Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Alter Call

We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people -

Early in the 1970s Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the speaker at a ministers' conference in the USA and at a question session was asked the following question:

Q During recent years, especially in England, among evangelicals of the Reformed faith, there has been a rising criticism of the invitation system as used by Billy Graham and others. Does Scripture justify the use of such public invitations or not?

A. Well, it is difficult to answer this in a brief compass without being misunderstood. Let me answer it like this: The history of this invitation system is one with which you people ought to be more familiar than anyone else, because it began in America. It began in the 1820s; the real originator of it was Charles G. Finney. It led to a great controversy. Asahel Nettleton, a great Calvinist and successful evangelist, never issued an "altar call" nor asked people to come to the "anxious seat." These new methods in the 182Os and were condemned for many reasons by all who took the Reformed position.

One reason is that there is no evidence that this was done in New Testament times, because then they trusted to the power of the Spirit. Peter preaching on the Day of Pentecost under the power of the Spirit, for instance, had no need to call people forward in decision because, as you remember, the people were so moved and affected by the power of the Word and Spirit that they actually interrupted the preacher, crying out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" That has been the traditional Reformed attitude towards this particular matter. The moment you begin to introduce this other element, you are bringing a psychological element.

The invitation should be in the message.

We believe the Spirit applies the message, so we trust in the power of the Spirit. I personally agree with what has been said in the question. I have never called people forward at the end for this reason; there is a grave danger of people coming forward before they are ready to come forward. We do believe in the work of the Spirit, that He convicts and converts, and He will do His work. There is a danger in bringing people to a "birth," as it were, before they are ready for it.

The Puritans in particular were afraid of what they would call "a temporary faith" or "a false profession." There was a great Puritan, Thomas Shepard, who published a famous series of sermons on The Ten Virgins. The great point of that book was to deal with this problem of a false profession. The foolish virgins thought they were all right. This is a very great danger.

I can sum it up by putting it like this: I feel that this pressure which is put upon people to come forward in decision ultimately is due to a lack of faith in the work and operation of the Holy Spirit. We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people. And of course He does. Some may come immediately at the close of the service to see the minister. I think there should always be an indication that the minister will be glad to see anybody who wants to put questions to him or wants further help. But that is a very different thing from putting pressure upon people to come forward. I feel it is wrong to put pressure directly on the will.

The order in Scripture seems to be this - the truth is presented to the mind, which moves the heart, and that in turn moves the will.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Courtesy of Banner of Truth

7 comments:

Steve Martin said...

We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people -

No where in the New Testament does the Bible say that we are called to make a decision.

I would say to ask for a decision in the preaching of the Word is an IMPROPER way of preaching. For then, you turn the gospel into the law, by now attaching an imperative to it.

'IF YOU...', is not the gospel.

The last half of the sentence is true, however.

The Holy Spirit will act upon people, in one way or another, when the Word is preached.

Steve Martin said...

Please listen to this fairly short sermon, and you'll see what I'm talking about:

http://lightofthemaster.com/Sermons/Entries/2008/3/4__The_Holy_Spirit.html

Wayne Dawg said...

Maybe it's the wording......

Jesus gives commands to 'follow Him'.

Matthew 10:38
And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 19:21
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Mark 2:14
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

John 10:27
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

Revelation 14:4
These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.

One does 'decide' to follow Jesus in sense.

The gospel is preached and man responds.

We don't save ourselves; God saves us.

God saves us all by Himself; we did not help him.

God saved us on purpose, not on accident.

We decided to follow Jesus because the Father drew us to Him through the preaching of the gospel and we responded to His call.

Jones wraps it up with, "The order in Scripture seems to be this - the truth is presented to the mind, which moves the heart, and that in turn moves the will."

Steve Martin said...

Jesus makes it quite clear to Niccodemus that one cannot choose to be born again, anymore than they could choose to be born the first time.

The decision isn't made by us, it was made on that cross two thousand years ago...for us...not by us.

This "free will" decision theology stuff gets people started off on the wrong foot.

'Called' and 'chosen' are the two most common words in the New Testament to describe the begining of the Christian faith.

I'm late for work or I would expound on it more.

What was St. Paul doing when he made his decision for Christ?

Joe A. said...

I know it's his right to do so, but why would God condemn the extreme vast majority of mankind to eternal suffering? What was their meaning of their lives here on earth? I know that the fate of the lost cannot trump the destiny of the saved, but it's still a disturbing thought that God can save all human beings, but chooses to save what is probably a tiny fraction of them.

Wayne Dawg said...

"...but it's still a disturbing thought that God can save all human beings, but chooses to save what is probably a tiny fraction of them."

It's very sobering isn't it?

The fact is, though, everyone deserves hell.

Everyone.

The amazing thing to me is why God chooses to save anyone.

He does save some to make His riches and glory known to those He saves (Romans 9:23).

Soli Deo gloria

Wayne Dawg said...

Steve -

You are correct; no one saves themselves.

"What was St. Paul doing when he made his decision for Christ?"

God called and Paul followed.