Altar Calls

The preached word demands a response.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. Acts (10:44-45)

I remember some of them from when I was young. I remember giving some of them myself.

Altar Calls.

It is interesting to me that many in the Reformed camp pride themselves on never giving an Altar Call. A lot of bad press disparages the Altar Call, but why? Honestly, when most people start talking negatively about the Altar Call, I find that very few define what they are talking about.

Perhaps a good place to start would be this article by Doug Sweeny and Mark Rogers.

So the idea of pooling people around the front of the church near the pulpit, in order to persuade them more, to cajole them more, or to preach to them more, all for the sake of winning a soul, seems strangely contrary to these two passages from Acts.

Indeed, these two sermons by Peter were interrupted by the people listening either asking what to do to be saved or showing signs that God has saved them during the preaching.

We could say, that God saved by the preaching of the word, and the apostle had no need to use Finney’s New Measures.

And while we are at, I know from my own personal experience the number of times when I was younger, that I pressed people emotionally, and I worked up the crowd to get a response. The apostles would at least look at us strangely wondering what we were doing.

But…

All of that being said, there is something else in these passages.

The preached word demands a response. Those listening are called upon by the Holy Spirit to respond.

And while we cannot play the Holy Spirit and make people respond, I think there is something to be said for giving people time to reflect and respond to the sermon.

Which brings me back full circle on this thing. I would not want to ever offer an Altar Call as described in Sweeny and Roger’s article, but I think it is imperative, that a response is given to the preached word.

If you notice Acts 2. The people respond, but they need further counsel. So Peter advises them then and there. He doesn’t have them come back at another time; right at the end of his sermon, they respond, and he counsels.

This is why in our church we offer a time of response, and why during this time we try to make our elders available. Because when the Holy Spirit moves upon someone’s heart and they respond, we want to be ready to give them counsel right then and there. You can call it an Altar Call if you want, but Finney would surely not approve.