[quote=MatsMom]I just had a couple of questions about alter Calls & sinners prayers.
- Which churches practice these?
Any church influenced by American revivalism. That meant originally Baptists, Methodists, and some Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Many new denominations arose in the 19th and 20th centuries out of revivalistic traditions, and meanwhile “mainline” churches like the Methodists largely dropped the practice. So today you’re likely to see it in Baptist, non-denominational, “holiness” and Pentecostal churches–but in others as well.
- Do they replace Baptism?
No. An altar call may be addressed to “believers” or “non-believers”–i.e., to those who have accepted Christ and are in a state of grace, or to those who need to repent and believe in Christ. Most often it’s directed to the latter, calling people to turn to Christ in repentance and faith. But typically in my experience an altar call will follow the appeal to unbelievers with an invitation to believers to rededicate themselves or simply to come forward and ask for prayer for some reason.
Among churches that do not believe in eternal security, it gets more complicated, since one may go forward to recover one’s salvation which one has lost. In “holiness” churches one may go forward to seek entire sanctification (an experience after conversion), and similarly Pentecostals may go forward to seek the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” and speaking with tonges.
Altar calls, in other words, invite people to some new or renewed commitment to Christ. If people have not been baptized before, or if they are in a church that does not recognize infant baptism, a public acceptance of Christ will result in baptism.
- Did this practice begin with the reformers or did they develop over time?
It developed over time, especially beginning with the evangelical revivals of the 18th century. Among Methodists especially (Methodism began in these revivals), people would come forward and pray at a “mourners’ bench.” The Presbyterian evangelist Charles Finney adopted this practice and it spread far and wide.
- When my sister-inlaw says her grandson excepted the lord is it a personal prayer or a public profession of faith?
Probably the former, followed by the latter. Though it may have taken place during an “altar call,” in which case the two would be basically simultaneous.
- Is this practice in the Bible or are they traditions christians have developted?
An altar call is obviously not in the Bible (though that doesn’t make it wrong). Professing faith in Christ obviously is in the Bible.