Decisional Regeneration – Part II
Continued from Part I of this article.
The phrase, “O Lamb of God, I come, I come,” has been widely used to encourage people to “come” down the aisle. But it is significant that Miss Elliott wrote the hymn for the infirm and that it first appeared in a hymnal prepared especially for invalids, (9). To Miss Elliott, coming to Christ was not walking an aisle.
Although most who use the altar call realize that coming to Christ is not synonymous with coming to the altar, they do give the impression to sinners that the first step in coming to Christ is walking the aisle. I am purposefully being very careful not to misstate the case. I understand the sincerity of those who practice the altar call, it having been a part of every service from my earliest memory until college. In fact, I grew up in Christian circles unaware that evangelical Christianity existed without the altar call. In many services during this time my mind was centered on the glorious person of Christ and His suffering on the cross only to find the whole focus of the worship service suddenly changed at the conclusion from seeing the glories and sufferings of Christ to walking an aisle. Many others have spoken of the same experience -that the altar call and the clever appeals at the conclusion of meetings, the decision to walk or not to walk and the wondering how many will respond, have distracted them from seeking Christ and from worshipping God in spirit and truth.
Do you remember how the crowds physically followed our Lord Christ until He began to preach some unpopular truths? Then the crowds turned back (John 666). Why? Had they not come to Jesus with their feet? Yes, but this is not the coming to Him that is necessary for salvation. Christ said, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me; and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 637). And again He said, “No man can come to me except the Father draw him” (John 644). In neither of these instances was Jesus speaking of the physical movement of the feet. Men today need to be reminded that coming to Christ is not walking an aisle, but is casting oneself on Christ for life or death. May God cause the Church to return to the Scriptures for its methods of winning men to Christ. May sinners be charged not to come forward in a meeting but to come to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Decisional Regeneration and Preaching
The false teaching of “Decisional Regeneration” has polluted even the structure of the sermon. Jack Hyles, considered by many to be an authority on preaching, gives the following advice to his fellow-ministers “Many of us in our preaching will make such statements as, ‘Now, in conclusion’;
‘Finally, may I say’; ‘My last point is . . .’. These statements are sometimes dangerous. The sinner knows five minutes before you finish; hence he digs in and prepares himself for the invitation so that he does not respond. However, if your closing is abrupt and a lost person does not suspect that you are about finished, you have crept up on him and he will not have time to prepare himself for the invitation. Many people may be reached, using this method,” (10).
At the first reading of such a teaching one might believe, or at least hope, that he misread Mr. Hyles. The second, third and fourth readings, however, confirm that Mr. Hyles actually teaches that men may be converted to Christ as a result of some clever method a minister uses in his sermon, and that one’s eternal destiny may be determined by the impulse of an unguarded moment. This idea that a man’s salvation may depend upon his being “crept up on” and giving his unwilling consent is in direct conflict with what the Scriptures teach concerning the receiving of Jesus Christ. In reality the kind of Preaching that tries to creep up on sinners results for the most part in bringing people to religion, not to Christ. Can there be any more terrible result of a sermon than the bringing of people to something other than our Lord Jesus Christ?
True preaching is not a clever device of man, but a demonstration of the Spirit of God as the truth of God is proclaimed. I can never forget hearing Dr. David Martyn Lloyd- Jones illustrate what true preaching is with an account of George Whitefield preaching in the church of Jonathan Edwards “There was this genius Jonathan Edwards listening to Whitefield, who wasn’t in the same field, of course, from the standpoint of genius and ability and so on. But as he was listening to Whitefield, his face, says Whitefield, was shining. Edwards’ face was shining and tears were streaming down his face. Edwards was recognizing this authentic, authoritative note-this preaching. Whitefield was in the Spirit. Edwards was in the Spirit, and the two were blended together. The whole congregation and the preacher were one in the hand of God. That is preaching. May God enable us to practice it and experience it,”(11). The preaching of which Dr. Lloyd-Jones is speaking of and which the New Testament speaks is far removed from the trickery used in much modern preaching. Biblical preaching declares that men are not born again by the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 113).
