Should ministers still extend “decisional” invitations?

WARNING: Typically I use a good deal of humor in these blogs, but on this occasion I want to warn you that this will be a heavy, direct and controversial discussion.

Poll the average baptist church congregation (and a number of other denominations) on the subject of when and where each member became a Christian and you will hear a myriad of answers. Nevertheless, one which will repeatedly surface usually sounds something like this, “As the preacher delivered the message, I was convicted. I realized my sin and at the invitation I was one of the first down the aisle. I committed my life to Christ and repented in prayer to God.”  This invitation, as it has come to be known, holds a special place in the hearts of many believers in that it was the moment at which they embraced Christianity and truly became followers of Christ. It does not hold a special place for them because of anything about the physical aspects of the event (walking down an aisle, praying a prayer or getting baptized), rather it was the time at which they stood face to face with the reality of their sin, Christ’s sacrifice and their need for Him, then repented. Has it been abused? Absolutely! There have been many throughout the past several decades who have preached easy believism, made the church altar itself out to be something venerated and Holy and even used the invitation for monetary gains. Yet, the question is, “Should we throw the baby out with the bath-water?” In what follows I am going to give a brief defense of the invitation. If you find these words in opposition to your own point of view, you should know that I say none of this with a spirit of anger or sarcasm. On the contrary, I am happy to discuss it with you via email if you would like.

A biblical case for the invitation

In 1 Corinthians 14:24 and 25, just after Paul discusses the dangers related to speaking in tongues in the congregation, he mentions, But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” This sounds as though it is a decisional moment wherein an individual who is in one instance described as an “unbeliever” is the next moment proclaiming the existence of the Christian God. It further sounds as though Paul sees this as a desired regular event. One might criticize this interpretation by mentioning that some of the apostolic gifts have past away, but the use of such gifts is precisely what Paul had just finished asking them to limit in the midst of a service. Acts 8:36-38 describes the meeting between Philip and the eunuch at which time the eunuch had a decisional moment of conversion. I fail to see a clear difference between the eunuch’s salvation after hearing the message of Christ and the salvation of an individual in the midst of a congregation and inside of a church building.  Moreover, in passages such as Matt. 4:19 we read of Jesus extending an invitation to those who heard His message. Further discussion could be had of passages such as the Pentecost event. As I have made this very brief biblical case, I must add one caveat before we move on. If you adhere to reformed theology and thus you reject my use of the term “decisional,” I invite you to find common ground with me in that from the human perspective we experience our conversion as though it were a decision whether or not you agree that it in fact is. I believe that if you can accept that, then you should not have a problem with the above statements.

A philosophical case for the invitation

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) formulated a quadralemma argument in favor of belief which is somewhat problematic in the eyes of many today. What has come to be known as “Pascal’s wager” is simply an argument that if you are unsure on whether or not to believe in God, it is safer to err on the side of caution and just believe. It is referred to as a quadrilemma because it states four possibilities,

1) If God does not exist and I do believe in him then I will have lost nothing,

2) If God does not exist and I do not believe in him I have likewise lost nothing,

3) If God does exist and I do believe in him I have gained everything,

4) If God does exist and I do not believe in him I have lost everything.

The point of the argument is that it’s safer to believe than it is not to believe. Problems arise for Pascal when one considers that there are a variety of alleged gods, and thus one who is unsure can never be certain he is erring on the side of caution. Also, belief “just in case” doesn’t seem to be the kind of belief that scripture calls for. Why do I being the wager up then?

An argument similar to that of Pascal’s could be used to make a case for the decisional invitation, which I do not believe makes the mistakes that Pascal’s wager does. Perhaps instead of Pascal’s wager we could go with “Braxton’s best bet.” Of course, I don’t see it as a bet at all. Simply put, my argument would claim that if the preacher wants to be sure he is honoring God’s command in reaching out to the lost, it is safer for him to err on the side of caution and extend the decisional invitation. A note needs to be made in order for you to best see how this argument works. The loudest voice in opposition to decisional evangelism (which by the way is their phraseology, not mine) is coming from those who hold to reformed theological positions. For such individuals (many of whom I have the highest respect for) the reason decisional evangelism is wrong, is because it somehow limits the sovereignty of God by allowing man a part in his own salvation. Paul Washer claimed, at a conference for “The Way of the Master” that the danger of decisional evangelism is that an individual may falsely believe he was saved because he made a decision for Christ and then years later when someone tries to reach out to him he will reject the message because he believes he is already saved based on his decision. But how can this be? If grace is truly irresistible and choice is not a determining factor, then I cannot see how Washer’s claim that the individual may reject the message based on a prior decision can be valid. Such grace would, necessarily be, irresistible no matter what the individual’s former church experiences were. So decisional evangelism does not threaten the salvation of anyone. Thus, a quadrilemma argument in favor of it could be stated as follows:

1. If decisional evangelism doesn’t work and the preacher doesn’t extend it, the church will have lost nothing

2. If decisional evangelism doesn’t work and the preacher does extend it, the church will have lost nothing

3. If decisional evangelism does work and the preacher does extend it, the church will have honored God

4. If decisional evangelism does work and the preacher doesn’t extend it, the church will not have honored God (in this respect)

To put this in plain language, if grace is irresistible in the sense that reformed theology holds, then decisional evangelism will not hinder salvation (and unless a critic wants to maintain that it is not possible for God to save anyone in the midst of a decisional invitation, it may even be used of God). At most, it will be a waist of time and energy. On the other hand, if decisional evangelism does work, and we don’t do it we are not doing everything we could to reach the lost. Which is safer? As my father often put it, “I would rather have God tell me I tried too hard to reach the lost than to have Him say I didn’t try hard enough.”

