Sunday, July 25, 2010

Altar Calls vs No Altar Calls

Differences Between Reformed and Southern Baptist Churches: Altar Calls vs No Altar Calls

A Southern Baptist pastor, Les Puryear, has recently been stirring the nest of some of the "Reformed" brethren among Southern Baptists.

One of the issues cited by Les as distinguishing traditional Baptists and those who are calling themselves "Reformed" is the use of the public invitation, sometimes referred to by some as the "altar call."

We have written extensively about "Reformed" objections to invitations, some of the articles being online at this link. We have commented on perhaps every concevable objection offered by the "Reformed" or by any others who oppose giving a public invitation as practiced by traditional Baptists of the past and present.

One of Reformed objections offered to Les' article is the notion that baptism constitutes one's confession, such as the following by James W. Galyon:

"How does somebody publicly acknowledge faith in Christ in my home church? Through baptism, just like they did in the NT."

I dealt with this error about three years ago in an email article, but it was not posted on the blog. Therefore, I offering this article to refute the idea that "baptism constitutes one's confession."

Perhaps the primary reason the Reformed Pedobaptists (Presbyterians) oppose public invitations is because of their doctrine about the supposed "regeneration" of infants born to Christian parents. According the Reformed, children born to Christian parents are "elect" or "covenant children," and they inherit the covenant blessing of regeneration (new birth). Supposedly, such "elect children" get regenerated (born again) very early, perhaps even before they are born, according to John Frame and R. C. Sproul. With this type of doctrine, it is easily understood why the Pedobaptists would have little to no use for public invitations.


By Bob L. Ross

I recently ordered and read the book entitled, Ernest Reisinger, A Biography, by Geoffrey Thomas, published by the Banner of Truth. Brother Reisinger is perhaps best known as the primary person who was instrumental in founding the "Founders Ministries" in the 1980s, now headed by Pastor Tom Ascol of Cape Coral, Florida.

The Founders Ministries maintains that its primary purpose is to promote the "Doctrines of Grace," but in our estimation it promotes a "hybrid" form of "Calvinism" which is more in line with post-17th century Presbyterianism than with the historic Confessions of Faith.

Although for years I had known the late Brother Reisinger [1919-2004] since first meeting him in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at the first Grace Bible Conference at Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in the mid-1960s, and had met him a few times thereafter, I had never heard or come across any detailed account of his conversion. I have not even been able to find such an account on the Founders's website.

The account related in this book, however, is rather detailed, and it immediately became of particular interest to me in view of the present negative attitude of the Founders Ministries in regard to certain evangelistic methodology, such as invitations, "the sinner's prayer," and related efforts to bring the lost to Christ. Reisinger's actual conversion experience seems to considerably contrast to the current opposition of the Founders to certain evangelistic methods.

On the whole, I have observed that the Founders Ministries criticizes the use of certain methods which they consider "Arminian," yet this biography paradoxically relates how Reisinger was brought to Christ in relation to the use of such methods.

According to this biography, Ernest's salvation experience culminated in his praying "the prayer of the publican of whom Jesus spoke in the gospel, 'God be merciful to me a sinner'" (page 20), which is quite inconsistent with what is advocated by the Founders.

According to this biography, a Christian & Missionary Alliance layman named Elmer Albright sought Ernest's conversion, and consistently and frequently witnessed to Ernest over a period of time, prayed for him, and encouraged him to attend the C&MA church. (C&MA is a theologically "Arminian" denomination, founded by A. B. Simpson in the 1880s. Notable writer, A. W. Tozer, belonged to the C&MA).

In due course of time, this layman's witnessing efforts began to bear results. Ernest did agree to attend the C&MA church and began to experience conviction for his lost condition. After a subsequent visit to his home by Christian witnesses, Ernest determined that "settling this matter was more important than going to work," and that is what he set out to do.

On pages 19, 20, the book says:

"Ernest Reisinger listened earnestly and intently, and they prayed with him before leaving and gave him some leaflets to read. . . . He stayed home and read the leaflets his friends from the Sunday School had brought him. . . . Then he began to open the Bible, turning over pages at random. . . . He could not find how to be saved. . . . Then eventually he came across a little piece of paper tucked between two pages. It was a tract, and written boldly on the cover were the words, 'What Must I Do to be Saved?' The tract told him that he had sinned against God and that he would get nowhere unless he acknowledged that to him.

"Ernest C. Reisinger knelt down in his living room and prayed the prayer of the publican of whom Jesus spoke in the gospel, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'

"The tract then directed him to John chapter 5, verse 24. There he read these words, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life.' As the words in all their simplicity and hope registered in his mind and affections, Ernie's heart was flooded with the assurance that Christ was now his Lord; he sat weeping before the Bible. On that day, through true repentance for his sins, and by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Reisinger knew he had met the God of grace."

Sometime not long aferwards, Reisinger went to a Salvation Army service and there "first bore testimony to his new life in Christ."

Later, since the Salvation Army did not practice baptism, Reisinger conferred with the pastor of a Southern Baptist church and was baptized in the First Baptist Church of Havre de Grace, Maryland (page 20).

So Reisinger bore his "first testimony" of faith in Christ at a Salvation Army meeting, and later he was baptized at the FBC in Havre de Grace, Maryland. This is the usual Baptist order of (1) Confession of faith, and (2) Baptism follows Confession.