“Decisional Regeneration” does not bring men to Christ any more than does Baptismal Regeneration. It is true that some are converted under such preaching, but this is in spite of the false methods used, not because of them. The Bible is clear in its declaration that only by the Spirit of God can men be born again. True repentance and saving faith come as the result of the new birth and are never the cause of the great change. Repentance and faith are the acts of regenerated men, not of men dead in sins (Eph. 21, 5). However, God does not act for us; He does not believe for us; and He surely cannot repent for us-He has no sin for which to repent. We must personally, knowingly and willingly trust in Christ for salvation. Nor are we saying that preachers should not urge, yea, plead with men to repent and believe. Any preaching which merely rehearses the facts of the gospel without calling men to repentance and faith in Christ as a merciful and mighty Saviour of sinners is not biblical preaching.
The apostles taught that God saves His elect through the foolishness of preaching. All new methods devised by man can only fall far short of this ordained means of converting the sinner. The Church must forsake its carnal inventions and once again be guided by the teaching of Scripture if it is to expect God to bless its efforts and multiply its harvest. The Scriptural means of evangelizing is to “preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 123-24).
Decisional Regeneration and Theology
Whether it is openly recognized or not, there are always certain doctrinal presuppositions which underlie the methods used in evangelism. What kind of teaching, then, has allowed the Church to depart from historic Christianity and to take up these new devices?
The new birth according to our Lord Jesus Christ is sovereign work of the Spirit of God in the heart of man (John 38). Yet in conflict with Christ’s teaching, one of the forefathers of this new evangelism states that “Religion is the work of man.” This is a shocking statement, especially since it is found on the very first page of Lectures on Revivals of Religion, the most influential of all of Charles G. Finney’s writings, (12). The great theological difference between modern evangelism and biblical evangelism hinges on this basic question whether true religion is the work of God or of man. At best, the doctrine of “Decisional Regeneration” attributes the new birth partly to man and partly to God.
J. H. Merle d’Aubigne (1794-1872) in his history of the Reformation in England states that “to believe in the power of man in the work of regeneration is the great heresy of Rome, and from that error has come the ruin of the Church. Conversion proceeds from the grace of God alone, and the system which ascribes it partly to man and partly to God is worse than Pelagianism,” (13). One of the greatest American theologians, Charles Hodge (1797-1878), also points out the danger of this teaching “No more soul-destroying doctrine could well be devised than the doctrine that sinners can regenerate themselves, and repent and believe just when they please. . . As it is a truth both of Scripture and of experience that the unrenewed man can do nothing of himself to secure his salvation, it is essential that he should be brought to a practical conviction of that truth. When thus convicted, and not before, he seeks help from the only source whence it can be obtained.” (14)
In both the above statements stress is put upon man’s helplessness to be born anew, and the necessity for God to create life. It is especially in these two areas that the doctrine of “Decisional Regeneration” deviates from the biblical doctrine of re generation. This brings us to the foundational issue of “Decisional Regeneration” What is the spiritual condition of man?
Can a man be born again by answering “yes” to a certain group of questions? Can a man be born from “above” by walking to the front of a building? Can a man become a true Christian by responding to an invitation as a result of being “crept up on” unawares? Your answers to these questions will be determined by your view of man’s spiritual condition. What is man’s spiritual state?
The grand old Scottish theologian Thomas Boston (1676-1732) very vividly illustrated man’s spiritual condition by comparing the unconverted person to a man in a pit. He can only get out of the pit in one of two ways he may through much toil and difficulty scale the sides of the pit to the top, which is the way of works; or, he may grab hold of the rope of grace let down by Christ and be pulled out of his misery. Yes, he may decide to pull himself up by the rope of the gospel, “but, alas! the unconverted man is dead in the pit, and cannot help himself either of these ways.”(15)
Man is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and cannot please God (Eph. 21; Rom. 88). Our Saviour Himself portrayed man’s condition as one of utter helplessness “No man can come to me except the Father who has sent me draw him”; “No man can come to me except it were given to him of my Father” (John 644, 65).
