Alter Calls & Sinners Prayer Questions


#1

I just had a couple of questions about alter Calls & sinners prayers.

  1. Which churches practice these?

  2. Do they replace Baptism?

  3. Did this practice begin with the reformers or did they develop over time?

  4. When my sister-inlaw says her grandson excepted the lord is it a personal prayer or a public profession of faith?

  5. Is this practice in the Bible or are they traditions christians have developted?

I did do a search and could not find the answers exactly. I was hoping to learn so when talking with other christians I could better understand their vocabulary.
Thank You for your time

MM


#2

Well, I can only speak for Baptists as I was raised one.

Baptists don’t accept infant baptism, but only a “believers” baptism. They only consider it as a symbol of one’s profession of faith, nothing more. But before one can get that one must go in front of a congregation and admit that one believes in Jesus and accepts him as their personal Savior. Is it biblical? Hummm…, well, baptism is biblical. Haven’t found anywhere in the bible about going in front of the congregation . Or saying a sinner’s prayer. A profession of faith, yes. And Baptists have been around since the Reformation .


#3

Many Baptists that I’ve spoken with believe that Baptists have been around since Pentecost. They are the NT church, in their opinion.

In Christ,
Nancy :slight_smile:

[quote=Cairisti]Well, I can only speak for Baptists as I was raised one.

Baptists don’t accept infant baptism, but only a “believers” baptism. They only consider it as a symbol of one’s profession of faith, nothing more. But before one can get that one must go in front of a congregation and admit that one believes in Jesus and accepts him as their personal Savior. Is it biblical? Hummm…, well, baptism is biblical. Haven’t found anywhere in the bible about going in front of the congregation . Or saying a sinner’s prayer. A profession of faith, yes. And Baptists have been around since the Reformation .
[/quote]


#4

[quote=MatsMom]I just had a couple of questions about alter Calls & sinners prayers.

  1. Which churches practice these?
    [/quote]

I know that the Baptists do. I am a “craddle Catholic” who went to a Baptist private school for 3 years (5th - 8th grades).

[quote=MatsMom]2) Do they replace Baptism?
[/quote]

No, they are in addition to Baptism. An alter call usually happens after a sermon. The preacher will lead the people in a prayer (with heads down and eyes closed) and during the prayer he’ll invite any “unsaved” people in the gathering to come forward to the alter. Once there, a person will come and meet with the “unsaved person” and pray with them about becoming “saved.” Often, the “sinner’s prayer” is used at this point. The “sinner’s prayer” is basically a prayer inwhich the person admits to being a sinner, asks Jesus to forgive him/her, asks Jesus to come into his/her heart and become their personal Lord and Savior. Then, presto, they are considered “saved” (if the prayer was said honestly and truly felt by the praying person).

[quote=MatsMom]3) Did this practice begin with the reformers or did they develop over time?
[/quote]

Not positive about this one, though I suspect that it developed over time.

[quote=MatsMom]4) When my sister-inlaw says her grandson excepted the lord is it a personal prayer or a public profession of faith?
[/quote]

There is usually someone there “helping” the unsaved person prompting him/her and “guiding” them throughout the prayer.


#5

The “altar call” is considered to have originated with Presbyterian evangelist Charles Finney in the early 1800s, although there is some evidence that he adapted it from Methodist camp meetings.

“Accepting the Lord” is a personal transaction between the soul and God. “Profession of faith” is making a public statement that the transaction has taken place. Sometimes they both take place at the altar call, sometimes only the latter. Neither replaces baptism, although sometimes baptism replaces them–that is to say, sometimes in Protestant churches, the people aren’t taught to repent, receive Christ, be born again, and pass from death to life; instead, they just “get baptized” and start hanging around, hoping they’ll go to Heaven for one reason or another when they finally die.

Receiving Christ is scriptural (John 1:12), as is public profession (Romans 10:9), but the altar call is man-made.


#6

[quote=MatsMom]I just had a couple of questions about alter Calls & sinners prayers.

  1. Which churches practice these?

  2. Do they replace Baptism?
    [/quote]

I have personal knowledge of it having happened in Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal-type independent churches. Obviously there could be many more. These folks still get baptized on a separate occasion, so it doesn’t seem to be a substitute. Altar calls seem to fit the modern evangelical style, especially Billy Graham.

I haven’t read about altar calls in older Christian literature, so I suspect they come to the fore in the 1800s or so. Wiki claims this time frame.


#7

[quote=Kevan]The “altar call” is considered to have originated with Presbyterian evangelist Charles Finney in the early 1800s, although there is some evidence that he adapted it from Methodist camp meetings.

[/quote]

Kevan -

From your knowledge on the alter call instituted by Finney, did he ever present scriptural support to this idea?


#8

at the Steubenville youth and Young adult conferences I have attended in the past, there is usually an “altar call” during at least one of the praise and worship services, where young men and women discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life are called to come forward. It is always an amazing and hopeful thing to see.


#9

[quote=Tietjen]No, they are in addition to Baptism. An altar call usually happens after a sermon. The preacher will lead the people in a prayer (with heads down and eyes closed) and during the prayer he’ll invite any “unsaved” people in the gathering to come forward to the altar.
[/quote]

I grew up in a "non-denominational church. The interesting thing about the altar call is that none of the churches I went to had an altar. I always wondered why it was called an altar call and not a pulpit call, because people usually went and stood before the pulpit.

One notable example is Promise Keepers. They have meetings in large arenas, during which they will have an altar call. I didn’t see an altar though.


#10

[quote=MatsMom]1) Which churches practice these?
[/quote]

Several American Protestant Churches

[quote=MatsMom]2) Do they replace Baptism?
[/quote]

No.

[quote=MatsMom]3) Did this practice begin with the reformers or did they develop over time?
[/quote]

Developed later, mostly in American Evangelical circles.

