"THE ALTAR CALL" -- THE INTERNET ARTICLE BY
IS FILLED WITH MISREPRESENTATIONS AND FALLACIES
I said in my recent email article, "A Brief Look At
Another Internet Article Which Opposes the Use of Public Invitations," that
Zaspel's article on "The Altar
Call" is a "speckled bird." And indeed it is.
I did not, in that
article, deal much with the content of Fred's criticisms of the public
invitation; I primarily took notice of his own testimony, posted
on the Internet, of how he was himself was converted at the age of six during
an "altar call" or public invitation.
Despite being saved during an
"altar call" conducted by his own father, now -- years after adopting a
"mega-sized" Calvinism -- he has become opposed to a public invitation and says
"only harm" can come from it. Somehow, he apparently escaped the alleged
"harm" at the time of his own conversion in 1964.
Since writing that
article the other day, I have more carefully read Fred's article and marked some
of "speckled" material by which it is distinguished. I do not think I have ever
read such a mass of what I sometimes call "palabber" since the last article I
read by Peter Ruckman! Fred's dissertation is laced with all sorts of
misrepresentations, distorted concerts, historical fiction, theological error,
and of course a misappropriation of quotations from C. H. Spurgeon. I wish to
call attention to a few of these instances.
1. Fred has offered
"running" as an alternative to "walking an aisle" for
Numerous times in his article, Fred says one is to
"run" to Christ for salvation. He has a great deal to say against
"walking," but several times he encourages "running." I don't
think I have ever read anyone in Scripture who equates believing in Christ as
There is at least one instance in Scripture where a lost
sinner came "running" and knelt before the Lord (Mark 10:17). This
was the rich young ruler. Although he appeared to be zealously affected,
with a sincere interest in being saved, and demonstrated a reverence or some
degree of the fear of the Lord, and was concerned about having eternal life, he
did not become a Christian -- even though he was dealt with directly and
personally by the Lord Himself.
One might think that the young man's
running and his reverent kneeling indicated he was "ready" for conversion and
would be willing to become a believer. His question put to the Lord indicated
that his mind was in an obvious state of "seriousness." He seemed to have the
marks or outward evidences which even Brother Zaspel, perhaps, might want in a
prospective convert. But he proved to be an unbeliever still, even after hearing
the word of the Lord. For all practical purposes, he might as well have "walked
an aisle," for he went away and was still lost.
So -- even though one
"runs" to the Lord, demonstrates reverence, and is of a serious mind -- this
evidently is of as little consequence in salvation -- no more than Brother
Zaspel attaches to "walking." Why Brother Zaspel thinks there is more value to
"running" than in "walking" is a mystery.
Indeed, "walking" appears to
be of more significance than "running," if we are to judge from Scripture. The
Lord admonished His hearers to "walk in the light" and they would not
stumble, and said that He is the Light of the world.
"I am the
light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but
shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).
Did not Brother Zaspel start
his own walk in the Light when he was converted during an "alter call" at the
age of six? If he could start his own walk in the Light during an invitation,
why is he so set against someone else's doing the same today?
I wish to
say here, that to my knowledge -- and I have been a Christian since 1953 -- I
have yet to meet or hear the preacher who taught that walking down an aisle
during an invitation is synonymous with being saved. And I have heard some
notable evangelists -- Billy Graham, John R. Rice, J. Harold Smith, Eddie Martin
(many times), Howard Butt, Michael Gott, Lester Roloff, Hyman Appelman and
others. They all gave invitations, but they always stressed confessing Christ as
Savior. Never once did I hear one indicate that coming forward was the same as
being saved. I think Billy Graham will only refer those coming forward as
"decisions," not as "salvations" or "conversions." I personally know that Eddie
Martin had an after-meeting in which the way of salvation was clearly explained,
and Scriptures were read, and each person was given a packet of materials along
with a marked copy of the Gospel of John. No one was told that by coming forward
they were therefore "saved." It was emphasized that salvation was thru faith in
When Brother Zaspel imputes or implies that those who use
invitations are saying that by coming forward one is actually saved, it is
simply not true in the case of all of the evangelists I have heard. That is also
true of many well-known pastors I have heard, such as Robert G. Lee of Memphis,
whom I heard often. It was also true of W. A. Criswell, Lee Roberson, Slater
Murphy of Memphis, and others. It is simply not true that such pastors equated
salvation with coming forward in an invitation.
