Are “Altar Calls” Biblical?

alter call

At the end of almost every pentecostal, charismatic, or evangelical church service, there is the ubiquitous call for sinners to “give their lives to God”. Generally, there is a fever pitch of pleading mixed in with a healthy dose of threats of eternal hellfire and damnation – all to the tune of a Hammond organ that is being plucked to within one inch of it’s life.

Unfortunately, alter calls have become synonymous with “salvation” – particularly because they are seen as the surrender of one’s life to Christ. Some even argue that you are not “really saved” unless you “got up off the mourners bench to walk down to the alter in front of everybody” – implying that the will of God can only be accomplished in a room full of people.

Thus my interest in a recent article from Gotquestions.org (reprinted entirely below – emphasis in bold):

What does the Bible say about altar calls? Are altar calls biblical?

The practice of altar calls—calling people forward after an evangelistic sermon to make a public confession of faith in Christ—has gained prominence in the 20th century primarily through “crusades” such as those of Billy Graham. Also known as the “invitation system,” altar calls are regularly practiced as part of some church services, especially in many Baptist denominations and other evangelical churches where altar calls are an integral part of the services.

While altar calls as practiced today are not found in the Bible, their advocates cite several biblical examples as support for using them. First, Christ called each of His disciples publicly, telling them “follow Me” (Matthew 4:19, 9:9) and expecting them to respond immediately, which they did. Jesus was demanding an outward identification with Himself on the part of those who would be His disciples. Of course, the problem of Judas, who also responded publicly by leaving his life behind and following Jesus, is that the “call” Judas responded to was not synonymous with salvation.

Proponents of the altar call also cite Matthew 10:32 as proof that a new believer must acknowledge Christ “before men” in order for Him to reciprocate. Calling people to the front of an arena or church is certainly acknowledging before men that a decision has been made. The question is whether that decision is genuinely motivated by a sincere repentance and faith or whether it is an emotional response to external stimuli such as swelling music, heartfelt pleas from the pulpit, or a desire to “go along with the crowd.” Romans 10:9makes it clear that genuine salvation comes only from heartfelt belief, which will then result in a verbal confession of that faith.

Just like the sinner’s prayer, altar calls can be an outward expression of genuine repentance and faith in Christ. The danger is in looking to the prayer or the response as evidence of salvation (Matthew 7:22). True salvation results in a life of continual sanctification as the Holy Spirit within the true believer produces more and more of His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) as evidence of the reality of saving faith.

So there you have it – alter calls are not “unbiblical”, but they generally appear to be overhyped conclusions to religious stage shows. The important point to remember is that alter calls DO NOT replace the fruit of repentence in the life of the believer.

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45 Responses to “Are “Altar Calls” Biblical?”


  1. 1 N'Catina June 12, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    This is a very good response regarding this issue. I recall the question concerning the biblical validity of altar calls before. It is a very good inquiry to breach, especially given other activities conducted in churches have come into similiar scrutiny. I remember reading additional blogs and sites over time that even went so far as to question whether any type of conversion actually happened during those calls, thereby questioning whether people were actually saved.

    As with everything else, motive is paramount and the Holy Spirit’s leading the way is critical.

    • 2 speaking truth June 12, 2009 at 9:22 pm

      I recall the question concerning the biblical validity of altar calls before.

      Our brother Independent Conservative did an article (with great video documentaries) examining the origin of the modern alter call. He does still read this blog, so maybe he can come out of hiatus (again) for a moment to provide the link 🙂

  2. 5 Mark|hereiblog.com June 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Yep, good succinct response. The passages used to support altar calls are stretched to fit them. There is no imperative.

  3. 7 Lavrai June 12, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Hi, ST. I didn’t know altar [check your spelling 🙂 ] calls were an issue. But now that I see its relation to the sinner’s prayer, I understand why some might be wary.

    Altar calls are “normal” to me, if you will. I haven’t been in a church (Christian anyway) that didn’t make some kind of altar call before the service was concluded. Very rarely I see anyone make a decision to turn to Jesus Christ — it usually just ends up being “special” prayer for those who request it.

    However, I witnessed one recently in which someone made the “decision” and was instructed in the sinner’s prayer. I guess the process can start any which way since it’s really GOD who does the saving work… but. Shouldn’t folks be sat down and educated/ informed about what they’re doing and what it means when they recite those prayers? Does a man really understand what it means when he says, “I’m a sinner?”

