Did you know that people still write letters by hand? I got a handwritten letter in the mail asking about something I wrote in A Gospel of Doubt. I was discussing Dr. John MacArthur’s criticism of decisionism (p. 38). I indicated that I too do not believe in decisionism.
Decisionism is where people indicate a positive response to Christ by walking an aisle, raising their hand, signing a card, praying some prayer, throwing a stick in the fire, or even taking the extended hand of the evangelist.
My questioner wonders if there are not lots of people who actually believed in Jesus for their eternal salvation and yet went ahead and did what the evangelist asked. “Are you saying that a lost sinner cannot hear a pastor preach the gospel and believe and receive Jesus as His Savior because he or she did it walking down an aisle in a church?”
No. I’m not saying that walking an aisle or signing a card or any of those other responses to invitations disqualify a person from eternal life.
What I’m saying is that those things are not consistent with faith alone in Christ alone.
I’m guessing here, but based on many people I’ve talked to one-on-one, I find that most, but not all, who respond to some invitation do not actually understand and believe in Jesus for the free gift of everlasting life. Of course, some do. But asking someone to confirm their decision by some physical action is quite misleading. First, believing in Christ is not a decision. We are either convinced that He gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him or we are not.
See this article by missionary Ken White, this article by Dr. Tony Badger (see esp. p. 56), and this article by me for more details. Second, if a person thinks that his walking an aisle is necessary for him to be saved, then he does not believe.
Let’s say a person hears a clear presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection and then hears, “Jesus said, ‘He who believes in Me has everlasting life’” (John 6:47). If he believes that, then he is born again. Now if two minutes later the evangelist calls for all who have believed to come forward, the evangelist may confuse people, depending on how the invitation was stated. Say the evangelist says, “If you’ve come to faith in Christ, we’d like to talk with you to make sure you understand, pray with you, and give you some free literature.” That is not confusing.
But if the evangelist says, “Jesus said that he who confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven. In a moment we will give you a chance to come forward and confess Christ before men. If you do that, you will be saved.” That would be confusing. Don’t you agree?
Sadly, most evangelists who ask people to confirm their decision with some action are not giving a clear presentation about Christ. They mix in the Person, Provision, and Promise of Christ with the need of the individual to promise to serve God for the rest of his life and then to walk forward to show his determination to obey.
About fifteen years ago I heard a Free Grace evangelist give an evangelistic message. The church invited in lots of guests. The evangelist was clear on the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose bodily from the dead. He was clear on the fact that we are sinners. He talked about how Jesus took away our sin problem on the cross. But when he got down to what one must do to be saved, he said that simply believing in Jesus was not enough. A person had to trust Him. He gave some illustrations about the difference between believing and trusting. The illustrations dealt with the need to do something more than believe (get in the wheelbarrow, get in the lifeboat, etc.). I found this confusing.
At the end, the evangelist passed out three-by-five cards and pens to the entire audience. We all filled out our name, address, and phone number. We all put a small box in the upper left hand corner. Then the evangelist asked all who had for the first time trusted in Christ to take them to heaven to put a check in that box.
Two of my friends were leaders of that church. They got all the cards. Twelve had checkmarks in the boxes. My friends visited the entire dozen and spoke with them personally.
Guess how many of the twelve had understood that by faith in Jesus that they had everlasting life? None. Not one. They all thought their chances of going to heaven would go up if they checked that box. My friends concluded that none of these people understood that salvation is a free gift and that it is by faith alone in Christ alone.
Now that was with a Free Grace evangelist. If a Lordship Salvation evangelist had an altar call, you can imagine that it would be even harder for anyone to understand and believe. It can happen. But the more garbled the message, the less likely it is that people will come to faith.
When I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, we adopted a funny expression called evangelastic. We’d say, “Don’t be evangelastic.” Let’s say that a CCC staffer shared Christ with 50 college students over the course of a weekend retreat and 20 of them were believers in our action groups. If he reported that 100 came to faith in Christ that weekend, that is clearly evangelastic.
I’ve heard reports about people ministering overseas and having 75% or more of the audience come forward or raise their hands during the invitation. I don’t think that coming forward or hand raising is consistent with the faith alone in Christ alone message. So I tend to discount such reports as evangelastic. Maybe some did come to faith. But the number who responded with some action does not tell us how many did.
Now back to the question. If a person who went forward at a meeting did actually come to faith in Christ, it was not because he went forward. It was because he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 16:31;Rom 4:4-5; Gal 2:16; 3:6-14).