When the Altar Calls, Hang Up.

By Justin Johnson

Altar calls have been a part of cultural Christianity for a long while, but have never been a part of the gospel of the grace of God.

This has not stopped churches that fail to rightly divide from borrowing Israel’s religion and making it part of church tradition.

Usually placed at the end of a revival sermon, an appeal is made by the preacher to “heed the call”, “come down front”, or “walk the sawdust trail.”

What is down front? According to church tradition, an altar. Where does the trail lead? To a religious practice that often confuses the complete and finished work of Christ.

What Is An Altar

An altar is a sacred place where people go to offer gifts and sacrifices before God. It is always religious. It is often represented in churches by a wooden fence like barrier or table between you and the pulpit. (Which ought to raise some questions.)

When you go “down front” there will be some altar workers to help you “lay it all down” and “let it all out”. They might even provide free tissues, and oil for your forehead.

All Jewish altars faced East, which may explain why your church building has all of its pews and altar facing East. Altars are not the only thing they have borrowed from Israel’s religion.

When God dwelt in Israel’s temple, the altars were before the room where God dwelt. Christ our Lord and Saviour is in heaven. He is in a place we cannot reach.

According to the mystery of Christ, we have something more excellent than kneeling before him at an altar; we have a place in him as members of his body!

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” – 1 Cor 3:16

Know ye not that Christ dwells in you if you are saved, not at an altar or in a church building? (Col 1:27)

In this dispensation of grace, there are no sacred places, only sanctified people in Christ (1 Cor 1:30). Nor is there anything between God and you today, God has already provided reconciliation through Christ (2 Cor 5:19-21).

There is no room in churches that teach the gospel of the grace of God for an altar.

Altars and Sacrifices

Since altars are a place of sacrifice, altars in the Bible are always associated with Israel’s sacrificial religion.

It was where animals were slain, gifts were given, and prayers were offered to assuage God’s wrath or earn God’s favor (religion – Exo 20:24).

Religious Christians say that Christ replaced the animal altar with the altar of the cross, and so their exhortation is to “give it all to Jesus”, “lay it at the foot of the cross”, and “surrender all”.

While the animals are no longer being offered, they still give altar calls, and still require surrendering a sacrifice. Some call it a spiritual sacrifice.

The problem with all of this is that the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God explains that while we are all sinners needing to assuage God’s wrath, there is nothing we can do, no gift we can provide, nothing that we can surrender to accomplish that.

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” – Romans 4:4

If there is nothing we can do, what is the need for an altar? Why call someone to an altar if not to do something before God? Kneel, surrender, give it up, pray.

The call of the gospel of Christ does not appeal for you to “give it up”, “surrender”, “walk”, or “work”, because Christ did everything necessary by the cross.

The gospel of salvation says that Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins with his sinless blood and rose from the dead to offer us eternal life freely through faith in him.

The proper response to hearing the gospel of the grace of God is to trust it (Eph 1:13).

Remove the Altars. Preach Christ.

Where the preaching of the cross is offered freely to all, there is no need for an altar. This is why there is not a single mention of an altar in the Bible for the church, the Body of Christ.

Altars can do nothing for the sinner today. Christ died on the last one.

Salvation today does not come at an altar, but through the preaching of the cross. Faith comes by hearing, and you are saved when you believe, not at the end of a long walk (Rom 3:25; Rom 10:17).

Wherever you are, whenever you hear, whether or not there is any sawdust, trust Christ’s finished work. He gave it all for you. He surrendered all for you. He walked all the way to the cross for you, and rose from the dead to remove every altar in every religion.

That is not an altar call, that is the call of God’s grace.

Next time you hear an altar call, hang up! It is a religious telemarketer trying to sell you what Christ purchased already and add your works to what Christ already performed on your behalf.

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Published: July 15, 2017
Last Modified: September 27, 2019
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