    Since I’m a witness, I keep this person in my prayer… but having one recite the sinner’s prayer during an altar call and then come to church regularly… I mean, what do they do when they aren’t at church?

    • 8 speaking truth June 13, 2009 at 12:05 am

      Lavrai,

      Spelling, schmelling…you knew what I was talking about 😆

      But seriously, that is the inherent danger in “just say this prayer and you’re saved.” Many love to advance the “sinners prayer” theory because it is what I consider to be “lazy evangelism and discipleship”. If you just have somebody “repeat after me”, then you are (in your mind) turning them over to God without walking them through their decision and – helping them develop into mature Christians (thus, discipling).

  4. 9 gcmwatch June 13, 2009 at 12:02 am

    all to the tune of a Hammond organ that is being plucked to within one inch of it’s life

    LOLOLOL! You have a way of telling it IST!

    I’ll be back later as a “serious” commenter, but I had to get my pentecostal laugh on first.

  5. 12 HiScrivener June 13, 2009 at 4:12 am

    I’m with Pastor. That was genius!

    And now, on with the show… altar calls are indeed ubiquitous because it’s proof for the throng that God is moving, Jesus is listening and the Holy Spirit is healing (there goes my oneness card).

    Conversely, the altar call is SOOOO synonymous with God moving that people presume if no one walks the aisle, there is someone who really “needs to hear the Lord”.

    The focus is off God and more on “we ain’t leaving until someone gets off they blessed assurance and answers God.” That’s so sad.

    Jesus can move at any time with anyone, despite the rallying cry of an evangelist.

    Nice post, brother.

    • 13 speaking truth June 13, 2009 at 8:04 am

      “we ain’t leaving until someone gets off they blessed assurance and answers God.”

      I’ve seen pastors beat the altar call into a dead horse – so much so that some folks came forward just to shut his mouth. Literally, they were never seen again after the call. I think some pastors do it to show the masses “how much gawd is adding to our chuuch daily!”.

      BTW…a comment at 3:12CST…on a Friday night…really? Did one of the lil’ Wall Watcher’s wake up from a bad dream? 😆

      • 14 hiscrivener June 14, 2009 at 1:40 am

        And yes, very observant. We had a vicious thunderstorm, boom goes the thunder and up comes Daddy.

        After they went back to school, I didn’t go back to sleep… so I paid you a house call.

        And yeah, altar calls in the neighborhood megachurch it seems – after your last comment – have a new pseudonym, Membership Drives.

    • 15 danny c. February 27, 2010 at 9:45 am

      evidence of a changed life to gods commands is proof that god is at work

  6. 16 JOV June 13, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    [quote]
    but they generally appear to be overhyped conclusions to religious stage shows
    [/quote]

    Matthew 6:5-8 ESV “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (6) But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (7) “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. (8) Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

    Mans tradition is the death of the church today. Like you say, if the heart is not motivated by true repentance and submission to God, then the alter call is just a smoke and mirrors shows of make me feel good for this moment in time.

    If ministers just preach the truth, God word will not come back void.

    We all need to repent to God daily with all earnestness and sincerity.

    Thank you for this article…

  7. 17 Messenger Beloved June 14, 2009 at 2:36 am

    After reading the post and comments, I am reminded of a happening in the temple about a month ago. The pastor was ministering to an elder and gave him some specific instructions. As he was ministering, I was at the microphone praying yet intensely listening to the instructions. When the pastor asked the elder to repeat the instructions, the elder was in a daze and didn’t say a word; it was as if he hadn’t heard a word the pastor said.

    Well, I began to sing the instructions under the anointing…as I sang them, repeatedly, a 17-year old male walked down the aisle, from the back of the sanctuary, and was weeping heavily. When he got to the altar, he said, “that woman (and he pointed to me)…that woman kept singing about the blood of Jesus, washes, cleanses (which was part of the instructions given to the elder)…and he said he felt something in his abdomen area (his soul) that propelled him to get up…he stated that he couldn’t hold back his tears and had a strong desire to surrender; that he knew today was the day to give his life to the Lord.

    The pastor took about 20 minutes to minister to this youth…and the congregation (EVERYBODY) remained as salvation was explained according to the scriptures. There was no “sinners prayer,” there was wisdom imparted and then the pastor assigned a man of integrity to the lad to assist the lad with his daily walk. We do altar calls every now-and-then because the atmosphere is normally conducive for individuals to willingly come on their own…at any moment.