The hard part for anyone skeptical of this argument is that unless you are %100 certain that you are interpreting scripture properly (meaning you know that decisional evangelism is unbiblical without a doubt), then you are in danger of erring on the wrong side.

A common sense case for decisional evangelism

Having taken a brief look at the biblical data and the possible philosophical implications, let’s take a step back and look at it through the lenses of common sense. Many individuals on both sides of this debate claim that they were born again in the midst of an evangelistic service when they responded at an invitation. Are we really prepared to tell them that they didn’t get saved at that point, but some other? This strikes me as absurd and it is also the essence of unbiblical judgementalism. Moreover, I have known hundreds of individuals who became believers at evangelistic events and went on to be ardent, passionate, changed servants of God. If the concern here is that we might get false converts then it should be mentioned that such a possibility is always present no matter how the church conducts itself. One might say that we end up with a large number of non-Christians in church pews who really never were saved. This is a possibility, nevertheless, were would we want such individuals, but under the strong preaching of God’s word regularly?

In order to be justified in passionately preaching against what some have termed “decisional evangelism” one must be able to overcome, not one, but both of the above mentioned arguments and in some cases question the testimonies of thousands.

Response to critic Paul Washer

In Paul Washer’s message regarding decisional evangelism at the “Way of the Master Conference,” there was much said from which evangelical pastors and evangelists could learn. This should not be diminished, and at times, it is good to hear a thorough critique of one’s own view that they might adjust their ministry in such a way that it is more usable by God. Nevertheless, there are a few points which should be addressed regarding the message. At times, Washer mis-characterized the way in which many non-calvinist ministers offer their invitation. Moreover, he makes many implications about such ministers which turn out to be straw-man arguments. Whether Washer is aware of this or not his caricature may get a laugh or rouse an amen, but it will not stick to the majority of the ministers upon whom his aim was likely set. What follows is a brief discussion of the problems.

  1. Use of scriptureIt is Washer’s claim that such ministers never demonstrate from scripture what sin really is, but rather simply ask “are you a sinner?” Personally I never give an invitation at which I do not quote scripture at every point. Nevertheless, I imagine this could be true of some of our evangelists and pastors. Still, when an evangelistic minister doesn’t explain what sin is during the invitation it is typically because he has done so for the totality of the message. It should be kept in mind that the types of congregations who give such invitations, or invite evangelists to preach, are usually the types that would insist on the kind of preaching that demands repentance from clearly defined sin. Moreover, it is interesting to note that while Washer continually criticized such ministers for not using scripture enough, he barely returned to his Bible at all after reading a barely related passage about the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37) Though he spoke often of exegesis, he would have to agree that he did not engage in it on this occasion.
  2. Use of emotionWasher then demanded that via stories and emotional manipulation, ministers woo the sinners down the aisle for a false conversion. This he said just before raising his voice, pounding on the podium and demanding that this, rather than liberal politicians was the reason for the state of America. He did this with much emotive vigor.  Moreover, when he was speaking of his own beliefs he assumed a somber tone and spoke with reverence, but when he referred to the ministers he was critiquing and how they function he (by his own admission) took on a sarcastic and satirical tone.
  3. Mis-characterization of sinner’s prayer In my own book, Blinding Lights, in a chapter on work’s based salvation, I assert that it is not the praying of a prayer, nor the walking of an aisle that somehow merits salvation. Rather, the moment that the individual, wherever they may be, recognizes their need to be born again and repents, they are immediately a child of God before they even move toward an aisle or open their lips to speak a prayer. In my experience this is also the belief of every single pastor I have worked with over the past 4 ½ years. This is what philosophers refer to as a straw-man argument. Washer has set up a false (though I don’t believe he meant to) image of what non-calvinists preach and then knocked it down as though he has decisively demonstrated his point. In reality, an individual is urged to pray a prayer articulating their acceptance of the gospel and then told that if they truly believe, have repented and are committed to what they just prayed, then they have been born again (John 3:1-7).
  4. Mis-characterization of follow-upWasher explains that what usually happens when an individual is showing no signs of fruit after years of abandonment of the church is that the pastor will visit that individual and tell them that they just need to “try harder” and that “if you were really sincere, then you really got saved.” I can honestly say that I have never encountered any pastor, evangelist or layperson anywhere, from any denomination who would simply leave it at that. Every pastor I have ever worked with would say to such a person something like, “Only you know if you were truly born again, but if you were, then there should be some sign of that salvation.” Most ministers I know, including myself, would go further than that and say something to the effect of, “If you are in sin and you are not convicted to the point of getting right with God, then you were never saved to begin with.” This is another straw-man argument. Maybe Washer has encountered ministers like this, but it is certainly not the norm.
  5. Vacation Bible Schools What Washer says about the way children are evangelized in VBS I completely agree with. However, if he means to say that he does not believe a child can be saved then I and many of his listeners are lost. Yet, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was not in view.
  6. His charge that evangelicals such as this are the reason America is going to HellI will assume he simply got caught up in the moment when he said this, for surely he would agree that sin and separation from God is the reason individuals are going to Hell. Still, one must wonder what fault such a minister bears at all. Washer claims that the reason some individuals are not truly born again when they are confronted by the Gospel is because they made a false profession of faith as a child and are trusting in that. I do not mean what I say next to poke fun at the reformed position on election as some do, but rather I mean this very seriously. If election is determined by God, and grace irresistible, then how could anything that happened in that person’s past church experience cause them to miss out on grace when they truly are drawn upon by the Spirit. The irresistible nature of grace, as understood by those of Washer’s persuasion, would render this whole discussion moot.

