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This is an excellent question, for many churches practice this and very few question whether or not Scripture supports it. It may surprise many to know that the “altar call” didn’t begin until the 1830s with evangelist Charles G. Finney and later became popular in crusades held by D. L. Moody and Billy Graham. But the real question is, “What saith the scriptures?” Does the Bible ever speak of this practice? We have several accounts in the book of Acts where evangelists preached the gospel to a group of people and yet we never read of anything that resembles an open invitation to be saved or to rededicate one’s live to Christ. In Acts 10 we have the apostle Peter preaching to a house full of Gentiles and he ended his gospel message with these words in verse 43, “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” In Acts 13 the apostle Paul preached the gospel to a large group of Jews and Gentiles and he ended his message on the same note in verses 38-39, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” So, instead of an invitation to “come forward to receive Christ,” Peter and Paul simply encouraged their listeners to “believe on Christ.”

The common thinking in regards to the altar call is that a sinner must receive Christ by praying the “sinner’s prayer.” But again, “What saith the scriptures?” I want us to look at two famous passages used to support the “sinner’s prayer,” and I trust we shall see that neither of them have anything to do with this modern-day “method.” John 1:12 reads, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the children of God, to those who believe on His name” (NKJV).  We learn in this precious verse how the sinner receives Christ, by simply BELIEVING ON HIS NAME! What does it mean to “believe on His name?” Joseph was told, by an angel in Matthew 1:21, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.” To “believe on His name” is to “believe He is our Savior because He has saved us from our sins!” One can pray the so-called sinner’s prayer during an altar call and yet never believe on the Savior. I have personally met hundreds of people who have gone forward at an altar call and repeated the “sinner’s prayer,” and yet they didn’t have a clue what it meant to be saved.  In fact, in questioning them it became apparent they were trusting in the prayer itself and NOT in the Savior! How sad! And yet this is what can happen by using this method.

The other passage is Romans 10:9-10 which says, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” There is not a word in these verses about praying the “sinner’s prayer’s” to receive Christ. Rather, they are telling us that the one who has received Christ by believing on Him will indeed confess Him before others.

Confessing Christ before others won’t be something that someone asks or forces you to do, it is something you will want to do, for if the “heart” has really laid hold of Christ, the “mouth” will soon follow by telling others of the One who loved you and gave Himself for you. The scriptures cited from Acts 10 and 13 illustrate this truth, for after Peter and Paul believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior they willingly confessed Him before others and then encouraged them to believe on Him too.

We need to think of the harm done by using this unscriptural method. As noted earlier, sinners may be deceived into thinking that they are saved based solely on the fact that they “went forward and prayed the sinner’s prayer.” And the danger doesn’t stop there, for if they have not truly repented and believed on Christ, they will go out and make a false profession to others without a holy life to back up that profession. This will be a stumbling block to the ungodly, and will be a reason for them to blaspheme the name of Christ instead of believing on His precious name.

I believe this method was first employed because of a desire to see results after presenting the gospel, but as we have seen it doesn’t hold up against the light of Scripture. May we be like Peter and Paul and preach the gospel of Christ and entreat sinners to believe.  And then let’s count on God to work in hearts to produce results instead of trying to get results by our own means.  As we read in 1 Corinthians 3:5-6, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”  (144.4)  (DO)