Thursday, May 28, 2009


I recently read an article describing the continuing decline of interest in Christianity in the United States. Seventy-five percent of Americans claim to be Christians but their profession has little impact upon their lives. Most have no interest in Biblical doctrine and as a consequence have little knowledge of Biblical doctrine. Few ever pray. Few ever attend worship on a given Sunday and many of those who do will not tolerate a steady diet of Biblical preaching. The Apostle Paul warned of days like these: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. " For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:2-3).

So how have many churches responded to these tough conditions? Sadly, instead of following the Biblical command to remain true to Biblical preaching, they’ve succumbed to the demands of the masses; they’ve gone into the business of tickling ears. According to Tony Woodlief in World Magazine, “The Christian church grew when its leaders stressed biblical study and fervent prayer, each of which was considered, in the early church, a means of knowing God. The modern feel-good church, meanwhile, de-emphasizes both in favor of ‘messages’ that are ‘relevant’ to my life” (World Magazine, April 25, 2009). At a meeting with a local group of pastors we were told about how wonderful it is to be “innovative” in our preaching. It was shared that one pastor brought a Mini-Cooper into the church. He’ll be teaching a class for pastors so that others might share in his innovation. Do we really need to be "innovative" in preaching?

Some might immediately tell of the antics of Isaiah or Ezekiel to justify today’s innovation. But the actions of these prophets were governed by direct revelation from God. Are Mini-Coopers being brought into the church by direct revelation? Others might call to mind the parables of Jesus as evidence of innovative methodology to help in the understanding of the message. We can hardly compare our Lord's parables with today’s wild “innovations,” not to mention, we are told the parables were designed to hide the message, not to aid in understanding. The bottom line is we are nowhere commanded to be clever in our use of the Word of God. We don’t need to be. We only need to be faithful in the exposition of the Word. Paul said, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2 ESV).

It is true that we live in difficult days. The temptation is to succumb to the modern innovations. After all, many of these churches are experiencing growth. Woodlief added, "Eliminate the theologies of Word and prayer, and all you have left is a competition to see who can provide the best circus" (ibid). May God grant us to be true to Christ and His Word, no matter what.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Invitation System

I heard today that a local Baptist group will be offering an "invitation workshop" in order to instruct pastors on how to be more effective in handling the invitation, which many see as the most important part of the worship service. They say everything else in the service should be arranged towards this great climactic end when sinners are invited to Christ. If you mess this up people will lose their opportunity to get saved.

Is this true? Is the invitation the most important part of the worship service? Let me offer a couple thoughts. First, we must understand that preaching itself is an invitation. Paul commanded Timothy to "Preach the Word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2). In preaching God's demands are pressed upon the hearts of men. The entire sermon is an invitation. Second, as we preach the Holy Spirit makes His Word effectual unto salvation. He alone can convict the sinner of his condemnation. He alone can grant faith and repentance. He alone can change a sinner's heart. The Holy Spirit opens the sinner's ears to hear. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). The invitation system is a reflection of our weak theology. Do we really believe that the absence of an adequate invitation will hinder the ability of the Holy Spirit to save? Can the one who commanded light to shine out of darkness be hindered by the absence of a proper invitation (2 Corinthians 4:6)? Is the Word of God so weak and impotent that it will not have the proper effect upon sinners unless we have a proper invitation at the close of our worship service while singing "Just as I Am" with every eye closed and every head bowed?

When I was in seminary I sat in a class and listened while the professor expounded on the virtues of the invitation. I raised my hand and asked if I could inquire how many in the room had been saved during the invitation. Not a single person in the class of over 50 students indicated that an invitation had led to their conversion. Instead of hailing the virtues of the invitation we should be warning of its dangers. The invitation reeks of man-centered evangelism. Far too many people equate Christian conversion with some human act - "making a decision," "walking an aisle," "praying a prayer." Far too many base their assurance upon this act of coming forward durning the invitation rather than upon the Biblical evidence of Christian conversion. People are walking down the aisle and then walking out the door unchanged.

When a person becomes convinced of his sin and sees the excellence of the cross and the infinite worth of Christ no power in this universe will be able to keep him from coming to Christ. Neither prison bars nor martyr's flames will hinder his confession of Christ. If we truly believe that the lack of a proper invitation is keeping people from Christ oh God help us! How far have we strayed from the Biblical model. When Peter preached to the crowd in Acts 2 he didn't need to give an invitation. They interrupted him, "Men and brethren, what shall we do" (Acts 2:37)?

We don't need better invitations. We need faithful pastors who will preach the Word with conviction and with the confidence that God's Word is still sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). We need pastors who will do the hard work of prayerfully examining those stirred by the Word. We must end the sinful practice of equating salvation with walking down the aisle. We must see the connection between the high number of unregenerate church members in our churches today and our unbiblical methodolgy.