Why I Give a Public Invitation

June 27, 2013

by Evangelist Junior Hill

For more than 50 years it has been my distinct joy to extend a public invitation at the close of most of the sermons wherever I have preached. I do that because I have an intense and burning conviction that it is spiritually correct and biblically commanded. I am honored to stand with a great multitude of other preachers across the ages, who have faithfully and unapologetically called those to whom they have preached to repentance and open confession of Jesus Christ as Lord.  Billy Graham himself, arguably the best known preacher of this generation, so often said at the close of his own crusade sermons, “I am going to ask you to publically confess Jesus tonight because those whom Jesus called – He always called publicly.” And a careful reading of the Bible does seem to indicate that to be true.

While there are some who may honestly and sincerely ask, “Where is a public invitation to the preaching of the gospel ever seen in the Bible?”, a far more appropriate and accurate question might legitimately be, “Where in the Bible is a public invitation to the preaching of the gospel not seen?”

To suggest that those hot-hearted preachers of the early New Testament church never even bothered to call those to whom they preached to repentance and public confession of Jesus as Lord is both ludicrous and short sighted. Are we to actually believe that those excited firebrands who gladly laid their very lives on the line for the joy of proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord left their hearers with a lot of information — but no invitation? Did they spend all their time telling those who heard them preach that Jesus could save them, but never got around to telling them that Jesus would save them if they were willing to repent and believe?

That kind of erroneous assumption not only demeans and insults the wisdom and compassion of those bold men who preached, but it clearly disregards the explicit biblical record that says otherwise.

Whether it be Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler, Peter’s stirring message on the day of Pentecost, Paul and Silas’ encounter with the Philippian jailor, Phillip’s meeting with the Ethiopian Eunuch, or Paul’s appearances before the Jewish synagogues, all of those encounters end with a report of some kind of response.  And I find it intriguing and fascinating to see that the Bible specifically tells us what every one of those responses were. If none of them were even asked to respond, then why do you think the Bible would be so consistent and specific in telling us how they did respond?

When Jesus stood before Jerusalem, He sadly lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37). In what surely must be some of the saddest words He ever spoke, Jesus grieves over the fact “they would not” come to Him. If they “would not come,” then the text plainly infers that they “could have come” — and worse yet, that they “were invited to come – and should have come.” It is clearly an open rebuke to a hard-hearted generation who defiantly spurned His calls to publicly confess Him as Lord.

When that convicted multitude who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost cried out, “… Men and brethren, what shall we do?”, Peter boldly declared, “… Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost … And they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:37-38, 41).

While we do not know exactly what type of invitation Peter may have given – it is clearly obvious that those who heard his sermon were invited to make some kind of public response. Otherwise, how on earth would Peter and the other apostles even have known that “about three thousand souls” wanted to be baptized? The only logical answer to that question is that those convicted sinners must have made some open response acknowledging that they had repented, were publicly confessing Jesus as Lord, and desired to obey the command to be baptized.  And why would they have made that sort of public declaration of their faith unless Peter had specifically urged them to do so when he preached?

But perhaps even more important than any of those questions is this: “Why would Peter have even asked them to do that? Why would he publicly challenge all those lost sinners that gathered that day at Pentecost to repent, believe the Gospel, and be baptized? He obviously did it because he had been with Jesus and he could never forget what the Savior had taught him. He was with Him when Jesus said to those who heard Him, “Come unto me all ye that that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Peter was there by Jesus’ side when the Lord spoke the parable of the Great Supper, and he surely remembered that the man who had prepared that supper sternly commanded his servant to “… Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).

As a Hebrew living in that day, who was familiar with the common Greek language spoken in that culture, Peter knew very well what the word “compel” meant. It was the Greek word, anagkazo, which means “to urge or constrain.” In his Greek Dictionary Of The New Testament, James Strong says that the addition of the prefix, ana, to a Greek root word, often implies “repetition or intensity.” Thus the resultant translation of that compound word simply means “to repeatedly and with intensity urge or constrain one.”

