Monday, February 22, 2010

An "Invitation" to Consider

With heads bowed and eyes closed, if the Lord has spoken to your heart today, would you come? Would you come and accept Christ as your personal Saviour? Will you come and make that decision? Will you come and ask forgiveness for that sin?It is then a verse of "Just As I Am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God I come, I Come."
The "Altar Call" has become 'the most important part of the service' to most Baptist Churches. Even formerly popular contemporary Christian artist (before he 'came out' confessing he was a Sodomite) Ray Boltz has an entire song about this practice:
The service is nearing an end
The choir is singing "Just As I Am"
And now as that old song is played
People at the altar are kneeling down to pray
Some are finding mercy
Forgiveness for their sin
Some are fighting battles
They’ve been struggling to win
The time has come to give them to the Lord
That’s what this altar is for

That’s what this altar is for
You don’t have to carry those burdens anymore
There’s a light in the darkness
And there’s a love that’s true
And Jesus is waiting
Waiting here for you
Go quickly now before they close the door
That’s what this altar is for

Churches that don't have an altar call, or invitation, well...they are either Calvanistic or unBiblical! I mean, how are people supposed to get saved without an altar call? And don't get us started about those people that don't go forward when the rest of the church does...they are nothing short of being backslidden! Right?
Now, let me start by saying WE HAVE AN INVITATION AT OUR CHURCH, but I am studying it and asking the Lord, why? I seek Scripture and the teaching of the Holy Ghost to show us. Again, everything is going well, the pieces are all there, but is it as the Designer of the church intended it be?
I begin by looking in the Scripture for an altar call or invitation. Unfortunately, there are no illustrations of an invitation as we know it given. There are many "Come unto me"'s, but those are spiritual decisions and not physical movements. I searched church history and found no record of invitations given...that is until the early 1800's.
The invitation as we know it was originated and put into practice first by Charles Finney. Finney would have empty 'anxious seats' up front where those who were 'anxious' about their souls could come and receive counsel and prayer. Finney's words concerning this was as follows:
Preach to him, and at the moment he thinks he is willing to do anything . . . bring him to the test; call on him to do one thing, to make one step that shall identify him with the people of God. . . . If you say to him, "there is the anxious seat, come out and avow your determination to be on the Lord's side," and if he is not willing to do a small thing as that, then he is not willing to do anything for Christ

The practice was originated to get results..and that it did. The torch was then carried on by Moody, Sam Jones, Torrey, Billy Sunday, Bob Jones, Gipsy Smith, John R. Rice, Billy Graham, and then pretty much most of us now. The 'invitation' was here to stay!
Having an altar call is now synonymous with being 'old fashioned,' when really the altar call is a more modern method. Even the phrase "altar" referring to the front of the auditorium was a Church of England (Anglican) phrase as they were the first to refer to the area around the communion table as being the altar.
When reading in Scripture, the focus was upon the preaching and the Holy Spirit's work...have we made the focus on the invitation and the work of man as they 'come forward and...'?
It has already been discussed that the doctrine of salvation has been so muddied that many doubt and/or make false professions. We have discussed the danger of trusting in a 'prayer' as your means of salvation. Perhaps, the foundation behind that false teaching lie in the invitation? Consider Billy Grahams words carefully at a recent campaign:
Don’t let distance keep you from Christ. It’s a long way but Christ went all the way to the cross because he loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps and give your life to Him."
God’s word however does not teach that one is saved by changing his location but by believing in his heart. We insists that people come and speak to the pastor or a Godly counselor and 'get right'. Isn't that strangely similar to what the Catholics teach in needing a mediator or one to confess to? I know we don't take it that far, but "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;" (1 Tim. 2:5).
Do we encourage false professions by inviting people to the front of the auditorium to make a profession of faith? Without a doubt, God wants us to confess our faith before men, but that 'confessing' in Scripture is a life of good works. That truly is a confession of our faith Biblically speaking. It begins with Scriptural Baptism and then followed with good works. How many have walked our aisles, talked to a counselor, prayed a prayer, let the church know, and then disappear back into the world? But, if you see them and ask if they know they are going to Heaven they will respond with a "Of yes, I walked that aisle on____ and took the preacher's hand." Of course, they have continued living in sin since then, but we assured them at that altar that they came forward.
We play our song softly, perhaps someone sings, and the preacher begins his pleading for folks to come forward. We even judge the success of our services on 'how many came forward.' When folks begin coming forward the urge to join the herd is soon felt by others and a 'peer pressure' kicks in. Again, in defense of his altar call, Billy Graham stated the following:
Many psychologists would say it is psychologically sound.
No Scripture was given in support of this practice, only psychological reasons.
But again, just because Scripture is silent on a matter does not make it wrong. Is it wrong to have an invitation? Without doubt, countless souls have been saved as part of an invitation. Many have made spiritual decisions that have affected eternity. But, let us consider some principles:
1. Does it confuse the meaning of faith? When we say, "Come forward and receive Christ as your Saviour," are we confusing what faith is? Cannot someone in their pew put their faith in the Lord Jesus? Spurgeon said the following (he by the way didn't use invitations-and yes I know he also smoked a cigar but I'm not going to)
Go to your God at once, even where you are now! Cast yourself on Christ, now, at once, ere you stir an inch! Let me say, very softly and whisperingly, that there are little things among ourselves which must be carefully looked after, or we shall have a leaven of ritualism and priesthood working in our measures of meal. In our revival services, it might be as well to vary our procedure. Sometimes shut up that enquiry-room. I have my fears about that institution if it be used to permanence, and as an inevitable part of the services. It may be a very wise thing to invite persons who are under concern of soul to come apart from the rest of the congregation, and have conversation with godly people; but if you should ever see a notion is fashioning itself that there is something to be got in the private room which is not to be had at once in the assembly, or that God is more at the penitent form than elsewhere, aim a blow at that notion at once. We must not come back by a rapid march to the old ways of altars and confessionals, and have a Romish trumpery restored in a coarser form. If we make men think that conversation with ourselves or with our helpers is essential to their faith in Christ, we are taking the direct line for priestcraft. In the Gospel, the sinner and the Saviour are to come together, with none between. Speak upon this point very clearly, "You, sinner, sitting where you are, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, shall have eternal life. Do not stop till you pass into an enquiry-room. Do not think it essential to confer with me. Do not suppose that I have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, or that these godly men and women associated with me can tell you any other Gospel than this. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life"

2. Does it confuse the fact that their is only one mediator between God and men?
3. Is not the Holy Spirit able enough to convict and guide souls to repentance?
4. Does it place the focus on 'getting decisions' and away from 'preaching the Word?"
5. Is it aiding to false professions?
So while we ponder these things, we shall continue standing, bowing our heads, closing our eyes, and inviting people to 'come and get right.' Perhaps there is nothing at all wrong with this? Perhaps I am over scrutinizing? We shall continue inviting folks to come with our banner invitation song continuing to be: "Just As I Am...I come, I come" ....of course this hymn was written by Charlotte Elliot who was an invalid most of her life and wrote the hymn on the fact, that although she was unable to care for herself and too weak to physically move, she could still come as she was to Christ, as it was not a physical moving, but a spiritual decision. Her hymn was first published in the "Invalid's Hymn Book of 1836." Ironic isn't it?