come to faith in Christ or for other spiritual reasons. However, altar calls were not a practice found in the early church. The early churches did not have altars or even church buildings that could be utilized in such a manner. Instead, baptism served as the key practice to express a person's faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Are altar calls biblical? Does the Bible talk about altar calls?
In the twentieth century, evangelistic events popularized the practice of altar calls in asking people to come to faith in Christ in response to a message. This practice was then used in many Protestant churches as a time at the end of the service for a person to believe in Jesus, express interest in church membership or baptism, or for other prayer needs or spiritual concerns.
Those who support the practice of using an altar call often refer to Matthew 10:32: "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven." An emphasis on "going public" with one's decision is made, telling all people about the decision to become a Christian.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with "coming forward" to publicly tell people about your commitment to Jesus Christ, it is also not a requirement. Instead, a person comes to salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Responding to an altar call can be used to make this decision or share it with others, but does not save a person.
In addition, responding to an altar call can sometimes give a person a false assurance that he or she has become a Christian. However, just praying with a person at the end of a service in front of a church does not necessarily make a person a Christian.
The use of altar calls should not be used as a substitute for baptism. We can rejoice when someone makes a decision for God through an altar call. However, the command of Jesus is to make disciples that include baptizing believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20).
Finally, it is also important to note that believing in Jesus Christ is a decision that is intended to last far beyond an altar call. Though a person can certainly make a genuine commitment through an altar call, believers are called to be disciples, those who will follow the call of Jesus: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
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