Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Epistle on the Altar Call

I have been reading the Hall of Faith in Hebrews and meditating on the issue of faith showing some action. In each of the examples given, there was some demonstration on the part of the “faithful” that was often witnessed by others.

In our LBC Constitution it is mandated for us to end our services with an invitation. I understand that this was included as a reaction to the Neo-evangelical and seeker sensitive movements that eliminates such and embarrassing and uncomfortable response to sermons. I agree that we should not do away with the invitation at the end of messages. However, it should be understood that “come forward” invitations are not Biblical. It could be argued, perhaps, in some extra-contextual way I guess that there are remnants in Scripture of messages that demanded an instant response. The formal sermon invitation historically though, is relatively new. It began with the “Revivalists” of the likes of Finney, Moody, Jones Sr., etc. The Altar call was used in Tent meetings to “call out” those for salvation.

The altar call is often abused in our churches and deteriorates to either a way to end our services or a guilt-motivated, time-share pressure type situation. Neither is good or right. I have been in invitations that lasted through 14 verses of “I Surrender all” or have lasted until the Preacher could get nearly everyone forward. You may falsely think this is good. What happens is that churches like this get huge responses in the invitation and the congregants get used to “going forward” even if they are not serious about repentance about the issue or have the Holy Spirit dealing with them.

What is the purpose then to the invitation or altar call? It is to provide an immediate “Yes-submission” to the Lord convicting you about an issue to set up a Landmark Memory of your obedience. Also, I believe an altar response is necessary when you are not convicted about a sin issue in your life and realize your hard-heartedness and beg the Lord to break you. It is fearful to be in sin and not remorseful or repentant.

The altar-call is also a lot of pressure on the preacher. It has become the “thermometer” of the success of the message. This couldn’t be further from true, and you will do a great disservice to a Pastor if you think or elude to this. Most change in the lives of people are long-term God-thinking preached to them that changes their own thinking. Sometimes that means emotional or convicting response, sometimes it does not. This work of Sanctification is not always appropriate to the altar call. The Pastor must remember this or he will become discouraged at a low altar-call to a good message, or prideful of a big altar call to a poor message with a lot of emotion. I have often found myself focusing on how many people may come forward and adjusting my message to provide for a stronger “hook”. This isn’t good preaching. Though our constitution mandates it, you will notice that I vary the way the invitation response is done to be appropriate to the response of the sermon. I may ask you to stay in your seat and make it an altar. I may take a few quite minutes for you to do business with the Lord; I may just close with a song and make very little appeal to come forward.

It must be remembered that “coming forward” is not spiritual or even aids in spiritual change. What is WONDERFUL about though is a very strong response of you saying “YES” to the Lord. It has been noted by other Pastors that those who are sensitive to the “come-forward” invitation seem to take their submission to the Lord in that issue much more seriously.

I am asking you at Lighthouse to help me in this area. I do believe that there is a problem if years of Bible preaching have passed and you have never been to the altar. I also believe that many Scriptural passages do not lend themselves to a big “come forward” invitation and you must give me the liberty to “invite” as I see fit and not always demand or expect a “come-get-right” invitation. There is absolutely no agenda here to remove the invitation and those that would think that this Pastor’s Heart is a step should worry more about the second shooter on the knoll.

In all cases - the goal of Scriptural Preaching is Change to be conformed to the Written and Living Word of God. Christ on paper, and Christ in Person. Don’t let the method rob you of the goal.

With much love in my heart and praise for the Lord who is doing great spiritual things at LBC, I write you. We are having a great vacation and my mind is clearing, the family is loving on each other, my wallet is shrinking, but my batteries are charging. Amy is beautiful and sweet as always. The children are the joy of my heart. I am trying hard to reduce the amount of “World influence” on this vacation and make my fun truly God pleasing. Some of you understand.

Much love to all. Someone harass Scott Johnston and Mrs. Thompson for me. Remind Mike E. that he is losing hair at a tremendous rate. I am searching for a batting cage to help out our mighty softball team. Mench sent me “My swing is gone” so, I’ll try to attach it for your listening enjoyment.

Pray for building money and our sacrifice, pray for souls and soulwinners, pray for all of our spiritual growth, pray for the Lord’s direction for future ministry, pray for IBFL. pray for us to live up to our church name.

The grace, peace, and faith from, in, and to our Lord Jesus be in you always.


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