The church I attend has an altar call. Every Sunday. Without fail. For those of you who are not familiar with an altar call let me paint the picture for you.

Our church is organized with a couple hundred chairs forming three aisles. The three aisles lead up to “The Stairs” which lead up to the stage. On the stage is where the band plays, the singers sings and where our pastor preaches. In every sermon (did I mention every sermon?) our pastor develops his message toward The Invitation. When he gets to The Invitation he walks off the stage, down The Stairs and stands at the bottom, facing the audience. He invites people to come to kneel on The Stairs, pray for salvation, forgiveness, pray for each other, etc. Once he’s delivered The Invitation he moves off to the side, the band and singers come back out and sing and people inevitably move toward The Stairs, kneel on them and begin praying.

That’s The Invitation – also known as an altar call. I believe the altar call is basically a conservative Christian invention. The mainline liberal church I grew up in never had this. We would probably have called the police if someone had left their pew (we had pews not padded chairs) and came forward in church.

The whole concept of the altar call makes me uneasy. There are several reasons, some Scriptural, some merely my preferences. To get the Scriptural concern out of the way: “altar calls” are not found anywhere in the Bible. They actually appears to be a relatively recent development (late 1700’s to early 1800’s or so) in church history.

A bigger concern is that the altar call lends itself to impersonal, “numbers-based” evangelism. I talked about this last week so I won’t spend any more time on that other than to point out an interesting internet find: a CD actually entitled How To Give Aggressive Altar Calls. I cannot fathom the mindset involved in this. However I may be overreacting because it did receive such glowing praise as “In the first 2 Sundays we had over 70 people walk to the front.” “I want to thank you for the CD on the aggressive altar call. I added that to my service a few weeks before Easter this year and I saw instant results.” “Like in Major League Baseball, your pitching staff can have eight great innings and still lose the game, because of a terrible ‘closer’.” No more needs to be said on this matter.

The altar call also is associated in my mind with emotional decison-making. I want to spend some time on the role of emotions in worship at a later date but overall I’m suspicious of attempts to deliberately stir emotions during worship and even more suspicious of attempts to get people to make decisions when their emotions are strong. Case in point: even Britney Spears went forward during an altar call. “The 22-year-old singer and her mother hugged one another and cried ‘as they got caught up in the highly charged ceremony,’ the paper reported.”

Finally, one of my major concerns about the altar call is how it apparently has to happen at the end of every sermon. This forces ministers to funnel their message toward the same ending every time. Every sermon ultimately leads up to a discussion of salvation and the need for Christ. This is not a bad thing but for every sermon? It seems not only unnecessary but also unhealthy.

Shouldn’t sermons address the needs of mature, growing Christians and not just the unchurched or the recently-churched? It’s been over 20 years since I “received Christ” and while I daily marvel at the wonders of God’s salvation I’m also ready to hear about deeper matters in church. I know other Christians also want to grow in their faith and I assume pastors have the spiritual maturity to lead us deeper and farther in our journey. Why aren’t more sermons meeting this need?

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