There is much more that Washer said in the message, some of which I could have shouted “amen” the loudest to. The problem is that his mis-characterization, mockery and satire of the invitation as it is often given poisons the well of truth from which he is drawing. Worse still, I would wager, though I admit I have no way of demonstrating this conclusively, that the majority of believers who were in attendance at this event came to Christ via the means he denigrated herein. If it did not take place in a congregational setting it likely did in a home, workplace or school. It will always be true that wherever churches exist there exist also false converts. This however, does not mean that we should do away with the official invitation.

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Posted on August 24, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. First, Braxton you and are are going to so disagree on this. The quote from Corinthians is WAY out of context, rather the context you put it in; “decisional” regeneration.
    Wow!!! First, let’s look at the history of the “decision for Christ”. Did you know it was called the “anxious bench”. There’s a great book published against this new fad back in the 1800′s and I heartily recommend that you purchase it and read it thoroughly and then revisit your “decisional” regeneration.
    Second, I would love to know how a dead person could decide anything. If there is one thing very clear in the Word of God it is this regarding the unregenerate:
    1) hearts of stone, not of flesh
    2) mind is deceived
    3) spiritually dead
    4) spiritually blind
    5) cannot comprehend the light (Jesus told a religious leader this in John 3)
    6) cannot discern the Spirit of God
    7) is spiritually deaf
    8) is full of deadmen’s bones
    9) their wills are completely against God
    10) they are by nature born in iniquity and conceived in sin
    11) they are hardened against the things of God

    okay, this stated, how does one make a “decision for Christ” in this condition???
    Do you hold that first they make the decision (after being convicted but you run into the problem again of all 8 conditions above) and then are regenerated? This makes their regeneration, at the last moment, contingent upon their will rather than contingent upon the work of the Spirit. He must await their decision. you might answer, they have free will. Right, but that will is in bondage to sin, iniquity and satan; the god of this world having blinded them.

    Charles Finney…warning Nancy is about to step on the sacred cow of all decisionalists…did not believe in original sin and took pelagian to all new heights. He held that you had to basically entertain the folks and get their emotions going before they would “choose God.” Hey, I’m all for entertainment, just not in the context of the most important, scratch that, the eternally most important message ever given. Next, he took the oath at his ordination within a Presbyterian Church while in his own diaries stated that he rejected everything in their creeds and confessions. Basically he was a fraud and a liar and deceiver. His diary notes are prior to his ordination yet he took vows at his ordination to uphold the confessions and creeds of the Presbyterian Church. Yeah, you get the point…I don’t like finney at all.
    However, what is worse is the gospel he preached was no gospel at all for he, in his own “systematic theology” (which is a farce in its title and again deceptive since its neither systematic nor theology but rather anthro-ology) that men could conceivably never sin in this life and thereby go to heaven by their own good works and obedience. This negates the Work of Christ in life and death.
    So, you see, you applaud the “decision” method but have you really researched its history?
    Fact: less than 10% of those who make decisions at a Billy Graham crusade end up in church
    of that 10% less than 10% go for membership. Of that small percentage less than 10% remain “christian” till their death. So much for decisional regeneration. Looks like it don’t take effect or last very long.
    Braxton, you and I will most likely disagree on this. However, I have 1800 plus years of the Church of Christ NEVER using this technique; never teaching it. There is NO “sinner’s prayer” in the Word of God. Paul NEVER tells the unregenerate to “decide for Jeeeeeezzuuuusssss.” (hey, i could hear it in my head as I typed.)

    What Paul did say is that the proclamation of the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. He also said that it was through the foolishness of preaching that God brought His people to salvation. Hmmmmm, God does the work. no decisions here from the dead.

