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An altar call is a practice in some evangelical churches in which those who wish to make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ are invited to come forward publicly. It is so named because the supplicants gather at the altar located at the front of the church building. In the Old Testament, an altar was where sacrifices were made. So, the name "altar call" refers to a believer "offering" themselves on an altar to God, as in Romans 12:1:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Most altar calls occur at the end of an evangelical address invitation may be referred to as an "altar call" even if there is no actual altar present. Many preachers make use of the altar call; notable examples include Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, Franklin Graham and Reinhard Bonnke. Congregations often sing a hymn, usually with a theme of invitation or decision, during the altar call. Some churches make use of the sinner's prayer, which people who come forward to be "saved" are asked to recite. It is sometimes said by the invitee that those who come forth are going to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. This is a ritual in which the supplicant makes a prayer asking for his sins to be forgiven, acknowledges Jesus as the risen Son of God and pledges his/her devotion to Jesus and to live thereafter following Christ's teachings. This is often called being born again.
In Pentecostal churches, the altar is a place people can come and repent of their sins and pray to receive the Holy Spirit, which they believe is accompanied with the initial sign of speaking in tongues. It is also a place to go to pray for needs and to get a "touch" from God. Pentecostal altar calls often involve the laying on of hands, and many people will come up to pray for others to receive their need. Altar calls may also invite Christians to come forward for specific purposes other than conversion; for example to rededicate their lives after a lapse, to pray for healing, to surrender a new part of their lives to God, or to receive a particular blessing. It is also a place of dedication where callings are given (such as a call to the ministry).
Reacting against the pervasive Calvinism of the Great Awakening, the successors of that great movement of God’s Spirit turned from God to humans, from the preaching of objective content (namely, Christ and him crucified) to the emphasis on getting a person to "make a decision". "The evangelical Christians of the 19th century combined revivalism with social reform and helped lead campaigns to abolish slavery and support women's suffrage and child labor laws. [One of the most famous 19th century revivalists,] Charles Grandison Finney, popularized the idea of the "altar call" in order to sign up his converts for the abolition movement."
Evangelical churches have taken this act of response to the proclaimed word from a corporate action and made it a private act. Many churches, particularly those that practice anabaptism, believe that one must make a public proclamation of faith based on scriptural passages found in the Bible in which Jesus states, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."
Some churches object to the use of the altar call for a variety of reasons. They argue that the bible does not refer to something similar. Others believe it is intimidating and therefore creates an unnecessary and artificial barrier to those who would become Christians but are then unwilling to make an immediate public profession under the gaze of others.
Calvinists object to altar calls in that they may mislead people into confusing outward conduct with spiritual change. In doing so, they argue, altar calls may actually give people false assurance about their salvation.