Monday, July 26, 2010

Altar Call: Alleged "Dangers"

Alleged Dangers of the Public Invitation
-- or What Some Refer to as the "Altar Call"

Those who have been on my email list for a while may remember a series of articles I wrote a few years ago which analyzed several of the writings which oppose public invitations in church. Some of these articles are online at Select Writings of Bob Ross.

There is a whole passel of anti-inivitation items on the Internet, and after observing so much of this repetitious legerdemain, I carefully examined the ones by Fred Zaspel, Darryl Erkel, Jim Ehrhard, Ernest Reisinger, Carey Hardy, Jim Eliff, Michael Spencer, plus the writings by Iain Murray and Errol Hulse, and responded to all of the arguments which seemed to be the most pertinent to their advocates.

Certainly, the influence of Pedobaptist "Reformed" writer, Iain Murray, is observable in most (if not all) of these writers. Due to Murray's influence on Ernest Reisinger, the founder of the Founders Ministries, Murray is the virtual "father" of the Founders, and the Founders, such as Reisinger, Pastor Tom Ascol, and Board member Dr. Tom Nettles, have been among the most outspoken opponents of the use of public invitations. (Paradoxically, the wealthy gentleman who bankrolled the Banner of Truth was converted at an "altar.")

Prior to the arrival of Pedobaptist Murray and his Banner of Truth booklet, The Invitation System, one seldom heard among Baptists the type of opposition which called for the abandonment of using public invitations. Of course, the Pedobaptists (baby baptizers) have little use for invitations since they allege that the "elect" born into their families are usually "regenerated" in early infancy or perhaps even before they are born. This is the method by which the Pedobaptists replenish their membership rolls. Most of the current crop of anti-invitationists among Baptists, however, made professions faith in Christ in services where public invitations were given after the sermons.

I have noticed over the past 50 years or so that several Baptist churches which followed Murray in opposing the use of invitations have generally failed to grow, have remained small in number, and some have even ceased to exist. Even Iain Murray has bemoaned the lack of evangelism and growth on the part of those he and other anti-invitationists have influenced.

I think this lack of evangelism and opposition to the use of public invitations are related. There appears to be a lack of passion on the part of those who oppose using invitations to urge upon lost sinners the need for an immediate faith response to the Gospel message. Spurgeon's passion for winning souls lead him to press for an immediate decision. This was due to his dominant soul-winning urgency to make converts to Christ. (An Urgent Request for an Immediate Answer, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 37, #2232).

Here is one of my past articles replying to objections to invitations:


I recall reading in the works of Andrew Fuller where someone had questioned him about his quoting John 3:16, inasmuch as it is so often used by Arminians. Fuller replied to the effect that he did not know that a verse as Scripture was any worse off for having been quoted by an Arminian.

I am of the opinion that the same attitude may be held with regard to the use of "invitations" in church services. To reject all forms of using public invitations to the lost is going just a bit too far.

However, I like to think that I have an "open mind," at least open enough to consider and evaluate criticisms and objections. Consequently, I have found some items on the Internet which set forth the reasons some give for not using invitations, and I have a few thoughts I wish to express in response to these objections.

Much of the thinking on the subject seems to have been borrowed -- a great deal of it apparently from Mr. Iain Murray, a Pedobaptist long associated with the Banner of Truth Trust in Scotland. I have written articles replying to Mr. Murray's arguments, which seemingly are prized by some as the most influential of all. I also have written articles which discuss the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of C. H. Spurgeon's practices. Spurgeon is often cited as if he opposed invitations, which is a misunderstanding on the matter.

It seems that at the root of anti-invitation thesis is the post-seventeenth century non-creedal theory advocated by some Pedobaptist theologians that the New Birth takes place prior to the Holy Spirit's creating faith by the instrumentality of the Gospel, or Word. This theory is usually cited as a basis for objecting to calling on sinners to immediately act in some way in acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, such as a public invitation circumstance.

