There are a couple of examples of public responses to the gospel message in the Bible, both in Acts. One is positive and the other is negative. As Peter was preaching that God has made Jesus Lord, the Pentecost crowd interrupted him with the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). As Stephen was delivering a similar message, his audience stopped listening and they cried out with a loud voice before putting the preacher to death (Acts 7:54ff). Mention is made of a one another response that could apply to the corporate assembly, confessing sins (Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). How public the setting was when Peter called for Simon to repent we do not know for certain (Acts 8:18-24). So, why do we end our sermons with a call to publicly respond? Is this simply borrowed from the denominations or is it just a rote tradition devoid of deeper purpose?
Often, we have explained the invitation as being an “expedient,” which I think it is. When we speak of an “expedient,” we refer to a practice that is thought convenient, practical, suitable or appropriate but neutral (neither right nor wrong) and a-biblical (not found in the Bible but not unbiblical). It is a sensible activity. Hopefully, the sermon contains a call to change and is persuasive in nature. Maybe, the person comes in the door that day convicted of his or her need to become a Christian or repent of public sin. Affording a moment that makes it easy for one needing to obey Christ in one of these ways to do so is appropriate.
I have been in assemblies in this country and overseas that do not have such a time set aside or that do so at other times during the gathering—some do so at the beginning of the service so that a person can worship without being alienated from God (cf. Mat. 5:24), some invite anyone who needs to publicly respond to remain standing after the lesson and a song, some encourage people who need to respond to write their need on a card or piece of paper and hand it to an usher, the preacher, the elders, or someone designated to collect such communication.
While I think it is good for us to consider that there is more than one way to do this and that we are not mandated to do it at all in the assembly, I believe our current arrangement is a fine way to try and help people who need to make spiritual changes and improvements. Yet, someone who feels the need to make such a response often hesitates or decides against it. Certainly, the problem on such an occasion might be fear or delay, but is it ever due to some misunderstanding such a one has? Here are a few of the biggest misunderstandings people have about responding to the invitation:
- Nobody but me is struggling with sin in their lives. Truth: Romans 3:23.
- It is a sign of weakness to respond publicly. Truth: Luke 15:10, 17
- Everybody will look down on me, judge me, or gossip about me if I respond. Truth: Luke 15:28-32
- People will distance themselves from me if I respond. Truth: 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.
Maybe you are thinking this or something similar. May I assure you that every righteous person on earth and all the inhabitants of heaven would like nothing better than to help you be right with God. Death and the Judgment loom, and we cannot let anything keep us from making proper preparation for them. So, if you need to respond today or any day, won’t you come?