On a few occasions, I have witnessed altar calls.
Two in particular come to mind – one was a church I attended as part of a requirement for a college class, and when the altar call was announced, the entire congregation of about 40 people, minus myself and another gentlemen, went forward. This included the entire 12 member choir.
The second was at a Christian concert last week, when in an arena of about 20,000, a third of the audience raised their hand and prayed along with the leader asking Christ to come into their hearts.
Both of these were strange to me in their own respects. At the church, did everyone really walk in the door a pagan, and suddenly find Jesus? Why were so many unbelievers in the choir?
And at the concert, the tickets were $45 each; do that many people have so little to do with their time, and so much excess cash on hand that they can wander downtown and attend a concert that lasted just under 4 hours? The band is known in Christian circles, but they are hardly in the Billboard top 100 of secular songs. Did so many in attendance really find their hearts softened by the Holy Spirit?
I have often wondered the same thing about Billy Graham crusades; tens of thousands fill stadiums to hear him speak; and at the end he invites people down to receive Christ; and hundreds, if not thousands do; but do unbelievers really just wander into stadiums to hear an old man speak about Jesus?
Now to be sure, I am more than willing to allow the Holy Spirit to work when and where He wills through whichever means He may choose.
Enter the contradiction that occurs in each of these situations.
Every sermon contains some reference, direct or indirect to Ephesians 2:8-9 and similar verses, which clearly say that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners like you. And He has.
To which everyone, myself included, can say a loud and hearty Amen!
But there is always more in these sermons.
There is the emphasis on the unworthiness of the individual shown forth in their failure to continuously improve in living a Godly life and bearing enough fruits worthy of repentance. This is often accomplished by examples of serving those in need, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the abandoned. These are certainly things all believers should do, but salvation is not tied to the completion of any of them.
What is the hearer to think? Every day of their life prior has been an awful mess; and ever since they became a Christian, they have failed to live up to the law.
How do you know if you have borne enough fruits? How do you know if you have truly accepted Christ into your heart? How do you know whether or not you really have the Holy Spirit?
And with so many question, in the end, there is no certainty of salvation at all.
Enter, the altar call.
The altar call certainly does nothing in terms of forgiving sins or offering salvation; instead it is a new attempt at becoming a holy child of God. Last week you came forward, but look at all the sins you have committed since, so you must come forward again – to reassure yourself that your name is actually written in the book of life.
Is this salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ?
Not even close!
This is yet another attempt to keep the law. But of course no one can keep the law perfectly, which is why we need Christ to begin with.
But Evangelicals don’t see it that way; you are called to be holy and perfect, and if you are not, then you are condemned.
And so one must ask, what exactly is Christ saving you from?
Based on the number of people who go forward at each altar call, the answer would appear to be – not much.
Which is a horrible way to live