The writers that I have read have obviously been greatly influenced by the anti-invitation writings of the Pedobaptists who question "sudden conversions." The Pedobaptists primarily get most of their "converts" and church members in infancy, alleging that infants inherit the blessings of regeneration and the right to church membership by virtue of the supposed "covenant" relationship that their believing parents have with God. According to the Pedobaptist theory, regeneration can be assumed to take place in the infant child before baptism, at baptism, and soon after baptism. Some Baptists who call themselves "Reformed" in theology -- such as the Reformed Baptists and Southern Baptists in the Founders Ministries fellowship -- do not go that far with the Pedobaptists on infants, nevertheless they appear to have been influenced to follow the Pedobaptists such as Mr. Murray in opposition to public invitations.

Here is a summary of some of the arguments used:

1. "Most Christians are not aware that the 'altar call' method in evangelism was not practiced by Jesus or His apostles."

The argument developed from this proposition is that the invitation is wrong because it was not something done by Jesus and the apostles. Frankly, if we have to use this as the guideline for what we today do in religious matters, I fear to think to what lengths it would lead us! Did Jesus pastor the First Church of the Lord, located at the corner of Jeremiah Avenue and Elijah Street? Did the apostles build church buildings and furnish them with pews, carpeted floors, indoor heated baptistries, choirs, organs, and pianos? Did they a schedule of services on Sunday, Wednesday, or some other day? Did they conduct Bible coanferences and seminars? Wonder if this "patternism" approach would allow for a website?

The same writer later says, "It is always dangerous to promote a practice which cannot be substantiated from the Word of God." And later, "it violates the New Testament pattern of evangelism."

This is the old worn-out "patternism" argument by which just about anything and everything can be proven to be wrong other than what the "patternist" himself will allow as being "scriptural." Campbellites, Hardshells, and Landmarkers have all erected their kingdoms on the basis of "patternism."

Strange, however, the "patterns" don't ever seem to be the same!

Among other things, "patternism" has been used against passing the offering plate, using communion cups and breadplates, indoor baptistries, musical instruments, using a "name" for the church, having Sunday School, revival meetings, mission boards, salaried pastors, having a single pastor, deacon boards, finance committees, incorporation of the church, church kitchens, fellowship halls, and a score or more of other such things. It smacks as a form of legalism, binding where the Word of God does not bind.

Wherever the Gospel is preached, we believe that listeners should be called upon to accept it and confess it before men, right on the spot. The public invitation, used for years by Baptists, is as good a method as any for this to be done. There must be some method for accommodating initial professions of faith, and the Bible does not standardize any particular format.

2. "The practice of publicly inviting people to come forward at the conclusion of a Gospel sermon, did not begin until the time of the 19th century revivalist, Charles G. Finney (1792-1895), who was probably the first to employ this method."

This is not the case, but even if this were a fact, it would not militate against invitations. Finney was a Presbyterian who evidently came to realize that Presbyterians had not been "regenerated" in infancy, and so he sought to bring them to a true conversion. After awhile, he started to use the "anxious seat" as a means of dealing with concerned souls --which differs considerably from the public invitation as practiced by most Baptists. If Finney's method does not meet with your approval, you can perhaps blame the super-duper Calvinistic Presbyterians whose spiritual condition accounts for him.

There have been several "firsts" for practices that are commonly used today without much question as to their validity and utility. Spurgeon was one of the first, if not the first, to have a Pastors College for preachers without educational advantages (Bible Institute style). William Carey was among the first to instigate foreign missions. Sunday Schools, associations of churches, mission societies, Bible translation societies, seminaries, Bible colleges, hymnals, degreed ministers, and many other practices had beginnings with someone this side of the apostolic period. "Patternism" would exclude all of these other than what the "patternist" would allow.

3. "While incredible numbers of people are alleged to have been saved through the invitation system, the facts do not really support this."

And again, "The invitation system tends to produce spurious converts."

False professions are not confined to some who responded to public invitations. Baptism and church membership have their share of false professions, too.

No one knows who is saved, except the Lord, not even in the best of circumstances. Some have been known to appear awfully good at the first, but later on they manifested another appearance. So, too, some have not looked very good at the first, but proved to be sound converts in the long haul.