This state of death and bondage to sin cannot be changed by making a decision or by walking an aisle. A man cannot make himself a Christian. Only the Spirit of God can create a new man in Christ. God in His grace gives men new hearts. Only then can they willingly repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. God Himself has stated this truth by saying “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes…” (Ezek. 3626, 27). Jesus Christ also clearly said, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom he wishes” (John 521).
The greatness of God’s power in saving sinners can only be seen against the background of man’s desperate condition. What a glorious doctrine is the new birth to the helpless sinner! May the Church return to biblical doctrine so that it may evangelize again to the glory of God.
How helpless guilty nature lies,
Unconscious of its load!
The heart, unchanged can never rise
To happiness and God.
The will perverse, the passions blind,
In paths of ruin stray;
Reason, debased, can never find
The safe, the narrow way.
Can aught, beneath a power divine,
The stubborn will subdue?
Tis Thine, almighty Saviour, Thine,
To form the heart anew.
O change these wretched hearts of ours,
And give them life divine!
Then shall our passions and our powers,
Almighty Lord, be Thine!
What Must we Do?
It is not a time to be silent; it is time to speak out. We have kept quiet too long, somehow feeling that if we opposed these unbiblical practices we might be hindering the good work of evangelism, believing that among the multitudes of “decisions” there are some genuine conversions. But with every passing week thousands are being counseled into a false hope! Men are directed to walk aisles when they should be pointed to Christ alone. The high calling of preaching has degenerated into a series of gimmicks and tricks. These false practices have resulted from the perversion of biblical doctrine. In the midst of this darkness let us pray that God may be pleased to revive His Church again. This revival can come only through Christ. Men must turn afresh to His directions for counseling, to His free invitations to sinners and to the preaching of His gospel. Only then will our labors bring glory to God; and if God grants, many sinners will be converted for His glory.
(1) The word “again” is better rendered “from above.” It points to the ultimate source of the new birth, the Triune God.
(2) C. H. Spurgeon, The New Perk Street Pulpit (London, 1964), Vol. 6, p.171.
(3) Jack Hyles, How To Boost Your Church Attendance (Grand Rapids, 1958), pp. 32-35.
(4) Iain H. Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (London, 1966), p. 110.
(5) Ibid, p. 111.
(6) Robert L. Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (London, 1967), Vol. 2, p. 13.
(7) Albert B. Dod, “The Origin of the Call for Decisions,” The Banner of Truth Magazine (London, Dec., 1963), Vol. 32, p. 9.
(8) Murray, op. cit., pp. 107-109.
(9) John Julian, A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1907) p. 609.
(10) Hyles, op. cit., pp. 43-44.
(11) Recorded in shorthand from a sermon, “The Responsibility of
Evangelism,” preached at Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pa., in June, 1969.
(12) For the clearest statement of Finney’s theory of regeneration read his sermon, “Sinners Bound To Change their Own Hearts,” Sermons on Various Subjects (New York, 1835). For a detailed examination of Finney’s theology see “Review of Lectures on Systematic Theology,” The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review (Philadelphia, 1847), Vol. 19, pp. 237-Z77; also Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Theology of Charles C. Finney,” Perfectionism (Philadelphia, 1967), pp. 166-215.
(13) J. H. Merle d’Aubigne, The Reformation in England (London, 1962), Vol. 1, p. 98.
(14) Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1970), Vol. 2, p. 277.
(15) Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State (London, 1964), p. 183. Free Grace Publications 500 Harmony Drive Canton, Georgia 30114
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