What is the Altar Call or Invitation Time?
At the close of many of our services you will find a time we call the "invitation.' It is also called the altar call by some, and its practice and use vary widely from one church to another. Some churches do not have a time like this, and many churches abuse this time, making it subject to the manipulations of men and music instead of the Holy Spirit.
The use of the term altar call probably originated with Charles Finney in the 1800's. The phrase has some Scriptural support, for in the Old Testament the altar was a place to give sacrifices and Romans 12:1 commands us to present our bodies a "living sacrifice." Now, the front of the church is not an altar, and there is no need to lay yourself upon it! So I instead prefer the term invitation, and there are three main reasons we have them in our church.
1. Scriptural principle. The sermons and exhortations in Scripture often record the response of the people who were listening at the time. Some of these responses are acceptance of the message (Josh 24-15-16), repentance (1Kings 18:38-39), worship (Exodus 4:30-31), conviction (Acts 2:36-37; 24:25) and rejection (Acts 17:32). While the Scriptures do not record the exact methods used after a sermon, it is clear that the listener was expected to respond in some way in response to the Word of God. It is equally clear that these were public responses, and were seen and recorded by others.
This is also the reason for going to the front of the church to pray. It is entirely acceptable to pray and meditate upon the message from your seat. However, if the Holy Spirit urges you to respond to the message, it is also appropriate to pray quietly at the front of the congregation where other may be encouraged by your example. This is in keeping with the principle of public response to the publicly spoken Word of God.
2. Reflection. The ending of most sermons leaves the listener in a place of decision. Will I obey or not? How will I respond to what I have heard? The invitation time gives opportunity for those who feel stirred by the Spirit to respond, without immediately being thrust back into the whirl of after service fellowship. In simple terms, the invitation allows time to reflect on the message before resuming our busy lives.
3. Reinforcement. Colossians 3:16 ...teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns ... Admonish means to caution, reprove, scold, or urge to duty, and the use of music to do so is Scriptural. The song sung after a sermon during the invitation is intended to reinforce the message and encourage the congregation to respond as the Holy Spirit has spoken to them. Often people quickly forget the message, but many will remember the songs and find themselves humming them during the week. (There is a reason music is so critical to advertisements on radio & TV. It greatly affects our memory!) What you will NOT find Bible support for is lengthy repetition of verse after verse with repeated pleas for an emotion response, and you will find no condoning of such actions at our church either.
Charles P. Hollingsworth