Sometimes, alleged "percentages" of converts have been bandied about as if to prove invitations are wrong. If the truth were known, it seems reasonable that such statistics are contrived, and at best based on a very limited census procedure.

Paul seemingly had a great acceptance of the Gospel he preached in Galatia, but sometime later he indicated he had some serious reservations about them (Galatians 3). We can always expect some spurious professions, but they do not invalidate the valid ones.

Furthermore, what is often passed off as "fact" is based on imperfect subjective judgment and analysis, for no one can actually, factually, and certainly know how many were or were not valid professions of faith. So far as I have read, the reported "follow-ups" are based on whether the parties went on to be baptized or unite with churches within a certain span of time, and that is not really determinative of the validity of a profession of faith.

4. "Evangelists who have most used and popularized the invitation system have not been marked as particularly keen theologians."

D. L. Moody is cited by the writer as an example. I have read quite a bit from Mr. Moody, and for an untutored man, the basic principles of his preaching were sound. He was certainly approved by C. H. Spurgeon who had him preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and Spurgeon also preached in defense of Mr. Moody in a sermon entitled, Messengers Moody and Sankey Defended (MTP, #1239).

Furthermore, Moody said he read everything he could find that Spurgeon ever published, and that might have been a much better theological education than many with "Reformed" seminary degrees have received in our time. Moody also founded a Bible Institute (inspired by Spurgeon's model) and a publishing company (also inspired by Spurgeon's Colportage work) which have been quite a blessing in the dissemination of conservative biblical faith and practice.

I myself was converted under the ministry of Eddie Martin, an evangelist who attended Moody Bible Institute.

5. "How often do we hear at modern Gospel crusades a serious exposition of the Scriptures or a clear explanation of what took place at Calvary?"

The best sermon I recall ever hearing on the subject of Jesus Christ as the Son of God was delivered by evangelist Billy Graham which I heard on television a few years ago around Christmas time. And I have not heard a better sermon on that subject since.

6. "Although Spurgeon proclaimed the Gospel to thousands weekly, he sensed no necessity to urge lost sinners to come forward . . ."

We have discussed Spurgeon a few times in the past, and this representation of his practice is not accurate. Spurgeon liked to see immediate responses, as we have demonstrated before.

He said, "I should think there is no condition of gentleness, or of obscurity, or of poverty, or of sorrow, which should prevent anybody from making an open confession of allegiance to God when faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has been exercised. If that is your experience, my dear friend, then whoever you may be, you will find an opportunity, SOMEWHERE OR OTHER, of declaring that you are on the Lord's side. I am glad that all candidates for membership in our church make their confession of faith at our church-meetings. I have been told that such an ordeal must keep a great many from joining us; yet I notice that, where there is no such ordeal, they often have very few members, but here are we with five thousand six hundred, or thereabouts, in church-fellowship, and very seldom, if ever, finding anybody kept back by having to make an OPEN CONFESSION of faith in Christ. It does the man, the woman, the boy, or the girl, whoever it is, so much good for once, at least, to say right out straight, 'I am a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am not ashamed of it,' that I do not think we shall ever deviate from our custom. I have also noticed that, when people have once confessed Christ before men, they are very apt to do it again somewhere else; and they thus acquire a kind of boldness and outspokenness upon religious matters, and a holy courage as followers of Christ, which more than make up for any self-denial and trembling which the effort may have cost them" (MTP, Volume 46, 1900 page 289).

He also said, "I believe that it is a great help in bringing people to decision when Mr. Moody asks those to stand up who wish to be prayed for. Anything that tends to separate you from the ungodly around you, is good for you." (MTP, 1897, page 516).

7. "The invitation system tends to equate the act of coming forward with salvation." Also, the writer complains, "The invitation system gives assurance to people who may not yet be converted." And further, "The invitation system seeks to condition people for a response through the use of such externals as uplifting music, dynamic personalities, and a charged or emotional atmosphere. The problem with this is that it tends to provoke a response which is based on factors other than the truth of the Gospel."

