Thursday, January 5, 2012

"The Effective Invitation" by R. Alan Streett. Chapters 4 & 5

I have read the next two chapters of The Effective Invitation: A Practical Guide For The Pastor by R. Alan Streett.

Chapter 4 is entitled "Evangelists and Invitatons." Here the author points out that contrary to the insistance of the critics of the public invitation, the public invitation predates Charles Finney by about 1,900 years. 1st century preachers publicly called on sinners to make a public witness of their repentance, faith, and baptism.  With the legalization of Christianity in the Roman empire and its later becoming the state religion, membership in the empire came to be seen as membership in the Church and so the public invitation fell into disuse until the Reformation. Still, there were those who still preached for a public response. In the early Church, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostum preached in this way. St. Patrick of Ireland was another; it is recorded that during his ministry 120,000 converted to Christ and 365 churches were formed.  In the middle ages, Boniface and Bernard of Clairvaux carried on the practice, as did Peter Waldo and his followers, the Waldensians. The Waldensians would travel in twos and preach in the streets for a public response.  The first person in modern times to practice mass evangelism was the Jesuit Jacques Bridaine (1701-1767). Jonathan Edwards exorted those who wished to respond to his messages to meet him privately. In one account he writes, "I received into one communion about a hundred before one sacrament, and fourscore of them at one time, whose appearance, when they presented themselves together to make an open explicit profession of Christianity, was very affecting to the congregation: I took in nearly sixty before the next sacrament day."  George Whitefield followed a similiar method: "Preached at six in the evening from the Court House stairs to about six thousand people. I find the numbers that came Tuesday to my house [seeking spiritual instruction] greatly increased and multiplied." John and Charles Wesley ended all their sermons with an appeal to come to Christ. They used four basic methods to extend a public invitation:
1. Exorters were to be on the lookout for anxious souls.
2. Seekers were enjoined to attend the mid-week service  to join in public prayers as a sign of public faith.
3. Those that repented were encouraged to step forward and publicly seek membership.  These were formed into local societies for prayer, Bible study and evangelism.
4. Those anxious about their souls were encouraged to make their way to the mourners bench, or anxious seat at the front.
It was Charles Wesley who first coined the phrase "anxious seat," but it was Finney who popularized the practice. Yet in Finney's ministry, the attendance to the anxious seat was not an end in itself. Those who went were incouraged to make their way to the inquiry room for private instruction. William Booth, Spurgeon, and Moody followed a similiar practice. Someone wrote of a Moody sermon: " was organized to counsel the hearers to act, not just listen; they had either to agree to what Moody was asking them to do, or deliberately refuse to do it.  This was the essential structure of all his sermons."

Chapter 5 is called "Billy Graham's Use of the Public Invitation." Streett provides a history of the development of Graham's practice in extending the invitation. Then he discusses how Graham transitions from the body of the sermon to the invitation. Graham begins an invitation with a key transitional question such as "What do I have to do?" Graham makes sure this question is raised in the hearts of the hearers by audibly expressing it. Then he answers the question. Graham explains why he wants people to come forward. People, according to Graham, want and deserve to know why the appeal is made. Examples of such explanations include that man sins publicly and needs to be forgiven publicly, or Christ died publicly on a cross and wants us to live publicy for him. The central theme of Graham's sermons is the cross of Christ. While Graham's sermons are logical and well structured (he rarely employs emotion), Graham depends on God's power alone, mediated through the Holy Spirit, prayer, and God's Word, to draw men to God. "I used to think in evangelism I had to do it all, but now I approach evangelism with a totally different attitude. I approach it with complete relaxation. First of all, I don't believe any man can come to Christ unless the Holy Spirit has prepared his heart...I don't believe any man can come to Christ unless God draws him. My job is to proclaim the message." 

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