Thinking Through “The Invitation”

In responding to some good and biblical points on the issue of the invitation, I thought it better to simply write another post.  This post is mainly for clarification of the point that I was trying to make in the previous post.  It has come to my attention that I, perhaps, did not qualify my point, or go far enough with the implications of such a move, i.e., what happens after the sermon if one does not follow exactly the traditional model of “the invitation”.

My friend, Bryan Barley, brought to the surface some areas of qualification.  You can see his comments under the my initial post.  He is absolutely biblical in what he states.  The normative pattern in Scripture is the sermon followed by a time of response for and from the audience.  This pattern is established very early in the life of the church.  Moreover, this is absolutely necessary for the immediate application of the Word of God.  I agree, therefore, that there needs to be a time of response.  For the sake of clarity, I am not arguing that we should refrain from having a time of specific and immediate application of the Word of God.

I am arguing that I would refrain from that time in what is deemed the traditional model of “invitation” for the sole concern of deception, and sensitivity to the temptable nature of the flesh which so desires to attach salvation to a moment and so to have both salvation and the assurance thereof tied to an experience rather than the reality and solidarity and exclusivity of the truth and merit of Jesus Christ alone.  

Therefore, I am arguing that the time of response is more than a momentary shuffling of feet, whether they are well-intentioned or not.  The time of response is throughout the service, specifically, the sermon, and that that responsiveness deserves more time, more thought, more application than what can be had during the playing of one stanza.  God is continually pleading with sinners to be reconciled to God.  So the herald of His Word should also be constantly pleading with sinners to be saved in Christ.  The mighty preacher, George Whitefield is well known to have pled with sinners to embrace the Savior with multiplicity.  The invitation should not be primarily regulated to its traditional model.  

Just in case you hear me only arguing for the negation of the invitation, I would like to now add what may be more helpful both for the sustenance of the body, the assurance and authenticity of the responding soul, and the glory of Christ.  Instead of the traditional model, I would advocate an elongated time of response following the service, which, personally, I would end with the sermon so that it might be ringing freshly in their hearts.  This may take several forms or models.  I will offer three:

First, have a meeting room in your church.  Call it the “Room of Response” if you want to.  Let it be known that response to the Word of God is an essential aspect of worship and edification.  The pastor(s) can wait in this room, previously designated for such an activity, and make him(them)self(ves) available for quite some time afterwards where members of the congregation can come as they please to ask questions, to repent, to confess sin, to apply the Word of God, to grow in Christ-likeness, but specifically related to the text of Scripture exposited.

Second, (with the insight of my friend, Eric Schaefer) if this sort of room is undesirable, then in order to keep solemnity, there may be an area designated for fellowship, mingling, and general conversation, that at upon dismissal from service may be occupied with those who have no immediate response, leaving the sanctuary quietly, and allowing it to be the area where those who have desired to respond to the sermon may do so without the distraction of muddled (albeit joyful) fellowship.  

Third, and perhaps better, is the idea of home groups after the service where, according to the assignment of the pastor(s), members are designated for a home group (or whatever you want to call them) and they discuss the sermon together very specifically as a body.  The pastor should provide questions of applicability that they can discuss and work through together.

If more individual attention is needed, this may be designated and set up in a number of ways:

Counseling (with at least 2 leaders) may be set up, or immediately attended to if need be. 

In conclusion (for now), we must remember that many of the accounts in Acts define sermons to an unbelieving group of people wherein immediate invitation for salvation is absolutely biblical; the invitation in the church however is not primarily of this type, although it is not to be excluded, put away, or shunned.  It is to be expected, however, that unbelievers have come in amongst the body, and so I understand the need for such pleading, indeed, I have practiced it. With that said, the sermon in the local church is intended to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and to persuade believers to respond to their Lord; this is not to say that the sermon on Sunday should not be evangelical – all true sermons should be, and should call for repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, the invitation is biblical; it is the traditional model that I am weary of right now.  

All things considered, I am grateful that God is constantly whipping my tail, and laying my face in the dust as I seek to work these things out with the knowledge of my own inadequacy and the complete adequacy of Jesus Christ.  Thus, I contend that we should maintain the invitation, while being mindful of human tendencies for experience, and therefore, that we should rethink how we do “the invitation” today.  We are after real conversion, real edification, and passion for the Great Commission.  I think this kind of invitation promotes and gives consideration to these things.  As always, interaction and comments are desired as we seek in Christ and by His Spirit to grow closer each day to the Divine ideal as it is in the authoritative Word of God.

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3 Responses

  1. Great work – hopefully you didn’t get the impression that I thought your previous post was pushing for the removal of the invitation. I completely agree that we need to examine the invitation.

    I just finished Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism and he gives some attention to this. He tells the story (quoting Lloyd-Jones) where a man comes up to the preacher a week after a sermon and told him that if he had extended an invitation the previous week he would have responded. The preacher said, “why don’t you give your life to Christ now,” to which the man said, “I would have responded a week ago had an invitation been offered, but I won’t respond now.”

    Now I think you and I would look at that story and understand the problem, but I think we can’t be too quick to assume that all evangelicals would look at that story and say the preacher did the right thing. We would say that this man never really wanted to give his life in the first place, but I think others would lament that the church had somehow missed the chance to have that man saved. This is what we are facing.

