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The practice of altar calls-calling people forward after an evangelistic sermon to make a public confession of faith in Christ-has gained prominence in the 20th century primarily through "crusades"...
I am a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and have just been a member of this Church for the past two years. Prior to that I belonged to a Baptist Church for more than 30 years. In the Black community the altar call is a time during the service where people are asked to come up to the front of the Church for prayer. The Alter is the communion table that is considered sacred in both Churches. However in the A.M.E. Church there is an extension from the communion table to a kneeling rail where people go and kneel and pray. The process differs only in method as in the Baptist Church the Pastor usually prays over those who have come up and in the A.M.E. Church individuals come up to pray and then the Pastor or another minister or lay person will pray. In both Churches the period at the close of a sermon is called the invitation, this is where the pastor or another minister will say the doors of the Church are open and invite someone to accept Christ, join the Church or come up for a special prayer. This is traditionally done at the close of every service and in some instances after Sunday School. While this is not Biblical it is a custom that allows a person to confess their faith in Christ and asked to be baptized. There are only 2 doctrines of both faiths that are from the Bible and that is the Lords Supper and Baptism.
As to why churches have altars today--there is no good reason for them. The altars were where the Jewish priests sacrified the animals as a temporary propiation of the sins of the people. We don't sacrifice animals anymore since Christ sacrificed Himself once and for all. There is no need for an altar in a church today.
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