I have firsthand experience with the spiritual and theological void that is “the altar call.” Altar calls—a widely evangelical practice—spew forth decision theology false doctrine to “choose Jesus,” “accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour,” and other works righteousness garbage.
Human creatures are utterly incapable of choosing Jesus of their own volition; we are utterly dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). A corpse cannot do anything! It just lies there, dead. This is why it was necessary for Christ to come and do what we could not do—obey God the Father in perfect obedience. A person can only follow Christ when He first causes the dead sinner to rise in life to Him.
When I was an evangelical, I literally went up to every single altar call. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I was utterly incapable of being good enough, yet every time I was challenged to “accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour,” I stupidly thought I needed to do more in order for Jesus to finally become my Saviour and, furthermore, to be saved. “If only I could do enough this time,” I thought, “Jesus will become my Saviour and I’ll finally be saved. This time it’ll be different.” There is no assurance of salvation at the altar call.
Altar calls are all about the false trinity: me, myself, and I. It’s all about me and what I do. It is never about what Jesus has already done and is doing for you. Altar calls are pure Law—they tell you that you must do something. The Law says do; the Gospel says it is done.
Hence one reason why I love Lutheranism. The Eucharist—the Lord’s Supper—is the true altar call. At this altar call—the Sacrament of the Altar—you don’t “do” anything. Instead, you simply receive—a passive condition. Luther describes the benefit of this sacrament as such, “The words ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’ show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sin, there is also life and salvation” (SC, The Sacrament of the Altar, 5-6).
Jesus is already my Saviour. I don’t have to “do” anything to “make” Him my Saviour; He already is. If Jesus died for you, that means He is your Saviour. Jesus died for the whole world, and you are in the world, which means He is your Saviour (John 3:16-17).
The Eucharist is an invitation. At the altar, you are invited. The invitation is given to you. You don’t take it, and you don’t need to do anything to RSVP. Nobody sends you a wedding invitation because you did something to deserve it. You might say you did. “I was a good friend, a good brother,” etc. They invite you solely because they want to; they can invite whomever they want. I was a good friend to plenty of people who didn’t invite me to their wedding because of the numbers or because they only wanted immediate family there.
Yet Jesus invites everyone. Some walk away from the invitation. Others receive it without any merit (see Matthew 22:1-14).
Jesus’ body in the bread is given for you. Jesus’ blood in the wine is given for you. This is entirely passive. Jesus is the one doing the action. Jesus puts His body and blood in your mouth and when this is believed with faith, He works forgiveness of all your sins. At the Sacrament of the Altar, the true Altar Call, Jesus calls you forth, saying, “You need not do anything. You cannot. I have already done it for you. Therefore, take and eat. Take and drink. This is for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. I have done all that is necessary. Trust and believe.”
Amen and amen.