    I would challenge you to pick up one other book “Tell the Truth” by Will Metzger
    http://www.amazon.com/Tell-Truth-Gospel-Person-People/dp/0830823220/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282841215&sr=8-4

    oh, and here’s a link to the Anxious Bench: http://www.amazon.com/Anxious-Bench-Antichrist-Sermon-Catholic/dp/1579104290/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282841348&sr=8-2

    I only went through the first few paragraphs but what I see you proclaiming, sadly, is a synergistic gospel. :(

    Nancy A. Almodovar

  2. This is a good one Braxton. The invitation is in much debate in many theological circles. The emergent movement (that isn’t as they say, a movement) has in most of it’s churches completely erased any notion of an invitation other, than “our staff will be here after the service if you have any questions.” Which some would say is an invitation, even if it is a lite one. But, while I am convinced that within the early church an invitation of some sort was offered when Paul or Peter preached, finding biblical support for that is at it’s best weak. I would certainly use the text source you quoted for support of decisional evangelism and have as you remember had valid responses from revivals you have preached. However, with that said, I do believe we need to tailor our invitation in ways that move people to respond. What I do from Sunday to Sunday in the pulpit is different than what you do when you are serving as an evangelist within the environment of an evangelistic event. Meaning, that when we promote an evangelistic event, we are praying, promoting, and preparing our hearts and minds for that environment. So, an altar call at that type of event should bring results in that anyone there has been prepared by the Holy Spirit. They came seeking help from God or they came under the prayer-covering of someone else seeking for God to draw them to Himself. Just for clarity, I agree with your assessment of the Calvinism question on irresistible grace. If it’s blocked by someones preconceptions of his/her standing with
    God, then it’s not irresistible is it? So, what do we do when we come to the end of a message that in my humble opinion should always be brought back to the Cross in some way. After all we’re not at Toastmasters, we’re supposed to be preaching the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 Paul tells us our preaching is used by God to save. So, if that’s true and our preaching is supernaturally used to stir up questions within the unbeliever’s heart and a drawing of the Spirit is taking place, then what avenue is available if not a moment of decision for that person to respond to that drawing? There must be an opportunity of some type made available while God is drawing that person, before interference by Satan can rob them of transformation (sorry Calvinists). But, the method of invitation can be retooled to reach our culture and within the church make the worship experience an evangelistic one. So, that within the entire worship experience (which includes the preaching) people might have a variety of ways respond to the gospel during each service. I know, it hurts us preachers to hear that, but God does begin to draw people through His message in song and through a service that is geared to share the gospel. Sally Morgenthaler in her book “Worship Evangelism” she uses pastor’s and worship leaders in three prominent churches in America. When asked about providing opportunities to respond to the gospel, the overall jest from these leaders was that altar calls and praying the sinner’s prayer is obsolete and has little or no support biblically. So, they may use response cards after the message or provide opportunities during the praise portion of a service. So, as you say I do believe we must not through out the baby with the bathwater. The baby here is “TRANSFORMATION” a new creature in Christ. Do I give an altar call for my people at the close a service? Absolutely! Because as the people of God we always need an opportunity to respond to God’s message. Most churches suffer from A.D.D. and if you don’t tell them that this is the time, right now is the moment for them to respond to what the Holy Spirit is guiding them to do in their relationship with their Lord, chance s are they won’t. Once away from the dynamics that are only found within the meeting of God’s people, something else will get their attention. For unbelievers entry points to the gospel must be given during the worship. But, beyond that, I never close the invitation. I always say “if for whatever reason you didn’t respond today or if you have questions about this, here is how you can reach me.” Many times I’ll simply invite people to hang out after the service is over if they have questions. Several have come to Christ through just hanging out afterward and allowing me to help them one-on-one. Leaders within the church have to acknowledge that we are in a culture that breeds people with a thousand Facebooks friends, but won’t walk down the aisle during an invitation. So, as an older preacher who would love for everyone to respond on the first verse of “Just As I Am,” I know that I’m at times fishing with no bait. So, I’ve decided that “Transformation” will be my goal in the lives of those people God so graciously places within my influence. As you Braxton have acknowledged the need for apologetics within the scope of evangelism (to which I agree), I see the invitation may have to undergo some type of retooling, based on each congregation’s particular personality. Use variety of ways, see what God uses to transform the most lives then when that outcome changes, provide new opportunities for people to respond. However, as a minister of the gospel I cannot stand in good conscience and not provide some way for people to respond the call of that gospel.

  3. Ken, there is no need to “retool” what is done in church. If the Gospel is proclaimed in its fulness; that means Law/Gospel/Gratitude then the Holy Spirit brings “such as should be saved” into the Body of Christ. We are not told in Scripture to give opportunity to respond. I think the what is a problem here is that the commands Repent and Believe are not given as such. These are not options where the Holy Spirit awaits someone to make use of that common grace and respond. No. The Holy Spirit regenerates then gives the gift of saving faith. In that order. Decisional preachers will when pushed to the wall say that they believe the Holy Spirit must first work, but they do not behave or preach that way. It is “Say the sinners prayer and you will be saved.” No. It is the Holy Spirit saves first (regeneration; gifted faith; by grace alone) and then they will believe and repent.

  4. Nancy I greatly appreciate that you took the time to respond. I know you are passionate about truth, we share that trait, and since I know you are a Trinity student this is a great example of what I love about our school. We can respectfully disagree in an academic way without having negative feelings toward each other. Naturally, there are some things we disagree about and a good deal more about which we do agree. Unfortunately, on this occasion the subject is what we disagree upon. This will be brief for reasons I will articulate, but then there are a couple of points you mentioned to which I will respond. It will be brief because, by your own admission, you have only read a portion of my blog. Thus, it would be redundant for me to respond to you, duplicating that material again. For future “posters” it is usually assumed that if you are going to comment on a blog like this, you have read the whole of the material to which you are responding.

