Arminian Today

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The Invitation System

I have several problems with the invitation system.  I remember when I first was saved and the church I was attending regularly did an invitation at the end of the service.  It was the typical “every head bowed, every eye closed” and then the preacher would exhort people to repent and to “ask Jesus into your heart today.”  We would cheer if a person actually got up out of their seat to meet with the preacher down front to “get saved” by saying the sinner’s prayer.

Then I began to read John Wesley.  I was struck by the fact that John Wesley saw thousands of souls converted to Christ yet he never gave an altar call.  Not once in my reading of Wesley did I find mentioned the “sinner’s prayer” or the “every head bowed, every eye closed” approach to evangelism.  I found Wesley exhorting sinners to turn to Christ, to repent of their sins, to place their total faith in Christ alone to save them but I found nothing like what I was seeing in our church.  I began to question the invitation system.  I began to see the system as man-made and based on the tactics of 19-th century evangelists rather than the Word of God. I began to see that baptism had been replaced with the sinner’s prayer and when a person was declared saved.  I saw that the system downplayed the sovereignty of God in salvation for the tactics and manipulations of men.  

Finally, in a debate with an International Church of Christ guy, I had to wrestle with the Bible over the issue.  The ICOC guy challenged me to show him in the Bible where a person ever “prayed to receive Christ.”  He challenged me to study the sinner’s prayer and its history along with the Bible to see what is the correct way to call sinners to repentance.  I began to see that Jesus nor the Apostles in Acts ever did an altar call, none led people in a sinner’s prayer, and all called people to repent and believe the gospel and demonstrate their obedience to Christ though baptism by immersion in water.  

In this post, Dr. James Rasbeary writes about why churches should have an invitation system.  A couple of points about this post.  First, I found his articles to be pragmatic.  As one pastor told me when I asked him why he did an invitation system if in fact it was not biblical, “Because it works” was his reply.  This same man admitted to me that baptism was the proper response to the gospel but he then said, “But the sinner’s prayer is so much faster and easier.”  Notice the pragmatism.  It just works.  We have been doing it this way so long and God uses it.  This is the normal reply for those who defend the practice.

Secondly, I don’t deny that God does call us to make a decision.  As the author points out, all through the Scriptures God calls us to repent, to turn from our sins, to come and drink, etc.  but we must not take to mean that we should call people “down front” as part of that call.  Wesley would call sinners to do all these things but he rightfully knew that God alone saves the lost.  Wesley did not ignore the fact that the Holy Spirit was the one who converts the sinner.  A sinner can come under conviction but unless the Holy Spirit is doing His work, the sinner’s conviction will be temporal.  The Spirit of God alone converts the sinner (John 3:3-7).  The Spirit of God takes the sinner and regenerates them (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Titus 3:5-7).  Our duty as a witnesses for Jesus Christ is to proclaim His gospel and the Spirit of God does the rest (Acts 1:8).  

Lastly, in reply to the use of Acts 2:37-38, I would add that the response to the Jews was baptism (v. 41).  How many meetings have I sat in where people “came down front to get right with God” and then 20 or 30 were said to be saved.  Where was their baptism?  Did I miss it?  Did they usher them to the tank that fast and plunge them under?  All through Acts, baptism was seen as the time when people confessed Jesus as Lord (see Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 30-34; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16).  No doubt a person is justified by faith (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9) but let us not downplay the role baptism plays in confessing Jesus as Lord.

In closing, I don’t doubt that God is sovereign in salvation.  Some of you reading this may have been saved through the flawed invitation system.  God is graceful and good.  He often uses us despite us and in spite of us.  That said, we should still strive to be biblical in our evangelism and in our teaching about salvation.  I don’t doubt that Dr. Rasbeary means well in his approach.  I simply don’t agree with the approach nor with the conclusions.  While I would not make a war over this issue, after witnessing to many people who “prayed the prayer” or “went down front at that church”, I am convinced that so many fail to grasp what it means to truly repent of our sins and look to Christ alone to save us.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

04/24/2013 at 10:29 AM

2 Responses

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  1. I’m thinking that what you are on against here is not so much “the invitation system” as it is a certain application of it. All of the churches with which I have been connected or close to — in fact, thousands of churches across the nation and around the world — use an invitation at the end of nearly every sermon. The difference is that we don’t invite people to nod their heads or recite a particular prayer; we invite them to take Jesus as Lord by confessing to and repenting of sinfulness and being baptized into Christ. We don’t present the invitation time as the ONLY time and place one can do this (and we encourage such a response to the gospel at any time and in any place), but it largely parallels what Peter did at Pentecost — a sermon is preached, and a person is brought to conviction through the work of the Word and the Spirit and needs to know what to do about that. So we tell them, in words very similar to those of the apostle.

    sloveall

    04/24/2013 at 12:59 PM

    • Agreed. I have no problem exhorting sinners to repentance but the “invitation system” I am referring to here is just what you said, the false idea of “praying Jesus into your heart.”


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