If you have ever attended an evangelistic church you (more than likely) have experienced the ‘invitation’, when the pastor calls for a response. I think it is interesting to know the history of altar call, how it was popularized by frontier camp meetings and Charles Finney’s “anxious bench,” and later became on of the evangelistic staples of American church. There is much debate over the proper use of altar calls among theologians. At the very least, I thought I would bring the topic up, with some follow up post’s to come.
At first, the altar call was used as an efficient way to gather spiritually interested people together for counseling after a sermon. In the early camp meetings, which were organized mass meetings for the purpose of evangelism, ministers used an “invitation to the altar” as a visible way to measure people’s response to their message. It was Charles Finney however, who “did more than anyone to establish altar calls as an accepted and popular practice in American evangelicalism.” According to Finney, the altar call was a very persuasive tool to move the human will. ”
Sweeney writes, “Iain Murray describes many opponents of the altar call who “alleged that the call for a public ‘response’ confused an external act with an inward spiritual change.” Moreover, Murray says, the altar call effectively “institute[d] a condition of salvation which Christ never appointed.” Critics argued that altar-call evangelism resulted in false assurance, as a high percentage of those who went forward to “receive Christ” soon fell away.”
This is a good introduction to the discussion. I will follow up with some thoughts later. Click here to read the whole article.
Also, see Andy Naselli.