Biggest Misunderstandings About Public Responses

Neal Pollard

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?

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Why Has There Been A Decline In Public Responses?

Neal Pollard

While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed.  As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service.  When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred.  Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”

One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers.  One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching.  One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present.  One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.

Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them.  Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations.  The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory.  Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)?  Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.

  • Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
  • On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality.  We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.).  Image replaces integrity.
  • Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships.  We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.

How might this impact public responses?  Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”?  Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”?  There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.

What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start.  We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic.  We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever!  The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37).  Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.

HOW MUCH DOES GUILT WEIGH?


Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have heard about the unusual confession Matthew Cordle made on a website called “Because I Said I Would,” a video that went then went viral on the internet.  This will provide the prosecution ironclad evidence to convict him of a drunk driving accident in which he killed 61-year-old Vincent Canzani back in June.  His lawyer explained that Cordle confessed to the June killing because he is “riddled with guilt” and on the video, designed to deter others from drinking and driving, he says, “You can still be saved. Your victims can still be saved” (Erin Donaghue, www.cbsnews.com).

In Psalm 38, David depicts the heavy weight of guilt brought on by sin.  He describes the physical effects he felt because of his spiritual transgressions.  He likens it to physical assault (1-2), sickness (3), drowning (4a), a too-heavy-burden (4b), wounds (5), dilapidation (8), and readiness to fall (17).  Words like “mourning” (6), “turmoil” (8), “pants” (10), “sorrow” (17), and “anguish” (18) punctuate the Psalm.  While some so harden their heart to sin that they can seemingly move forward with no qualms or pangs of guilt, the Bible describes the nagging, constant, and unceasing tug of guilt that accompanies wrongdoing.  As David reflected on his sin with Bathsheba and the horrible things he did to cover it up, he would write, “My sin is always before me” (Ps. 51:3).  Most people are like David.  What they do with that guilt may differ, but God wants that guilt to produce “diligence,” clearing of self, “vindication,” and similar, godly responses in people’s hearts rather than to produce death (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10-11).   How fruitful and tragic to feel the weight of sin’s guilt but never apply God’s remedy to get rid of it!

The fact is that all of us are guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23) and deserve a sentence of eternal condemnation, but we can escape the consequences of our guilt by obedience to Christ (cf. Heb. 5:9).  The net effect of that can be the profound peace that accompanies forgiveness.  Too many are held hostage by their sins when freedom and escape are readily available. We cannot measure or quantify the weight of guilt upon a pair of scales, but we know it is real and burdensome.  Jesus calls us to come to Him and He will unburden us (Mat. 11:28-30).

CONVENIENT CONFESSION

Neal Pollard

Lance Armstrong went on Oprah Winfrey to confess his doping, but he has refused to testify under oath about the cheating.  The World Anti-Doping Agency director, David Howman, said of the TV interview, “What he is doing is for his own personal gratification. He’s welcome to do that, no one is going to criticize that component, but if anyone thinks that in his wildest dreams that it is going to have any effect on his life ban then they are in the same fairyland” (Steve Keating, Reuters, 1/18/13).   It is reminiscent of baseball power-hitter Mark McGuire’s famous, tearful confession to MLB Network of using steroids.  He said it was wrong, but maintained he only did it (cheated) to help mend or prevent his injuries, not enhance his power.  But, as journalist Larry Stone wrote, “He confessed because he had to confess” (Seattle Times, 1/11/10).  I remember being at a congregation which supported a missionary in Africa. The missionary was repeatedly asked by the elders if he taught polygamists that they could keep their wives when becoming a Christian so long as he did not accumulate more.  Other missionaries in the region reported that he did, that they confronted him, but that he refused to change his teaching.  But, the missionary vehemently, repeatedly denied teaching that.  Several years later upon retiring from that mission work, he saw one of the men who had served as an elder. The now former elder asked him if he had told polygamists they could keep their wives.  He answered, “Of course, but ‘everybody’ did it.”  His confession was convenient at that time because telling the truth would not cost him financial support.

Christians are told in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  James adds, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16).  This is a confession driven by a conviction to please and obey God and make things right with those we have offended.

“Convenient confession” is not convicted confession.  Confessing if and only if we are caught is convenient rather than convicted confession.  Confession meant to conceal or control the discovery of other and even greater sins is not convicted confession.  Pharaoh confessed to get relief from God’s punishment (Ex. 9:27; 10:16). Balaam went from cursing to confessing only when he could see the angel of the Lord (Num. 22:34). Achan only confessed when God picked him out of the crowd (Josh. 7:20). Saul confessed when his back, spiritually, was against the wall (1 Sam. 15:24, 30; 26:21).  Time and testing proved the insincerity of these confessions.

Everyone will confess Jesus at the Judgment, when doubt will have died (Ph. 2:11).  Each of us are confronted with a sin problem, and at best we will wrestle with it (Rom. 7:14ff).  For confession to be effective, the Bible urges honesty and sacrifice.  Self-serving, self-preserving confession is convenient confession.  “Convenient confession” is not convicted confession.