This is going to rub brothers and sisters the wrong way. I know, because it treated this
son of ministers in the same fashion when I received it. So I encourage every reader to be
prepared to do their due diligence and verify what I say here in Scripture before
rejecting or saying Amen to it.
If we are saved by grace of God, through faith... and even this faith is a gift of God
and not of ourselves, lest any of us should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9), then what is being
done to people when they are "extended an invitation to Christian discipleship" during
an altar call and told to make a decision to choose Christ as Savior and Lord?
I say we do not choose, as God has already done it when it was just The Almighty and the Void. It should be noted that I say this from the context of what is written in Scripture, not what was written by a man named John Calvin.
"What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the
Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display
my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God
has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed
it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of
the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" Romans 9:14-21
I say again, we do not have the power to choose. That's not our place. It is of grace,
lest any man should boast, and say "*I* chose to accept Jesus today!" This after hearing
in church service, "We invite you. Please come and make the choice to answer Him right now." to the tune of: Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling...
It is as lovely and yearning an image as it is deceptive. Whether the deception is
deliberate or not is entirely irrelevant. Some churches do *not* claim that the call will save you, but the fact is that it was a recent fabrication of man in the first place. It was brought into Christendom in the 1830s by a man named Charles Finney, and evangelist who looked for forced decisions and results and got them with this method. Its newness may not identify it as "wrong" in and of itself, but it is notable that it was not a practice Jesus or his Disciples, or any of the early church practiced. And most importantly, is it explicit, or even implicit, anywhere in the Word, that we are to force decisions and get results?
Fred G. Zaspel conveys it this way: "The altar call is for a man to physically move from one point to another. The gospel call is for a man to flee to Christ. The gospel call is for a man to spiritually identify with Christ through faith, to reach out with the hand of faith and lay hold of Him Who is life. Accordingly, the duty of the evangelist is to command and even plead with men to run to Him for refuge. But this must never be confused with a command to move anywhere physically. Neither Jesus nor His apostles ever instructed anyone that in order to be saved they must "come to the front" or "come for prayer" or "go to the inquiry room" or go to any geographical location. They needn't go anywhere. They were exhorted to go to Christ and nowhere else. Moreover, they are exhorted and assured that going to Him they need go nowhere else."
He goes on to quote Charles Spurgeon: "Go to your God at once, even where you are now!" he would insist. "Cast yourself on Christ, now, at once, ere you stir an inch!" Spurgeon's practice was according to the Biblical model exactly. He would allow nothing to confuse the direction of the sinner's attention: it must be to Christ, and to Christ alone they are instructed look and go. Nor would they be allowed to entertain any notion that they should go somewhere else first. No! "Ere you stir an inch! Cast yourself on Christ now!"
Is salvation something which the spiritually dead can even respond to, through forced decision or otherwise, as we all were before we were given the gift of grace and faith in Jesus? They have to receive the grace to waken in their spiritual tombs, hear the call to "Come Forth!" and be dragged to the Savior.
Yes, I said dragged.
Jesus said in John 6:44 "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me *draw* him: and I will raise him up at the last day."
That sounds like a decision was made, right; a choice to give in to calling and cajoling? If it does, it is because English translation from the original Greek dillutes the potent significance of the word translated as "draw".
There are two words in Biblical Greek, used by the Apostle John, translated into English as "draw". The one used by John for what Jesus said above means literally, to drag, used
elsewhere by the Apostle to describe the way a net full of fish is "drawn" in aboard a fishing vessel.
Fish in a net have no choice in the matter. They're not being wooed or cajoled by their emotions into the boat. This is not their desire. It is not even done through their effort. They're being dragged inexorably by something more sovereign over their fate than themselves.
We are like those fish. It is not our will to be saved while we are dead. A thing dead by sin and corruption sees nothing of its condition, and so neither acknowledges nor sees a need to be saved, and finds the whole idea complete foolishness.
But this is precisely what is being sold when people are told to come down to the altar late in the service and repeat a prayer after the caller. Not all altar calls, I have been admonished by my true brother, speak of easy grace in this way. Indeed, there are houses of worship where the call comes with a warning. But this takes the focus away from the spiritual act and makes it a physical one which *we* have control over.
My question is, in light of what has been written here, and the scriptures we've seen here, is all that the altar call implies scripturally correct? Is what the vast majority of altar calls are claiming the sinner can do for themselves true?
"Rogaine can restore your hair!!" is pedalled in the same manner of easy grace. It goes right at the pride of the balding person and starts soothing it without truly fixing the problem, or doing what it truly claims. It apparently can make some strands appear and make you feel like your hair is growing back... it *doesn't* tell you that the process can cause what natural hair you have left to fall out as it gets replaced by the peach fuzz Rogaine causes to appear... or that said peach fuzz rarely grows longer than half an inch.. or that it only lasts on the scalp for a limited time, and that once you stop using it (and therefore buying it), those feeble wisps fall right out and leave you with *less* hair than you started with.