Zaspel attempts to discredit the invitation because, he says, it was not used by
Jesus, the apostles, and the early church.
He does admit that
"this may not prove that the altar call is wrong," but he thinks "it
obviously cannot be wrong to decide against the more modern
This type of argument reminds me of the anti-musical
instrument Campbellites who reason the same way, that since a piano is not
mentioned in the New Testament, then it is at least "safe" not to use one.
But this type of argument is fallacious when used as a rule or standard.
For example, where does Brother Zaspel find Jesus or the apostles buying
properties, building church buildings, setting up a schedule of services, having
Sunday Schools, AWANA, High School Youth Groups, and Vacation Bible School --
practices one finds at the church where Brother Zaspel is pastor? He says
the invitation is "not a matter of Biblical command or precedent;" are we assume
he has a command and precedent for these practices in his own
When the Hardshell movement started among the Baptists in
the early 1800s and eventually split in 1832, they rode the same type of
hobbyhorse as Brother Zaspel is now riding -- namely,
"patternism." They demanded to know by what Biblical command or precedent
the "missionaries" were introducing "innovations" to carry out missions and
evangelism. See the Black Rock
Address and you will see the same type of argumentation is used by Brother
Zaspel. They rejected tract societies, Sunday Schools, Bible Societies,
Missions, Theological schools, and protract revival meetings, all on the
same grounds as having no biblical command or precedent, but as being modern
innovations or methods.
On Sunday;School, for example, they argued
"such schools were never established by the apostles, nor commanded by
Brother Zaspel has borrowed -- or at least
employed -- the "pattenism" argument of Campbellism and Hardshellism to oppose
He also alleges that "Charles Spurgeon emulated
the New Testament practice of evangelism." He says, "Spurgeon's practice was
according to the Biblical model."
The fact is, Spurgeon
built a Tabernacle and stood in the pulpit a few times each week
and preached the Gospel. He, on occasion, had "tickets" passed out ahead
of time so that seats could be assured. He used a church hymnal but did
not use an organ or a piano in the services. He had a baptistery under
the pulpit and baptized in a small indoor pool. Also, he even had D. L. Moody preach
in the Tabernacle, and he defended Moody's
evangelism in London.
Now where will Brother Zaspel find a
"biblical command or precedent for any of these practices." Where did Jesus
and the apostles ever conduct a service such as Spurgeon's? Where is this
"Biblical model" revealed in Scripture?
3. He also equates an
invitation with the method of Charles G. Finney and what he called the "anxious
He says, "Those who were thus 'anxious' for their souls
were invited to walk forward to the 'anxious seat' where counsel and prayer
would be given them."
I have never seen anyone in my time use this
"anxious seat" method in an invitation. It does not correspond to what is
practiced in invitations I have seen.
Actually, I think the practice of
those who do not use an invitation may be more of a parallel, at least in
principle, to Finney's method. Finney's method smacked more of the same type of
"preparationalism" associated with anti-invitationalism. In other words,
some demand that one should show some signs of "readiness" before simply
believing in the heart and confessing Christ as Savior. They may send him home
with a copy of "Alleine's Alarm" or some similar book to read so as to hopefully
work up certain feelings and convictions which they believe are essential before
believing in Christ as Savior. Or, they may require some private consultation in
which the person will be asked a number of questions, or be duly instructed in
certain matters considered to be preparatory essentials. Whatever form it takes,
if these things are prerequisite to believing in Christ and confessing him as
Savior, it is "preparationalism." That seems somewhat similar in principle to
Finney's requirements. But the fact is, even the strictest practice of this kind
does not preclude false professions of faith. Rather, they appear to me to focus
a person's faith on their own subjective preparations than on Christ, believing
in themselves as "ready" to believe in Christ.
4. He says, "It
is similarly argued that Scripture also exhorts men to be saved. 'Compel them to
come in!' and 'I beseech you, be reconciled to God!' are two examples of these
exhortations. But again, it is difficult to see how this lends any support
whatever to the modern practice of calling sinners to the front of a
This implies that it would not be possible for the
preacher of the Gospel to stand at the front of the church auditorium, in front
of a gathering of people, call on sinners believe in Christ and come forward to
confess Christ, and thereby fulfill these exhortations.
