Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2/24/10 Understanding Altar Call

The altar call too easily confuses the physical act of "coming forward" (walking an aisle) with the spiritual act of "coming to Christ" (repentance and belief).

People are urged to come forward as if that coming forward is the critical element in being converted.

But what's required for salvation isn't walking an aisle. It's repentance from sin and belief in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15). Initial repentance and belief-conversion- can happen anywhere, in the pew or in the pub.

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel". Mark 1:15

The Altar call encourages people to base their assurance on a one-time event. The aisle walked or prayer prayed becomes a false stone of remembrance they look back on to assure themselves despite their lack of growth or blatantly sinful lifestyle.

Yet the Bible tells us to base our assurance not on a prayer prayed or an aisle walked in the increasingly distant past. It tells us to look at our present and increasing love for others (1John 4:8,20), the present and increasing holiness of our lifestyles (Matt 7:15-27; Heb 12:14; 1John 3:7-8), and the present and increasing belief of our doctrine (gal 1:6-9; 2Tim 4:3 1John 4:2-3;15)

This confusion brings false converts with false assurance into the church's membership.
This is terrible individually because the person thinks he is saved but is not. And it is terrible corporately because these false believers are welcomed as members, compromise the purity of the corporate witness of the local church in the community.

The church is God's evangelism program (John 13:34-35). Welcoming unconverted members by the use of confusing evangelism methods is to give the camp over to the enemy, making evangelism that much harder.

The altar call makes conversion look like a work of man, when in fact it is a work of God.

Repentance and belief are gracious gifts that God bestows supernaturally, not praiseworthy works that men perform by walking an aisle or praying a prayer.

Eph 2:8-9,"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;it is the gift of God".

The altar call confuses people regarding sacred space. It makes the front of the church look like the only place to really "do business" with God.

But a biblical theology of sacred space disallows such notions. The inside of a church building is no more sacred than any other place now that Jesus has risen and sent His Spirit into our hearts.

Whereas God's presence used to be representatively localized in the the tabernacle or temple in the Old Covenant, the new covenant brings God's presence into every believer's heart. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, not our church buildings (1Cor 3:16-17;18-20; see esp. 2Cor 6:16).

The altar call confuses "coming forward" with baptism. It mistakes " coming forward" as the initial public profession of faith God Requires.

According to the Bible, baptism is the initial way in which we identify ourselves publicly with the people of God (Matt 28:18-20; Rom 6:1-6).

The altar call distracts Christians from the main point of the service.

The main weekly gathering of the church is intended for the edification of believers (1Cor 14:3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 17, 26).

But the effect of the altar call is often to encourage Christians to apply the message to unbelievers, not themselves.

Instead of examining their own hearts, the altar call often leaves Christians examining the hearts of others- and coming out feeling better than they should about their own.

But does our silence to extend altar calls imply that our evangelistic zeal has run dry? No.

We should always be inviting unbelievers to a relationship with Christ, whether on Sunday morning at church or on Saturday afternoon in the neighborhood.

Let's not limit our evangelistic invitations to Sundays at noon!

But we must be careful how we invite them so that both our message and the required response are clear.

When inviting people to a relationship with Christ in the context of a church gathering, we must first be careful to present the gospel clearly-God, man, Christ, response.

God is our holy Creator and righteous Judge. All people have sinned against him, both in Adam as our corporate representative, and in our own lives individually.

That sin deserves eternal death-separation from God in Hell.

But God sent Jesus Christ to die the death we deserved for our sin and reconcile us to Him.

And He requires that we repent of our sins-turn away from them-and believe in Jesus Christ's divine righteousness and substitutionary sacrifice.

When we do-and only then-God credits us with Christ's righteousness, and begins to bring our character into conformity with His holiness.

Once we've presented the gospel clearly, we need to make sure that no other response can be confused with the proper response of true, persevering repentance and belief.

Repentance and belief is the only saving response-whether or not an aisle is walked or a prayer is prayed.

No comments: