The Public Invitation or Post-Sermonic Altar Call
Matthew 11:28-30; Revelation 22:17
by John A. Kohler, III
The public invitation or post-sermonic altar call may be defined as an appeal made by a preacher at the conclusion of his message for people to leave their seats and come forward to an area near the pulpit in order to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. The question that must be asked about this common practice is as follows: Is it BIBLICAL?
I. The History of the Public Invitation
A. It was not used by the Old Testament patriarchs or prophets.
B. It was not used by John the Baptist.
C. It was not used by the Lord Jesus Christ.
D. It was not used by the New Testament apostles.
E. As far as is known, it was not used by anyone, anywhere until it was spontaneously introduced by Eleazar Wheelock in 1745.
F. As far as is known, it was not used widely until it was popularized by Charles Finney during the 1830s.
II. The Heterodoxy of the Public Invitation
A. It makes “coming forward” and “coming to Christ” practically synonymous.
B. It makes “coming forward” a condition for salvation.
C. It makes conversion to Christ an external, physical act.
D. It makes many people converts to a particular preacher or church without their becoming converts to Christ.
E. It makes the number of external, physical responses the measure of “success.”
F. It makes psychological manipulation more important than Biblical exposition and Holy Spirit conviction.
G. It makes “coming forward” a substitute for baptism.
H. It makes more mature Christians who know their Bibles well very uncomfortable, because they recognize the fact that tradition has replaced truth as the supreme and final authority in this matter. They know this can only be damaging.
“I am going to ask you to come forward. Up there---down there---I want you to come. You come right now---quickly. If you are with friends or relatives, they will wait for you. Don’t let distance keep you from Christ. It’s a long way, but Christ went all the way to the cross because He loved you. This is how we are going to do it---Get up right now and come to the front.” Billy Graham
“Many of us in our preaching will make such statements as, ‘Now, in conclusion’; ‘Finally, may I say’; ‘My last point is . . .’ These statements are sometimes dangerous. The sinner knows five minutes before you finish; hence he digs in and prepares himself for the invitation so that he does not respond. However, if your closing is abrupt and a lost person does not suspect that you are about finished, you have crept up on him and he will not have time to prepare himself for the invitation. Many people may be reached using this method.” Jack Hyles
“Where the spectacular element in public soul-winning is eliminated there is little opportunity to count supposed results, and the test of conversion is taken wholly out of the sphere of profession and made to rest on the reality of a changed life afterwards.” Lewis Sperry Chafer
“One should never speak against invitations, for they arise out of the necessities of New Testament faith. The gospel message itself consists of an invitation to all sinners to find forgiveness, to all the weary to find rest, and to all heavy-laden to find relief. Those who want to learn from Christ are urged to come to Him. Thus, the whole message either implies or consists of invitation---yea, even beyond invitation unto command. The reality of this, however, should not be confused with public altar calls or the invitation system.” Thomas Nettles
“History tells us that whenever the gospel was preached men were invited to Christ---not to decide at the end of a sermon whether or not to perform some physical action. The Apostle Paul, the great evangelist, never heard of an altar call, yet today some consider the altar call to be a necessary mark of an evangelical church. In fact, churches which do not practice it are often accused of having no concern for the lost. Neither Paul nor Peter ever climaxed his preaching with forcing upon his hearers the decision to walk or not to walk. It is not only with church history, then, but with Scriptural history as well that the altar call is in conflict.
“Men today need to be reminded that coming to Christ is not walking an aisle, but casting oneself on Christ for life or death. May God cause the church to return to the Scriptures for its methods of winning men to Christ. May sinners be charged not to come forward in a meeting, but to come to the Lord Jesus Christ.” James Adams
“When a person truly understands that God is responsible for the effectual call, all the gimmicks, gadgets, and psychological trickery that men have resorted to in our day will be regarded as futile . . . Long invitations, ‘altar calls,’ and emotional appeals do not bring men to Christ, God does (I Cor. 2:4-5).” Tom Ross
The above article is from from a sermon preached at Brentwood
Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia, by Pastor John A. Kohler, III
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