Whatever real or imagined aberrations and errors attributed to invitations by some critics does not warrant dispensing with the practice itself, no more than error with regard to the purpose or mode of baptism means we should dispense with baptizing. There is error and abuse oftentimes associated with every item of faith and practice, but that does not warrant that we quit teaching and practicing that which is the truth.

Those who are faithful to the Gospel message will most likely not be guilty of the type of aberrations which are specified by the critics.

8. "If they are regenerated and granted faith to believe the Gospel (Acts 18:27; Philippians 1:29), there is no further need to prompt them to come forward."

But the Scripture shows that confession of faith is to follow repentance and faith, and then baptism and church membership. In some manner, the believer is to "come forward" to make that confession, be baptized, and be received into the church.

To quote Spurgeon again, "Tell it out then, tell it out, you who have been lately converted, do not hide your light under a bushel." "C. H. Spurgeon earnestly exhorted those who had accepted Christ as their Savior to COME FORWARD amongst his people and avow their attachment to his person and name. Words of kindly encouragement and of loving persuasiveness, were addressed to the timid and retiring ones, who feared to avow themselves to be the Lord's, lest they should fall back into sin and dishonor his name. This was followed by an appeal to those who had confessed the name of Jesus -- an appeal of so stirring and searching a nature, that many must have felt constrained to say, 'Lord what wilt thou have me to do?'" (The Sword and the Trowel, 1865, page 70).

9. "The invitation system tends to attach an undue importance on numbers."

I have yet to see an anti-invitation church which was in any danger from attaching "undue importance to numbers." They may have reason to be concerned for the lack of numbers, and the decline in numbers, but not for the abundance of numbers. The anti-invitation churches I have observed tend to be lacking in numbers of professions of faith.

10 . "The modern invitation method implies that sinners have the power inherently to believe on Christ any time they so choose."

The fact is, men must and do make a "choice" once they hear the Gospel. It is a consequence of hearing the Word and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that one is moved to make a choice to come to Christ. They either choose for Christ, or choose against Him, in one form or another. And if they have the liberty of mind, heart, and will to believe in Christ, as the Word is blessed to them by the Holy Spirit, why should they not be encouraged on the spot to make known the choice they have been blessed to make?

Spurgeon, preaching on Joshua 24:15, DECISION ILLUSTRATED BY THE CASE OF JOSHUA, exhorted his hearers:

"That resolve on the part of Joshua was openly declared. I want to come straight home to some of you here who have said in your hearts, 'Yes, we will serve the Lord,' but you have never yet declared your allegiance, for you have thought it quite enough to promise in secret. Does not Joshua's outspoken vow make you blush? You are espoused to Christ, you say, but will there never be an open marriage? Will you never take Him publicly before the eyes of men to be your Lord and Husband forever and ever? Does Jesus agree to secret nuptials? Can such a thing be done in a corner? Of old the candle was put on a candlestick; is it now to be put under a bushel? You say you are His soldier; will you never put on your Prince's uniform? Shall your Captain's colors never adorn you? Will you never come forward and take your Commander's weapon in your hand and march at His bidding to the fight? . . . I long to drive you to a decision! If God is God, serve Him! If Baal is God, serve him! O, may the Spirit of God lead you to decide for God and His Christ this very moment and He shall have the praise forever! Amen." (MTP, Volume 21, #1229).

These objections rather summarize the anti-invitationist's point of view against invitations. But I suspect the real root of his complaints is revealed in the following words: "So long as today's church continues to wallow in the mire of semi-Pelagian error, turning its nose against Calvinistic soteriology, the invitation system will remain. But so will our ignorance, superficial holiness, and general disdain for biblical theology."
What this probably translates to mean is, in my opinion, that super-duper Calvinism of the "steroid" variety borrowed from Pedobaptist theologians is what must be believed and practiced in order to have a valid evangelism. If that is the case, then it makes one wonder how it is that so many of our modern Calvinists say they were brought to Christ under ministries that either were not Calvinistic, or were even "rank Arminians"?

Why can't Calvinists, who say they are preaching the pure Word of God, somehow work it in as a "sixth" point that it is OK to invite those who hear the Gospel and accept it to immediately come forward and confess Christ as Lord and Saviour? -- Bob L. Ross

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