This is the second half of the post I started last week, and I would encourage you to read that here if you haven’t already.
One of the ideas that came forth in that post was that the doctrine decisional regeneration (being saved by making a decision to accept Christ) has become the primary doctrine that shapes many a church’s worship and mission. In other words, the evangelistic mission of the church has largely become a mission to get people to make decisions. This has caused us to design our services as avenues for people to decide and the music, message, facility, etc… are all tailored to producing in people a mental state in which they will make that decision. If you read that post, you have seen some of the issues that arise with the doctrine of decisional regeneration, and hopefully you can see why that doctrine ought to be rejected wholeheartedly. However, if we do determine to reject decisional regeneration as true biblical doctrine, we must then bring into question everything that has been established upon that doctrine, from the opening ‘music set’ to the ‘altar call’ at the end of the service, we must even question the way we do evangelism during the week.
Before going further we must first establish how someone is saved, and the answer to that question is far simpler, then making a decision. A person is saved by Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension FOR THEM. It’s that simple. How was I saved? By Jesus living for me to be my righteousness, dying for me to be my sacrifice, raising for me to be my resurrection, and ascending for me to be my intercessor. Really, I am saved entirely on the work and merit of Christ, entirely of grace. The implications of this view of salvation are wonderful. First, my salvation is rooted in a historical work of Christ, not an inward experience, nor my performance. When I struggle with assurance I do not look to a day of decision, fruit in my life, or a feeling I have, instead I look to a historical series of events that have occurred for me, long before I even took my first breath, my assurance comes from a history that I was not even present for. Salvation is completely external to me.
The question that still looms is; “How then is that salvation applied to you?” The answer is repentance and faith, repentance being a change of mind regarding the Christ, and faith being a belief and hope given to me that the history of what Christ has done was indeed FOR ME. In other words, repentance and faith are not a decision, but a realization of the reality that occurred for me in history. I do not deny that decisions are made, I decide daily if I am going to ‘follow’ Christ, I decide daily if I am going to lay down my dreams and desires for the kingdom, I decide daily about a number of details concerning the living out of the reality of what Christ has done for me. Daily I am called to count the cost, and so are you, but the reality is still that my salvation hinges only upon the person and work of Christ, not on my counting of the cost or decisions I make.
Because salvation hinges only upon the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, how does this affect our outreach, our worship, and our part in the great commission? That is a question we cannot avoid. To answer I start in the Old Testament. One of the common themes throughout the entire Old Testament is a call to remember what God had done. There is a constant call to remember the Exodus, the work of God on behalf of Israel in their freedom from Egypt. Generations after the Exodus had occurred the Israelites would continue to be reminded that the reason they are not slaves in Egypt was events that God ordained for their deliverance, events that they personally were not presentment for, but were still recalled as something they had a part in. Reading through the Judges, Kings, and Chronicles you get a taste of the tragic story of a people who forgot. Revival in these books is always marked by people remembering. It is no different today, the mark of genuine revival is people remember the deliverance we have received already from Christ. The evangelist is not one who brings people to the place of decision, the evangelist is the one who brings people to remembrance of the Good News of what Christ has done for them. That is evangelism.
Our worship services ought not to be shaped by a desire to psychologically bring people to a place of decision, but it should be shaped by a desire to recall the history of Christ’s work of redemption for us. The key biblical modes of doing this are word and sacrament.
The weekly sermon must be a venue where the pastor brings forth the Laws which God gave in history, laws that exalt the character of God, and show us who we really are apart from him, and the sermon should bring forth the Gospel, the news of what Christ has done for us in his life death and resurrection. There is no hint of pushing for a decision, which would be a waste of words. The push must be to showcase the history (the Gospel) in which we find hope and assurance. I would go so far as to say the delivery of this word must be seen as a means of grace, one where the preacher pronounces absolution over the congregation. There are a lot of views of absolution, but what I simply mean is that the preacher ought, without reservation, pronounce that the historical Gospel is indeed for the congregation and that because of that Gospel the people are forgiven. I could go on a tangent about the ‘office of the keys’ here, but I’ll save it for later. The bottom line is that the preacher stands to deliver redemption to the congregation because the preacher is delivering the history that has saved them. This is a far cry from standing in a pulpit to give tips for living, emotional ploys to get your life straightened out, or pleas to get people to put more money in the plate… or begging people to decide for Christ.
The other part of the worship service that serves a similar function as the preached word, is the sacraments. The baptismal font ought to be visible in service as it calls us to ‘remembrance’ of the work of Christ in baptism where we are separated as members of his covenant community. Moreover the administration of the Lord’s Supper calls to our attention the body and blood of Christ given for us for the forgiveness of sins. One of the primary marks of ‘decisional’ churches is the neglect of the sacraments. I appeal back to the Old Testament calls to remember, remember the work which has already been done for you. While I do not want to equate the sacraments to the setting up of twelve stones on the other side of the river Jordan, in some ways they do serve that same function. Those twelve stones were literal tangible tokens of an actual redemption, stones that were actually placed by people at the moment of crossing the river, and stones that gave assurance that the people were indeed redeemed by God from the hand of Pharaoh. The Passover served the same function. Our New Testament fulfillment of these Old Testament tokens of remembrance are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. At the Lord’s Supper we partake of physical elements of Christ’s passion, the bread being as it were His body given for us, and the cup being his blood shed for us, and we do this “In remembrance” of Him.
When decisional regeneration is forgone, and you dismiss the idea of working to get people to decide, then your operating principle becomes doing all in your power to bring to remembrance the mighty works which Christ has done for you, and for the world. If you are a leader in a church, is that your operating principle? Is your churched marked by the administration of word and sacrament? Or is it primarily a place of instruction where Jesus is thrown in to give you motivation, or help you make a decision?