At any given Sunday service, youth retreat, children’s church, Christian concert, etc, there is typically what is known in American Christianity as an “altar call.” It is usually an invitation of those who want to make Jesus Christ their personal Lord and Savior and those who already are Christians but want to rededicate their lives to Him. Some attribute the popularity of alter calls to Billy Graham and his popular crusades. While there is no direct biblical reference to alter calls, I cannot speak negatively of them. Many have come to Christ by the way of altar calls.
I want to talk about what happens after the altar call. I think we falter when we see altar calls as a litmus test of how well a ministry or sermon or gathering is going. We like seeing crowds come to the front. We like knowing that (x) amount of people filled out commitment cards. But there is a danger of a false sense of accomplishment here.
How many of these decisions to come forward were caused by family or peer pressure? How many of these decisions to come forward were based on emotions being drawn by the worship leader? What happens after the music stops? Are these conversions genuine? I’m sure millions are. But, who seeks to pour into spiritual growth afterwards?
In what is known as The Great Commission found in Matthew chapter 28, Jesus commands “Go and make disciples of all nations…” While making converts is vital to the growth of the Church, there has to be a continuous maturing of the believer after that. Otherwise you’re left with large amounts of spiritual infants who, often by no fault of their own, haven’t moved from milk to meat. They were simply a face in a crowd. While the angels were rejoicing at their salvation the elders bragged about the number of hands that were raised.
If a man has been working at a job for 20 years and showed very little knowledge or skill in his work, you might believe something to be very wrong, either with him or the training program. If a man is a Christian for 20 years and can’t name something elementary like the four Gospels and shows very little spiritual fruit, we should be wondering what went wrong. He is spiritually a 20 year old infant.
Wikipedia defines a disciple as a “student”. Merriam Webster defines a disciple as “someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a famous person.” In traditional Chinese, the disciple was a person “who believes in the ideas and principles of someone famous and tries to live the way they do or did.” In the original Greek of Matthew 28, disciple (didaskalos) is a pupil of a master or teacher. The root Latin word that we get disciple from (discipulus) actually means “scholar”.
As we can see the meaning of disciple is far from someone who stays in spiritual infancy. A disciple should be steadily growing in knowledge and holiness. While the Holy Spirit has His part to play, so do other believers. When Jesus called out Lazarus from the dead, he left it up to his family and friends to make sure he didn’t stay in his grave clothes. In other words when we are saved from our spiritually dead selves, it is the responsibility of those who have been waiting and praying over us to help us look like the spiritually awake individuals that we become. This is one reason being an active member of local church is so vital.
I know of many churches that don’t just leave the new believer alone after their conversion. Many send mail, call, or even visit to help ensure the believer is growing. Many churches have discipleship programs where the new believer or even the 20 year old infant can learn to grow in Christ. There are missionaries who don’t just leave the people they find with a new faith but actually ensure the natives they converted learn and grow to become new pastors and teachers. These are the churches and believers that are fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to make disciples.
If you are a new believer or believer who realizes that you haven’t been growing since you got saved, then my advice is to surround yourself with believers who are maturing spiritually. Find a church that encourages Bible reading and group study. And make the time often to study for yourself.
Helping believers grow in knowledge is one of our goals here at Theologetics.org. Every believer must also mature in spiritual fruit. It is our prayer that reading this will cause us to evaluate ourselves and motivate growth in both aspects of your Christian walk.
2 Peter 1:5-6
2 Peter 3:18
2 Corinthians 13:5