My dear friend Bob L. Ross has written extensively in defense of "altar calls" and answered many of the objections offered by many Calvinists against them. In this posting I want to join brother Ross in defending them and answering the objections made against them. In an Internet posting titled "The Altar Call" - "CONVERTS FREQUENTLY MADE IN RELATION TO PUBLIC INVITATIONS" (see here), brother Ross wrote:
"Perhaps the most popular "whipping boy" of the Reformed Hybrid Calvinist camp of theology is the "altar call" or the "public invitation."
I have often read items critical of public invitations and in most cases they were written by persons whose own conversions were related to public invitations. Some, after their "indoctrination" into the Hybrid Calvinism of the Reformed camp, later say they were saved "despite" the invitation.
Oh, well, it is no marvel that it has been observed that a number of the anti-invitation churches fail to evangelize by any method and thus fail to make converts, their memberships dwindled, and some of them have even closed their doors. They didn't seem to have a "better idea" on how to invite lost men and women to come to Christ and confess Him as Lord and Saviour.
I have written several articles in which I think I have just about replied to every conceivable objection to public invitations, and you can find a number of these articles at this link: Select Writings of Bob L. Ross."
I recommend all to go to the above web page and read Bob's writings on this subject.
The Sinner's Prayer
"And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18: 13-14)
Bob points out that the great Calvinist evangelist, Charles Spurgeon, had no qualms with calling upon sinners to pray the sinner's prayer for salvation. For a sinner who is under conviction of sin, and who is seeking salvation, what better advice to give to such than to pray as did the publican? For the life of me I cannot comprehend why so many Calvinists decry giving sinners this advice. Jesus said that the publican "went down to his house justified" after having so prayed. Certainly sinners must be exhorted to pray such a prayer in earnest, but who can doubt that a sinner who does so will enjoy the same result as did the publican?
Giving one's heart to the Lord
"My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways." (Prov. 23: 26)
"And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God." (II Cor. 8: 5)
Many times I have heard Calvinists decry others for exhorting sinners to give their hearts to Jesus for salvation. When I have challenged these extreme Calvinists about this ridiculing I have found that they often take the tactic of saying, especially about the words of Solomon, that they are not addressed to the lost, but to those who are already the saved children of God. Thus, what they are denouncing is the indiscriminate calling upon sinners to give their hearts and lives to Christ. They think that such exhortations should only be made to those sinners who appear to already be saved. But, this is simply Hyper Calvinism at its worst. Some of these extreme Calvinists will decry such an exhortation by saying - "what does Jesus want with your depraved and corrupt heart?" But, the fact is, no one will ever be saved who has not given himself wholly unto the Lord. So what if some do this insincerely? Such is to be expected. But, this does not invalidate the exhortation itself.
Inviting Jesus into your heart
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3: 20)
Extreme Calvinists decry calling upon sinners to "invite Christ into your heart," thinking that to do such promotes Armnianism. Yet, this is a non sequiter. These same Hyper Calvinists will even try to defend themselves by saying that the above words of Christ were addressed to those who were already saved and therefore cannot be used as justification for advising lost sinners to do as Christ bids. But, the ones Jesus addressed are described as being "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Such could not be a better description of a lost soul. Why would Calvinists deny that there are many lost and unconverted members of the church?
Some extreme Calvinists will argue the Christ is not knocking on the door of the alien sinner's heart, but on the door of the church, who had locked out Christ. But, this is not tenable. First, the exhortation is not to the church as a body but to individuals. It is to "any man" and "to him." The singular pronouns "him" and "he" show this to be the case. Second, the door cannot be the door of the church, but to the door of the individual sinner's heart. Christ is speaking to the individual sinner, knocking on the door of the sinner's heart. It is the individual sinner who hears the voice of Christ and opens the door to Christ. Third, it is not a promise of communion with the church as a group, but with the individual. "I will come in to him" and "I will sup with him." Fourth, Christ is viewed as being on the outside, not of the church, but of the sinner's heart and inner being. Fifth, no individual sinner in the church at Laodicea can open the door of the whole church by obeying the words of Christ. Christ does not say "if any man will hear my voice and open the door then I will come in to them (the church)," but "in to him." The focus is on Christ entering the heart of the individual, not his entering into the corporate entity of the church. I can see no harm in telling sinners who are hearing the voice of Christ and who sense that he is knocking on the door of their hearts, to open their hearts to him with the promise that he will indeed come and dwell in them.
"Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." (I Peter 2: 7-8)
"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." (Col. 2: 6)
I hear extreme Calvinists decrying the practice of calling upon sinners to "accept Christ" for salvation. There is no essential difference between "receiving" Christ and "accepting" Christ. In the words of Peter there is the use of the word "disallowed." To disallow means to reject. Those who reject Christ are they who do not "allow" him, do not receive him, do not accept him. On the other hand, those who receive Christ are they who accept and allow Christ. Disallowing Christ is to disbelieve him, while to allow Christ is to believe him. Doing the former brings damnation, while doing the latter brings salvation. Again, there is no denying that this must be done sincerely, but this is no reason to be against calling upon sinners to accept Christ and be saved.
"And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (Acts 16: 30-31)
If some of my Calvinist brethren had been present on this occasion, they would have accused the Apostle Paul of practicing what they call "easy believism." If it makes my Calvinist brothers feel better, let them always insist that the sinner do this sincerely and with the heart. If it makes them feel better, let them warn the sinner that such a believing is more than simple mental assent, that it must be done with full conviction. Still, nothing is wrong with simply telling sinners that they can be saved by simply believing and trusting in Christ alone for salvation.
It is argued that these kinds of invitations or altar calls are "Arminian," and therefore cannot be acceptable. It is argued that these kinds of invitations lead to many false professions. But, are Calvinistic churches free of false professions? Certainly not. Has it not been the claim that the success of the preaching of the Gospel depends upon the work of the Spirit making such invitations successful? Why should we worry about the matter? The parable of the sower and the seed shows that we should expect there to be fase conversions. Even the preaching of the Apostles produced such false conversions. So, no matter how we try to give the invitation, there will always be such.
"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." (Rev. 22: 17)
"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3: 19)
"But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10: 8-13)
Here are some examples of how we may invite and call sinners to salvation. We should tell them that Christ and the church says to them "come." That is an invitation as well as a command. We should exhort them that they can be saved "if" they but confess and acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior. Our preaching should be filled with such exhortations and no church is going to grow which does not have preaching that is full of them. We should constantly be calling upon sinners to "repent," and to "convert," and to "call upon the name of the Lord," and to "come" to Jesus for salvation. Such is not "Arminianism," but if it is, then count me one!