As an obedient servant of the risen Savior, Peter was merely doing what  Jesus had specifically told him to do when He spoke that parable. He was compelling men and women, boys and girls, to come to Jesus. And when a man of God is faithfully doing what Jesus asked him to do — he’s always standing on solid ground.

 

Junior Hill began ministry at 19 as a pastor for 11 years before entering vocational evangelism in 1967, and has maintained a full schedule since then. He is a graduate of Samford University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where in 1995 he was named Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. The author of 17 books, Hill has served as first vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has conducted more than 1,700 revivals and numerous foreign crusades, and is a frequent speaker at pastors’ meetings, evangelism conferences, seminaries and state conventions across the United States.

To book a meeting with Evangelist Hill, go to http://bit.ly/10W7S9f.

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Bob Hadley

While there are some who may honestly and sincerely ask, “Where is a public invitation to the preaching of the gospel ever seen in the Bible?”, a far more appropriate and accurate question might legitimately be, “Where in the Bible is a public invitation to the preaching of the gospel not seen?” Excellent question.

Whether it be Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler, Peter’s stirring message on the day of Pentecost, Paul and Silas’ encounter with the Philippian jailor, Phillip’s meeting with the Ethiopian Eunuch, or Paul’s appearances before the Jewish synagogues, all of those encounters end with a report of some kind of response. And I find it intriguing and fascinating to see that the Bible specifically tells us what every one of those responses were. If none of them were even asked to respond, then why do you think the Bible would be so consistent and specific in telling us how they did respond?

Excellent observation.

Some may argue that the response is not the issue; it is who is responsible for the response that is the real question here.The gospel message is clear; anyone who believes and repents and by faith trusts Christ will be saved. I have a serious problem with the notion that God requires belief and repentance on the part of the lost person to be saved when it is His effectual calling that is necessary before one can do either. There is no need for a call to repentance in a theological system that presents conversion and new birth as Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb. If and when God calls, the lost person WILL respond and until God calls that lost person’s name, he cannot respond. The choice is not man’s to make; that choice belongs to God.

“Peter was there by Jesus’ side when the Lord spoke the parable of the Great Supper, and he surely remembered that the man who had prepared that supper sternly commanded his servant to “… Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).

Brother, I am with you. I will continue to present the gospel message that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life so that He could be the sacrificial lamb to pay the penalty for the sins of the world for ANYONE who would by faith, believe that God is everything that He says He is and that God will do everything that He says He will do and that by confessing our sin and our need for a Savior, and repenting of our sin and turning from self to Jesus as our Savior, believing that He rose from the dead so that we could live with for Him today and with Him forever, we can be saved! I will continue to ask people to place their hand in the nail scared hand of Jesus and pray a simple prayer asking God to forgive them of their sin and inviting Jesus to come into their hearts and to save them because God’s word says, “whosoever calls on the Name of the Lord SHALL be saved.” It does not say, “whosoever I call shall be saved.”

AMEN and AMEN. Thank you Junior Hill for your faithfulness to preach the gospel and draw the net asking men, women, boys and girls to respond to God’s glorious message that Jesus saves!

Norm Miller

SBCToday expresses deep gratitude to Evangelist Junior Hill for dedicating his life to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to lost and hellbound sinners. Doubtlessly, throngs and multitudes will be in heaven because of Junior’s obedience to the Great Commission for 57 years. We also thank Junior for his thoughtful, cogent and apt treatise regarding the biblicity of extending a public invitation.

volfan007

Junior Hill has been one of my favorite preachers for a long, long time. And, he didnt disappoint with this article. Great stuff. Thank you, Brother, for sharing this with us. And, may all of us urgently call out for lost people to be saved…..to come to Jesus.

David

cb scott

I thank the Lord for Junior Hill.

