Posted by: reformbama | December 7, 2010

“A Closer Look at Invitations and Altar Calls”

A Biblical Response to Moving God and Manipulating People

by Carey Hardy

Carey graduated from the University of Houston with a B.S. in Pharmacy in 1977. In 1984 he sold his pharmacy to go on staff of a church in Texas as Christian School Principal and Minister of Music. Carey came to California in 1990 to study at The Master’s Seminary and graduated from there with a Master of Divinity degree. He presently serves Grace Community Church as Senior Executive Pastor and Personal Assistant to John MacArthur. He also shepherds a Sunday morning fellowship group of young marrieds and young families. In addition, his responsibilities include teaching in the annual Grace Church Shepherds’ Conference, as well as teaching on various issues related to biblical counseling, marriage, and the Christian life at other churches and Bible Conferences. Carey is also an adjunct professor at The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary. He and his wife Pam are celebrating 27 years of marriage and have four children.

 

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There may very well be those of you here who use an altar call in your services.  Please understand that I’m not here to question your motives for doing that at all—I’m certain they’re very genuine.  I, myself, grew up in a church that used invitations/altar calls—in fact, I’ve led many an altar call myself—but I will be honest with you, and say, I, personally, came to the point where I began to have concerns about its use.  I have come to the place now that I am very concerned about the fact that I believe it promotes easy-believism.  So, I’m somewhat playing my cards there before you, as we begin here, but I just want you to know what my heart is.  I’m not questioning anyone’s motives and I’m not really trying to attack anyone at all; I just want to give you, as I have said, food for thought, and to explain, at the same time, our own church’s view on that—and we get questions about that at times (why we do not utilize an invitation/altar call), so perhaps I can explain that.  So, please take the information that’s here in the spirit that I intend it.

 

I want you to know that we certainly affirm that scripture is clear about the topic of evangelism, that we are under a divine command to tell people everywhere, as Paul said in Acts 17 (that sermon that was on Mars Hill there, he says that he was now telling “people everywhere to repent”)—that is our obligation.  I mean, inviting people to embrace the gospel, to follow Christ—that is at the very heart of biblical ministry.  We affirm that!  We believe that!  It’s a non-negotiable.

 

Matthew 28, our great commission—that we are to be about “making disciples”; we are to seek to bring the unregenerate to Christ and, I believe, to do it with passion.  There is a verbal call that I believe is necessary, a call that we compel people to come to Christ.  We are to teach what is the true biblical basis for assurance…  All that is non-negotiable.  That’s part of what it means to be in the ministry.  And I believe that, as preachers, we’re preaching with the intent that people respond. I believe we must require a response from our listeners.  We’re not to just leave people with the idea that this is something you can think about; I mean that “God doesn’t really care whether you repent or have faith or not.”  No!  We’ve got to leave them with the impression that it’s the most important issue in the world.  You have a quote there:

The preacher is free to exhort and command, to plead and implore, to reason and invite.  He is an ambassador who speaks on behalf of the great King and whose purpose it is to bring about reconciliation.

 

For the sake of our discussion though, I want to distinguish between the idea of an invitation and an altar call, and what it is we’re evaluating.  Extending God’s invitation to all is not necessarily the same as the invitation system.  Giving an invitation is not necessarily at all the same thing or synonymous with the altar call or the public profession—going down the aisle, going forward.  So, what do I mean by “the altar call”?  Well, there’re some bullet points there that might describe the setting.  I’m not saying that this is true in every case; I basically put down pretty much every aspect that could be there, in an altar call.

 

Music is played softly in the background while the preacher prays, then talks to the congregation.

 

Those who are being disturbed in their conscience and know that they need to respond to God’s work in their heart are asked to possibly slip their hands up, while everybody else is reminded to keep their “heads bowed and their eyes closed…no one looking around”; asking those who are being disturbed to possibly slip up their hands.

 

You might say some things, again, to those who have their hands lifted, and then ask them to look up if you’ve lifted your hand: “If you’ve lifted your hands up, just look up here to me so I can talk directly just to you.  I don’t want to embarrass you; I just want to talk to you.”

 

If you’ve raised your hand or looked up, you may very well then be asked to leave your seat and to make your way down the aisle where the preacher or another counselor can greet you and talk to you further…  “I don’t want to embarrass you; I just want to pray with you.”

 

Designated counselors may be involved, at this time, who also leave their seats and make their way down the aisle to kneel or stand at the front.  For some, that’s a very strategic thing that’s taking place—counselors getting up from the congregation and moving down front—in a sense to get people moving, to prime the pump, so to speak.  I’ve been asked to do that before (not here), to, during an invitation: “We want 10 or 15 of you to get up and move down front to the altar, begin to pray, and that will get other people moving.”

 

If you’ve come down the aisle, you may then be asked to go off to a room to the side where counselors are there to continue praying and talking with you.

 

At any point in this approach, an invitation hymn may be sung—and, certainly, some are more famous than others (in our hymnal, we have a section called “Hymns of Invitation and Acceptance”), whether it’s “Just As I Am” and “I Surrender All,” “Have Thine Own Way,” etc.

And then, during this hymn, you’re invited to come to the front to kneel and to pray and to rededicate your life, to receive Christ, to talk to the pastor or another counselor, to join the church…  In other words, the altar call actually has many uses—joining the church, repentance, coming to faith in Christ, rededicating your life, getting your life right with God.

 

If several verses of the hymn have been sung, the minister may ask for the instruments to continue then, playing quietly.  This gives those kneeling at the altar the opportunity to finish the prayers, maybe those who are still resisting one more opportunity to respond (sometimes, it’s said “before it’s too late”).

 

Perhaps then, one final verse of the hymn is sung.

 

No one comes, the invitation is going to close; if someone has given their life to Christ or has joined the church, then they may be presented to the congregation at the close of the altar call.

 

As I said, please understand I’m not saying that every altar call follows that exact pattern—there are many variations to this, some extreme, some very minimal—I’m not saying your church does all of this, but, generally, the altar call is the time at the close of the sermon where, during some form of music, listeners are invited to come to the front in response to the message.

 

Well, when did this kind of approach begin?  Well, there is debate over the exact origins of the practice, but most do agree that it came into prominence in the late 1830’s (or in the 1830’s), under the leadership of Charles Finney, the influence of Charles Finney.  He popularized this approach through what he called “the mourner’s bench.”

 

Now, prior to him, it was only used just here or there—just occasionally.  For example, another early 18th century Calvinist preacher, Wheelock, called upon the distressed, he said, to gather down at the seats that were “just below the pulpit,” that he might “more conveniently converse with them,” he said, “to council them” or “exhort them” in some way.  But really, if you look at history, Finney is the one who put this on the map so to speak.

 

Others in history that followed: Billy Sunday, D.L. Moody, Billy Graham… contributed to the widespread acceptance of it.  And I think that most would say that, when it comes to the contemporary form of the altar call we see today, that Billy Graham would be the one who’s most related to how it’s been used today.

 

Now, this was the beginning of it, the history of it.  Those who would use this approach, or some form of it, would say that there are reasons for that; there are arguments for taking that approach in a service (though it basically did not begin until the 1800’s).

 

One is classified as a scriptural approach (or argument).  In other words, Christ did this.  Christ always called people publicly.  This is confirmed when you look at texts that say things like “Whosoever will confess me before men, I’ll confess before the Father…” and “You must follow Me…”—we’ve even heard that preached on this week.  So, Jesus gave an invitation.

 

There’s the mental argument, what some would call a “psychological” argument.  But, a mental agreement—in other words, there’s something about this public response that settles it for an individual.  When they go down front publicly, it settles it and seals it in their heart—and there’s an implication there that the step made publicly is more likely to be decisive and to be real and to be irrevocable, than if they did not do this.  There’s just something about coming forward and standing in front of a congregation that helps that person be confident that they’ve made a decision that honors God and that God honors.

 

A practical argument: the altar call provides an easy, organized way to present new converts to the congregation and to allow non-members to join.  In other words, if there is no altar call at the end of the service, how do people publicly profess Christ and identify with Christ and join with the local body?

 

I remember one particular service, years and years ago, at a location, on a Wednesday evening.  At that particular church, the Wednesday evening service was very low key; it was just a devotional time by the pastor and then some prayer requests from the small group that gathered there on Wednesday evening, and then we went home.  At the very most, there might be a song at the beginning to kind of get everybody settled—one hymn, a couple of verses—then we’d have our devotional, take some prayer requests, and that was it.  But I remember that one particular Wednesday evening, at the end of the devotional, the pastor asked everybody to bow their heads and asked for the pianist to come and play and asked for a verse of invitation from a hymn.  I thought that was kind of strange—“On a Wednesday night?  We never do that on a Wednesday night!  What’s going on?”  And it was a small church, so, you know, 20 or 30 people, so if there was a new family there, you’d definitely notice it—and it hit me: there’s a new family here, they need to join the church.

 

So, this has been worked out ahead of time; the pastor had told the people that we’ll have this time and that’s when you come forward and join the church.  So, sure enough, we sang one verse of a hymn, that family immediately moved out into the aisle, came down, sat down…  Soon as the verse was over, we ended that song, and we presented that family to the congregation as members.  I just thought that was just kind of interesting.  There was no way for then to join the church if you don’t have this.  And so, we had to orchestrate this sort of artificial thing to happen so they could come down the aisle and join the church, and if we didn’t do that, then they couldn’t do it.

 

The demonstration argument, some would call it: to both the saved and the unsaved in the congregation, when people are responding during an altar call, it’s this visual demonstration and proof that God is working.  It’s an encouragement to the congregation—they see God at work!  We see the results of that.  It’s convicting to those who are not saved, encouraging to those who are saved—that God is there and God is working.

 

I’d have to be honest and say that people not responding has the exact opposite demonstration; the reverse is also true.  Week after week after week after week of the invitation being sung and no one coming forward—that gets to be the norm too, and people just realize it’s part of the service and nobody ever goes down.  Maybe every once in a while somebody might go down and rededicate their life.  I remember one time in a church (small church), it was a custom to have an invitation every Sunday morning service, every Sunday evening service—and no one ever came.  Again, a trickle sometimes, maybe one individual if it’d been several weeks, maybe a deacon’s wife or someone would think that somebody ought to go down there and pray or something, and would do that, but no one ever came.  The pastor was very discouraged by that.  This was the second worst altar call/invitation I ever experienced in my life—the second.  I was on the staff at this church, by the way (associate pastor).

 

So, the pastor decided that people needed to come, and so, after a verse or two and nobody coming he said, “Well, here is what we’re going to do.  If you love and support me as your pastor, then you’re going to come down.  I want you to shake my hand and tell me that you love and that you support me.”  And so, people began to begrudgingly sort of get up and form this aisle over here and, you know, only three people didn’t do that.  My wife and I were two of those; church secretary was the third.  Kind of sad.  So, it can have the reverse effect too when nobody comes.

 

Well, these are the basic arguments given:

 

Christ did it.  He invited people publicly.

 

There’s something helpful to the person.  It settles [and] it seals it in their heart.  It makes it irrevocable to know that they’ve done that—they’ve walked down the aisle.

 

It’s a practical thing to use, so you can present new people to the congregation.  It’s a way for people to join.

 

It’s a demonstration to people, potentially, that’s God’s at work.

 

But, I’ll be honest—you already know that I have some concerns about it.  It’s just food for thought, guys…  I’m not trying to attack anyone at all.  But, in answer to the reasons given in support of using the altar call, and to those issues, I think the following concerns are worth considering honestly.

 

1. Number one: there is no clear biblical precedent or command related to the modern public invitation or altar call.
Again, Christ did call people publicly.  It’s true that He Himself did say things like “Follow Me” and “If you confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father, which is in heaven,” but to conclude from that that Jesus gave altar calls—on the basis of those passages—is really just a failure to be honest with the text.  Jesus did call people to Himself, and we should call people to Christ, but there is no example where He or the apostles appealed to people to “come forward” as a testimony of their decision in some way.  The reality of it is He was never speaking in terms of this “one time” decision that you would make about Him, but it was the idea that you’re going to choose to follow Christ all your life.  He taught that the one true mark of true faith is a life that would continually confess Him before men.

 

I stumbled across a little quote about and by Tozer.  A.W. Tozer was one of the few 20th century Evangelical leaders who spoke out against the danger of this system.  Earl Swanson has recorded how, as a young minister, he heard Tozer preach in Long Beach, California:

As he came to the conclusion of his message—talking about Tozer—the air was totally electrified.  I was accustomed to altar calls and was fully expecting to see a mass movement forward.  That surely would have been the case, had he chosen to do so.  Rather, he announced: ‘Don’t come down here to the altar and cry about it; you go home and live it.’

 

Interesting quote.  That’s where I am.

So, to say that Jesus used an altar call or His call is the basis for where the altar call came from is really a dishonest use of the text.

 

2. Number two: many today equate “coming to faith” and with the idea of “coming down the aisle.”

 

In other words, even those who use an altar call are aware that that’s a problem—that people are trusting the wrong thing.  And they do, I believe, genuinely try to go to make efforts to make it clear that “going down the aisle” doesn’t save anybody.  I’ve heard that many, many times (“You come down this aisle…  Coming down the aisle doesn’t save you”) and I appreciate that distinction.  Here’s an example though, of invitation used by Billy Graham:

I’m going to ask you to come forward.  Up here—down there—I want you to come.  You come right now—quickly.  If your here with friends or relatives, they will wait for you.  Don’t let distance keep you from Christ (which is an interesting statement).  It’s a long way, but Christ went all the way to the cross because He loved you.  Certainly you can come these few steps and give your life to Him.

 

Yet, Graham himself also says that the coming forward is, in his own words, “It’s a testimony of an inward experience you’ve already had with Christ.”  In other words, on one hand, “No, no, it’s not coming forward in order to give your life to Christ; this has happened in your heart, so you come forward and now make this manifest.”  The question is begged: well, when is the person converted?  Which is it?  Why are they coming?  Is it coming forward to give their life to Christ?  Is it coming forward as a testimony of an inward experience that they’ve had?

 

It’s just unclear, many times, just what is being required of those who come forward, regardless of how clear you try to make it.  If the walk forward is an outward declaration of an inner saving decision already made by the hearer in the seat, is this just an act of witness, etc.?  I mean, is there any relation between the two?  I think more important is: are these exhortations even a truly biblical expression of any kind?  I mean, at the altar, the confusion can still continue: “You have come tonight to Jesus Christ, you have come to receive Him into your heart.”  Again, which is it?  Have they already come?  Are they coming now?

 

Even other descriptions of the invitation as an act of commitment to Christ, I believe still it leaves those question unresolved at some point.  I’m just saying there is confusion here, equating “coming to faith” with “coming down the aisle.”  I mean, to some extent, either a greater extent or a lesser extent, the sermon itself has already shown the need of a change in those who don’t know Christ. So, the invitation is represented as providing the opportunity for such change to take place.

Perhaps the hearer is told they need to “let Jesus come into their heart.”  These all end up being man-made directives.  “Let Jesus come into your heart,” “Come to faith,” “Come down the aisle,” “Give your life to Christ”—all of those end up being really shallow substitutes, I think, for true biblical directives—“Repent,” “Believe,” “Trust”—that are clear in scripture.

 

Just a comment on “the sinner’s prayer” that’s used in these kinds of settings: the sinner’s prayer came to be attached to the altar call, but this too is not found in scripture as we see it today.  Yes, I’m very aware of the prayer that the publican prayed.  In fact, it was a great prayer that the publican prayed.  But it wasn’t programmed, he wasn’t led in it, it wasn’t scripted in any way; it was just the expression of his heart when God had done a work there.  No one had to prompt him for that.  But, nevertheless, the sinner’s prayer, as we know it today, typically includes some elements:

 

There’s perhaps an acknowledgment of sin… but, again, that’s not necessarily the same thing as repentance.

 

It should include (and probably does) an expression of belief in the act of Christ’s death… which is not necessarily the same as trusting in His person and His work.

 

“Inviting Christ into your life”—sometimes, verses are used out of context, such as Revelation 3:20 (I guess it is), about Christ standing at the door of your heart and knocking and that sort of thing.  It’s not the purpose or intent of that verse.

 

So, again, the question is begged: is this the same thing as God’s command to people, “You must repent and believe”?  Yet, you can talk to many that consider the prayer to be an absolutely pivotal and necessary instrument for becoming a true Christian; that somehow, without that sinner’s prayer, a person doesn’t come to Christ—there is no way to come to Christ.  But, I think we’ve got to remember something: that the accuracy or of a prayer, that’s not what saves somebody.  Christ is the One who saves.  He saves.  But there are many people who are desirous of evangelizing someone, and they almost live in fear that somehow they didn’t properly “close the deal,” you know.  There’s this burden they carry that they didn’t close it properly.  They didn’t help the individual say the right thing.

 

And, on the flip side of that coin, there’s many people desiring to embrace Christ, that I’ve talked to, have lived in fear of not truly being saved because they are wondering if they did say the words right.  Maybe they didn’t “say the right thing”…  Listen, if God wants to save somebody, He quickens somebody, He gives them new life (regeneration).  You know, John 3, by the way, said “it’s like the wind”: you don’t know when it happens.  You can see the effect of it…  I, personally, don’t know when I was saved.

 

I can take you back to a season of my life.  Somewhere in there, I believe God breathed new life into me, but I don’t know a day, don’t know the week—couldn’t tell you the month!  Too long ago, for one reason.  I mean, when God wants to quicken somebody and give them the ability to repent and believe (saving faith), He can do that totally independent of that person’s ability to get the words right—for that matter, whether any words were articulated!  He knows their heart.

 

I personally am committed to not using a sinner’s prayer again.  I’ll tell somebody who wants to be saved—if they understand all the gospel and all that, then I’ll tell them, “Then you ask God to save you.  I can’t save you.  You ask God to save you.”  If God’s doing a work in their heart, they’ll pour out their thoughts to Him.

 

3. Number three: there is a danger of giving assurance to those who are unconverted.

 

After someone has prayed the sinner’s prayer, it’s typical to give him or her immediate assurance that they’re now “part of God’s family.”  I’ve heard it so many times: they’re now “brother and sister in Christ,” “part of God’s family.”  How do you know that?

 

I mean, the system leads people to believe that it’s their decision that’s “settling things with God” for all eternity.  It’s decision-oriented.  It actually encourages people to make a response that “settles things.”  And then, through subsequent council, they are told to never doubt their decision: “Make that decision, that settles it, and don’t ever doubt it!”

 

I’ve heard some extreme versions of that—Gothard and others who would talk about going to the backyard and driving a stake down in the backyard “and you drive that stake in there and anytime you doubt your salvation, you go back and look at that stake and that’s a reminder that you settled it with God.”  How can that settle anything?  I think it’s dangerous.  It deceives people into resting their faith on a profession rather than resting it on Christ, who is alone able to save forever. Hebrews 7:25 says “…those who draw near to God through Him.”

 

Scripture makes a very sober statement, as you know, about those who think they’re saved when they’re not.  I mean, Matthew 7—that’s probably the most sobering verses in the Bible—“The Lord will say to many, ‘I never knew you.’”  I honestly believe it’s dangerous, because the invitation system leads many to trust their eternal destination to confidence in a confession, even though they may openly live in rebellion to Him throughout their lives.  In other words, their assurance is coming from an act on their part, rather than a trust in the promises of God, along with recognizing the Holy Spirit’s work in their life, and fruit, the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification.  I mean, they can point to a date when they walked down the aisle, but if you press them hard enough, it’d be very difficult for them to point out some proof of regeneration now.  Had that conversation with someone yesterday about a conversation they had with someone like that.  “Tell me what God is doing in your life right now?”  And… no answer.  On this subject, certainly, the same kind of thing can happen.  “I know the date, know that night, know the song that was sung, I was 9 years old”—whatever.  “Yeah, but tell me, what about now?  Give me some proof.  What are the signs of regeneration in your life, and sanctification?”

 

As I stated, the biblical perspective is that the Holy Spirit is the One who gives assurance.  The Holy Spirit, using scripture, gives assurance; it’s not the evangelist that can give assurance, it’s not any other person who gives assurance.  I don’t give anybody assurance of their salvation.  I don’t give my children assurance—ever.  I want to help them understand what is the true basis of assurance, but I want to leave the actual assuring to God—His Spirit.  I can’t save anybody, I can’t keep them saved, and I can’t, ultimately, assure them that they are saved, but I can show them what the Bible says how to know you are saved, and then trust that the Holy Spirit will seal that in their heart, if that’s who they are.

 

Especially with children, it’s our tendency sometimes, as parents even, to take the place of the Holy Spirit, if they prayed the sinner’s prayer.  With children, my own children through the years (I have two older children who are walking with Christ, and visible fruit of that), two younger children—still praying for that.  Oh, they’ve made decisions, they’ve prayed prayers, and they’ve asked Jesus in their heart, based on some Sunday School lesson.  I use a lot of words like “if,” “when”—“When a person is truly repentant, God saves them,” “If a person truly believes, God hears that prayer and saves them”—but I don’t assure them, “Well then, now you’re a Christian.”  I don’t believe in telling children that at all.

 

I think I put this in your notes: page 2191 of the Study Bible, John’s Study Bible, there are these proofs of authentic Christianity that are outlined there.  It’s worth taking a look at.

 

Let me read you what George Whitefield has—I think you have this in your notes—two centuries ago:

There are so many stony ground hearers, who receive the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits.  I cannot believe they are converts until I see fruit brought back; it will never do a sincere soul any harm.

 

Now think about that.  It’s kind of logical.  I mean, if God has saved them, He will give them assurance.  You’re not hurting them—but, you can certainly do some damage by assuring them they are saved when they are not.  Spurgeon warned:

Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more accursed than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house and never making him say, ‘Father, I have sinned.’  It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over.

 

Oh, I can give you names of kids I went to high school with, living in the world today…

 

It is vital that we share the good news—I said that at the beginning, and I do mean that—but it behooves us, just as equally, to be certain that we are not going to give assurance to those who show no evidence of conversion.  Somebody walks down the aisle; they pray a prayer.  To present, then, that now they are brother and sister in Christ—I can’t do that.

4. Number four: a large number of people who are “converted” during altar calls fall away.

 

It’s a sad fact, but it’s true.  Extremely high numbers of those “converts” never show any competent signs of being converted—maybe even the vast majority!

 

Leighton Ford argues against that though: “The inner decision for Christ is like driving a nail through a board.  The open declaration of that”—in other words, going forward—“is like clinching the nail on the other side, so that it can not be easily pulled out.”  In other words, that ought to mean that the invitation system is resulting in a higher percentage of converts living out their profession.  It ought to be helping the problem.  Yet, the opposite seems to be true.  You look at statistics that are compiled on crusades that use the invitation system and you’ll see that, even by their own statistics that are compiled, only a small percentage of professors show any signs of conversion even a few weeks after the decision.

 

Ernest Reisinger notes: “This unbiblical system has produced the greatest record of statistics ever compiled by church or business.”

 

Reacting to “Finneyism,” R.L. Dabney commented: “We have come to coolly accept the fact that 45 out of 50, or even a higher ratio, will eventually apostatize.” It’s just like we’re accepting it.  So, the more you get down there, the more true converts you have, because the percentage will stay the same, I suppose.

 

This was not really the common experience before the altar call/the invitation system came on the scene.  I mean, those who were converted were so thoroughly changed that there wasn’t any kind of system necessary to encourage decisions or record then before there was fruit.

 

There is a contemporary of Finney—Nettleton.  Nettleton was around—I think he died somewhere around 1844—somewhere in there.  He was an effective evangelist, about the same time with Finney, who believed the invitation system was not good.  He said it prematurely reaped what would turn out to be false converts.  Spurgeon thought the same thing.

 

It’s ironic, I think, you have this: toward the end of his life, Charles Finney, after reflecting on the many who claimed conversion, but have since fallen away, had mixed thoughts about the genuineness about his work.  In fact, he developed a doctrine of perfectionism (or “entire sanctification”) that came out of his attempt to answer the questions of why so many “converts” lead such godless lives.  The use of an invitation system eventually leads, then, to the same kind of two-tiered approach (in other words) to the Christian life.

 

What’re the two tiers?  Well, you come to Christ as Savior, but then, at some other point in your life, you make Him Lord.  There’s where that came from, see; you have to explain the vast numbers that are coming forward, but not continuing.

 

This is not to say that no one can be saved during an altar call.  I would guess that some of you here today have been saved and responded in an altar call.  I can say this: if that’s true, it wasn’t because of the altar call, or the sinner’s prayer.  It was because the work of God quickened your heart, whether they had the altar call or not.  In fact, many pastors and evangelists have had to eat their words, many times, about people they have presented to the congregation, who fall away and you don’t see them anymore.

 

If you use an altar call, you can have both kinds of conversions—you can have true conversions and false professions—but the problem is both are presented to the church as being the same: genuine.  If you don’t use an altar call, but you leave it to God to use the teaching of the Word to save whom He chooses in His own time, I do believe you’re more prone to look for real fruit, then, of repentance over time, before you’re going to treat this individual as a genuine convert—because you don’t know yet.

 

5. Number five: the altar call can be effective in getting people to respond, even if a clear biblical presentation of the gospel and accurate biblical preaching are absent.

 

Condensed explanation: altar calls are effective, even if there’s no truth being presented.  They just work.  The altar call method can be tacked on to just about any type of service!  It can be a political meeting.  You can work people up into some political fervor and use some sort of public commitment time, and people will respond to that.  You don’t have to have the gospel.  I mean, if you get the music right, the lighting right—if the speaker is persuasive, then they can be emotionally manipulated to respond during an altar call.

 

One of my own men, a laymen here in my ministry that I pastor on Sunday morning—I pastor a      fellowship group here on Sunday mornings, as many of us do.  They’re kind of like churches within the church, I guess, for lack of a better description.  I have about 170-175 young couples—I mean, young, married people—that I pastor and I teach every Sunday (most Sundays).  And one of them went to another one of my Bible study shepherds who leads a home Bible study.  He went to another church one weekend—it was Father’s Day—and he brought me back a little report from the church he visited.  He said—email sent to me: “Here’s a summary of the church service in the Evangelical congregation my sister attends, when I visited her in…” such-and-such place.  I won’t even point which direction it is or anything.  It’s a place.  These are observations—bullet points:

 

Number one: the bulletin was filled with catchy phrases that sounded a lot like a psychology magazine.  That’s the first thing he noticed, as he was reading the bulletin.

 

Two verses of a Psalm were read from the pulpit.

 

Few people had their Bibles.

 

The pastor sites the page number of the pew Bible instead of the chapter and the verse.

 

The sermon consisted of stating a verse and then following that up with a one-sentence phrase that taught a moral truth.  The rest of the point were examples from modern family life; no further references to the text of scripture or explaining what it meant.

 

That sermon was capped off with a rather long stage play—a drama—which he says was actually very well acted, and told the story of a father who misses his daughter on her wedding night.  There’s no biblical point to the play, nor is it even presented as a play with a biblical message.  It is pure sentimentality, designed to make everyone get all choked up.  (This was Father’s Day Sunday.)

 

At the end, the song “Butterfly Kisses” was sung, while the pastor made an altar call.  The altar call does not even mention the Word of God or Christ, just something like “If you want to be a better father”—whatever.

 

This is his conclusion (this is one of my lay people in the church): “This is clearly not Christianity, just some partially sanctified, supercilious sentimentality that could have been put on in any gathering of any religion and no one would have been offended or converted.”  I probably should ordain this guy.  I thought that was really good insight.

 

See, the extension of an appeal for public decision may result in this purely emotional or mental response that is just some sort of catharsis.  It’s a catharsis for the emotional pressure of the event, maybe the emotional pressure of the drama or the singing or the sermon—and this is a catharsis, and persons who respond to such an appeal, then, falsely assume that their action had made them right with God.

 

I have to now tell you the worst altar call I ever heard.  I was on staff at the church.  I was doing my part.  Summer Vacation Bible School—a week of Bible school.  And they had, you know, the stuff that goes on, each half-a-day (at noon, they go home and all that).  Toward the end of that morning, the “older kids”—I don’t remember what that means.  Was it like 6-7-8-9 year-olds?  Something like that—they’re taken to the worship center, the little auditorium, because they have a service each day to close the day, for five days.  Those older kids—there were about 100 of them—they were taught the gospel, everyday, preached.  And I know what’s going to happen at the end of the week.  At the end of the week, the last message is going to be an alter call to give an invitation to these kids to respond to the gospel they have heard all week.

 

This is the honest truth.

 

One of the other staff men set two galvanized trash cans on the stage—the old kind, not the plastic ones we have today—and one was marked “Heaven” and one was marked “Hell.”  Each child was given a card and told to write their name on it.  He said, “I want you to form a line.  I want you to come by and drop your card, either in the one marked “Heaven” or the one marked “Hell.”  Make your decision now.  Make your choice.”

 

You’re probably wondering if I’m about to say what I’m about to say.

 

In the one marked “Hell,” built a literal fire.  Flames and smoke are coming up out of this galvanized trash can!  In the worship center!  I want you to know the response was overwhelming.

All 100 of those children got saved?  No!  Is that what it was?  No, that’s not what it was.  But you know what was reported on Sunday?  You know what was in the church newsletter?  You know what was sent to the association?  There’s been a handful of times I’ve been so grieved that I could hardly spit, and that was one of them.  Again, they’re certainly not all that bad.

 

6. Number six: scripture already explains how a convert is to make his profession public.

 

Many pastors are quick to publicly introduce the one who has prayed, who has just been told that he or she is a Christian, sometimes within minutes of the last verse of the invitation hymn.  This may have been someone who is not even known to the pastor or evangelist until that moment.  I’ve seen people join the church that way.  New families in the community come in and you give the invitation and they come down the aisle and the pastor ismeeting them for the first time!  “Boy, it’s good to meet you” and they fill out a card and so, you’ve got the information now and so, you’re reading it, “This is Mr. and Mrs.—what’s your name again?  How do you say that?  Yes, and they’re joining our church and want to identify with our church.  So, let’s welcome them into our church body.”  It’s pretty common.

 

The scripture gives us, I believe, God’s way of publicly making confession of belief in Christ. People make professions, people join the church, and on and on, but when it comes to confession of Christ though—making a profession of Christ—presenting somebody that’s just made a profession as a true believer, when you don’t know anything about them, that’s so dangerous.  What God’s way of publicly professing your belief?  Well, first there’s baptism.  I mean, that’s an ordinance that’s given to us—believer’s baptism.  So, in their testimony of their baptism, they show to the world their identity with Christ.

In many churches—ours does this and I’m sure some of yours do too—we require a verbal testimony at the baptism.  We do that on Sunday evenings.  It’s a wonderful time of our service each Sunday evening where four or five people are baptized; and they stand there before the microphone and they give their testimony of how they came to Christ, what their life was like before Christ, and what God’s been doing in their life since they came to Christ, etc.  It’s an encouraging time to all of us—wonderful time.  Certainly (as a side note), many of you haven’t been baptized since you came to Christ.  You need to be.

 

So, a couple comments on baptism.  Many churches are quick to baptize their new “converts,” based merely upon the individual’s profession.  Like my daughter, when she was 5 (she’s 19 now).  She was 5…  Before I knew better, I baptized her.  She came and said that she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart.

 

So, boy, that was my first kid, so I said, “Ok, let me see…  Let me think…”  Led her in a little sinner’s prayer and confirmed her in that.  A couple of weeks later, the church allowed me to baptize her.  She has no mental recollection of it ever happening—no mental recollection.  I had to repent of that, years later, when I learned better.  God was gracious to her.  When she was about 14-15 (somewhere in there), God did a marvelous work of regeneration in her life and brought her to Himself and totally dramatically changed her life.  And there was fruit and there was spiritual desires; and she was evangelistic on her public high school campus and others came to Christ through her testimony…  Teachers have expressed their respect for her.  She’s in college now; would love to be a pastor’s wife or a missionary’s wife.

 

See, baptism is for true believers.  God knows the heart, but we don’t.  I can only come to some reasonable conclusion about the validity of someone’s profession by observing their fruit.

Many “professors” really don’t love the brethren, they’re not living and dwelling and pursuing an atmosphere of godliness in their life, and they fall away because they weren’t really saved.  People ask us questions about baptism here and we don’t go to a verse of scripture to support this, except that general concept that we only want to baptize believers.  People can still sneak through and not be truly converted, you know—nothing’s perfect—but we don’t baptize anybody before the junior high age.

 

We won’t baptize children.  It’s not that we’re saying that God never saves a child.  God can save anybody He wants, anytime He wants.  I’m just saying I don’t know it yet.  I’m a parent. I’ve got a 19-year-old, a 16-year-old, an 11-year-old, an 8-year-old.  I’ve been around long enough now to know that the bottom line is, children in Christian homes, they all love Christ and they all respond to those things they hear in Sunday school.  And you would love to believe that that child-like profession is true, saving faith, but I’m telling you, you can’t know that!  It’s not until about the junior high years and high school years that their faith begins to be tested, their convictions begin to be tested, the love of the world begins to potentially be there, and you begin to see where they really are.

 

So, we’ve made it our general guideline here that at the junior high age and above, then we’ll consider someone being baptized. Because they’re going to have to be clearly articulating faith and others will have to have seen that fruit in their life and be convinced of it.  I think the worst thing you can do is rush a child through baptism—because now they begin to rest their assurance on that (“Well, I was baptized…”), unless they’re like my daughter and don’t even remember it.

 

There’s a second way of making public your confession and that is, you live a life to the glory of God.  That’s a profound public testimony—the changing power of Christ.  And churches who don’t use an altar call certainly have no difficulty allowing members to join the church/adding members to the congregation.  There are various ways you can do this, but we certainly have a process of membership that someone goes through—with a couple of interviews and their testimony given and all that, and some classes, and then a presentation, publicly, on a Sunday evening.  About once a month or something like that, we present our new members who are coming into our church.  The Right Hand of Fellowship at the end of the service is a great time.  We don’t use an altar call; we have no trouble presenting members to the church.

 

And God is constantly saving people here—constantly.  People are being equipped and they’re going out and evangelizing at work and in their neighborhood.  People are coming to Christ and they’re getting saved and are under the teaching of the Word.

 

And it’s not even evangelistic sermons.  We have no trouble with any of that.  I think there is a way that church membership can be taken very seriously, as I’m sure many of you do.

 

7. Number seven: for some, the use of an altar call uncovers, I believe, a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God.

 

It’s an overzealous and maybe even immature kind of way of thinking, that “If we don’t provide an opportunity to respond to the gospel, someone might leave and never have an opportunity to be saved and their blood will be on our hands.  They could die in an accident this week and their eternal judgment in Hell is our fault…”  What a burden to live under, that somebody’s eternal destiny, literally, is in my hands, whether I said the right words, preached the right sermon, or had the altar call, or not.  I’ve heard sermons and revivals like this—manipulation—trying to get people fired up for the week to evangelize.  And they get all teary-eyed and under guilt for not witnessing to their neighbor—and there’s always a story told, you know, of somebody that it happened to: they went out and had a car accident on the way home—and people begin to put pressure on themselves and people put pressure on others.

 

I think it is a theological problem.  It’s a misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Scripture makes it clear that salvation is of the Lord—every aspect of it—and that whom the Lord has foreknown and predestined, He does indeed call and justify, and whom He justifies, He will indeed someday glorify (Romans 8—you know where that comes from).  It’s this “golden chain,” some have called it—this chain—and it’s viewed from scripture as completed from God’s perspective, even glorified from God’s perspective.  Our role is faithfulness and obedience to the Lord; a desire to please the Lord; to be faithful to Him.  And if we’re not faithful to evangelize and to call people to repentance, that is sin on our part, but the eternal destiny of some soul is in God’s hands, not mine.  It’s His job to convert sinners.  It’s ours simply to be faithful.

 

So, we are to trust God in every area of life, including the evangelization of the lost.  So, I guess I do have some concerns about this.

 

Some additional thoughts are in your notes: some quotes from Martin Lloyd-Jones, I pulled out of chapter 14 of that classic book of his, Preaching and Preachers.  He had a whole chapter articulating his opposition to the invitation system.  You can read those.  Number four, five maybe deserve mention, maybe six and eight…

 

But anyway, number four: “This method surely carries in it the implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion.”  That’s kind of a wrong anthropology, if you think about it, that somehow there is this false assumption that they have this ability to will themselves in and make that kind of decision.  It’s as if they’re not completely tainted by the fall!  There have been people in church history that have taught that.  Thomas Aquinas, from whom much Roman Catholic theology has come, taught that everything about man was affected by the fall, except his reasoning ability.  And so, there are these arguments for God’s existence, and the idea and the perspective that if you present the evidence clear enough, it will demand a verdict.  Well, I think that’s denying biblical anthropology and giving way too much credit to a person.  Their will is in bondage!  They are born that way.  God has to do a work.

 

Number five: “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.”  I mean, “You give us one million dollars and we believe 40 thousand people are going to come to Christ with that one million dollars.”  Wow, what power they have to do that?

 

Number six: “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.”

 

Number eight: “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, and no one else can do it.  And, as it is His work, it is always a thorough work; and is always a work that will show itself.”  I mean, that’s the bottom line.

 

There are some other quotes in your notes there and people that I’ve accumulated these thoughts from (these various arguments and concerns and stuff), and maybe filtered in some of my thinking there, but, as you saw on the first page of your notes, you can do some reading from people like Jim Ehrhard, Iain Murray, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Jim Elliff, and others.  Here’s a quote from Jim Elliff, from his little article “Closing with Christ.”  (You can read that; I don’t want to read all these.)  Thomas Nettles…  A statement there by our own pastor John (I’ll read that for you); it’s from a sermon he delivered here in 1992.  Talking about Paul in I Corinthians 2:

…didn’t use techniques that excite and stir, and move people’s emotions to achieve results.  He preached the scriptures to the mind.  Many preachers today know how to move people to respond without the scriptures being the issue.  They can manipulate them emotionally, and frankly, that kind of stuff really prostitutes the preacher’s stewardship, because it makes him no different then a secular persuader.

Preachers who are gifted communicators, and who are articulate, and use the emotional techniques, and the sad stories, and the tear-jerking approaches, and who get the mood music playing behind the scene, and can create the kind of manipulative environment, and can affect in people behavior changes and even altar their basic values—and never need to use the Word of God. But what is the ultimate result?  Is it true regeneration?  Of course not!  The only legitimate tool is the scripture.  The only legitimate bridge to change is the mind.

I’m not saying that people can’t be converted—in other words, during an altar call. But I am saying that people who aren’t being converted get swept up in it.  The people who are converted, are converted because they comprehend the truth and because the Spirit of God effects the transformation.

 

And, in speaking of William McGuire (had this thing called the five-step process of change), I think it is the preacher’s responsibility to get attention and comprehension.  It is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to produce yielding, retention, and action—that’s not my job.  All the slick techniques, all the gospel marketing packages, all the pulpit histrionics of jumping and stomping and flailing around, and doing whatever they do to create the mood.   All the sad stories, the mood music, the endless invitations, the hand raising, the walking to the front, all that kind of pressure is not preaching the Word.  It has nothing to do with comprehension.  The decision of yielding, surrendering, and then retaining and acting is between the hearer and God, and not the hearer and the preacher.

You can move people with things other than the scriptures, but you’re working on their feelings and not on their mind.

 

So, I can say all that pretty boldly here; this is where he pastors, this church.

 

You can read all those quotes and I encourage you to do that.  Just in conclusion maybe, again, many will put forth values of the invitation system.  I taught this here a couple years ago (at the Shepherd’s Conference, actually) and an interesting thing happened the next week.  We got a call from a church, an out-of-state church, who was not here, but basically called expressing concern to—I believe it was to Tom Pennington, our executive pastor—expressing concern that we here at Grace Church no longer believes in evangelism.  Of course Tom is going, “Wow! What?”  “Yeah, I mean, one of your pastors, Carey Hardy, taught a seminar where you don’t believe in evangelism anymore.”  Someone who had been in that seminar went out of there, called that church and others, to give that message.

 

Obviously, that’s not what I’m saying.  Same disclaimers I gave to you at the beginning, I gave in that seminar also.  Scripture is clear.  And to say that someone who fails to give a public invitation is not concerned for the souls of men—that’s quite a leap.  The biblical method of focusing on the gospel itself, without props, allowing God to save whom He wills, when He wills, demands the hearing of the Word and demands trust that God will call His elect to Himself according to His own timetable.  And there’s varying responses.  There always have been and there always will be.

 

If you have your Bibles, you can look at Acts 17, that account of Paul’s preaching on Mars Hill, or around Mars Hill (he probably wasn’t on it, but he was there at it), preaching to that council in Athens.  It’s an interesting place to go and to see.  I mean, it’s a model message (Acts 17), in many ways.  But, after he preaches this clear, presuppositional, apologetical message, calls people to repentance, mentions judgment, Acts 17:32: “Now when they heard the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer”—well, that still goes on today—“others said, ‘We’ll hear you again concerning this.”  That’s a response that still happens today.  “So Paul went out of the midst.  But some men joined him and believed,” and that still happens today.

 

It’s never changed.  Some sneer/reject openly.  Some you don’t know where they are.  Maybe God’s drawing them, maybe it’s just some sort of response to common grace, you know, that doesn’t mean they are going to come to Christ.  Some believe.  That’s never changed, but where the Word is preached, you will have these varying responses.

 

So, again, it’s just us being faithful to preach the Word and leave the results to God.  He will save His elect according to His own timing.  This was the method used by Jesus I believe—preaching truth!  It was the method used by the apostles, the reformers, the puritans, and almost everybody until the 1830’s—and that was simply to proclaim the truth, call men to repent and believe, to leave the results in the hands the Holy Spirit who alone can do that…

 

I mean, to be really evangelistic biblically, I believe you’ve got to be convinced in the power of God’s Word.  You’ve got to believe that, and that God’s Word can convert men without the help of our manmade systems that we add to it!

