i came across a short article entitled “10 Reasons Not to Give an Altar Call” by Thabiti Anyabwile. he’s the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands.
it’s a thought provoking read.
Anyabwile quotes a list complied by Pastor Ryan Kelly of Desert Springs Church in Alberquerque, New Mexico, and shares a few thoughts of his own.
here are a few of the points made…
“1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the NT.”
“2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th Century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centred, manipulative methodology.”
“6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only ‘up front.'”
“8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.”
these and other compelling arguments are made.
i do not think altar calls need to be eliminated all together; my own tradition, The Salvation Army, is big on appeals and altar calls. the mercy seat or altar is a big part of our worship.
there are, however, things we need to do better and teach better about the mercy seat and altar calls.
do better – use the mercy seat. be attentive to the Spirit and tone of the worship meeting; we do not need appeals and chorus after chorus every time we gather for worship. we do not need “fishing.”
teach better – the mercy seat is a place of grace; not disgrace. it’s a place of communion with God. it’s a place to pray, give thanks, ask for help, start a spiritual journey, refresh a spiritual journey, etc.
for further reading/thoughts on the mercy seat/altar calls from a Salvation Army perspective, check out The Mercy Seat and/or The Mercy Seat Revisited (an updated version of the book) by Nigel Bovey and chapter three of Battle Lines by Wesley Harris entitled “Symbols of Salvationism: The Mercy Seat.”