If the minister
cannot fulfill those exhortations at that spot, where on earth is the
"acceptable" locality? In the pastor's office? In a separate room somewhere? Is
Brother Zaspel insisting that there is a "standard" time and place
wherein the minister of the Gospel can f;lfill these exhortations?
He further alleges, "Saving faith is a pledge of allegiance to Christ.
This pledge is visibly and publicly demonstrated first in water baptism and then
in all of life."
This is a flawed definition of faith. Is there a
Scripture which defines faith as a "pledge of allegiance to Christ"? Since
Brother Zaspel looks for a "Biblical command and precedent," where is there such
a "pledge of allegiance" associated with "saving faith" or "baptism"?
first thing Philip required of the Ethiopian was an expression of his
faith in Christ. He only baptized the eunuch after he heard his
confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
When sinners come
forward in the public invitation, they do so on their way to publicly confess
Christ. Once they FIRST confess Christ as their Savior, then they are
subjects for baptism -- like the Ethiopian. The first confession is with
the "MOUTH," not in baptism (Romans 10:10).
Zaspel alleges that the way people are saved is "just like every Christian
was saved for eighteen-plus centuries before the invitation system was ever
But if they can't be saved during an invitation, how
can Brother Zaspel himself claim that he is a saved person? Does he not
profess that he was saved at the age of six, during an invitation given by his
own father? If he could be saved during an invitation, why can't others likewise
be saved? Why does he say that "no one is ever saved 'as a result' of an altar
call" when he himself testifies that he was saved during an "altar call"?
Sure, we know that the "altar call" did not save him -- no more than we believe
an invitation saves -- but was it not during that "altar call" that he was
saved? Why can't others likewise be saved?
7. Brother Zaspel cites
John Wesley, the champion of Arminianism in England in the 1700s, and
says Wesley did not use the "invitation system." He evidently believes
that many of Wesley's converts were valid converts, despite the Arminian
theology held by Wesley. So now he is even aligning Wesley, the Arminian, on his
side as if Wesley's practice militates against invitations! Well, then, what was
Wesley's system? Shall we adopt it? Will the use of it guarantee
conversions on the order that Wesley saw? Will prevent false
Then a little later, Brother Zaspel incorporates even
Martin Luther into his column! Yes, even Luther, who baptized babies as a
sacrament to regenerate them! He did not use the invitation system! Does that
add sanctifying evidence that the invitation is wrong?
So now, he thinks
he has Spurgeon the Baptist, Wesley the Arminian champion, and
Luther the baby regenerationalist, all in his column, though the latter
two "never heard" of the invitation system! Will wonders never
8. Brother Zaspel uses the fallacy of "biblical terminology" in
the attempt to support his case.
He says Luther used "closing with
Christ," and that "this terminology is exactly Biblical."
And where may be find it in the Biblical writings? He says "look," "run," and
"receive" are all "Biblical expressions" that "speak of matters of the
Oh? And where may we find "run to Christ" mentioned in
regard to a lost sinner's being saved? Did Paul tell the Jailer to "run"? Did
Philip tell the Ethiopian to "run"? Did Jesus tell Paul on the road to Damascus
to "run"? Did Peter tell his hearers on Pentecost to "run"? Did Jesus tell
Nicodemus to "run" to be born again?
He also talks about doing
"business with Christ." And where may that "Biblical terminology" be
found. Do we ever find, "Do business with Christ, and thou shalt be
Brother Zaspel is here using the same type of argumentation
we sometimes ;eet with when some object to the terms used in Calvinist
But, after all, is not this argument about "terminology"
something more often found in Campbellism, Oneness Pentecostalism, and similar
movements than anywhere else?
9. Then he attempts to associate
the invitation with Romanism and "idea of mediatorship."
The fact is,
Rome does not use the public invitation wherein people are urged to
believe in Christ and come forward to openly confess Him as Savior. As for
"mediatorship," ministers of the Gospel who give invitations do not
represent themselves as priests to hear "confessions," but as ambassadors of
Christ, urging men to believe and publicly confess Christ as Savior before
Somewhere, sometime, and in the presence of someone, the believer
confesses Christ as Savior. Brother Zaspel says he made such a confession when
he was six years old at an "altar call." If he did it during an invitation
scenario and it was not Roman "mediatorship" being practiced by his father, then
why can't others? He says Spurgeon "made himself available on Monday
mornings. So -- did that make Spurgeon a Roman priest, hearing confession, and
practicing "mediatorship"? Spurgeon would have made himself available at any
time if he thought he could bring a sinner to believe and confess Christ as
10. He claims that "the preacher's duty is not to 'get
But as Spurgeon has pointed out in his great
sermon "An Urgent Request for an Immediate Answer" (Metropolitan Tabernacle
Pulpit, Volume 37, #2232), those who hear the Gospel always make some
"decision." Spurgeon demanded a decision.