    I think you put forth good, practical insights. What we definitely want to avoid is the invitation I’ve seen in several Baptist churches where an invitation is offered, someone walks the aisle, and they are immediately up to be voted in as a member. The sincere conversion is one that lasts, and while we don’t want to be discouraging we also have a responsibility to feel good confirming someone’s salvation (and this should be something more than a 10 second conversation following a walk down the aisle).

    Great conversation and great work. We enjoyed hearing Dr. Mohler preach today in SEBTS chapel!

  2. Here is my problem??? I work with a lot of people who say they are Christians, they do NOT go to church, they do not live a Godly life, and they truly believe with all their heart after reading the word of God, and pastors telling them; that you can fornicate, drink do drugs and anything else because “Jesus died for every sin ” now and all you will comment. I come out of a holiness church, and I have been blessed to be saved since I was 19 years old, a real encounter with God that shook my world and still has a great hold after 35 years. Through study and the preaching of the word we were taught to beat our flesh into submission to the things of God. That if the Holy Spirit be in you, you are a new creature in Jesus Christ, “The things I use to do I do not do them anymore. :). I am just wondering about your thoughts on this??
    Rebekka

  3. Rebekka, I know it is not very helpful to say that these things need to be qualified, but they need to be qualified. Even Paul qualified much of what he was saying for the sake of clarity. For this reason, I’ll humbly attempt to offer what I hope may be deemed biblical wisdom.

    You are correct to question the validity of a profession of faith from a person who denies the hallmark characteristics of the Christian life. We must be careful on one hand, for the minute that we believe that going to church, or even living a “godly life” merits anything with God in the way of salvation, we have intruded works into standing with God. This is a direct contradiction to Scripture. Christ and Christ alone is the basis of a right standing with God; He lived the perfectly obedient life unto God; He, though sinless, died in our stead on the cross; He overcame death by the power of the Father; He ascended as the triumphant God-man to be Intercessor for all who would believe in Him, those who make up the church. So, Christ is all for us, and even repentance from sin and the faith that we embrace Him with are gifts of God (Eph 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:25). We may not begin to boast (1 Cor 1:30-31), but in the Lord alone. That said, we have overstepped our boundaries if we begin to compare our walk with the Lord to another – this returns to a merit system that pleases the flesh; if we say, “God is more pleased with me because I go to church, etc., than this person who does not,” we have erred.

    I write all of that in the hope of reminding every believer of the seriousness of our own personal sin and depravity, and of God’s justice if in He had decided to leave us in our sin, so that we may be more in love with God, more thankful for His grace, and more merciful and loving towards those whom we once were also like.

    Nevertheless, it remains true that the true believer, though an individual, once he believes in Christ is a part of a body, a people, Christ’s church. And, the desire should be to commune with the saints. Moreover, obedience to the Word of God characterizes the believer also. If one remains in habitual sin, like fornication or alcoholism or drug abuse, etc. and in an attitude that abuses grace, then they are giving clear evidence that they at least need to examine themselves to see whether or not they are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5) according to the Word of God, or they need to be actually saved. The loving task of a believer then is to encourage such professors of faith according to the Word of God. 1 John 2:19, for example, speaks concerning those who do not remain in fellowship with the church that they are apostate, that is, they were never authentic believers and are in need of the gospel of Christ, which we must lovingly present to them. Romans 6:1-4 also teach us that grace is not to be used as a license for sin – may it never be! Where this abuse is occurring, we must confront them lovingly with the gospel and the way in which their life does not align with God’s Word.

    I will say this, finally, that it is not through a beating up of the flesh that one is conformed to Christ – at least not most assuredly. Here again, this can easily take the form of works based righteousness – and it is so slick, and we are so prone to return to it even though we were not saved in that way (Gal 3:1). True sanctification comes through knowing the power of union with Christ. Sin is not merely an action, but a master. Romans 6 categorizes sin as a master that we submit to. It brings to mind God’s discussion with Cain in Genesis 4 – that sin was waiting to devour Cain, but that Cain must have dominion over it; this was a rhetorical word from God – it was meant to show Cain that he, in fact, did not have that dominion, but vice versa – and so is the case with every human being (Rom 3:9). However, Jesus Christ came in the flesh, under the law, and mastered it – having mastered sin, by not sinning, He yet became sin for us on the cross, where He also died. But He was raised and when He was raised it was to prove that He really had mastered sin and defeated death and hell, and that now, through union with Him, we can master sin, we have victory of death, we shall not see the likes of hell, but only glory. Thus, I say, sanctification occurs daily for the believer, when the Holy Spirit produces in you that Abba Cry that occurs because of the horrors of sin and the desire to master it, and He turns us to the cross and to our union with Christ where we can know that guilt for sin is completely gone (Rom 8:1), that the power of sin is being mastered (Rom 8:12-17), and that we are being led into conformity with Christ – when God looks at us now, it is no longer Rebekka, etc. by themselves, or Christ and Rebekka, etc. beside one another, but Christ and Rebekka, etc. united – “them” have become a “they” – Christ and the Christian. So I say, it is not a matter of sheer duty and sweat, although you will sweat in sanctification if it is done aright, but rather a sweet and intimate knowing and enjoyment of all that Christ is for you, and you in Him before God the Father. This transforms the children of God. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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