Decisionism and Discipleship

What are we to think of the modern Invitational system that is employed in most churches?

In Mark 10, we read these words:  

22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

4.  The Rich Young ruler walked away unrepentant.

Did Jesus make it too hard?  No, he didn’t.  He told him what it meant to follow Him.(v. 21). “Jesus looked at him and loved him”  He loved him enough to tell him the truth.  We need to tell people what they need to hear and not what they want to hear.  If we love them, we will.   

If we don’t love them, we will continue to be silent about knowing Christ.  We won’t speak about the Gospel.  Or we will speak about it but make it too easy, try to give them a prayer to pray.  And say this is all you have to do. 

The young man had made an idol out of his wealth.  That was his god.  He still wanted to worship that god and did not want to repent.  So he walked away unrepentant. 

Did Jesus fail?  Here we have Jesus, the Master evangelist and the fish got away.  He is the one came to seek and save the Lost and this lost man didn’t get saved.  Did Jesus not do a good enough job?  Did he let him get away?   

Jesus did not fail.   He didn’t let him get away.    He walked away because the young man was unwilling to repent.  He didn’t make this harder than most.  The message he preached is a message that everyone needs to hear.  Everyone is saved the same way : through “repentance and faith”. I think in our modern churches, we have made it too easy.  I think we don’t emphasize repentance enough. 

24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 

This is a statement about human depravity. 

The sinner is in an impossible place.   He cannot do it.  There is nothing he can do.

Jesus made this statement about how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.  It is so hard that God has to do it.  God does the work of salvation.  From our perspective, we repent and believe Christ.  We exercise faith.  From God’s perspective, He did it all.  The Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin to make us repentant over our sin.

“Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.”  John 3.

This is the miracle of regeneration.  Only God can do this. 

If you are a sinner, the only thing you can do is cry out “Save me”. It is a divine work, it is not a formula.  It doesn’t come through man, only through God.  It is by Grace not through man.  It is God’s work not mans. 

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it”. Isaiah 30:15.

“Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest for your souls”. Matthew 11:28

When man makes it too easy, people are deceived.  False converts are the result. 

I am convinced that there are many people who are added to churches today who are not saved.  How does this happen? How are people being added to the membership of the church when they have not repented and have no biblical testimony? It does happen so how does it happen.  This question led me to evaluate the “Invitational System” as it is practiced today. In Fools Gold, Carey Hardy says of this practice:

“Commonly known as the ʻaltar callʼ it is generally a time at the close of the sermon when, usually during some form of music, listeners are invited to come to the front in response to the message. As such, altar calls can serve a variety of purposes. Joining the church, repenting from sin, and coming to faith in Christ might each be facilitated by an altar call, depending on the church and occasion.

Although its exact starting point is debated, most agree that the practice came into prominence in the 1830ʼs under the leadership and influence of Charles Finney. He popularized this approach through what he called ʻthe mournerʼs benchʼ or ʻanxious seat.ʼ Others in history, such as Billy Sunday, D.L.Moody and Billy Graham, followed Finneyʼs example and contributed to its widespread acceptance. In fact, in terms of the altar call we see today, Billy Grahamʼs method has been the most influential.” (pg. 132)

I appreciate the life of Billy Graham.  I saw a documentary recently that was so good.  Powerful life, loved the Lord and preached the Gospel. Now, I am not saying that Billy Graham was a heretic.  I so appreciate the ministry of Billy Graham.  He preached the Gospel.  I’m not questioning his beliefs or preaching, I am questioning what happened after the sermon.  Once the sermon was preached, people were invited to come to the front and then they were led in a model prayer.    

Do you know that statistics that showed that only 3% of those who made a profession became an active part of churches.  Also Billy himself was quoted many times by saying that most of those in the professing church were not saved.

I read “Ashamed of the Gospel” by John MacArthur, which impacted my ministry.  As I began to read, study and become aware of the effects of this practice, at the same time I was having conversations with Jeff Noblit, pastor of Grace Life of the Shoals, in Muscle Shoals, Al.    Brother Jeff, shared with me the journey he had been on, being at the same church for over 35 years now at that point and the things he had learned. He told me how the church used to lead people in a prayer in their evangelistic zeal and had gotten away from that.  Still preaching the Gospel, sharing it, but leaving the results to God, not trying to get them to “do something”.  They go out into the community actively sharing the Gospel but they urge people to repent and trust Christ, not making it easy by giving them a prayer to “do.”  The Rich Young ruler wanted to “do” something to get eternal life.