    Excellent topic of knowledge.

    Shalom,
    Angela

  8. 18 fourpointer June 14, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Of course, the altar call has another use. It gives Joel Osteen an excuse to give a half-hour-long, man-centered, “Gawd made me to be a champion” pep-talk and end by saying “We don’t like to leave without giving you a chance to give your life to Jesus!” Now, we’re never told “Which Jesus?” But hey, he leads his viewers through a sinner’s prayer, so he’s done his job…right?

  9. 19 Mercedes June 14, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Wow. I went to a church, IST, they one I was telling you about, and they did a sinner’s prayer. I did not know they were over-hyped conclusions. When I said it, I really didn’t feel anything because I already got saved by using my own words. I think if anything is too formulaic, it couldn’t really be from God. If a pastor has classes that require people to go to them before they are consider members, is that consider discipleship?

    • 20 N'Catina June 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

      “If a pastor has classes that require people to go to them before they are consider members, is that consider[ed]discipleship?” No, it is not. Discipleship is simply the life-long submission to and following of Jesus’ teachings; with our lives reflecting that submission and then teaching others to do the same using your life as the manifested template as an example to the lost. As that is done, Christians then become that “manifestation of the sons of God” by which we can lead the lost to Christ. To that end, true discipleship cannot be accomplished in a finite number of “orientation classes.”

      These days, those classes are nothing more than an indoctrination by which to get new “members” to assimilate into the culture of the “church.” The process primarily emphasizes church mechanics (how the church came to be, the “visionary,” “spiritual assessments”–an exercise to determine which auxillaries to join, and being drilled on the “church’s” ‘mission statement'”) that, in some instances, ends with people signing contracts agreeing to uphold and adhere to those “church” standards. The present-day apostate church is looking to add members, and has developed a series of feel-good protocol to accomplish that feat. This is a FAR departure from true discipleship.

      • 21 Mercedes June 14, 2009 at 7:36 pm

        Wow, thank you for your spiritual wisdom. I am only 20 and just truly opening my eyes about the world. I am more a babe in Christ. What you explain is what exactly goes on in that church I USED to go to. I thought it was very orderly but wouldn’t you say that we do need elders to help us in our growing in Christ?

        • 22 speaking truth June 14, 2009 at 9:04 pm

          N’Catina/Mercedes,

          I would agree that many of the “new members classes” in churches today are nothing more than cult indoctrination classes – and I’ve taught many of them so I speak from experiences (everything from how to catch the pastors vision to spiritual submission to the mand of gawd and more).

          That said, I’m not completely against new members classes in general. Many churches use these classes to educate babes in Christ – with classes focusing on everything from apologetics, to fundamental doctrine, to prayer. While many of the apostate churches restrict new members to join in on activities (or join ministries) until they’ve completed their classes, many other churches allow new members to matriculate and fellowship with their new brothers and sisters at will. If classes are rooted and grounded in Christ alone, then I don’t have a problem with that – if the classes are rooted and grounded in the “mand of gawd”, his interpretation of the Word, and “how we do things around here”, then one should run in the other direction.

          …but wouldn’t you say that we do need elders to help us in our growing in Christ?

          Absolutely Mercedes – the elders job is to walk alongside the sheep and aid in their maturity – until they are able to walk alone and help someone else:

          Jeremiah 23:4 (New American Standard Bible)

          4″I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.

          There are more specific references for the role of Elders in the church – see Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, advising him to follow in Paul’s pastoral example.

          We do need elders to help us grow, but eventually we are to mature and help those same elders in assisting others in their growth (aHebrews 5:12-14)

          • 23 N'Catina June 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm

            IST, I concur that new beginners classes serve the most good when they are Christ-centered with it’s primary goal to develop mature Christians. The quagmire of the day is FINDING churches that actually do that. These days, there is more of a quest to duplicate what another person is doing for the sake of creating a large congregation and chasing noteriety. This often involves duplicating church protocol that does not emphasize spiritual growth. This is not to discourage Mercedes or anyone else from looking for a Christ-centered ministry.

            As I said a while ago here and elsewhere, I personally learned MUCH MORE reading the blogs than I ever had sitting in any physicial edifice.