What was rather striking to me about this experience of Ernest Reisinger is how the Founders Ministries has since adopted the teaching of pedobaptist Iain Murray that baptism itself is the "confession" (The Invitation System, page 9). While it is true that baptism is a means of showing identity with Christ, Baptists believe that Confession of Faith is a prerequisite to being baptized. This is what Ernest Reisinger did in his experience -- he confessed before being baptized; he did not substitute baptism for confession.

However, TOM NETTLES, a Founders Ministries board member, and a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, advocates the pedobaptist theory put forth by Murray in Murray's anti-invitation booklet, which contends that baptism itself is one's confession. Nettles asserts this fallacy in his book, By His Grace, and for His Glory (pages 421, 422, edition of 2002).

The idea that baptism is the believer's initial confession is wrong for the simple reason that one must make a confession of faith in Christ before he is even qualified for baptism which is based on that profession. The Ethiopian eunuch, for instance, confessed his faith in Christ before Philip baptized him (Acts 8:35-38). The Reformed Presbyterian pedobaptists (baby baptizers) have it backwards: they baptize babies who don't have any faith to confess, add the babies to the church membership roll, and hope that the babies will grow up and confess Christ later.

It is unfortunate that Ernest Reisinger fell under the influence of the baby baptizers such as Iain Murray later in his life, and adopted too much of the pedobaptist Hybrid Calvinism which has permeated and distorted the Founders Ministries. In fact, the biography relates that a church Reisinger later pastored in North Pompano Beach, Florida was divided and split over issues related to some of the Presbyterianism which Reisinger imbibed from pedobaptists such as Iain Murray (pages 196, 197). I understand that there is nothing left of this church today. See this link:



  1. Bob,

    Thanks for pointing me to your article.


  2. Bob,

    If you read the comments on Les Puryear's blog carefully, you will not find me objecting to the employment of the altar call.

    Also, there is a difference between one's confession of faith and one's public profession. One confesses Christ with the mouth (and believes in the heart), as the Apostle Paul noted in Romans. However, a *public* profession is made via baptism. This contention is made by Rick Warren in 'The Purpose Driven Church'.


    You say, "However, a 'public' profession is made via baptism."

    Sorry, Rev, this is a very superfluous distinction, necessitated for no reason other than the lack of any subsdtantial reason for opposing public invitations in which one can publicly confess Christ.

    Most of the "Reformed" Baptists I know did just that -- they walked an aisle and publicaly confessed Christ, all before they publicly were baptized.

    Rick Warren, unfortunately, is not necessarily a final authority on this matter. -- Bob

  4. Bob,

    You're correct, Rick Warren is not necessarily a final authority on this matter. Just pointing out that a well-known SBC pastor who is not known to be Reformed holds this position. In addition to Warren, the School of Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is named for Dr. Roy J. Fish. Dr. Fish stated this on the matter:

    “Some people would think lost people ought to be given an opportunity to openly confess Christ. And they would say that’s why we give invitations to openly confess Him. But the New Testament confession is baptism. If a person is baptized, they meet every New Testament requirement.”

    Dr. Fish is certainly an authority on both evangelism and the invitation, having taught extensively and writing on both subjects. Dr. Fish is far from Reformed or Calvinistic, and he definitely believes in utilizing the altar call.

  5. Reply to Rev:

    Does this mean that Dr. Fish does not believe that a person is to make a confession of faith in Christ before being baptized?

    I would hardly think so, since he is a Baptist.

    I never knew a Baptist minister or professor who taught that one may be baptized without or before making a confession of faith in Christ.

    In fact, even the Pedobaptists who baptize babies have "sponsors" to vicariously confess for the babies.

    Baptism is indeed a ceremonial confession, but it presupposes an initial confession as a prerequisite, such as required of the Eunuch before he was baptized by Philip (Acts 8:37).

    May I ask you, did you make a confession of faith before be3ing baptized?

    -- Bob

  6. Bob,

    Again, (IMO, along with Rick Warren and Dr. Fish) there is a difference between one's confession of faith and one's public profession. One certainly confesses faith in Christ Jesus prior to baptism, but baptism is a profession of that faith before a public crowd. The confession may happen to be in front of a crowd, but it may also be while alone or with another individual or a few individuals present.

    I agree with you fully - baptism presupposes an initial confession of faith. Absolutely no disagreement with that whatsoever. Yes, I confessed faith in Christ (my mother led me in prayer in private) prior to my baptism (in public).

  7. Reply to Rev:

    You say, The confession may happen to be in front of a crowd . . . "

    I suppose, then, you would agree that it is all right for one to come forward during an invitation to make such a confession?

    So it is not "cricket" to eliminate public invitations . . . right?

  8. Bob,
    I agree - it is alright for a pastor/congregation to utilize an altar call. I believe it is also okay for a pastor/congregation to utilize other forms of response.

  9. I suppose you are one of those who picks and chooses...... Probably think Baptismo is to be translated literally and that Baptism isn't valid unless immersed.
    I suppose you would rewrite the Scripture where Christ calls the littles ones to say: "Suffer the little children who have already demonstrated faith, to come unto me....."
    I know you have knowledge, now get understanding and accept that apart from Christ you cannot even accept Him.
    I recommend you stop sharing in crediting yourself with the glory of salvation and give every last ounce of it to the Lord.

  10. Sorry, Scott, do not care for the Pedobaptist "understanding" (?) of the Scriptures. It seems to us that that approach is what is called "eisegesis." -- Bob