Old Doxoblogy

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Gospel Preaching

I am always astounded when someone stares at me in disbelief when they hear me say, "I don't give an altar call." As though I have somehow fallen into some heresy and lost any compassion for lost souls. Let me make this qualifying statement...I'm glad some people give an altar call after their sermons. It makes me happy that some form of the Gospel is being presented in their worship (sarcasm intended). But the necessity of the altar call in an effort to tack the Gospel on to our preaching is worrisome. The problem, in my opinion, lies in the death of 'Gospel Preaching'.

What is Gospel Preaching?
Gospel Preaching is the only Biblical form of preaching there is. It is preaching that transcends personality types, delivery styles, and so-called cultural relevance. It is expositional preaching based upon clear exegesis of the text. It is preaching that demands a response, both from unbelievers and believers alike. It is Christian preaching.

When and why did Gospel Preaching die?
Gospel Preaching has always been around. At times the light of Gospel Preaching has shone brightly, and at other times it would have been extinguished completely, if not for the grace of God in preserving a remnant. So when I say that Gospel Preaching has died, I don't mean that it has been done away with, I mean that it is a very small minority of preachers who are still Gospel Preachers.
Gospel Preaching began to die during the 'ministry' of Charles Finney. Finney made the altar call the means of grace in his ministry. We can get a glimpse of what must have been the content of his preaching through his various writings, none of which are helpful for understanding true Christian doctrine. Finney was wrong on many points, especially the Gospel. While many would not endorse Finney's message, they liked the results that he produced and so he was welcomed across the country. The downfall of the acceptance of Finney's false doctrine was unconverted 'believers' and a diminishing of the perceived 'need' for Biblical preaching. After all, the altar call is where the results took place.
Since Finney, the altar call has usurped the place of Gospel Preaching in many pulpits across America. A shift occurred that made the altar call the central focus of the service and made preaching just another step on the way to the 'invitation'. Gospel Preaching died.

What is the goal of Gospel Preaching?
The goal of Gospel Preaching is just that, proclamation of the Gospel. Obviously every text does not recount the passion of Christ. And yet, every text in Scripture must be interpreted in light of Christ's passion. Gospel Preaching seeks to interpret Scripture in such a way that the Christ crucified is always central.
So when we read that we have been freed from sin, law, or death, we must keep the Cross as the central message by showing that Christ's death is what has freed us from sin, law, or death. If we read in the Old Testament that the law demands the death of all those who do not obey, then we must keep the Cross central by showing that Christ as our substitute took that penalty on Himself at the Cross. If we read that Jael hammered a tent peg into Sisera's head,t hen the Cross must be kept central by showing that the temporary deliverance that Israel gained through Jael as a deliverer is a shadow of the coming deliverer who would crush the head of the serpent. If we are told by Paul to live lives worthy of the Gospel, then the Cross is kept central by announcing that we died with Christ and rose again with Him as new creatures who are free to live lives worthy of the Gospel.
Finally, the goal of Gospel Preaching is the formation of Christ in the hearers through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit who creates a response to the Gospel in the hearers. Gospel Preaching doesn't need an invitation tacked onto it because the Holy Spirit is active in it, it calls for a response of faith and repentance from both saved and lost, and it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes.


Garry Weaver said...

Amen! The gospel includes the bad news of our condition outside of Christ, the good news of what Christ has done as the remedy for our condition, and the COMMAND to repent. Repentance is commanded not asked for. Inherent and implicit in the invitation is the idea that it is optional.

D.J. Cimino said...

Great stuff Jeremy! I am linking to this right now :)

Sojourner said...

There are reasons why I give an "altar call," and I cannot think of any reason why this should be stopped.

Primarily, it is for the purpose of counseling. I always state these three things:

1. If anyone is interested in talking further to someone about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, we have people availible.

2. If anyone is interested in becoming a part of this Church community, we have counselors who can give details on that. (Great opportunity for sharing the gospel.)

3. If anyone would like to talk to and pray with someone, we have counselors availible who are caring and willing.

I see no problem whatsoever with this. We are not doing what Charles Finney did. Fixing his error by eliminating opportunity for counsel will not prevent false conversions. Those existed before Finney and after, and they always will until Jesus returns.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Here's a couple of reasons it should be stopped...

1. You're a Pastor and you have a staff so that someone should always be available for counseling.

2. The altar call gives the impression that this is the appointed time to 'do business with God' (as though God is a businessman) and that effectively takes God out of the equation for the rest of the week.

3. Your Church doesn't have an altar.

Sojourner said...

The time after a sermon is the time to do 'business' with God. An urgent, immediate appeal for repentance is necessary and Biblical. Do you honestly believe that folks are having better opportunities to come to repentance during the work week? Are they hearing the gospel presented more clearly from co-workers? Is their boss calling them to repentance? We certainly do not rule out God's working for the rest of the week, to suggest that we do this by offering immediate counsel is wrong.

This statement:

that effectively takes God out of the equation for the rest of the week.

At least this sounds like Arminian talk and not Finney. Our assumption is that God works through the proclamation of the gospel and that a convicted sinner may wish to speak with someone. If God brings repentance during the week, then we will certainly be glad to speak with them then, too, and we make that clear.

Sojourner said...


I apologize for that 'Arminian' jab. That was just wrong. It seemed like a "good one" and funny when I wrote it, but it doesn't look funny when I read it. I apologize for that.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I have tried to respond to you a few times today but blogger kept eating my comments, so don't think I have abandoned the discussion.

The Arminian jab is OK. I would have asked you to define how that statement would be considered Arminian.

I think it is a wrong perspective to put all our hopes of God's work into the period of time immediately after the sermon. It is precisely because we believe that the Spirit works through the proclamation of the Gospel that I consider the 'invitation' time to be unnecessary after a Gospel Sermon. It is the Spirit that gives life.

No. I don't think it is wrong to ask people to respond.
No. I don't think it is wrong to provide a time to counsel with people.

That being said, I do think it is premature on our part to rush what the Spirit has done and is continuing to do in them. There must be time for reflection and meditation on what God has said. The altar call in my opinion takes that away. The congregation cease to be doers of the Word when their response is relegated to a fifteen minute discussion with a counselor.

Send them home to think about the sermon. We don't have to close the deal. We don't work on commission.
Let the preached Word have it's effect.
If they need to talk to someone, they will look for someone to talk to.
And before you respond to this, read tomorrow morning's post.