As I began to examine my own evangelistic methods, I realized that I was saying things that Scripture does not say.  I looked at my old manuscripts where at the end of the sermon, I would type: Invitation: Invite people to come to the front in order to receive Jesus. I thought to myself, is this what the Bible says? The Bible doesn’t say that a person needs to come to the front in order to receive Christ. The Bible says that a person needs to repent and have faith in Christ. I was giving the wrong impression. It sounded like I was saying that people had to come to the front in order to be saved or that Christ could only be found at the front or what people call the “altar.”

Thankfully as I repented of trying to “help God out” as Brother Jeff put it, I began to see the Lord gloriously save people. We share the Gospel and pray for the Spirit to move.  When He does, people are saved.   I would give gospel appeals throughout the message and at the end of the sermon I would say like Spurgeon, “Donʼt move an inch. Trust Christ where you sit. Call out to him for salvation in repentance and faith.” I would also encourage those who had been saved to come and tell us and I reminded them that I was always available for questions and council. As I closed the service, I would remind the people that the invitation was always open. Godʼs invitation never ends.  It is not just at the last five minutes.  It is always open and it never ends.  After changing my approach,  people would come and tell me, “I trusted Christ last night at home in my attic,” or “I was saved in the parking lot at Wal-mart.”  One man told me ʻ“I was saved last Sunday during the sermon.” My first thought was: ‘he doesn’t understand, a person is saved at the end of the sermon.’  He was baptized soon thereafter and bore fruit of true conversion in the months after that.  These were the people that I would baptize – the ones who would come and tell me that the Lord had saved them. In each church that we have been in, we have seen the Spirit move as we get serious about sharing the Gospel and praying that God would move.  The Gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).  The power is not in our methods, the power is in the Gospel.  

Not only did the Rich Young ruler walked away unrepentant, because he didn’t want to repent.

but:

5.  True Disciples have left everything to follow Jesus

28 Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.”29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

Peter said, “we have left everything to follow you.”  This is what discipleship means.  Surrender.  You surrender to Christ as Savior and Lord of your life because that is who He is.  We don’t make Him Lord.  He is Lord. 

No such thing as “I got saved and years later and then I made Jesus my Lord”.   He is Lord, no one makes Him Lord.  

If He is not your Lord, He is not your Savior. 

True disciples leave everything receive 100 times as much:  in the present age (now), (part of the church, many fathers and brothers and sisters in Christ). Your own family may think you are crazy but you get a new family:  God’s family.   You are part of the family of God. 

Many today: make a profession of faith but they don’t stay with it.  They don’t care about the church, they don’t love other believers in the family of God, they are unwilling to suffer persecutions:  They are false converts.   

I am convinced that a big part of this is that the church has made it too easy with the pray the prayer approach.  I tend to err on the side of being clear.  Let’s make sure we define what we are talking about. 

What is Repentance?”

A definition of repentance is “expressing or feeling sincere regret and remorse; remorseful.”

“he is truly repentant for his incredible naivety and stupidity”

synonyms:

penitentcontriteregretful, full of regret, sorrowfulruefulremorsefulapologeticconscience-strickenashamedguilt-ridden, chastened, self-reproachful, shamefacedguiltyrarecompunctious

  

“Repent” is the greek word “Metanao” – literally “changed mind”. We change our mind about ourselves, about God, about our sin, about who Christ is.  We come to realize that God is Holy, that we are sinners, that we cannot save ourselves, that Christ is Lord and that He died and rose again to save us.  

Repentance is a self-loathing, a hatred of sin, a willingness to let loose of it, turn from it (like this passage so well illustrates)

What is a good definition of Faith?

One definition is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”

“this restores one’s faith in politicians”

synonyms:

trustbeliefconfidenceconvictioncredencereliancedependenceMore

Faith is complete trust in Christ.

Two sides of the same coin, you repent and as you repent you are trusting.  Not one and then the other.  It is a Repentant faith or a Trusting repentance. 

Walking to the front with the way that the invitation is practiced for the most part, confuses repentance and faith

In one of his books , Robert B. Selph says:

“I do not employ an ʻaltar callʼ after preaching the Gospel. First, there was never any directive or example given in Scripture for the use of altar calls. In fact, the Christian Church knew nothing of an altar call for over 1800 years. Surprisingly enough, people were converted without them for many years and the church did just fine. This, of course, is an understatement. The Gospel under the Spiritʼs power was sufficient to transform lives through the ages without the church having to adopt extra-Biblical measures.