David R. Brumbelow

Evangelist Junior Hill,
Great message on the importance and Scriptural nature of the public invitation / altar call.
Leave it to an evangelist to make the subject plain and easy to understand.

SBCToday, thanks for featuring an evangelist here.
Southern Baptists need to hear from evangelists more often than we do.
David R. Brumbelow

Ron F. Hale

Thanks Bro. Junior for being a faithful Evangelist through the years and all your miles of travel. You are an inspiration!

When you truly believe that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes – and — you know that God saved a sinner like [me] [you], then how can you “not” extend an invitation for sinners to repent and trust Jesus when sharing the Good News?

Bob Williford

“There is no need for a call to repentance in a theological system that presents conversion and new birth as Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb. If and when God calls, the lost person WILL respond and until God calls that lost person’s name, he cannot respond. The choice is not man’s to make; that choice belongs to God.” I disagree with this statement. Not every one who hears the call of God will say ‘yes’ to Him. Jonah is one of those Believers of God who refused his call to preach. The rich young ruler was given opportunity to follow the Christ, but refused. Man is given the choice to follow or not to follow the call of God. Jesus is Lord. BW

    Bob Hadley

    Bob,

    I wrote, “I have a serious problem with the notion that God requires belief and repentance on the part of the lost person to be saved when it is His effectual calling that is necessary before one can do either. There is no need for a call to repentance in a theological system that presents conversion and new birth as Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb. If and when God calls, the lost person WILL respond and until God calls that lost person’s name, he cannot respond. The choice is not man’s to make; that choice belongs to God.”

    EVERYTHING that follows I have a serious problem is included… so I agree wholeheartedly with your disagreement!!!!!

    AMEN brother.

Norm Miller

“Calvinists do issue invitations to respond to God’s preached Word.”
Not true. Most Cals I have met do not use a public invitation at all. They have described to me as using “means,” which some Cals deem as repugnant.
It is not “nonsense” to say that at least some Calvinists use no public invitation. For those who do, AMEN!

Bob Hadley

Randall,

You wrote, “The superiority of this method should be self-evident. Is it even possible to have a meaningful exchange with a seeker when the piano, organ, etc. is blaring and the entire congregation singing an “invitation hymn”? No, I can tell you from experience, it is not possible! Conversely, in the privacy of my study, I can listen carefully, respond wisely and biblically, urge the seeker to flee to Christ, pray with them meaningfully, intentionally schedule follow-up as necessary, or confidently present them as candidates for baptism at the next public meeting of the church.”

Interesting choice of words here. I have heard it said that there is no “superior method” because God’s efficacious calling is what determines one’s conversion. Given that theological predisposition, neither method is superior over the other. Are you saying that is is “not possible” for God to efficaciously call the unregenerate person while a congregation is singing Just As I Am? That is indeed an interesting take on God’s sovereignty or lack thereof that I do not think I have encountered before.

Now as for listening carefully, responding wisely, urging the seeker to flee to Christ, pray with them meaningfully, intentionally schedule follow-up as necessary, or confidently present them as candidates for baptism at the next public meeting of the church.” I see no issue with but understand that this has NOTHING to do with asking people to come forward in a service in response to the message and the urging of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart.

Your reference to no buildings and no altars and the Day of Pentecost is a bit over the top don’t you think? Most of us here are aware of the theological nuances that drive what we do and why we do it and that is what is being referenced here.

One final thought. If the pastor had employed your kind of invitation, I can tell you with almost absolute certainty I would have left the church service that evening I surrendered my life to preach the gospel without doing so. I attended the church I grew up in in rural West Tn after attending a very special lady’s funeral. They were showing a Nicky Cruz film that I did not hear a word of. It was as if the Holy Spirit sat down beside me and put His arm around me and said, “I want you to preach the Gospel.” I was a freshman in college on my way to a professional degree in Physics and had no intention whatsoever of being a preacher.. None. I grew up in this church. I knew the preached would probably sing a couple maybe 3 verses of the invitation. I knew I could outlast him and get out of that service.