May I ask that
everyone here will say “Yes,” or “No,” to the invitation to give himself up
to Christ? If you will do so, say, “I will.” If you will not do so, say
deliberately, “I will not.”
I wish I could get hold of an undecided man,
and taking his hand, could say to him, “Now, you must tell me which it
will be.” . . .
“Well,” says one, “I am glad you have spoken to us; I
will think it over.”
No, friend, I do not mean that. I do not want you to
think it over. You have had enough of thinking; I pray that God’s Spirit may
lead you to an immediate decision.
Brother Zaspel indicates that he knows very much about who is converted and who
is not converted.
He alleges that "Decisions and numbers there
are, but the 'converts' are notoriously unconverted."
Well, the fact
is, under the best of circumstances we are taught that only some are
converted who hear the Gospel. The parable of the sower (Mark 10)
But we do not immediately know the true professor from
the false under any given circumstance. Paul seemed to have a great harvest in
Galatia, but later expressed concern about them (Book of Galatians). Paul
once had a Demas by his side, one who later forsook Paul for the world.
Jesus had a Judas, even one chosen to be among his first disciples. So we
need not be held accountable for any false professions if we are preaching the
Gospel of Christ. There indeed will be such, under any method we may use in
soliciting response to the Gospel.
12. Whereas Brother Zaspel
condemns the invitation system rather roundly, he nevertheless seems to allow
that "at least at times it has witnessed conversions."
We do know
at least one who was saved during an invitation -- namely, Brother Zaspel
himself. I presume he allows that others were saved under his father's ministry,
even though his father used the "altar call."
The fact is, I think
many anti-invitationalists such as Brother Zaspel also have reason to be
thankful for such invitation times as he experienced, for they, too, trace their
own conversion to such times.
One redeeming element, at least, of the
less-than-supersized-Calvinist ministries is that the Gospel is aggressively
preached and souls are urged to believe and confess Christ as Savior --
otherwise, many today who are Calvinists might still be languishing in
sin, waiting for that "pre-faith regeneration" to somehow take place. We
recall that Spurgeon himself was converted in less-than-Calvinist
circumstances in a Methodist Chapel, and though he could not abide attending
it thereafter due to its doctrinal error, he nevertheless blessed God for the
part it played in his "looking unto Jesus" for salvation.
of our time, especially those in the Southern Baptist ranks, were saved under
less-than-Calvinist ministries. God will bless the Gospel by whomever it is
preached. If Calvinists will not preach it and urge immediate acceptance by
their hearers, then God will of the stones raise up children unto Abraham. He
will call His people, and regardless of the theological category of the
preacher, if he delivers the Gospel of Christ, the Lord will bless His Word. His
Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
Unless God only calls
Calvinists and they only preach the Word, then we can expect conversion to take
place under others who are less-than-Calvinists.-- Bob L.
Articles of possible interest on similar subjects listed below.
ON FRED ZASPEL'S "ALTAR CALL" ARTICLE [05/01/04]
WHAT WAS PETER'S
METHOD ON PENTECOST? [04/30/04]
IAIN MURRAY ON THE LACK OF
REPLY ABOUT "PUBLIC INVITATIONS"
REPLY TO A "FOUNDERS" ASSOCIATE
ALLEINE'S "SURE GUIDE TO HEAVEN"
HAS TOO MANY TWISTS AND TURNS [04/28/04]
PRESSED FOR DECISION [04/26/04]
SPURGEON'S DEFENSE OF MOODY
& SANKEY [04/24/04]
ALLEGED DANGERS OF "INVITATIONS"
"ENQUIRERS AND CONVERTS" By Spurgeon [04/21/04]
C. H. Spurgeon:
Yea, and are there not preachers
who appear to be half afraid that some poor non-elect sinner may get into heaven
by accident. Hear how they define, and distinguish, and denounce. I confess I
have no sympathy with those who would drive men back; far rather would I DRAW
--Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Sermon #1243, page
389. On the Internet link, page
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