    1) You actually didn’t challenge any of the biblical data I provided, rather you claimed that I took the 1 Corinthians 14 passage “WAY out of context.” What’s interesting is that you failed to explain what the proper context was, or how I took it out of context. I would think it would be difficult to demonstrate how it was taken out of context since all I claimed was that Paul described a desired situation wherein an unbeliever might encounter the truth of the one true God and repent. So unless you see something I don’t, then this is simply an allegation, but not actually an argument against my position.

    2) Not only did you neglect to challenge my biblical case, but you didn’t even mention the philosophical argument I set forth in my second point. Perhaps this is, indeed, because you only read a portion of my blog. However, until you can refute my position I would think it would be necessary for you to give a compelling explanation of what is wrong with the philosophical argument. I believe it to be a very strong case.

    3) You’re assault on Charles Finney and the results of Graham crusades seems somewhat out of context in this setting since I did not defend or mention either man in my blog. Because I’m sure you are a delightful person, and you and I have had brief but friendly exchanges so far, I’m sure you didn’t intend to insult my intelligence by asking if I was aware of the history of Charles Finney’s evangelistic endeavors. As a vocational evangelist of 5 years I have spent a large amount of time acquainting myself with the history of my calling. Moreover, I studied the Finney vs. Nettleton discussions in depth during my bachelor’s program. As a leader in my denomination right now, I must be aware of the historic and ongoing debate because of the division that is taking place regarding reformed theology within the Southern Baptist Convention. Nevertheless, I am not a Charlse Finney apologist. I have never mentioned him in my written works or sermons. I did not mention him here. I am not a pelagian, and I do believe in original sin.
    4) You charged me with believing in a synergistic gospel. I do not. I believe that salvation is completely of God who is sovereign over all.

    Once again, I appreciate your zeal and I would love to discuss this at length with you after you have read this blog article in its entirety. Once you have explained where I have erred in my philosophical and biblical cases you will have the beginnings of a dialog. Having noticed your responses on facebook and Trinity’s chat-rooms in the past, I am aware that you passionately support the reformed position. I applaud your commitment and willingness to voice that commitment no matter what topic is under discussion. Let me say, though, that I have no desire to see this “comments” section become another 30 post debate on reformed theology as it is on so many blogs. As I read other blogs (and if you, Nancy, have a blog I am not referring to it. I am unaware if you do) I see the same two or three positions go around in circles. You are exceptionally educated Nancy. Still, many who post on such blogs are so out of touch with the theological discussion regarding election that they are unaware that alternative positions, such as molinism, even exist. I am happy to continue the discussion as long as it is appropriate. Even after this blog section has run its course I will be happy to discuss my views on this with anyone via email.

    By the way, I want to reiterate that this site is a safe place to have these kinds of discussions and I, in no way, make my case with a spirit of anger or sarcasm. Nancy is a brilliant student and eloquent word-smith. While we disagree on this matter, I’m proud to call her “sister.”

  5. okay, onward and upward: let’s look at your statement here

    1. If decisional evangelism doesn’t work and the preacher doesn’t extend it, the church will have lost nothing

    2. If decisional evangelism doesn’t work and the preacher does extend it, the church will have lost nothing

    3. If decisional evangelism does work and the preacher does extend it, the church will have honored God

    4. If decisional evangelism does work and the preacher doesn’t extend it, the church will not have honored God (in this respect)

    If “decisional” evangelism is not in the Bible should we do it?
    If “decisional” evangelism is not the format for Gospel presentation why is it being done?
    If “decisional” evangelism is something new to the church (only since mid 1800′s) should we be weary?
    If “decisional” evangelism is not the norm in the Bible we should not do it.

    You stated that it is irresistible grace. Very true. and with regards to decisional regeneration, or evangelism, well God used a donkey once too but that don’t mean we expect to hear from donkeys as the norm.

    What causes regeneration? The Holy Spirit. He does. What happens when He regenerates the sinner? First, He gives them saving faith. Second, He imputes the righteousness of Christ to their account. Now, will they then respond? Of course!!! Those who have new life are like Lazarus, they walk out of the tomb. But, Jesus gave Lazarus new life first.

    All decisional evangelists I have known (except for Braxton) have stated that it was repentance first then regeneration. Is that what you believe Braxton? Or is it regeneration and then they have the ability and desire to repent?
    Also, we are not told to decide for anything in scripture when we’re unregenerated. Even the oft misquoted message by Joshua, “As for me and my house…” Well, if you look at that scripture you see Joshua gave them a choice, the gods of egypt or the gods of the people in the promised land. He states that his family will not serve either but rather Jehovah.
    your command by God, as evangelist, is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. It is not for you to know who “decided” because that’s not even an option in Scripture. It is believe or don’t believe. Repent or remain in your sins. THAT’S a huge difference.