I do not know how many verses they sang… but having my hands on the top of the pew in front of me, I actually lifted that pew up from the floor pulling out several screws that held it there and when those screws came loose I let the pew go and stepped out in the same motion. It was as if the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders and I was standing before the pastor having no other option but to say… “God is calling me to preach.”

Now, I am NOT saying that had the invitation gone like you suggested, I would have not eventually surrendered to preach but I can tell you with absolute assurance, it would not have been that night! God does work in mysterious ways, which I know we both believe. I simply do not believe the method is the issue but rather the theology behind the issue that is the real problem for us BOTH.

JimP

I do not write to simply stir up the pot. If this is a discussion forum than I believe this note is in the spirit of discussion.

I think Baptists and all who practice ‘invitations’ need to make a distinction with a person’s personal faith in Christ and their public confession of that personal faith. If one is saved by faith apart from works than whether personal or public a person is justified before God. Public openness of ones confession has to do with a person integrity before God and man. An integrity God honors but is not the basis of Salvation.

JimP

    Ben Simpson

    Jim,

    Excellent distinction! I agree with you completely. However, in many people’s minds, especially those who have been raised in the Revivalistic tradition, personal faith in Christ and walking the aisle are inseparable. None would say that walking the aisle saves you, but they would say that walking the aisle was evidence that you were really trusting Christ. In fact, when I first came to my church, I had led a few folks to the Lord outside of the church service. They came on Sunday and after the invitation was over, I simply called their name, brought them forward, explained that this person had trusted Christ, and introduced them as a candidate for baptism. Some folks in my church raised serious reservations over this because these people had not walked the aisle during the invitation. To them, “voluntarily” walking the aisle during the invitation proved that you were not ashamed of Jesus and were really trusting Him as Savior.

    Again, Jim, your point is a great one!

      Norm Miller

      Ditto.

      JimP

      Thank You Ben. I’m trying. I read (from a Baptist Theologian) that, obeying the command by Christ to be baptized is the easiest command a believer will be called on to obey. It is one command explicit in Scripture. Being Baptized is an open, public confession before God and man of a person’s imperishable faith that propels them toward the upward call of God in Christ.

      We will have a baptism this Sunday at our struggling little Baptist Church.

      Bob Hadley

      Ben,

      I cannot speak for anyone but myself but I can tell you that I do NOT believe in any way that “personal faith in Christ and walking the aisle are inseparable.” I think that is a gross misrepresentation of where most preachers are… now as to what someone in the pew may or may not think is another story and might do the same thing you did myself.

      I also might encourage those individuals to come forward on their own during an invitation so that I can pray with them because of their decision to trust Christ and let the church see that testimony of sorts. I do believe there is something to be said for folks willingly coming forward as a witness of what Christ has done in their hearts as opposed to my calling out their names and asking them to come forward but it is not problematic by no means.

Norm Miller

Evangelist Hill has shown the biblical evidence and support for inviting people to follow Christ. His cogent missive is posted not as a point of debate, but as an encouragement to the multiplied thousands of Southern Baptist pastors who still offer an “altar call,” which is, by the way, a connotative and not necessarily a denotative term. Those who would disagree with Evangelist Hill are welcome to share that opinion elsewhere. Today we celebrate not only the public invitation, but also the near six decades of ministry God obviously has blessed — a ministry that has effectively called people to follow Christ, and has used a public invitation, much like Jesus did, to indeed follow Christ. Let us celebrate and not obviate. — Norm

    JimP

    Mr. Miller,

    I don’t know if your note is a correction to my contribution to what a presumed was a discussion. Can you clarify if it was or not?

    Thank You

      Norm Miller

      No sir, not yours. The tone of your comment was reasonable. Thank you for your input.

        JimP

        Thank You, I hope to contribute.

Ben Simpson

Randall, what a very fine comment!!!! I’m glad to see you imply that the biblical public profession of faith is baptism and not aisle walking.

