The contemporary pulpit of the 21st century has become silent. Not in regard to story-telling, pithy sayings, anecdotes and illustrative pictures of everyday life, but with regard to any concrete explanation of the text of Scripture. In some cases, the use of Scripture in the preaching event has become non-existent. Thus, is there really a need for extending an invitation at the conclusion of the contemporary sermon?
Obviously, the answer to the question rests in one’s approach toward the preaching event. If the preacher’s theology of preaching does not mandate the proclamation of the Gospel message in order to make disciples, then the offer of an invitation to respond has little purpose.
What the contemporary pulpit requires is a return to the semantic understanding of the biblical text communicated in a relevant fashion that engages the hearer. The proper approach to text-driven preaching mandates a response that cannot be avoided. A simple review of the biblical record from both the Old and New Testaments will enhance and affirm this reality. The Bible is full of invitations, from Genesis to Revelation. In Genesis 3, after Adam had sinned, God searched for Adam, He called to Adam, and Adam responded. Long-time evangelism professor Roy Fish argued that many of the invitations of Scripture closely parallel the modern invitations of today. He points to Exodus 32:26 and Moses’ challenge to the children of Israel as to which side they were on, or Joshua’s imperative of “whom will you serve” (Joshua 24:15). Elijah extended an invitation from Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21), and Ezra’s call for public reform anticipated a response.
In the New Testament, in Jesus’ earthly ministry, He publicly called those who would become His disciples to “follow me,” a call that was then answered publicly. Jesus extended a similar invitation to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
Following the example of Jesus, Peter offered an invitation at the conclusion of his biblical message in Acts 2, and Paul did the same as he spoke to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. Even the final chapter of the Bible concludes with an invitation for all who are thirsty to come and drink (Revelation 22:17). The biblical evidence is clear; the preaching of the Gospel is incomplete without an opportunity to respond.
One example from history helps drives this point home. It was a normal work week. The pastor had been busy about his pastoral tasks. The hospital visits had been made. The visiting prospects for church membership had been contacted. The planning of the worship service was complete. All the hymns and the special music had been selected. As Sunday, Oct. 8, 1871, approached, the pastor put the final touches on his sermon. The time for worship was at hand. The pastor delivered his sermon, but rather than extend an invitation, as was his normal custom, on this day, D.L. Moody decided to ask his congregation to take the week to consider the message and return next week for a decision. Moody had no way of knowing that many who heard the challenge of the morning would never return to make a decision.
On the evening of Oct. 8, 1871, Moody’s city of Chicago caught fire and burned for two days. Most of south Chicago and much of the east and north of the city burned to the ground. More than 300 people lost their lives, and Moody’s church and many of the homes of his congregation were destroyed. Moody was filled with great remorse and regret, and he later said, “I want to tell you one lesson I learned that night. … I preach to press Christ upon the people then and there, and try to bring them to a decision on the spot.” From that time forward, D.L. Moody never preached another sermon without giving his listeners an opportunity to respond.
It seems as though the smell of smoke and the flames of destruction are rampant in our politically correct society. Isn’t it time to rekindle a flame for the exposition of the Scriptures with a fervent cry for every hearer to respond? Preach the Word! Reach the world! Give an invitation!
Roy Fish, Giving a Good Invitation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976), 11.
Al Fasol, Preaching Evangelistically: Proclaiming the Saving Message of Jesus (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 88-89.