 

So, maybe that is the real question: how powerful is the Word of God?  There’s a quote or a line there or two that you ought to put two stars by: you will never be able to do without the invitation system until you are thoroughly convinced of the power of God’s Word.  And when you see it happen—you see people come to Christ and you see people respond, without your manipulation, without your techniques—it’s a glorious, glorious thing.

 

Well, food for thought.  That’s all it was.  If you use an invitation/an altar call, then you certainly can weigh those arguments for and against and make your own decision, according to the views of your own church.

 

But I’ll field some questions; hopefully give some answers.

What about the examples in scripture where people were baptized after they believed and there was, possibly, no fruit seen?

The Ethiopian eunuch would be another good example.  I would say this, still today, if tongues of fire ever come down on a congregation that I’m at, and miraculous things happen like that, and there’s this powerful work of God in 3000 people, I’m not going to stand in the way of people being baptized.  If God ever picks somebody up from one part of the country and moves them to another part of the country, like the Ethiopian eunuch, I’m going to tend to believe that one too.

 

But I think, even more important, you are talking about the book of Acts and you are talking about a transition book, but you’re talking about the apostles, you’re talking about men whom God used even to do miracles.  You’re talking about Philip, you know, again picked up in a move.  (That was really the way that move went , it was Philip that was moved.)  If God does that to me, I will trust in the decision that’s made.  Again, you’re talking about the apostles; I’m not one.  You’re talking about people who did miracles; I haven’t.  I just want to be certain.

 

We will say this: if a child is articulating their faith in such a way that the parents are convinced that they are saved, we will allow them to come sit down with our children’s pastor, Bill Shannon, and talk about that, and that’s happened a handful of times and every time it’s happened, through the ten plus years that Bill has been here, every single time, the decision and conclusion at the end of that meeting was “Let’s wait.”  I believe, personally, as a parent, it’s the wisest thing you can ever do for your child (is to wait.)

 

Back to your question, though, about adults.  I wouldn’t say anything that they did in scripture was a mistake, that’s not presented as a mistake.  But, once again, that’s very clearly the book of Acts. That’s a transition book.  I’m not going to build my theology over the examples that are given in that book in a lot of ways, but I will say, once that’s over and the whole concept of believer’s baptism that we work with today is in place, I would say than, as a person who is going to have to judge things now by the completed Word of God, I can’t look for signs and miracles, I can’t look for anything; I’ve got to look for what the Bible says is fruit.  And I’m going to look for that.

 

Even still, it’s not perfect.  I mean, we’ve had people be baptized and years later, you know, fall away and all that, or realize they weren’t saved and get baptized again.  That happens, but I will tell you this: compared to how I was raised, and what I see now, the numbers are so totally reversed that it’s the exception now, when it happens, and not the rule.

 

Do I view these “Four Spiritual Laws” or tracks similar to that as good tools for evangelism or tools for manipulation?

 

I believe in good tools—and they don’t have to at all be manipulation.  I don’t like that one, I don’t care for that one as a good tool (“The Four Spiritual Laws”), and I would never use that one, personally, but to take people to scripture certainly, directly or some other good little tract or book that might be a concise, clear explanation of the true gospel and sin and repentance and things like that.  I’m always looking, actually, for a good tract in that regard, and may write one.

Many call for a prayer of commitment right there…

 

They call for a prayer of commitment right there?  No, I won’t have anything to do with that.  I won’t pressure anybody into that.

 

You had mentioned earlier the “damage” that we could do by giving false assurance?

 

That’s a statement, certainly, from a human perspective only—you know, the “damage” that we can do.  But, it is true, as you observe that and as you see that in people’s lives, people questioning their salvation, living under the idea of not knowing whether they’re saved or not saved, that’s strictly from a human perspective that you make those kinds of comments.  When it’s all said and done, I still trust in the sovereignty of God.  No doubt.

 

If somebody was falsely converted in an altar call, as I was, at nine-years-old, in a pastor’s home, in a revival service, and who then, years later, became a youth director and taught adult Sunday school classes and wrote Christian songs that won Christian songwriting contests and wrote the vows of his wedding, Christian vows, and headed up Christian ministry on campus at The University of Houston and then, six years later, came to Christ and was converted—as a person like that, I certainly affirm the sovereignty of God in every aspect that, when you saw “what damage we can do…”  Yeah, it’s from a human perspective that we’re just saying that.  I think maybe a better way to say it is, “I want to be true to what scripture teaches.  I just want to be accurate, I want to be right, I want to be faithful.”  And maybe the ultimate damage is, I’ve displeased the Lord, myself, with my own choices.  For me, personally, I certainly don’t want to grieve the Lord in that regard.

 

Well, the question is, baptism in general in the book of Acts many times is related to this rejection of Christ as Messiah, this national rejection, and word spoken to Israel in that transition book.  I think it goes back to that.  You’ve got to be very careful what you do with those things in the book of Acts.  They mean what they say, and what they say is important, but you have to distinguish those things.  Like what happens in Acts 19 and the whole issue of speaking in tongues, and how that happens the Day of Pentecost in Acts 19.  Baptism too.  I’m not going to build my theology, ultimately, on how I practice as a New Testament church, of what takes place in the book of Acts.  And so, there was that identification that was taking place there in some of those commands to them.

 

I’m looking at some of this practically.  The benefit, in people’s minds, when they come to that point where they’re giving their testimony to the congregation and verbalizing—and some of those junior high and high school students who give their testimony, it’s profound.  I mean, it’s amazing, what they say that God has done in their lives.  And some of those, I think very possibly were saved, maybe, when they were six or seven.  I don’t know.  Maybe at camp, that was just an experience of growth…  They don’t know that, I don’t know that, but they’re looking at their life now and they’re saying, “You know what?  I have that personal assurance that I know I’m saved. It is no longer a borrowed conviction from my parent,” which is what happens with little children.  “Now, it’s my own conviction I have before the Lord.  I know I’m saved and here’s the reason why”—and when they articulate that, it is a benefit and a profit to the congregation.  And so, you’re certainly not hurting anybody there, by delaying the baptism because, obviously, to be baptized or not be baptized does not mean you’re saved or lost.

 

Oh, both?  Repentance and baptism, that they need to go together?  Ok, so, now, you’re actually asking what we might call church membership/joining the church.  Spiritually, you become a member of the body of Christ at the moment of regeneration, and the Holy Spirit “baptizes” you into the body of Christ.  Spirit baptism—that’s at the moment of regeneration.  And God knows when that is.  God knows when that is in my life even, though I don’t know for certain.

 

So, definitely, from God’s perspective, there’s a point in time, and that’s when it happens.  You know, as far as all that takes place at regeneration—repentance, the expression of saving faith; the legal pronunciation/forensic declaration of justification, that you’re justified before God; the breathing in of new life—I can’t outline that particularly from God’s perspective, that there’s this minute little order of events that might happen, as He does that.  From my human perspective, it’s a lump sum thing that happens.  God does that.  He breathes new life into somebody, and from that moment on, they are his child, they are part of his family, they’re a member of the body of Christ.

