I once asked Albert Mohler what his thoughts were on the invitation/altar call. He said it felt it was necessary yet dangerous. Here are 9 points on the subject from the great Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones from the book Preachers and Preaching, Zondervan, 1971, p. 269-279)
1. It is wrong to put direct pressure on the will. The will should always be approached primarily through the mind, the intellect, and then through the affections. The action of the will should be determined by those influences.
2. In the end it may produce a condition in which what has determined the response of the man who ‘comes forward’ is not so much the Truth itself as, perhaps, the personality of the evangelist, or some vague general fear, or some other kind of influence.
3. The preaching of the Word and the call for decision should not be separated in our thinking.
4. This method surely carries in it the implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion.
5. There is an implication here that the evangelist somehow is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work. Some organizers today even predict the results.
6. This method tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all. People often respond because they have the impression that by doing so they will receive certain benefits.
7. You are encouraging people to think that their act of going forward somehow saves them.
8. It raises the whole question of the doctrine of regeneration. This is the most serious thing of all. This work is the work of the Holy Spirit, and His work alone, no one else can do it. And as it is His work it is always a thorough work; and it is always a work that will show itself.
9. No sinner ever really decides for Christ.
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From Gospel Coalition by Jonathan Leeman,editorial director of 9Marks and author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love and Reverberation: How God’s Word Gives Light, Affection, Freedom and Action to His Church.
“How many people in the last century walked an aisle, and spent the rest of their days convinced that they were a Christian, never considering how they lived!
The alternative to giving altar calls is sticking with the practices we see modeled in Scripture:
- Invite people throughout your sermon to “repent and be baptized” like Peter did in Jerusalem (Acts 2:38). But when you do, don’t just stand there waiting with emotionally charged music playing, staring them down until they relent. Rather, make several suggestions about how and where to discuss the matter further.
- Ask people what they believe when they present themselves for baptism, just like Jesus made sure the disciples knew who he was (Matt. 16:13-17; also, 1 John 4:1-3).
- Make sure they understand what following Jesus entails (Matt. 16:24f; John 6:53-60).
- Explain that the fruit of their lives and persevering to the end will indicate whether or not they really believe (Matt. 7:24f; 10:22).
- You might even explain that Jesus has commanded your church to remove them from its fellowship if their life moving forward does not match their profession (Matt. 18:15-17).
Yes, let’s pray hard for conversions. But then let’s do everything that Scripture requires of us in the long work of making disciples—a work that generally requires lots of teaching, lots of time, lots of invitations, lots of meals together, and finally the commitment of an entire church body.”
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