It didn’t seem that Randall was taking issue with anything in the article itself. I wonder if Evangelist Hill would take any issue with what Randall has said here since Evan. Hill was simply arguing for a public invitation and not the Finney-esque “altar call” that has become popular over the last 200 hundred years. (By the way, can any non-RCC church really have an altar since we believe that Christ has already once for all time been sacrificed? Maybe we need to have an “alter” call instead.)

At any rate, I take a middle road between what Randall has presented here as his position and what he argues against. In every sermon, I give a public invitation within my sermon. At the end as we sing a hymn of response, I invite both Christians and not-yet-Christians to respond to respond to what they’ve heard today and to come forward if they would like. I invite those who are not-yet-Christians to come forward to “begin a gospel conversation.” All that come forward concerning the gospel are received, prayed over thanking God for touching them today, and then counseled to stay over after the service to have that gospel conversation. We can then have a true conversation to then know with some depth and clarity why they actually came forward and what they are responding to. It’s been amazing over the years how many people through our counseling are like the rich young ruler who wanted to go to heaven, but didn’t want to follow Jesus. Most “altar calls” that I’m familiar with would never catch the rich young ruler types and would simply lead them in an empty “sinner’s prayer.”

I completely agree with Randall that it’s impossible to have a meaningful exchange with a seeker when the piano, organ, etc. is blaring and the entire congregation singing an “invitation hymn.” Nevertheless, I appreciate this article from Evan. Hill. May we repeatedly and with intensity urge our hearers to flee from sin and self by trusting in Christ!

    Norm Miller

    I take one exception to your opening sentence, Ben. Walking the aisle *is* a public expression of one’s faith–at least for some. Of course, so is baptism, and it has biblical mandate. Aisle walking is not necessary, and who is to say aisle walking is the only way other than baptism to publicly confess one’s faith in Christ. Having said that, responding to an ‘altar call’ is an expression of one’s willingness to be saved (or having been saved) and also must be followed with baptism by immersion. If I had to chose, I would opt for baptism, of course. In fact it is not an option. It is a command. However, I will not rule out the biblical, public call to faith in Christ as expressed initially by someone walking the church aisle.

Bob Williford

I find it both amusing and somewhat disturbing that some are upset about ‘aisle walking’. Must we be reminded that the only avenue that is available to those who wish to respond to the call of God is to walk down the aisle of the buildings that we meet in for worship? I suppose we could make it difficult and move all these chairs and pews together, thus removing the aisles and force everyone to ‘jumjp the pews’….Pentecostal style. Then we could become ‘Reformed Pentecostal Baptists.’

Yep, there is a reason for my ridiculous statement. And the reason is being is my response to anyone who really thinks that ‘walking the aisle’ is somehow inappropriate. ‘Walking the aisle’ has nothing to do with the response to the call of God for salvation or for any other reason might respond to the move of the Holy Spirit. I could write more, but the more I think about some of the responses to ‘aisle walking’ the more ridiculous my statements will become.

Frankly, the issues that have been bouncing around the SBC because of the Reform Movement therein have become old and worn, and are causing a massive detour of more important things that the SBC should be involved in. And now the public invitation has been reduced to ‘aisle walking’. Really, folks…we really must move to simply Preaching the Gospel to the lost world in order to give the opportunity for responses to be made. Good Grief.

Jesus is Lord.
Bob Williford

dale brady

Bro. Junior,
I attended one of your very early revivals with the late Darryl Harris in Old Hickory, about 1967. I loved you and your message then and I still do. Perhaps even more now when we have Baptist Preachers denying the validity of an ‘altar call’.
Dale Brady

volfan007

Most of the reasons that Calvinists give to put down the altar call are Straw Men arguements. They just dont really exist, except in a tiny, handful of Churches….somewhere, out there, under the rainbow. An altar call is a good thing, if it’s handled right. When people come forward for salvation, I always send them back with someone….to get them out of the music and away from the eyes of the crowd….so that the counselor can talk to them one on one. But, for some Calvinists to say that the altar call is somehow bad is ridiculous, and the examples they usually give are complete straw men. Of course, there’s some Pastors, out there, somewhere, who dont handle things too well, or who abuse the altar call…trying to manipulate people down the aisle to just get another notch on their belt…..but, those fellas are very few and very far between in the SBC.

