The practice of altar calls—calling people forward after an evangelistic sermon to make a public confession of faith in Christ—has gained prominence in the 20th century primarily through “crusades” such as those of Billy Graham. Also known as the “invitation system,” altar calls are regularly practiced as part of some church services, especially in many Baptist denominations and other evangelical churches where altar calls are an integral part of the services.
While altar calls as practiced today are not found in the Bible, their advocates cite several biblical examples as support for using them. First, Christ called each of His disciples publicly, telling them, “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19; 9:9) and expecting them to respond immediately, which they did. Jesus was demanding an outward identification with Himself on the part of those who would be His disciples. Of course, the problem of Judas, who also responded publicly by leaving his life behind and following Jesus, is that Judas’s response was not synonymous with salvation.
Proponents of the altar call also cite Matthew 10:32 as proof that a new believer must acknowledge Christ “before men” in order for Him to reciprocate. Calling people to the front of an arena or church is certainly acknowledging before men that a decision has been made. The question is whether that decision is genuinely motivated by a sincere repentance and faith or whether it is an emotional response to external stimuli such as swelling music, heartfelt pleas from the pulpit, or a desire to “go along with the crowd.” Romans 10:9 makes it clear that genuine salvation comes only from heartfelt belief, which will then result in a verbal confession of that faith.
Just like the sinner’s prayer, altar calls can be an outward expression of genuine repentance and faith in Christ. The danger is in looking to the prayer or the response as evidence of salvation (Matthew 7:22). True salvation results in a life of continual sanctification as the Holy Spirit within the true believer produces more and more of His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) as evidence of the reality of saving faith.