Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Founders' Founder on Altar Calls

Are Altar Calls Justified by the
Founder of the Founders,
Ernest Reisinger?

Although the creator of the Founders Ministries, Ernest Reisinger, says in his book on "Worship" that "the invitation system has no place in the church that seeks to be biblical" (page 110), I am strongly inclined to believe that Ernest's rather broad exposition of the "regulative principle" (page 11) at least contradicts the deprecation of the normal use Baptists make of altar calls or invitations.

In fact, while Ernest's conclusions about "the invitation system" may hold true in any particular case where an altar call is misused and made to mean something which violates the truth of the Gospel, yet in regard to what I observe to be the normal practice in Baptist churches, I believe Ernest concedes enough to actually justify the normal Baptist altar call.

Yes, this may come as a surprise to some of the anti-invitationists, but what Ernest says in this book appears to be quite sufficient to legitimatize the use of invitations (or altar calls) -- at least as they are used in most Gospel-preaching Baptist churches with which I am acquainted. Notice the concessions, all of which are supportive of the use of altar calls --

1. Ernest says there is nothing "intrinsically evil" involved in altar calls (page 150).

2. Ernest approves of using an altar call or invitation as a "way" whereby a person can express his desire for baptism (page 150).

He says, "There is no valid reason why it cannot be done in response to an invitation from the pastor. Those who believe themselves to be recipients of saving grace can surely be invited to come forward and present themselves as candidates for baptism" (pages 150, 151).3.

3. Ernest says that invitations are neither "commanded" nor "forbidden" (page 151).

Consequently, invitations neither add to nor take from anything revealed in the Word of God.

4. Ernest approves of "inviting hearers to respond to the gospel message by faith and repentance" (page 90).

He says that lost people "should be invited to come to Christ" and this should be done "before, during, and AFTER the sermon. They should be invited to faith and repentance before, during, and after the worship service. They should be invited to come to Christ," he says, "AT WHATEVER TIME, WHEREVER THEY ARE. Today is the day of salvation! . . . We believe in GIVING AN INVITATION to respond to the gospel message in faith and repentance" (page 91).

5. Ernest says that "God commands people EVERYWHERE to believe the gospel" (page 92).

This would of course include those who hear the Gospel preached in a church or evangelistic service, and who are encouraged by the preacher to immediately obey the Gospel by believing it, and coming forward to confess their faith in Christ as Saviour.

6. Ernest implies that millions have been saved where invitations were used.

His book says there are 15.8 million Southern Baptists and "most of these" became church members "by walking down an aisle" (page 102). Of these 15.8 million members, according to Ernest's calculation 32.7 percent attend worship services. Since attendance and non-attendance of worship services seems to be regarded by Ernest as an indicator or mark of a person's spiritual state, this would imply that millions who responded to invitations in Southern Baptist churches and attend church services are presumably saved people -- according to Ernest's own figures.

7. Ernest says, "As long as the implication is eliminated that coming forward is required for salvation, the altar call can serve a useful and appropriate purpose" (page 151).

8. Ernest says that Scriputral support "does not have to be direct to be true" (page 33).

He cites the "trinity" as an example, noting that the word "trinity" does not occur in the Bible. He says that evidence supporting a matter "is not subject to simple proof-texting" (pages 33, 34).

In other words, we do not have to have a "prooftext" which specifically names an item in order for it to be approved, according to the "regulative principle."

I think that at least these eight items are sufficient to justify the use of altar calls, inviting an unsaved person to believe on Christ and come forward to profess his faith.

The only valid objection to altar calls that Ernest appears to have is his objection to their being presented as a "requirement for salvation." I personally have never heard an invitation in which that requirement was set forth.