        • 24 danny c. February 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

          i agree we all need assistance but personally i must know that it is biblical and not some humanistic point of view. my question to any of it is did god command it??? what ever an elder or any one else in church authority say it

  10. 25 John 8:32 June 15, 2009 at 11:35 am

    IST, thanks for the post brother! I love the way God works. I was just praying regarding the development of a good fundamental new member’s class. Again I believe that “church as usual” has to end, but I don’t believe there is anything wrong with an altar call. My concern is how and what do you minister to that person when you lead them out of the sanctuary after the call, and those who want salvation but are not comfortable with the public declaration, and also how do you continue their Christian education, not church education. Pastors and other leaders of course are accountable for the new converts, as well as the congregation as a whole, but I think we all as Christians are held accountable as well. I totally agree with you regarding courses in apologetics, old testament, new testament, prayer, dicipleship, servant-leadership, etc.. I’ve been very blessed to have you recommend good solid study and reference materials in the past, so please keep them coming.

    Again I thank God for your ministry!

  11. 27 pierced June 15, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I don’t see anything objectionable in an altar call/invitation as long as it is not pressured or coerced and the purpose of the call is explained. (No one should be made to feel they must “come forward”.)

    At the church I attend, it is made clear that coming forward is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and membership in that particular church is not a requirement (although membership in a bible centered church is strongly urged).

    Yes, many churches use the theatrical elements of compelling, emotion-soaked music/lyrics and a mood of high drama to set a tone that may assist in giving a prosepctive adherent a “mental push” to the altar.

    However, I believe the weight of responsibility falls on the person. Every man and woman knows what is in their heart and why they accept/decline the call. Of course God knows too.

    The rest of us don’t know, we will only see the “good” fruit or lack thereof that follows. And basically that’s all any of us has to go on about another when we idenify ourselves by the word “christian” – are our words and actions christ like?

    Again, only God knows what is truly in our hearts: whether our good deeds are done for righteous reasons, are we practicing a “manner” of christ-likeness, etc. Man looks at the outward manifestation, God looks at the heart.

  12. 29 Pastor Jim June 15, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I’m conflicted about altar calls personally.
    As a pastor I want to see the justification of my hard work when someone comes forward. It is proof that I have done something.

    But who’s supposed to be moving people, me or the LORD?

    In light of my own sinful urges to be the man who leads people to Jesus and the biblical desire to remove barriers for unchurched and cynical people who visit our church services, we don’t have altar calls.

    Like the dialogue about discipleship too!

  13. 30 Vaughn June 16, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I think the real fruit of this is seeing one stick around for the process of sanctification. We can shed tears of remorse at the drop of a hat, we learn this lesson of Esau who sold his birthright.

    My point?
    Do they keep coming back?
    Does this one time commital validate a ministry, if so in who’s eyes?
    What happen to those that have recieved Salvation at the stadium crusades?

    I’ve got a list of them but I’ll stop there, because there is plenty of food for thought to chew upon!

  14. 31 BlackWomenBlowTheTrumpet June 20, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    @ Speaking Truth

    I was cracking up when I read this:
    I would agree that many of the “new members classes” in churches today are nothing more than cult indoctrination classes – and I’ve taught many of them so I speak from experiences (everything from how to catch the pastors vision to spiritual submission to the mand of gawd and more).

    *LOL*

    *LOL*

    I know I should not be laughing but it’s just soooo true.

  15. 32 Rachel June 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I have felt for some time that alter calls and “magic sinner’s prayers” have been protrayed in a way that gives people a false security and a false salvation. People idenify these two acts with being saved when I think they are at best an acknowledgment that our way isn’t the way to go. It is what happens afterwards that tells what was the motive behind the act. Salvation is in God’s hands not ours. These acts are communication it is in ours.

    I think many many churches mislead gullible hungry souls with these two things. It is a great travesty. Thanks for shedding some light on it.

    Rachel
    Stirring the Deep

    • 33 danny c. February 27, 2010 at 9:24 am

      i truly believe that true salvation is an obvious and noticable change in ones life from worldly desire’s to godly desire’s.
      talk about false teaching…the term trinity is no where in the bible niether is the term rapture. churches today celebrate holloween for kids. easter with rabits and eggs . i’ve never known a rabbit to lay an egg. i search many topics pertaining to god and his word in reference to todays churches. methodist lutheran etc etc is not mentioned biblicly either man made doctrines these are i believe if iam wrong please forgive me and advise where to locate these in the bible
      thank you!

