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Bluegrass Bible Beat: How Jesus gave altar calls

By: Scott Adkins, Sling ‘n Stone Ministry
Carter County Times

By: Sling ‘n Stone Ministry

Many services close with an “altar call,” when the preacher invites those who wish to commit (or renew their commitment) to the Lord Jesus Christ to come forward to the altar. Strange as it might seem, however, nowhere does scripture refer to such a practice. Rather, the practice presents a relatively new historical development – first used by 1830’s evangelist Charles G. Finney. Opinions about the altar call vary; some praise the practice as publicly evincing an inward change of heart. Others, however, criticize the altar call as tending to mislead folks that the mere act of going forward and repeating some prayer offered by the preacher will, in and of itself, save someone. Whatever one’s view about the altar call might be, most would agree the altar call aims, effectively or not, to show some commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

This article, however, takes no position on these contrasting views – lots of good folks can (and do) hold different and sound views about the “altar call.” Instead, this article examines:

How Jesus Gave Altar Calls

That is – when the Lord Jesus Christ called someone to follow Him, what exactly did the Lord ask that person to do? What Jesus Himself asked of folks seems a good yardstick to measure what Christ expects from those whom He calls. The New Testament presents many examples of the Lord’s calling folks to follow Him. (Matthew 4:18-19) (Jesus calling the first four disciples, saying “Follow Me.”) (John 21:18-19) (Jesus telling Peter, “Follow Me.”); (Acts 8:1-6) (Jesus calling Paul). But these accounts give little content to what exactly the called must do to follow Christ in a manner acceptable to Christ. However, most folks have heard at least once about the rich young ruler, (Matthew 19:16-24); (Mark 10:17-22); (Luke 18:18-30), where the Lord told one young man what he must do to inherit eternal life:

[G]o and sell all you have and give to the poor; and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me. (Matthew 19:21).

Most preachers focus on the wealth he was asked to give up. But there’s more involved than forsaking money. First, this person was young, having his whole life before him. Second, he was a ruler. So, Jesus faced a wealthy young man, who possessed political power, aspirations, and reputation. Jesus called that young man to lay aside his own goals – to follow Christ instead. But how? By emptying himself; pitying the poor; and by changing his life’s goal from self-advancement to advancing God’s kingdom. Jesus allowed the young man to hold nothing back.

When the young man realized following Jesus would cost him everything – his money, community standing, his aspirations, and maybe even his life, he “went away sorrowful.” (Matthew 19:22). When Jesus calls, He requires we surrender everything. (Luke 9:23) (“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”). And that’s how Jesus gives altar calls.



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