 

My local body?  We do not consider a person a member of our church until they are articulating that they want to identify with our church and join our church.  So, yes, the short answer is yes.  They may very well be part of the universal body of Christ, but that doesn’t mean that they have identified with our local body.  And scripture doesn’t spell out, clearly, how that’s to take place.  Our elders have designed what is a process, that we believe is best for us, to bring in and to recognize new members in our body.  So, we have that process.

 

Now, baptism—when somebody joins our church, and wants to join our church, if we find out that they have not been baptized, then we stop the membership process.  They can go through the classes, they can fill out the application, but we will not present them to the body as a member of our church until they’ve been baptized, because that’s an act of obedience on their part.  On the other hand, it is possible that a person is being baptized, but they’re not joining our church—which may be what you’re asking even more.

 

If is a person is born again, but not yet baptized, would they be permitted to partake in the Lord’s Supper?

Yes.  Literally communion, the Lord’s Supper?  Yes.  We would say that any of you that are not a part of our church can partake of communion—this Sunday afternoon!  We’ll have a service.  If you know Christ—that’s all we say—then you may partake of communion.  We don’t have communion police that monitor that or anything like that.  If they’re not a member, they can still…

 

If they have not been baptized…  First of all, I don’t know who’s been baptized and who hasn’t all of the time.  But if they have not been baptized, that’s not going to preclude them from observing communion.  That’s a time of remembering the Lord’s death.  If they know Christ, if they’re regenerate, they can partake of communion—and that’s between them and the Lord, to know that.

 

Good question—and we have camps.  We have camps, mainly for our junior high students, our high school students, college students.  We don’t use invitations or altar calls in any of those camps.  We give invitations—and let me clarify that again.  John gives an invitation, most of the time (unless he just forgets).  He gives an invitation at the end of his service to, “If you need to know Christ, we have people here who can talk to you.  We have a prayer room.”  It’s not part of our service.  There’s no music playing.  There’s no altar call.  We end our service, and those who have spiritual questions about Bible, needs they need prayer for, they want to find out more what it means to know Christ, they may very well go to that prayer room, and talk with a counselor one-on-one, and somewhere in that process, they may say, you know, “I want to repent.  I want to be forgiven of my sin.”  That’s wonderful.  They get saved.

 

At a camp, we have counselors there that meet with those students, and those students may very well confess to that counselor that “I’ve been in sin and I’ve never trusted Christ and I want to be saved.”  My oldest son was saved at a camp, but there was no invitation or altar call.  But, when they get home, they certainly are encouraged—“God did a work in your heart.  Come talk to us about that; come tell us”—and we begin to have some junior high and high school students then, that go through the process to be baptized, because at camp, they came to Christ and were converted.  And we do all of that—we present them publicly, we acknowledge that, we rejoice in that—but we do all of that without an altar call.

 

Listen, when a kid is being convicted of their sins, they’re seeking out their counselor, I mean, they’re praying with some friend that’s been praying with them—it becomes known.  You don’t have to find a way to make it known.  It becomes known.

What about the child that’s in that 10, 11, 12-year-old age, whatever—they have not been baptized, they have not, necessarily, for certain, made sure their salvation (and publicly), and yet they’re wanting to partake of communion—what do we do about that?

 

To be honest with you, we don’t have a guideline or a policy on it.  We leave it up to the parents to make the decision.  In our congregation, we have parents on both sides of that issue.  We have parents, “You know what?  I’m going to reserve communion and baptism both for that time when I know for certain they’re exhibiting fruit, they know they’re exhibiting fruit.”  And, many times, those kids, they don’t know for certain; that’s why they keep praying to receive Christ more and more and more times.  It’s much easier to discern that in an adult, you know, than a child.  But, we leave that in the parent’s hands.  So, many times, we have people that are not participating in communion—and they may have actually come to Christ, but they have not been baptized yet, and so they’re going to wait.

 

We have other parents who distinguish the two and say, “You know what?  Baptism is a public declaration of my faith in Christ.  Communion is remembering the Lord’s atonement on the cross on my behalf, etc.”  And this is a child at 10 or 11—he has expressed faith, but he has not been baptized yet.  And we have parents who will not forbid the communion, because it’s not a public declaration.  And so, we leave that in the parent’s hands to make that decision.

 

To be honest about my own situation—I have two kids that are older, two kids that are younger.  Two kids walking with Christ: with them, I took that second approach that, they were not baptized, but they were beginning to profess some things.  So, I wasn’t certain, but I allowed them to partake of communion.  Later, they were baptized.  With my younger two, I’m doing it the other way and I’m encouraging the communion and the baptism too, for lack of confusion and everything else, just to keep together the ordinances of the church until they’re publicly professing Christ.

 

By the way, they’re more thorough on the little disc you got.  You guys know that little disc you got?  On there are all the notes of all the seminars, and many of the seminars, the notes that are on there are more fleshed out than what you were handed.

 

This question is tangential perhaps, but on page ten, where you quoted John discouraging the use of mood music—since I’ve worshipped a few times at Grace, I wondered why Steve plays the organ during the prayer?

Yeah, that actually has come up before, you know, because—we don’t do it all the time, by the way.  It’s kind of interesting.  He normally does that on Sunday mornings.  There have been some other services that we’ve had, like things like this in the evening, and he doesn’t play.  In fact, I think the first night, Wednesday night, I don’t think he played during John’s prayer.  I think you’ll have to ask him that—why—but I will say, our organist playing (this is in response to the question against mood music): what we’re not doing.  We’re not trying to set a mood, per say, or an atmosphere of worship.  But, I suppose, some practical argument is that it is helping to drown out the distractions.  We’re right here on Rosco Boulevard; it’s very loud on that side of the congregation.  I don’t know, I’m just speculating.  Perhaps the organ does kind of drown out that distraction during that very quiet time of our service, when John is praying.  I don’t know, but it certainly is neither here nor there to us that he’s playing the organ while John prays/during the pastoral prayer, you know, so…  You’ll have to ask John why he wants it sometimes.

 

A couple of comments on the baptizing people immediately…  I just go back to John the Baptist in Matthew 3, when the rulers of Israel come forward and he says, “Who are you?  Bring forth fruit unto repentance.”

 

Yeah, he didn’t baptize them.  Good point.  That was Matthew 3.  John the Baptist turned away the rulers of Israel—would not deal with them—saying, “You need to bring forth fruit unto repentance.”  Yeah, that “damage” is done in the horizontal realm.  It doesn’t interfere with God.  It doesn’t thwart God’s realm (Job 42:2, “No man can thwart his will”), but on the horizontal realm, the human realm, there are those effects of our lack of diligence, our hurtful things to people…  I mean, if you say a hurtful word to somebody, and it discourages them in Christ and it has an effect on their sanctification, ultimately, does Christ still rule and bring them to the point where He wants them to be?  Absolutely, but yet, there was damage done, in that sense, in the horizontal, human realm.  So, yeah, we do pick up the pieces from all that.

 

Well, we’re out of time—past time.  Good discussion.  Hope you guys are benefiting from the conference.

 

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