I am re-reading Iain H. Murray’s book Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858. His book chronicles the work of God in America during the First and Second Great Awakening. Murray’s work exposes the erroneous view that genuine revival wrought by God is the same as revivalism. Revivalism is an enterprise planned and orchestrated by man, which Murray demonstrates, is contemporaneous with the invention of man known as the “altar call” around 1800 (185-90).
Sometimes we “do ministry” in a certain way because it is all we’ve ever known. Sometimes it is healthy to try and understand why something is or was done a certain way. No invention of man has caused more misunderstanding to people than “going forward.” The reality is that going forward, raising a hand, or saying a prayer does not save the sinner. We are saved by God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Salvation is done in secret. It is a work of God in the heart of a sinner. It is seen by God alone. Man has invented such visuals in order to satisfy a carnal desire to see what he has done, when in fact God does not share such glory. The sad result is that some who have “gone forward” never were saved, but were instructed otherwise! These same people then live defeated lives in church wondering what is wrong with them. Pastors see this time and time again.
I would encourage my fellow pastors and church leaders to read this book. But be careful, it may bring down some sacred cows.
Categories: Church, Shepherding
I had to re-think my attitudes on altar calls early in my ministry. I was ordained in a little Southern Baptist Church out in the middle of nowhere. Even if we only had 19 people and they were the same people every Sunday (I think we hit a high of 35 once), I’d better be giving an altar call! This was a non-negotiable to the people at that church.
Then I read Lewis Sperry Chafer’s “True Evangelism” where he told stories of how people were planted in the audience of some meetings to come forward all at once to generate enthusiasm for the call. He called an altar call a “work” that must not be mixed with the Gospel. As usual, Chafer convinced me of his position on the topic.
So now I inform people that I’m available after the service if they wish to speak with me about the sermon or the state of their soul, but never, ever do an altar call.
Bruce, both you and Dr Chafer are wise men!