The Evolution of the Evangelical Altar.

I always feel bad when I am at a church, and I am the only one not up at the altar.

It isn’t that I don’t love “altar calls.” But most of the times when I don’t go up front (follow the double negative), it isn’t because what the pastor says doesn’t apply to my life. It does apply to my life. The problem when it comes to altar calls is usually the call to come up front deals with something that every one can relate to.

It is an emotional appeal aimed at solely one thing – to get a large response.

I think it is okay to find something that all people can work on. It is part of the human condition. But it is entirely different when the altar call is practically, “Come up front if you aren’t perfect.” Most of the time in these situations the intention of the altar call isn’t about changing the hearts of the people, but it is geared towards getting a response from the pulpit. It is an emotionally induced application that leaves people feeling satisfied with walking out the door.

This is a typical monologue:

“I feel bad about [insert relevant sin].”

“I’m going to walk up front and stand and pray and cry for a few minutes at the altar.”

“Okay, now I am going to walk out the door and continue on with my life without actually making any changes to my lifestyle.”

So let’s get some facts straight:

First off, “altar calls” (as far as we know) were not a part of the early church. There isn’t any mention of altar calls in a service or in service order in any New Testament text. The altar in the Old Testament was the place where a myriad of different sacrifices were made to God. Along the way and as of recently, it was decided that it would be a place of spiritual sacrifice – offering oneself as a living sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1). Though this might be indirectly applying biblical truths, altar calls themselves are not biblical. Yet there are churches embracing altar calls and shunning moves of the Spirit, because moves of the Spirit are “unbiblical.”

Talk about your double standard.

There is a practical place for an “altar call.” We can embrace it as a tradition as long as we don’t try to defend it as doctrine. The altar is a place where one can receive prayer. It is a marvelous place for intercession. Sometimes it is even a wonderful place of proclamation and acclamation! The altar is a place where one’s life can be altered.

But the altar is NOT a place of application.

You can only apply the teaching of Christ or the Bible away from the altar. Application means that there is an action, and while the altar might help you take that first step, it can’t do anything after the steps are taken. That is just direct obedience.

If you go to the altar, make sure you walk your decisions out of the door. Intentions without actions are inanimate.

Live a life of animation.

Live a life of application.

Press on past the altar.