    Braxton, you don’t know much about me but I come out of major teaching by “decisional” people. Thank God that my father was pulled out of that and introduced to Lloyd Jones which then introduced him to the Reformers and after his death I was given his library of over 400 books by reformers/puritans. I know what I’m talking about. You make an argument against those with a reformed soteriology but also mischaracterize it. We do not wait for a “decision”. We wait for repentance and belief. Those who have been born again amazingly begin to act like they have new life because they have new life within them. I don’t need to count decision cards.
    And sad to say, your dad is wrong that God will be okay with a wrong presentation when God has clearly outlined inthe Bible how we are to proclaim Christ. Notice Paul never asks for a response after presenting the gospel, rather he commands repent and believe. Then when he goes away those whose hearts the Lord has changed go back to Paul (re-read Acts 17) and begin to learn about Christ more and more. End of Peter’s sermon, or John’s or Stephen’s is never, “Okay now those whom have felt the weight of their sin come down the aisle and “receive” Jesus.” It’s that they cry out, What shall we do? THEN Peter says, “Decide for Jesus.” “Say this sinner’s prayer.” “Come and accept Jesus into your heart.” Wait, no that’s not what he says. He says, Repent and believe. And leaves it there.

    • Nancy, your claim that I “. . . make an argument against those with a reformed soteriology but also mischaracterize it. We do not wait for a “decision”. We wait for repentance and belief.” Yet, I do not know of any statement I made to that effect. My argument is in favor of what some have termed “decisional” evangelism, and thus by its very nature it is “against those with a reformed soteriology.” However, I did not set out to attack reformed tradition, but rather to defend proper evangelism as I see it. Now let’s see how your responses fair compared to my cases.

      1) We have still heard no response to the very brief biblical case I made. Instead, you explained how reformed theologians handle the subject of salvation. You also claimed again that it was only in recent centuries that a public invitation has been delivered. I don’t know how you could possibly defend that position. I have pointed to several biblical instances that seem favorable to the subject and if we were to look at church history I believe we could talk about more instances of this type. Moreover, even if we couldn’t find long written accounts of such events “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” as we heard so regularly regarding weapons of mass destruction.

      2) We have still heard no response to my philosophical argument. Instead, we heard a claim that it is not biblical and so it should be avoided. This is true, however, it doesn’t meet the argument where it stands. The question is, unless you are %100 certain, by this I mean you have absolute proof that your interpretation is correct, it is irresponsible not to err on the side of caution, especially if (on reformed theology) it will not negatively effect salvation. The design of the argument is such that you must either admit that since you may be wrong, you should do the responsible thing, or claim that it is impossible that you are wrong (which would effectively end the discussion.

      So, six posts in to the talk, we have still heard no response to my biblical case and the only response we have heard regarding the philosophical case was based on a misunderstanding of what it claims. Once again. I respect you immensly, Nancy, for your time and efforts. Even though we disagree. I am continually impressed with you.

  6. Braxton, I brought up Finney and Graham because Finney pretty much perfected decisions at crusades and Graham, having even worked on of them when I was in Dallas, well we were trained in how to “get those decisions.”

    Okay, so yes, I was lazy in supplying poor research on 1 Corinthians. I take that demerit and will do much better in the future. Sometimes my head is faster than I type and it doesn’t always get down.

    I did, in my next response, respond to some of your points. I am a firm believer that the Bible outlines very clearly how evangelism is to be conducted. I love that there are crusades, I’ve organized some after I became Reformed and often would go to the park just talking to people and sharing the Gospel.

    Let me clarify my “synergism” remark. If you believe that faith precedes regeneration than by its definition it is considered synergistic. If you believe regeneration precedes faith; well than you and I have no argument, only on tactics.

    however, thank you for the compliments but I do see that I got a little lazy on the first post. Also, the post was long and my intention was to parse through it. You did make the title a question and i figured that opened it up to discussion. Debate….well, you are right too many blogs (yes I have one but it’s more on women and their proper place in church…there goes another hot topic today, eh brother?) but too many rip fellow believers apart. I have unfortunately witnessed it personally from both camps, and yes even from molinism and what are called 4 pointers.

    I do enjoy your blog posts though and do pray when notified, mostly on the trinity site, that you’re doing another evangelistic meeting. God will save such as should be saved. Personally, I like the statement, “If you have any questions about the Gospel or the command to Repent and Believe, I’m free after the service to talk more with you.” This tends to lead away from people thinking their “decision” saved them or had any part of that salvation.

    thanks for the corrections. duly noted and hopefully worked on in the future.

  7. Thanks Nancy. I think you and I have much more that we are agreed upon than anything else. I sent another post just before this one came in. Unless you respond in detail to my philosophical case, I’ll probably just let you have the last word – if I can resist. You were very kind, and I appreciate your prayers. I am always happy to have you post on my blog, and I am excited to have ongoing discussions, friendly debates or otherwise. Anyway thanks and God bless.

  8. While I greatly respect Paul Washer for preaching on sin and demanding to see fruits of repentance prior to declaring people as saved, I could not disagree with him more than when it comes to decisional evangelism. He greatly mischaracterizes preachers who extend invitations, painting us with the broad brush of Joel Osteen and easy believism.