In addition, this ʻmechanisticʼ approach easily falls into a ʻworks salvationʼ trap. Much like those who pretend to be regenerated through baptism, there are many who attribute their new birth to walking the aisle, agreeing with the counselorʼs presentation, and praying a prayer. As Spurgeon and others fought the heresy of ʻbaptismal regenerationʼ, so we would not want to be guilty of a ʻdecisional regeneration.ʼ God, not mansʼ will, blows the new birth upon the soul by His sovereign grace (John 3:8). Anyone can take these mechanical steps, and yet how duped they are to think that because they took the required steps they will receive the new birth. These directions have the effect, not of throwing men upon God for His mercy, but of throwing themselves upon their own acts.”(pg. 131)

The extra-measures came about through Charles Finney “He would tell people if you are not saved in the next 5 minutes, you will not be saved.”  He didn’t know that but he put high pressure tactics on people.  

“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Christ is saying, you have to be willing to turn from all this now and receive persecutions and in the age to come, eternal life.   It is a Hard life, following Christ.  It is Not easy.  He Never said it would be easy, He actually said the opposite.  Those who present it as easy are doing a dis service.  They are not intentionally trying to mislead people.  They are where I was, they think this is the way to do evangelism. 

This is the error of Decisionism. She is the twin sister of Easy believism. Actually decisionism is the implementing of easy believism by calling people to ʻdo somethingʼ instead of just preaching what the Bible says which is to Trust Christ (John 3:36).

John 16:5-11 says “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

The 2000 Baptist, Faith and Message,  Article 4  says, “A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.”

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.”

“But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” Mark 10:31.  

The rich man stayed poor forever (poor spiritually).  Those who are realize that they are poor spiritually, they get true eternal riches.   Those who confess their sinfulness,  and who surrender to Christ. 

So many times people can be confused about the nature of conversion with the invitational system.

  •  Carey Hardy expresses this concern in a book called, “Fools Gold”   “Coming to faithʼ is often confused with ʻcoming down the aisle.ʼ A second concern with altar calls is this: The act of coming forward and the moment of salvation can be wrongly confused. Even those who use altar calls admit this problem- people can leave trusting the wrong thing. Of course, genuine attempts are often made to clarify that ʻgoing down the aisleʼ doesnʼt save anybody. Unfortunately, in many cases the confusion still lingers.  For example, itʼs not uncommon for a pastor or evangelist to plead with folks to come to the front ʻto give your life to Christ.ʼ In another setting they might be telling people something else, that coming forward is merely a testimony of the experience that an individual has already had with Christ. So when is the person converted? Is it when they come forward, before they come forward, or when they pray with the counselor they meet at the altar? Is it coming forward to receive salvation, or is it a testimony of a conversion thatʼs already taken place?Because altar calls leave the actual point of conversion unclear, the practice can confuse and misguide Christians. Biblical distinctives- such as repentance, belief, trust- potentially end up being overlooked or replaced, because the emphasis is on ʻcoming forwardʼ rather than on turning from sin to Christ. Even the popular sinnerʼs prayer (where people are instructed to ʻlet Jesus come into your heart”) is a poor substitute for the biblical Gospel. Christʼs message to sinners was, ʻRepent and believe!” he did not allow other man-made techniques or methodologies to cloud the clear intent of His message. Altar calls often put too much weight on the act of ʻwalking the aisleʼ while the biblical essentials for true conversion are minimized or completely ignored.” (pg. 135)

Let’s look at- The Southern Baptist Convention -I am an ordained Southern Baptist minister.   Statistics show that there are 14, 813,234 for 2018 members worldwide but only 5.2 million attend (Worship) church on a given Sunday.   This means that  almost 10 million Southern Baptists are inactive church members.  

Are the majority of those 10 million “saved people who just havenʼt been discipled” and this is why they are not attending church? Or, have the majority of those just “walked an aisle, prayed a prayer” and the preacher “pronounced” them saved? He validated their testimony, they were baptized and on a regular basis they don’t attend church.    I came to the conclusion that in the typical church there are many unconverted people who are counted in the membership.

“When altar calls are used, especially in respect to evangelism, it is typical to
give immediate assurance to those who come forward. As long as theyʼve made
some sort of decision, they are quickly paraded before the congregation as “part
of Godʼs family.” As a result, the public invitation leads people to believe that
what brings them into a right standing with God is their decision. Altar calls are
clearly decision-oriented. And once individuals have made their decision, they
are told to never doubt it.…Biblically speaking, the Holy Spirit, using Scripture, is the One who gives  assurance. Itʼs not the evangelist or any other person who gives assurance. As
human beings, we canʼt save anybody, we canʼt keep them saved, and we canʼt,
ultimately, assure them that they are saved. We can, however, show them what
the Bible says about assurance and then trust the Holy Spirit.” Carey, Fools Gold, pg. 135-136.

