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  • Jason Cherry

Why did Martyn Lloyd-Jones Not Give an Altar Call?

Historical figures get frozen in time, remembered for those one or two bullet point things. For Isaac Newton it is the apple falling on his head (ironically, many wonder if this actually ever happened), for Descartes it is, “I think therefore I am,” and for Abraham Lincoln it is emancipating the slaves.

If Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) had to be frozen in time, remembered for only one thing, it would be preaching. He was the greatest preacher of the twentieth century. For six weeks in the spring of 1969 Lloyd-Jones delivered a series of lectures to the students at Westminster Seminary that were then published in book form as Preaching and Preachers.[1] Lloyd-Jones gives at least ten reasons why he chose not to give an altar call.

First, it is wrong to put direct pressure on the will

Second, too much direct pressure on the will in the form of an altar call creates responses to the personality coaxing sinners forward more than responses to the Truth itself.

Third, the preaching of the Word and the call for decision should not be separated in our thinking.

Forth, the altar call carries in it the faulty implication that sinners have an inherent moral ability for decision and of self-conversion.

Fifth, the altar call implies that the evangelist somehow is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work.

Sixth, the altar call tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all.

Seventh, you are encouraging people to think that their act of going forward somehow saves them.

Eighth, the method is based on a distrust of the Holy Spirit’s power and work. It implies that the Holy Spirit needs to be helped, aided, supplemented, and hastened.

Ninth, it misunderstands the relationship between regeneration and conversion.

Tenth, no sinner ever really decides for Christ, but instead the sinner flies to Christ in utter helplessness and despair.

Lloyd-Jones says, “It is important that we should be clear about the history of” the altar call. “The historical approach is always helpful. So many do not seem aware of the fact that all this, like so many other things, only came into the life of the Church during the” nineteenth century. It is largely for this reason that I have written a thorough, yet accessible history of the altar call. The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call is available at Amazon in paperback and as an electronic book.

NOTE: This blog post cannot be reproduced unless it (1) is reproduced in full without any modifications and (2) is credited to with an active link to the blog. Anyone who disregards this request will henceforth and forevermore be considered a cotton-headed ninny-muggings.

[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), 265-282.

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