    In fact, the Scripture makes it plain that our gospel does demand immediate decisions! Today if you will hear my voice…and behold now is the accepted time, today is the day of salvation! If our Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, who are we to preach it and not also say as Peter said, “Save yourself from this untoward generation!”

    The last chapter in Scripture extends an invitation implying an immediate response, “Whosoever will let him come and take of the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).” To quote our past President of the SBC Johnny Hunt, “God forbid, that I put the bread of life out on the table and not give people an opportunity and invitation to come and dine!”

    Great article and great incite Bro. Braxton! Keep on preaching the Bible as it is to men as they are; and keep on giving the strong and urgent invitation to come and take [literally by whatever means necessary] of the water of life freely!

  9. Loving the blog my brother, let me throw out another practical reason for the invitation. The great commission calls us to make disciples, and as a pastor I am responsible to not only disciple believers in my congregation but to know who they are in the first place. I think we both know you are not advocating that the invitation is salvation or somehow the act of responding to an invitation is acceptance of the gospel, as others have portrayed. We must be careful as believers who think we have the miraculous work of God’s salvation figured out to the point of a process (regeneration then repentance or whatever) or we somehow simplify salvation to 5 or 7 points depending on your particular theological fervor (Isaiah 55:6-11). I agree Braxton it is God’s sovereign grace, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that regenerates a sinner who is dead in his trespasses and sins, but I don’t see how that would eliminate the need for an invitation. I know all I plan to do is to keep preaching the gospel, the power of God unto salvation;the gospel of repentant-regenerate, born again believers trusting in God’s grace,, mercy and His Son Jesus Christ. Keep writing brother and we will keep reading.

  10. Aaron,

    Twice in your comment you mentioned “repentant-regenerate” and then “regeneration then repentance or whatever”…actually that is the key point in the proclamation.

    If the sinner repents and is then regenerate, then in the end it is their decision or response to the invitation which has done the saving because then, Christ is waiting for them to decide for Him.

    If it is that the sinner is first regenerated and then given the gift of repentance and the ability and desire to do just that, then is it, in the final moment Christ who decides who gets saved.

    It is not a “whatever” type of point. It is crucial to this discussion.

    If you think that an invitation must be given because then the sinner can respond and then be born again, then you will push for an invitation system.
    If you think that the Gospel, in its fullness which includes Law & Gospel and the command to Repent and Believe, is made solely effective by the work of the Holy Spirit and actually effects that regeneration, then a public/vocal invite or not is unnecessary. Those who have been born again are now born of the Spirit and that, my friend, changes everything including instilling within them a desire to know God and His Christ.

    • Nancy,

      That was my point I purposely used them in both orders. Read Acts 2:37-41, Peter told a large crowd to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins.” Peter is obviously talking about spiritual baptism or regeneration. According to your process Peter would have had to of known that everyone of those 3,000 people who got saved that day were first regenerate. No one is claiming that the invitation is the means of salvation, which you seem to keep going back to, it is only a means for someone to respond to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. As Braxton said just because some misuse it is not a reason to stop doing it.

      I just find it dangerous to try and put a process or a time line into how God chooses to save a lost sinner. While some ideas are good for academic settings they don’t work so well when a family has been torn apart by drugs, alcohol and infidelity; and that family looks you in the eye and cries out, “Pastor tell us how to be saved!” I would hate to tell that family “well you have to wait until there is proof of your regeneration and then we can talk.” It just doesn’t work that way.

      I recognize many people are trusting in a “sinner’s prayer” or walking an isle for salvation and I agree with you this could not be farther from the truth. However all I am called to do is to be faithful to preach the word and let the word and Holy Spirit of God do the work that God has sent them to do.

  11. Aaron, so glad we can discuss this.

    Here is the passage:

    37 Now when mthey heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, nwhat shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, o“Repent and pbe baptized every one of you qin the name of Jesus Christ rfor the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive sthe gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For tthe promise is for you and ufor your children and for all vwho are far off, everyone wwhom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, x“Save yourselves from this ycrooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and zthere were added that day about three thousand souls.

    The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:37–41.

    I am a bit puzzled by this statement though:

    Peter is obviously talking about spiritual baptism or regeneration.

    Did you me “obviously” or “obviously not”. I have never in all my years (over 25 since conversion and since and infant) in a church heard anyone say that the “baptism” that Peter is speaking of is that which is done by the Spirit and speaks of the baptism into the Body of Christ. I looked this up in my logos software to see varying commentaries on this and no one states that this refers to spiritual baptism (over 45 resources stemming from Pentecostal to Wesleyan to Reformed) but rather this speaks of baptism in water as a following of what Jesus taught that those who confess Christ as Savior are to be baptized in water in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    Here is one commentary:

    2:37–39 Peter’s Jewish crowd got his point. They were guilty of rejecting, even crucifying, the Messiah. Luke said they were “cut to the heart,” an uncommon word Homer used to depict horses stamping the earth with their hooves (v. 37).126 Peter’s response was almost programmatic in that he presented them with four essentials of the conversion experience (v. 38): repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins, and receipt of the Spirit.127 These four generally form a single complex throughout Luke-Acts. They are the normative ingredients of conversion. There is no set, mechanistic pattern by which the various components come into play, particularly baptism and the receipt of the Spirit.