If you are reading this and you have made a profession of faith in the past, don’t trust in your profession, ask yourself, “are you trusting Christ?”  Has the Holy Spirit given you assurance that you are saved?  Don’t try to get assurance from the fact that you made a profession and were baptized, people can be deceiving into thinking that they are saved when they are not.

At Grace Life Church, we do not have a typical walk to the front invitation system in place but have been blessed to see many people come to faith in Christ.  We seek to be intentionally evangelistic. We go out into the community, byways and highways. We preach the Gospel and we share it with everyone that we can.  We urge people to “Repent and Trust Christ.”  Martyn Lloyd Jones makes the point in his book , Preaching and Preachers, that the The Gospel is the Invitation, I agree. If we share the Gospel, we have shared all that is necessary for someone to be saved. We have done our part. The Gospel is Godʼs invitation, it is not ours. We donʼt extend it, God does. It is time for the Modern church to do away with the extra-biblical tradition of the invitation system. It is not necessary for people to be saved and in my opinion, it does more harm than good. There is no example in Scripture of having people ʻwalk to the front.’  There are many examples of people repenting and Trusting Christ.  


Questions begin to surface from people when the Invitational System is questioned. One question asked is , “If we donʼt have an invitation, how can people be saved?” The answer is – the same way that they always have: Repentance and Faith. This question reveals the dependence that we have on this method and we think that people cannot be saved without it. The Lord is the one who saves. Jonah 2:9 says,  “Salvation is of the Lord”.

Sometimes it is during a worship service, sometimes in a personʼs home, sometimes in their car as they hear the Gospel on the radio but it is never because they walked to the front.  To be fair, many people who walked to the front were saved then but it was because they trusted Christ.  In my opinion, they would have been saved anyway because the Spirit was working. 

Another question commonly asked is, “How will we do evangelism?” The way the church always has: by preaching the Gospel to lost sinners. We need to invite the lost to be under the preaching of the Word so that they will hear the Gospel (faith comes by hearing) and we need to be sharing the Gospel as we go into this world (Matthew 28:18-20). My experience has shown that church members slack off of their personal responsibility to evangelize because they think the Pastor and the church have “got it covered” by offering an invitation after every sermon. The Pastor is viewed as the ʻpaid professionalʼ and the churches “hired gun.”   When this happens, christians donʼt take personal responsibility to witness to their neighbors, friends and family.

Some other people will object, “But this is a personʼs profession of faith. How will a person profess faith in Christ?” This views the ʻInvitation Timeʼ as the time when the new believers “make” their profession of faith. They are supposed to do this first and then they get baptized, right. How will they make a public profession? The answer to this is believers baptism.

Carey again brings clarity to this issue:

“Believers baptism is an ordinance given to us by Jesus Christ. Many churches, at the baptismal service, give converts the opportunity to verbally testify to Godʼs work in their life. At this time they are publicly identified with the body of Christ. Walking an aisle is not Godʼs prescribed method of public identification with Christ; baptism is.”(pg. 139)

The physical act associated with faith is not walking to the front, standing up, raising a hand.  We have all seen that done in different settings.  The physical act associated with faith: is baptism.

Baptism is the public profession of faith. It is Godʼs prescribed method of identifying with Christ and proclaiming to the world that a person is a follower of Christ. It is an ordinance of the Church and is an act of obedience for the new believer in Jesus.

Let us be committed to fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Letʼs preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 15) Let us do this because of our desire to obey the Lord and our compassion for the lost. Let us acknowledge that the Invitational System is a man-made addition to try to “help” people receive Christ. Because the Holy Spirit is the one who causes conversion, it is unnecessary. Let us recognize Easy Believism in all itʼs forms  and remove them for the cheap substitute they are. Letʼs proclaim the Person and the Work of Christ. The Good News of Jesus. This is tremendous news, how could we improve on what God has done. Letʼs herald it and refuse to manipulate, trusting the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do.  

Have you repented of your idols and trusted in Christ.  Why not follow Him?  Why not trust Him?   The Bible says “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” Romans 10:13.    Every single person who calls out to Him in repentance and faith will be saved.  Are you one of them?   Call out to Him in repentance and faith today.

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