What does coming to the front have to do with salvation?

What does coming to the front have to do with salvation?

“Come to Jesus!”, “Come now!”, “Come to the front, Jesus is waiting here for you.”, “Get up and come quickly!”, “He died for you. The least you can do is take a few steps towards Him.”
This style of evangelistic plea has become the focal point of almost every major evangelistic outreach of our day, and the common end of most Sunday worship services. But, are such altar calls and invitations Biblically warranted?

CHARLES FINNEY AND THE INVITATION.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Charles Finney, a traveling evangelist with piercing eyes, tremendous personality, mesmerizing communication skills, and very little biblical knowledge, began the time of invitation that would soon come to be practiced at virtually every church in America. Finney became known for his incredible ability to stir up large audiences of people and get them to respond to his messages by beckoning them to come forward during his sermons. To many, it appeared that Finney had found a new method of evangelism that was extremely effective, and with the call to the front, results could be seen immediately.
Finney was successfully drawing massive audiences and seeing thousands of people come to the front for salvation. Surely this must have been a great move of God, right? Sadly, Finney’s bigger-than-life personality and his magnetic ability to get people out of their seats to come to the front caused many to overlook the fact that his doctrine was fundamentally flawed.
Finney had distorted the gospel of God, substituted his own version of the gospel and was actually calling on people to believe and respond to “another gospel” that was not from God. Finney did not believe that man was born sinful and required a Savior for the forgiveness of sins. He rejected the biblical truth that we are saved by Christ’s righteousness being applied to us. Finney also did not believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, nor did he see any need for it. He believed that it was impossible for Jesus Christ to die for the sins of others.1 He even went as far as to teach that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was just a great example of selflessness, but in no way brought about salvation.2 Finney writes, “It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of anyone.3 He had created a Christ who was nothing more than a moral example for people to follow, but Whose work did not and could not save anyone. In fact, Christ’s righteousness, Finney says, “could do no more than justify himself. It could never be imputed to us . . .”4
However, the altar call, which was created by a man who rejected the true gospel, has become so popular, that modern Christians just assume that this is the way that it has always been since the time of Christ. The invitation system is so prevalent that one would be hard-pressed to find a church that does not use some form of Finney’s “altar call” methodology.

WHAT’S AT THE FRONT ANYWAY?

So, what about you? Have you ever wondered what is at the front of the church that is not at the back or side of the church for salvation? Truthfully, there is no square footage of a church that someone must go to be saved. God could save a person no matter if they walked to the back, side, front, or even remain seated. Yet, countless pastors and evangelist promote the front as the place to come to be saved as if it is a means of salvation. What does walking forward have to do with one believing the gospel of God? Does physical movement somehow aid in salvation? Is there some connection between being saved by Christ and walking forward while music is playing at the end of church service?
Many professing Christians describe their salvation with such an action as “going to the front,” or “walking the aisle” as well. Such Christians often speak of their physical response of “going forward” as if such activity is an essential element of their salvation. This is a common mistake of Christians living in a “come to the front” era. In supposedly, telling others about our testimony, we often put the emphasis on the walk forward, instead of the message of the gospel. To an unbeliever, it would be easy for them to assume that “going forward” is what a person does to be saved.

IS THE “COME TO THE FRONT” METHOD USED IN THE BIBLE?

While the altar call may be a widespread practice today, there is no scriptural support for such a practice. A quick search of the sermons of Christ and the Apostles shows that the whole “come to the front method” was never used. This methodology is entirely foreign to the Word of God. Many evangelistic sermons are recorded for us in the book of Acts, yet not once is there a call at the end to come to the front. The people are never told to come to the front for salvation; instead, they are told to believe unto salvation.
 
In his book, The Invitation System, Iain Murray presents the following points to consider regarding the high-pressure methodology of the “Invitation” as used in the modern church:
  1. The invitation system, because it represents an outward response as connected with ‘receiving Christ,’ institutes a condition of salvation which Christ never appointed.
  2. Because the call to come forward is given as though it were a divine command, those who respond are given reason to believe that they are doing something commendable before God, while those who do not are falsely supposed to be disobeying Him.
  3. By treating two distinct issues, ‘come to Christ’ and ‘come to the front’ as though they were one, the tendency of the invitation to mislead the unconverted in regard to their duty. The real issue is as stated in John 6:20 ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him who he hath sent.’5

 

That being the case, does the “come to the front method” of evangelism add a non-biblical step into salvation? It is difficult to see how the modern emphasis on coming forward would not be seen as contributing in some degree to a person’s salvation. In fact, I have commonly heard preachers and evangelists say things like, “If there are 100 steps to your salvation, Jesus will take 99, but you must take the first one.”, or “Come now, Jesus is waiting here for you, all you have to do is come Him.” It is easy to see how such words could lead to the belief that walking forward is contributing to one’s salvation. Could such an invitation be seen as adding to the gospel? Could it even be adding human effort (works) as an essential component of the gospel? Some might not believe that “going forward” is that much work, but if it is contributing in any way even just one percent, how can that not be a mixture of God’s grace and human effort?

“OH NO, I WALKED FORWARD! AM I SAVED?”

No one is saved because he or she went forward during an invitation, but some are saved despite their going forward during an invitation. It is possible that some who “come to the front” have genuinely heard the gospel and believed in the gospel for their salvation. Perhaps they understand that walking to the front is not adding to their salvation or required for salvation at all. And maybe they have just followed the speaker’s appeal to walk forward now that they are saved. If their faith is in the Jesus Christ of Scripture, then they are saved no matter if they walked forward, backward, or just stayed seated.
 
However, it is also possible that a person could not have heard the gospel, not believed in the gospel, and still walked forward under the compulsion of the speaker, peer pressure of friends, or an entirely wrong view of what is needed for salvation. Clearly, such a person is not saved; instead, they have just gone for a walk and gotten a bit of exercise, which has most likely lead to a false conversion. The point is, that genuine salvation and “coming to the front” are not synonymous.
 
As you reflect on your salvation, perhaps you too made a trip down the aisle. However, this does not mean that you are or are not saved. We should never look to a “come forward” event in our lives as proof of our salvation. It is good for professing Christians to, as the Apostle Paul says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”6 Paul was not calling on the Corinthians to reflect on a time when they walked forward as a test of their salvation, but he is calling on them to make sure that they believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done to provide salvation.
 
There is no biblical support that a person needs to come forward to be saved. Many preachers and evangelists act as if coming to the front is a biblical command; however, Jesus nor His Apostles ever used such a practice. With such great emphasis placed on the visual act of going forward, many people tend to confuse their physical activity with the spiritual action of salvation. We, as Christians, should keep this in mind when we evangelize or share our testimonies with others. Even if we did walk an aisle, or go to the front, during an invitation, we must be careful that we do not make such an action a part of the gospel that we are proclaiming to others. The gospel’s call is not to walk forward but to repent, believe, and walk in obedience to Christ.
 
1. Charles G. Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology, ed. James Harris Fairchild (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 320-322.
2. Ibid., 209.
3. Ibid., 217.
4. Charles G. Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology, ed. James Harris Fairchild (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 320-322.
5. Iain Hamish Murray, The Invitation System (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 26.
6. 2 Corinthians 13:5