If Peter were around today his Pentecost sermon taken from Acts 2 would probably go something like this:
“14You men Judea, and all you who dwell in Jerusalem, be it known to you and heed my words… 23This Jesus, a man of miracles, was taken by you with the foreknowledge of God and by wicked hands was crucified…32This Jesus, God the Father has resurrected, and we are all witnesses…36Therefore, let all of Israel know for certain, that God has made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Christ…38Now, therefore, repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…40Now with every head bowed and every eye closed, no one looking around, I don’t want to embarrass you. Who will raise his hand and say ‘I want to save myself from this crooked generation?'”
Ok, so I took a little liberty with Peter’s sermon. My point is when did the “Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around” altar-call command first begin? I did a quick internet search and the only thing I came up with is that a few people really despise Charles G. Finney and think he had something to do with it. (My analysis on Finney will have to come later.) In the short time I took to research I found that no one can pinpoint a time when that altar call staple began.
What I do know is that nowhere in Scripture can that concept be found of hiding everyone else’s eyes in order not to embarrass someone who is on the verge of a faith in God. Romans 10:9 says “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Jesus said “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32). Confession that leads to salvation is not with every eye closed. Confession is not with a hand in the air so only the pastor can see. Confession is out loud with your mouth so everyone can hear you.
The cause may be noble. The pastor may be sincere. He simply wants to remove all the obstacles for someone to come to a saving faith. The problem with “Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around” is that it starts off a “believer” in a timid faith. If a person is too afraid to confess that Jesus is Lord to those in the Church, has he really made a confession with his mouth? A person who cannot confess his faith before fellow believers will most likely be too timid to confess his faith before a hostile crowd. In all honesty, the pastor has not really removed a barrier to salvation at all. This type of altar call makes people into closet Christians. When persecution begins this kind of believer will wilt.
A more cynical view is that a pastor uses “Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around” in order to prevent the congregation from seeing the lack of takers to his invitation. For preachers concerned with keeping a “harvest score” they may not want the congregation to see how ineffective they are. These pastors are only concerned with numbers and not in any true conversions.
The common theme with both of these scenarios is pride. Pride prevents a person from making an outward confession of his faith. Pride also drives a pastor to try to hide his inadequacies. In any case, I am not sure the cause of Christ is served with ” Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around.”
Confession that leads to salvation is open, unashamed, sold out, and out loud. Any other profession is simply trying to hedge your bets.