[quote=MatsMom]4) When my sister-in-law says her grandson excepted the lord is it a personal prayer or a public profession of faith?
[/quote]

Depends on who you ask. Granny and grandson would most likely say, “Yes,” Orthodox Christians would say, “No.”

[quote=MatsMom]5) Is this practice in the Bible or are they traditions Christians have developed?
[/quote]

Not biblical at all (not anti-biblical either). Definitely a tradition that has developed over time in the Evangelical community.


#11

[quote=MatsMom]I just had a couple of questions about alter Calls & sinners prayers.

  1. Which churches practice these?

  2. Do they replace Baptism?

  3. Did this practice begin with the reformers or did they develop over time?

  4. When my sister-inlaw says her grandson excepted the lord is it a personal prayer or a public profession of faith?

  5. Is this practice in the Bible or are they traditions christians have developted?

I did do a search and could not find the answers exactly. I was hoping to learn so when talking with other christians I could better understand their vocabulary.
Thank You for your time

MM
[/quote]

Hello MM,

Altar calls are probably no more than 150 years old if that old. I would say that beginning around mid 1850’s it began. I believe this was originally an evangelistic way of trying to convert people to Christianity or to a more devoted form of Christianity.

A Sunday service is basically an evangelistic message. The whole point of the pastor’s message is to spark an interest in the hearer’s heart and lead them to the “invitation” or “altar call” at the end of the sermon. It’s all about evangelism.

The Scriptural basis would be the words of Jesus when he said, “Whoever denies me before men I will deny him before the Father and whoever acknowledges me before me, him I will acknowledge before the Father”. So, the altar call takes care of that. There is an acknowledgement of the need for Christ and the commitment to be a Christian the rest of your life.

Baptism is a symbolic public testimony of the faith one expresses at the altar call (most commonly called “invitation”). It comes afterwards - usually at the next Sunday service.

Peace…


#12

[quote=Tonks40]From your knowledge on the alter call instituted by Finney, did he ever present scriptural support to this idea?
[/quote]

It was a major controversy. His style of holding meetings was called “the New Measures” and he only defended it, so far as I recall, by pointing to its fitness and its effectiveness.

Obviously there is no direct support for the altar call in Scripture, but the controversy was primarily over the idea of “decisionism,” thinking that a sinner could decide to come to God for salvation, rather than having to wait for God to convert him. Finney’s New Measures moved America in the direction of decisionism and away from Calvinism.

Most evangelicals today would say that decisionism, on some level at least, is scriptural.


#13

[quote=SemperJase]I grew up in a "non-denominational church. The interesting thing about the altar call is that none of the churches I went to had an altar. I always wondered why it was called an altar call and not a pulpit call, because people usually went and stood before the pulpit.
ough.
[/quote]

I just saw a photo of that large mega-Church in Dallas, I think it is called Vineyard, seats 5400, the well I can’t call it a sanctuary, a raised, half circle platform about 6-8 steps above the congregation, which seems to be stadium seating, and the pastor and his son in white chairs, at least a dozen other people, deacons? elders? standing around. The musicians seem to be off to the side and it looked like a full orchestra. No altar. No cross. It seemed like a gathering to worship the humans on the platform. It just hit me–what are they worshipping?

Maybe their faith is stronger than ours, that they can worship what they cannot see, but we Catholics need a God who comes to us truly and really present in the consecrated bread and wine.

But the picture was so opposite of say the televised papal Masses around the time of the funeral and election of the new pope, when it was clear that the event happening on the altar was central to the worship.


#14

I’m sure some Catholics and most Christians would say the same thing, too. We would call it “responding to God’s graces” that have already been instilled in us through our Baptism. And I’m sure there would be plenty of Scriptural references to that.

Thanks for the info! :thumbsup:


#15

I might add a little clarity by mentioning that “the altar” in these churches is a figurative expression. The sacrifice is the person himself; he offers himself to God. Wherever that occurs becomes an altar.

Since “walking the aisle” has become a sacred tradition in these churches, the platform at the front is often called an altar without even thinking. I’ve heard several preachers point that out, and make the small correction in the hearers’ thinking.


#16

[quote=MatsMom]I just had a couple of questions about alter Calls & sinners prayers.

  1. Which churches practice these?
    [/quote]

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Edwin


#17

I’m not an expert on the bible so could someone please tell me where to find alter call in the bible?


#18

[quote=Harland]I’m not an expert on the bible so could someone please tell me where to find alter call in the bible?
[/quote]

You can’t find it there as a set of words or as a practice. But there is nothing wrong with considering Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, and perhaps dedicating yourself to him, or similar concepts.


#19

As being an ex “Congressional Holiness” which makes a Charismatic Pentecostal seem somewhat subdued, an Altar Call was usually preceded by a plea from the Pastor who would end his sermon with some sad story to play on your guilt strings and he would lay out some tears to play even further upon the guilt strings. I saw it as covert form of coersion. I just never fell for it. The power of reasoning saw it as a flim-flam job. Then that belief was magnifed when I watched the phony faith healers on TV. Was the pastor well intentioned? Yes? But Satan is well intentioned too. If he can get you into a situation of false security, then he has you. And if the altar call was not based on some sad story of needing a Savior, it was usually based on FEAR, which would come from the sermon on the book of Revelations and other similar material.

When you accept Christ out of the coersion of Fear or the coersion of guilt…well…accepting Christ should be of faith and love.

Gee, the more I dwell on those days gone by, the more irate I feel…bye all…gotta go say some hail marys…to vanquish this anger. :frowning:


#20

[quote=Harland]I’m not an expert on the bible so could someone please tell me where to find alter call in the bible?
[/quote]

It’s not in there! :slight_smile:


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