Every preacher desires to be used by God evangelistically. We may all have different views regarding a few theological nuances, but there’s no doubt that the goal of leading people to Christ and His cross resides in all of us. If that is not true of you, repent immediately or resign immediately.
Yet I have often found pastors and preachers and evangelists, or whatever other term they are going by these days, to unintentionally make extremely troubling judgments upon the sufficiency of God’s revealed Word and the methods that the NT writers provided for us to draw from. In fact, far more often than I wish, I’m found reading a book on evangelistic methodology that completely ignores the NT prescription or completely invents a NT counterpart. Both are troubling, for obvious reasons. Note the following advice,
“There are several possibilities as far as type of invitation are concerned. The New Testament does not prescribe a certain way a person is to indicate outwardly that he is coming to Jesus. The fact that there was a method of public indication that one was deciding for Christ is very obvious, but the prescribed manner is not always the same.
“The exact method used in extending invitations in the New Testament was undoubtedly varied. More than once, Jesus simply said, “Follow Me,”and this was the extent of His invitation. On other occasions, Jesus said, “Come unto Me.” Exactly how Simon Peter called for open declaration of faith at Pentecost is not clearly stated, but the fact that three thousand people were baptized is clear indication that Peter gave people a chance to openly indicate their response; otherwise he would not have known whom to baptize out of the huge crowd that heard him that day.” – Fasol, A., Roy Fish, Steve Gaines, & Ralph Douglas West, Preaching evangelistically: Proclaiming the Saving Message of Jesus, p. 83
The above advice is then followed by the five types of invitations: (1) the invitation to come forward, (2) signing cards to acknowledge your acceptance of the gospel, (3) counseling in an “inquiry room,” (4) lifting one’s hands, and (5) praying where you are. I disagree profoundly with the author’s presuppositions regarding the nature of the new birth, but my intention is not to deal primarily with that. There’s something else that concerns me.
Since when are we unable to simply take the NT model as sufficient? When the author writes that the NT “does not prescribe a certain way a person is to indicate outwardly that he is coming to Jesus” can we not respond with the NT data? The NT indicates the following pattern for people coming to saving faith: (1) preachers preached the gospel, (2) hearers heard the gospel, (3) preachers pointed hearers to Christ, (4) the Holy Spirit would open hearts, (5) preachers clarified issues such as “sin” and “repentance,” (6) hearers responded by believing and repenting, (7) there were no “alter calls” or “raising of hands” or “acceptance cards.” No, there was simply thousands of people believing in Christ and being baptized. Acts 2:41 tells us that “those who received his word were baptized.” Simple. The emphasis was on believing in Christ and then the concern for “outward profession” came into play, and that outward profession was in the NT, baptism. It seems to me that the author here is wrestling with what seems obvious in the text.
Me thinks that some have replaced baptism with hand-raising. I don’t want to misrepresent or jump to conclusions regarding this author. I’m just not sure this type of thinking (or help)… is helpful. Might we just consider the NT model? Yes, invite people to repent and place faith in Christ… but the goal is not necessarily to get people to do a specific thing; the goal is to direct people to Christ! I’m sure we’d all agree on that.
Perhaps we’ll discuss this further in the near future.
What’s the point? Let’s be careful not to unknowingly “improve” upon something that doesn’t need to be improved. The apostolic gospel and methodology is sufficient! So preach away, and trust the Spirit to convict men and women, young and old, of the glorious holiness of our Great God!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
I agree wholeheartedly. We’ve constructed a formula for how to get people to join Christianity, and in many cases this formula has come at the expense of apostolic proclamation, and sometimes even at the expense of the Gospel itself. There are a few glaring differences between the way the Apostles preached and the way some people preach today. The Apostles called hearers to acknowledge their sinfulness, repent, follow Jesus, be baptized, and lay down their lives the way Christ did. Some have stood in front of the church and told hearers that it doesn’t matter what they’ve done, Jesus loves them so much, and he would have died for them if they were the only person on earth, and he longs for nothing more than to be with them. The Apostles warned that following Jesus would cost everything, including life and limb. Some stand up and say that God wants to make all your suffering a thing of the past. The Apostles said that following Christ would mean taking up your cross and dying daily, and would result in being hated and ridiculed by the world. Some quietly wait for a raised hand while a room full of Christians keep their heads bowed and their eyes closed. Do you see the difference?
We must seek to be apostolic in our proclamation of the Gospel! We need to be careful not to twist or misrepresent the Gospel or the One who commissioned us to spread it!
The quotation “the fact that three thousand people were baptized is clear indication that Peter gave people a chance to openly indicate their response” is an anachronistic point that presumes that water baptism is one of many possible responses to the gospel. It is an example of theological reductionism that ignores the meaning of water baptism and focuses on the act of “doing something” as more important than that which was done. It ignores baptism as the important and relevant fact. Baptism means something and only “devout men” (Acts 2:5) at that point in history would do it. For devout men to acknowledge Christ as Messiah when such an acknowledgement was extremely dangerous to their social and religious life was entirely different than today’s evangelical that comes forward in an altar call. The typical evangelical gospel invitation is “come forward and receive a free gift with no strings attached”. – Nothing about repentance from sin, changing your life, choosing Christ and effectively turning your back on old friends. In The King James, the apostle gets excited and says, “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:2-3). Baptism is a picture of a changed heart in regeneration – that’s not to say that everyone who is baptized is regenerated. Baptism is no more diminished by false converts than marriage being diminished because some people get married under false pretences. God never changes – baptism and marriage remain sacraments instituted by God. In the same way marriage is more representative of people who are committing to a God-given sacrament than people who say “I love you” in the back seat of a car, so water baptism is more representative of a commitment to a God-given sacrament than someone going forward in an altar call