Pastor Paul Sartarelli Speaks to the Issue of: Altar Calls
Altar calls are indeed an interesting and even important topic. Of course we always want to see people come to faith in Christ. And of course we want the worship service experience to be as biblical and effective as possible.
That said, let me randomly mention several things. These are different days than 30 years ago. (Or even 10 years ago.) Fewer and fewer unbelievers come to church on Sunday. (I’d like to change that somewhat.) I’m sure part of is due to our society is becoming increasingly less “Christian” and I’m afraid believers are inviting un-churched friends less and less. So, while The Chapel (and a few other churches) continued the ritual of “coming forward,” very rarely was it for someone to give his or her life to Christ. So we added extra reasons for coming forward (like for church membership, to say you wanted to be baptized, for prayer etc. What originally was a legitimate “evangelistic” plea became something quite different.
Having realized that, most churches decided to change the way they end their services, choosing various ways for people (primarily believers) to respond to the teaching of the Scriptures in their lives that morning.
Of course, the church must prayerfully continue to pursue opportunities of outreach and challenge our congregation to be lovingly and purposefully engaged in the lives of unbelievers.
A couple of biblical mandates that I consider vital and imperative:
- Firstly, as believers gather to worship on Sunday morning, the primary biblical intention of that meeting is for Christians to exalt their God and be equipped with the teaching of his Word. That doesn’t mean we don’t go out of our way to make unbelievers feel welcome. But it does mean that Sunday worship is not meant to be an evangelistic “crusade.” And so as “pastor-teacher” my primary role is to teach the flock from their Father’s Word.
- A second biblical mandate is that of baptism. This is the explicit mode whereby a convert publically displays his/her faith in Christ. We dare not replace the biblical picture of public profession of faith with an endearing cultural one. As a church, we will more carefully encourage the ordinance of baptism as the means of expression in declaring one’s commitment to Christ.
We must always be looking for meaningful ways to engage people with the Gospel (both collectively and individually). And though we are not opposed to cultural means of expression (e.g. the altar call), we must make sure they connect with the current day and situation.
Presently, having folks come up after the service for prayer or to speak with someone about a spiritual issue is a way we’ve chosen to allow people to respond as they feel the need. We also regularly consider and plan for other ways of responding appropriately for the theme of the morning.