  16. 34 Colin Beattie September 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Wow! Did gotquestions.org miss the boat on this one. This artical reads arminian. I thought gotquestions.org was reformed? apparently not.

    http://reformedevangelist.com/?p=154

    • 35 speaking truth September 21, 2009 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks for the article link, Colin, but I still don’t thing the GQ.org article leans Armenian. They try to remain neutral on the issue, but they point out that many people mistake the “altar call/sinners prayer” as the salvific act in and of itself, which is false. All in all, I think they handled the subject fairly well – and I also believe that GQ.org is reformed.

  17. 36 elder jimmy October 27, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Dear Bretheren,

    I grew up listening to altar calls that morphed into calls for other things if noone answered the “call to salvation.” ..”Is there one? Will someone hear the Lord’s voice today…”, etc. If none came forward the minister would ask if there were any sick…if no sick then the invitation went out for those wanting to “draw closer”. It was sad, long an desperate.
    I think many pastors, ministers use the altar call as an immediate validation of their preaching effectiveness and the “anointing” present on their ministry or church. It takes faith to leave the people in the very capable hands of the Holy Spirit after delivering a gospel message or any other biblically based presentation. He draws people in and convicts. The altar call may have a place but it should not substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit. In my experience, when a person is being drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit, they will seek YOU out if necessary. Some never come to recieve prayer, they simply make the decision at eh spirit’s urging to become a follower of Christ. No altar call no human instrumentation immediately following the message. The altar call, sinner’s prayer and well planned and timed musical response can be a very emotion wrenching thing. Many have made that walk to the altar, cried, repeated a prayer and disappear never to be heard from again. We must learn to trust the Spirit’s work and leading more tyhan the machinations of men.

    The worse of theose altar calls are accompanied by several altar workers who confuse, distract, and manipulate those who did come to recieve prayer or confess sins. Pushing people down on the floor, screaming instructons, and making a nusiance of themselves. The worse thing ever for a church.

  18. 37 danny c. February 27, 2010 at 9:09 am

    i do not believe that altar calls to profess christ as lord are anywhere in the bible. if i am wrong please advise where this is located in the bible. i truly believe that the (quote) churches of today are decieved and misleading many. i study and thank god for opening my eyes. if you have no 100% biblical truth pertaining to this then please spare me a humanistic definition of altar call.
    thank you!

  19. 38 danny c. February 27, 2010 at 9:14 am

    i feel you have avoided answering if it is taught from the bible that we are to practice this and where it says so in the bible. (the authoritative holy word of god himself) sorry no offense intended

  20. 41 danny c. February 27, 2010 at 9:36 am

    bottom line…scripture interprets itself. here is another question of great interest to me…if there are so many real christians..(christ like) why is no one going into the mental hospitals, medical hospitals etc etc and casting out the demons that are inflicting the people thus no more patients left there. after all christ said these things i do you shall do also and greater things shall you do. after all peter’s shadow fell upon people and healed them.

  21. 42 speaking truth February 27, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    danny c.,

    I basically agree with your sentiments – we shouldn’t do things that seem “of God” if we can’t support it with scripture. I believe altar calls were formally established in the early 19th century in the US (you can visit my brother Independent Conservative’s blog and search “altar calls” to find videos he found detailing the history of the phenomenon.

  22. 43 danny c. March 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    i’ve heard many say once saved always save. it is very clear in the bible that one can be removed from the lambs book of life for not enduring to the end. why do they teach such falsehoods in the churches? it is like the blind leading the blind. besides the bible is not a buffet we can’t pick the parts we want and disreguard the parts we don’t want. may we endure to the very end. amen!

  23. 44 Josueito March 25, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Christians hang in there, don’t be discourged even if American Christianity is the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-22.

  24. 45 danny March 26, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    the doctrine of jesus christ is the only correct doctrine not all these denominations that say thier’s is the right one. denominations is not mentioned in the bible those are man made. revelations talks about adding to the prophecy of christ and plauges will be added to you take away from it and you will be removed from the lambs book of life. jesus said it not me!!!
    i’ve never recieved answers to questions i ask if no one know’s be honest enough to say you don’t know. no offense is intended by my statements or response’s i beg your pardon if anyone is offended however i believe it is offensive to christ’s teachings to add things like denominational status etc.etc. may he forgive anyone for a lack of knowledge and understanding!!!


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