"Make a decision for Christ today!!" is an even worse deception. The altar call declaring this, already not used by the Lord nor taught to His disciples, does the same disservice to the hearer, in that he or she is made to think the act of being cajoled down the aisle, (as though the Spirit of the Living God were an entity that created all things but we can somehow RESIST) to then sign a card, or repeat a prayer, will save them, because *they* have made the decision. Pride, feeding all those pricked emotions, is soothed deep inside, while the heart is still crafted from stone and sees no need to change anything; after all, they're saved as is, and no change is required, no life to be submitted.
The truth is, we choose nothing good for ourselves in the midst of our sin.
"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9
So without the grace of God, we respond only to emotions of guilt or fear, evoked from well crafted words, and run to an altar, only to have the decision cool once the fear abates and guilt subsides. *With* that grace, we focus only on running to Christ, right where we are, and having our hearts and lives changed by Him.
Altar calls, no matter the message delivered from them, do not save souls. Grace, through faith in the Son of God--all gifts from the Father--are what saves a soul. The moment of salvation is a moment where the attention needs to leave the sinner and where they are physically, and focus on the Savior.
What Altar Calls *do* often accomplish, however, is to take people and plant their behinds in the pews, as regularly as guilt can be pricked and pride soothed. They must be regularly overwhelmed by the treacherous emotion of guilt, which always up and vanishes in the face of a dearly loved pet sin. Meanwhile, the state of their repentance from their sin goes largely unaddressed, because it is too offensive for their pride to endure in full. Besides, grounds must be maintained. Massive buildings growing ever more massive must be heated and cooled. Staff must be paid. Utilities kept on. This is at *best* in the modern church; we won't even begin to go into what is required to keep some of these "bishops" and "prophets" in their luxurious lifestyles. This is not true of all, but no one can deny it is true of too many that get the facetime presented to the world to represent whatever *isn't* that way.
Unrepentant, guilt ridden people are made into paying customers, and leave out double doors riddled with the same guilt when the guilty *feeling* wears off, just like Rogaine. The problem is that they have not entered through those doors for the reasons they came in the book of Acts.
Numbers were added to the Body of Christ not through invitation, but because the disciples were
obedient and did what Jesus said would identify them as His; they loved one another. People saw the LORD when they saw the assemblage of the early Body of Christ, and they were *drawn* by grace of the LORD, through faith in His Son.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:42-46
The Lord added to their number *daily*.
Does this not completely fly in the face of what occurs within most church buildings every week? Do we fellowship together? Do we even know each other or sit near the same people? Do we speak to our brethren and share our burdens completely? Do we truly make their troubles *our* troubles, breaking bread together regularly, discussing the Word regularly? Or do we show up on Sunday for an hour or so and go back home?
The answer, sadly, is yes, it does. This is hard truth. No one likes the hard truth, and everyone hates the messenger of it. We are dashed upon it like a sailing vessel driven into it by a violent storm. Nothing can be done save to either be broken upon its impregnable, unyielding surface and reformed as the Living God wills it, or be eventually crushed under its inexorable weight.
We are clay in the Potter's hands. No matter what our pride and 1830s traditions whisper to the contrary, that's all we are. Clay has no say regarding how it is formed. That is the Potter's dominion.
That is our place. We can either slay our pride, bow and accept it; trusting and obeying Him, that the LORD may form us by His grace and mercy, or let our pride hurl curses at it because we don't like it, be dashed to ruin, and remain broken shards fit only for the refuse kiln.
For those still clinging to the idea that *we* do the choosing to accept invitations to be saved, consider the following scripture:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:3-14
Who chose us in Him, according to SCRIPTURE? If you answered "we did," read it again.
Who predestined us to be adopted as His children through Christ Jesus, according to SCRIPTURE? If you answered "we did," read it again.
We were predestined according to Whose plan? If you said it was *our* or the *pastor's* plan to repeat a prayer and make an emotionally charged decision, read it again.
It was done according to Whose pleasure and will? If you said it was our will or our choice, read it again.
Not by *us*, but by Him Who calls.
Our pride will war against us over this and many other things we have owned previously, but we must accept that we are in a fight to the death, our spirit against our flesh and all that it loves. A wise man once told me, we think it is Satan who will die. But Jesus said it was *us*. Put your pride therefore to the sword, and give your life over in living sacrifice to the One Who ransomed us, and live. *We* are to be the temple of the Living God. *We*, not the building on the corner with the steeple that depends upon the government for its tax exempt status and will find itself in dire straits when it is soon revoked. *We* are the Body of Christ. May the LORD give us grace and mercy, to trust and obey the LORD, and be ready for His return.