David

Ron F. Hale

The Gospel and conversion to Christianity was a shocking message to the Graeco-Roman world. First, they did not consider “belief” as totally necessary to be religious; just offer the sacrifices and play along with the ceremony was the attitude. Secondly, ethics or morality had not been a part of their religions — but Christianity called for a break with the past.
The early Evangels boldly called men and women out of darkness into light. They asked people to place their faith and trust in Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

To the Jew – they had to renounce the idea that they were God’s elect purely on the grounds of birth and circumcision. To the gentile it meant turning away from the old and turning to the new life in Jesus.

The Evangels preached a person (not creed). They offered the gift of total forgiveness in Christ and it was purely offered by the grace of God. They heard that they could receive a pardon from their past and a new power for the future. These early Evangels looked for a response; they were not shy. They called on men to repent (break with their past) and to believe in the Lord Jesus and publicly follow Him in water baptism. They turned the world upside down with the Gospel and they did it in broad daylight, yes, in the public eye.

Bill Mac

I think we all need to admit that public invitation and altar call are not the same thing. I think every sermon should end with a public invitation. I’m personally not a huge fan of altar calls but I don’t mind them if done well. I agree about the difficulty in having a meaningful conversation during an invitation hymn, but I like David’s church’s method of having them go outside to talk to a counselor.

Johnathan Pritchett

… I think giving an invitation is a great thing to do at the end of a sermon. I might think the music may be a bit much, but I am the guy that doesn’t care for music running through all the prayers and announcements either, so an invitation hymn is take it or leave it for me personally. But I don’t think it is either distracting or manipulative when there is music. The music there is for worship, and no one is thinking, “‘Just As I Am’ will surely get them to the alter” or whatever. That is a bunch of rubbish. No one is thinking that.

It is quite true that on the one hand, none of the Biblical citations above have anything to do with a corporate worship service as we see them today, but the notion implicit within the text itself is some sort of opportunity to respond at the end of a sermon or the end of a conversation. Why this can not be legitimate practice within the corporate worship services as well escapes me, because the invitation in corporate services follows the Biblical model of putting it at the end of a sermon, which again, is what we find in Scripture.

Certainly, one of the speakers at the Pastors Conference in Houston issued a very appropriate challenge to pastors to get into open air preaching (again), which is where all those conversions as a result of sermons we read in Acts (and Gospels on occasion) took place. I agreed with that speaker’s notion that it is quite easy to thunder the truth with gusto behind the pulpit to the already converted and convinced, and taking it to the highways and byways is the Biblical example of what compassion for the lost is all about. It is certainly a flesh killer. A lot of Christians like to marvel at Paul’s Acts 17 address, but they forget that at the end, few were convinced, and many of the his audience were merely amused, and some simply wanted to hear more before doing anything with it (Acts 17:32-34). I think many pastors are afraid of that outcome, so they have, for decades, abandoned the practice by and large. I also think that if too many corporate worship services are aimed at evangelism rather than teaching the Scriptures in total, then the end result is shallow congregations no better off spiritually than milk-and-cookie self-help messages from the typical megachurch sermon series.

Anyway, Junior Hill’s article is well reasoned, and I appreciate his commitment to give people opportunities to respond at the end of his messages, and for his defense of the practice here.

Norm, my best friend, John Winters, a Reformed Baptist Pastor at Remount Baptist Church in North Little Rock, AR gives invitations at the end of every sermon, with a hymn being sung during it, and has no problems extending it as long as it takes.

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