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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
The twentieth-century Fundamentalist movement in some real sense arose out of the revivalistic movements of the nineteenth century. Many of the leaders and converts of those great revivals stood up to challenge the growth of liberalism and infidelity in the churches. For this reason, the Fundamentalist churches that eventually left the apostate denominational bodies commonly carried on the traditions of revivalism. Among those traditions was the public invitation. Most Fundamentalists used public invitations at the end of their sermons for many years. This was especially true among the Fundamental Baptists. However there have been objections raised, especially from the more Calvinistic brethren, to the use of invitations in our church services and evangelistic meetings. Today the objecting voices seem to be getting louder, especially among independent Baptists influenced by Calvinists like Martin Lloyd-Jones, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John MacArthur, and Ian Murray, and especially since the old evangelists have died! They say that the invitation is "unscriptural," and that it produces many harmful effects. However, a reasonable interpretation of the Bible assures us that we are right to invite sinners to profess faith in Christ by a public acknowledgment in response to Gospel preaching. Fundamental Baptists ought not to reject this practice, but they need to use it wisely.

In scripture, preachers often called for people to express their repentance in a public way. Joshua called for the elders of Israel to "choose . . . this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods . . . of the Amorites . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). The great man called for an immediate verbal response and a definite decision. He received that response in verses 16 through 18. Around 500 years later, the prophet Elijah asked the Israelites gathered on Mount Carmel a compelling question:

"How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word."

(I Kings 18:21)

He was calling for a public response and an immediate decision. Elijah did not receive an immediate response, but after demonstrating the power of the true God through the famous fire-from-heaven contest, the people "fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, He is the God; the LORD, He is the God" (I Kings 18:22-39). The Lord Jesus also called for immediate responses to some of His appeals. When He called on people to follow Him (as in Mark 1:17-20, and 2:14-15), He often wanted them to get up physically and walk after Him as a way of declaring their decision to be His disciple. Of course, baptism was the most common public act of professing faith in Jesus Christ. John 4:1 says that "Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John." What exactly was done by Christ and the apostles regarding baptism? We can see what was done in the account of the Pentecostal revival in Acts 2. Under conviction, many in the crowd cried out as Peter preached the Gospel: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" And what did Peter tell them to do? "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ" (verse 28). Baptism as a symbol of repentance was administered immediately (See verse 41) to those who came forward professing faith in Christ. This must be how John the Baptist used the immersion of penitents in the Jordan: as an immediate public act to indicate inward repentance (Read Matthew 3:1-6). Over the years, some confused this public act with the saving effect of the inward decision. They thought that being baptized would save the soul. Every form of public invitation must consider this inherent danger: that sinners will confuse the public act with the inward decision. That’s why preachers today often emphasize that "baptism won't save you." This may also be why so many have abandoned the Biblical practice of baptizing converts immediately. Nevertheless it is clear in the New Testament that immediate baptism was originally an aspect of the public invitation given for people to respond to the Gospel.

Some of our friends have stated inaccurately that public invitations at evangelistic services were invented by Charles G. Finney. Strict Calvinists can want to associate the invitation with Finney because of his easily proven theological errors. The truth is that "altar calls" and other kinds of invitations were already common, at least among the Methodists, when Finney started using them in the 1830’s. Finney’s contribution was to popularize the use of the "anxious seat" in area-wide cooperative campaigns and among Presbyterians and Congregationalists. He would ask convicted sinners to come up to a designated bench ("the anxious seat") to be helped by a personal worker. Later Moody called those who wished to be helped to come to an "inquiry room." Billy Sunday used "the sawdust trail," and nearly all the leading evangelists of the twentieth century (including many Fundamental Baptists) have urged their listeners to seek the help of a Christian immediately when they were willing to repent.

Many worry openly that sinners will be led to think that raising a hand or walking an aisle or praying a prayer will save their souls. As we have seen, there is always a danger of this. But there is also the danger of sinners missing the urgency of the Gospel call. Hear what the Bible says:

"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)"

(II Corinthians 5:20 - 6:2)

The appeal of the Gospel is "be ye reconciled to God." The content of the Gospel centers around the atoning sacrifice of Christ "that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." The urgency of the Gospel is that "now is the day of salvation." God will save the sinner now if he repents and trusts in Christ. God makes no promise to save a sinner tomorrow. To postpone receiving Christ is to persist in rejecting Him. Sinners must be called to turn immediately. This is the reason for a public invitation.

But may not repentance be private? Cannot sinners simply hear and repent without being called to "come forward." Of course, the preacher may press his case in this way, but a public profession of faith sometime, somewhere, somehow, is still important. You will remember that Jesus said,

"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven."

(Matthew 10:32)

Yes, it is "with the heart" that "man believeth unto righteousness" (Romans 10:9-10), but it is also "with the mouth" that "confession is made unto salvation." The Lord expects saved people to claim Him openly. The public invitation is both scriptural and wise, and in line with a valid Gospel presentation.

Occasionally Calvinists will speak as if persuasion has no part in conversion. (Not all Calvinists think this way, and some Calvinists do give invitations!) The emphasis on the miraculous nature of the new birth can blind some to the fact that sinners should be urged to decide. Repentance and faith are decisions of the human will as well as gifts of God. Gospel preaching must involve persuasion and a call for conclusions to be drawn and commitments to be made. Paul and Barnabas "so spake" (Acts 14:1) that "a great multitude of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed" during their evangelistic campaign in Iconium. Yes, it was the Holy Spirit working through the apostles that wrought conversions, but even the work of the Spirit is characterized in scripture as persuasion. John 16:8 says that the Spirit will "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." The Greek word for "reprove" here has the idea of convincing. The Spirit and the preacher (actually the Spirit in the preacher) convince the sinner to repent. Persuasion is involved in winning souls to Christ. The belief that what is said or done in presenting the Gospel has no bearing on whether or not men turn to Christ is an exaggeration and a perversion of theology, not a valid application of it.

The Greek verb peitho is used several times in the New Testament and is often translated "persuade." The lexicon defines it as meaning to "convince by argument." Using this word, Paul described his work as an evangelist in II Corinthians 5:11–"We persuade men." King Agrippa responded to Paul’s witness by saying, "Almost thou persuadest me" (Acts 26:28). Appeals to the mind, the will, and the emotions aimed at bringing sinners through the power of the Spirit to a decision against sin and for Christ are legitimate and scriptural. A natural aid to such an appeal would be some kind of public invitation.

Let us not be deceived into thinking that an invitation for public response must be given after every sermon. Neither ought we to think that only one form of public invitation is acceptable. But neither let us be talked into rejecting the use of public invitations altogether, or into thinking that there is something gravely wrong with them. Many Fundamental Baptists use invitations wisely, and explain them thoroughly. Let us continue to call men to come to Christ, and not just to come forward. But let us not move into the deep-freeze of philosophies that downplay evangelism. Let us keep the revival spirit and the valid revival methods of our Fundamentalist forefathers as we go on serving Christ into the twenty-first century.

Monthly Article
July 15, 2002
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

His Majesty's Service
In His Service,
Teaching the Word
To Glorify Our Lord
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