    John B. Polhill, vol. 26, Acts, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 116.

    another:

    Baptism. Peter continues and says, “Be baptized every one of you.” In Greek, the imperative verb repent is in the plural; Peter addresses all the people whose consciences drive them to repentance. But the verb be baptized is in the singular to stress the individual nature of baptism. A Christian should be baptized to be a follower of Jesus Christ, for baptism is the sign indicating that a person belongs to the company of God’s people.

    Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, vol. 17, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 105.

    another:

    2:37–38. Peter instructs the people how to call on the Lord’s name (2:21): be baptized in Jesus’ name. Because baptism was a sign of conversion to Judaism normally reserved for pagans, Peter’s demand would offend his Jewish hearers and cost them respectability. He calls for a public, radical testimony of conversion, not a private, noncommittal request for salvation with no conditions. “In the name of Jesus Christ” distinguishes this sort of baptism, requiring faith in Christ, from other ancient baptisms; this phrase simply means that the person being baptized confesses Christ. (Acts always uses this phrase with “be baptized”—the passive, never the active; it does not denote a formula said over the person being baptized, but rather indicates the confession of faith of the person receiving baptism; see 2:21 and 22:16.)

    Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ac 2:37.

    and another:

    Peter told them to repent, believe and be baptized; in that way they would be identifying themselves with Jesus as the Christ. This is the same message John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) and Jesus (Matt 4:17) preached. To make baptism essential for salvation and the receiving of the Spirit is to deny the experience of the Gentiles in Acts 10:44–48, which is God’s pattern for today. (See the introductory notes on Acts.) The Jews in Acts 2 received the Spirit when they repented and were baptized; the Samaritans in Acts 8 received the Spirit by the laying on of the apostles’ hands; but believers today receive the Spirit when they believe, as did the Gentiles in Acts 10. There is no salvation in the waters of baptism, for salvation is by faith in Jesus.

    Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1997), 282.

    n.b. Wiersbe refers to baptism as that of the “waters of baptism”. Not spiritual baptism.

    You can see from the broad range of theological backgrounds that not one is in agreement with you.
    A wise professor of systematic theology once taught me, “If your interpretation is not found in the historical church or if it is a newer interpretation, you can be pretty sure its wrong.” (Dr. Gore, Trinity College of the Bible Systematics Professor 2005)

    So, i’m a bit confused by your interpretation. It seems outside of the historic interpretation of this passage.

    okay, second

    “Pastor tell us how to be saved!”

    That cry alone tells us that God has done the work of regeneration. Obviously the Gospel has been proclaimed to them (i.e. they’ve heard about Jesus and His Salvation) and the Holy Spirit has “made them willing in the day of His power.” The dead can’t cry out because they’re dead.
    Obviously, as they grow and are discipled, those in charge of the church (elders and pastors) will examine their profession and admit them to church membership or not. For sure we all know those who respond upon hearing the news but, like seed planted on shallow ground…you know the rest of the parable. Certainly we also know those who made a profession of faith but at the end of their life they were boldly living in egregious sin and died in that condition. While I would not say what their spiritual condition was, we do have a right to question whether they were saved at all (I know of this personally as we have one in my immediate family who if they remain unrepentant we would be able to say they were never regenerate to begin with.)
    The cry alone tells us that they have new life. The elders/pastor takes it from their and continues to disciple them. the proof of their regeneration is that very cry “What can we do to be saved.”

    Also, a point was made that even though we cannot find it specifically in the Bible does not allow us to argue from absence. It is interesting how on this point I’m not allowed to argue from absence that it shouldn’t be done yet, if I brought up infant baptism (Scripture doesn’t talk about it) I would not be allowed to argue for it using that same argument. Interesting.

  12. Just to make sure I am reading you correctly, you are saying that water baptism is a necessary ingredient for salvation based on your interpretation of Acts 2:38.

    I intrigued by this quote from one of the commentaries you sited — “repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins, and receipt of the Spirit.127 These four generally form a single complex throughout Luke-Acts. They are the normative ingredients of conversion. There is no set, mechanistic pattern by which the various components come into play, particularly baptism and the receipt of the Spirit.”

    However that seems to refute your mechanistic pattern of “regeneration then repentance”

    Just a thought.
    God bless.

  13. Aarron, I do not believe that water baptism is necessary for salvation as proven with the thief on the cross. However, if one is converted as an adult and has not been baptised then yes, they are to get baptised in water as soon as possible as it depicts the covenantal promises and is a testimony to those around of what Christ has done for us in salvation, e.g. buried with Christ and raised with him too.

    Since I do not believe that water baptism saves, I think you’ll see your deduction of my point was incorrect.
    However, I agree with the quote because children who have been baptised as infants (as covenant children, baptism being the new circumcision according to Colossians), then their receipt of the Spirit would be later at their conversion.

    hope that clarified things.

    btw: maybe we should take this discussion off brandon’s blog. email me privately at nancy@silentcryministries.org

  1. Pingback: Should ministers still extend “decisional” invitations? | SBC Issues

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