Is Salvation a Decision?

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Quote: Thus my continuing

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Thus my continuing question, what is the purpose, ours or Piper's or whoever, in separating salvation from a point of decision with phrases such as "salvation is not a decision" when we all seem to agree that the end game is a point of decision?
I am a bit confused. You just said, "I don't think that anyone has espoused a salvific scenario that didn't conclude in a decision--repent, believe, trust, convert, commit, call, or whatever." And then you ask what is the purpose of separating salvation from a point of decision?

So you seem to be asking what the purpose is of something that no one is doing. Am I missing something here?

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Yet there has been a lot of bandwidth used to espouse that salvation and a decision must be separated or else.
This too is a strange statement in that it follows directly on your statement that no is doing this.

Is it possible, as I suggested above, that you have created a strawman in of your attempt to cast it as "Calvinism vs. decisionalism" when, as you say, no one is espousing that?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture
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Lee wrote: A couple of

Lee wrote:
A couple of questions on the pragmatic line:
(2) For those who still give invitations, are you not inviting/confronting one with a point of decision?

Lee,

This is a very astute question. It is the very reason many Calvinists do not give invitations, and why most others make the invitation a challenge more than some sort of "alter call." Spurgeon is an prime example of this fact.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture
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"invitations"

Hitting all the hot ones I guess.
But it is definitely related... salvation, decisions, invitations.

Anyway, as with so many other parts of this set of issues, getting clear what people mean by their terms is half the battle... or maybe 4/5 of the battle.

Invitation...
1. An event that follows a sermon and includes these features: several verses of a "moving" song. Repeated urging of people to "come forward and..." Often going on for some time until the preacher is satisfied that he either has gotten the response he wanted or is not going to get the response he wanted.
2. What happens when you urge hearers to believe the gospel.

Of course, we could spin off a few other definitions. But I'll start with two. Should be obvious right away that def.1 normally incudes def.2 but the second kind of "invitation" is...
* Common in Scripture
* Can be included in the sermon itself more than once
But def.1 "invitations" are not found in Scripture and are distinct from preaching.

Do "Calvinists" do invitations? Well, quite a few I know of do... in the second sense rather than the first.

What does any of this have to do with "is salvation a decision" or with "decisionism"?
Well, the def.1 type of invitation more often than not has a particular theology behind it that includes the stated or unstated conviction that it's human persuasiveness that moves a rebellious sinner to become a sincere seeker... and/or the idea that if I preach and don't push hard enough for a response, then the lack of response could be my fault for not pressing enough (this is really an offshoot of the theological pt. already mentioned).

Gotta run, but just want to point out that it's quite possible to be a hard line five pointer and still do invitations in the def.1 style (after all the Westminster Confession acknowledges that God uses secondary causes and the WC is as Reformed as you can get).
It just hasn't been a tradition among those of Reformed soteriology... and there is definitely less inclination to see the need for that if you believe the gospel (vs. our rhetorical prowess or invitational expertise) is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1.16).

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Gospel Invitations

Aaron,

Thank you for distinguishing between an invitation and an altar call. Are "invitations" in the Bible? Yes. For example, Jesus said, "Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." As you pointed out, this kind of invitation is really part of the sermon.

Are altar call style invitations in the Bible? No. Not once, not anywhere. Neither Jesus, nor the Apostles, nor anyone is recorded asking someone to raise a hand, walk an aisle, come forward, kneel at an altar, go to an inquiry room, talk to a personal wokrer, or to repeat a prayer after me.

All the Calvinists that I know give invitations. Some with unusual ferver. Few of the Calvinists I know give altar calls. As Aaron pointed out, the disposition to give or not give altar calls lies largely with one's theological perspective. One's understanding of the gospel, and how men are saved colors how you evaluate the need or desirability for altar calls. Since you can't find one in the Bible anywhere, what does that suggest about the theological understanding of Christ and the Apostles? Just wondering. Smile

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture
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Silence

I'll switch sides a little just for fun ;)
I don't think the absence of the walk-the-aisle type invitation in the NT argues either way. I mean, if we saw a lot of them in Acts or a command to use them in the epistles, that would settle the question, but the absence of reference doesn't say a whole lot one way or the other, seems to me.
"Do you do altar calls?" is a less important question than "If you do have them, why?" (And if not, why not?)

(I don't do them... I have two reasons, one of which is not very noble: I just really stink at that--and a really pathetic altar call is just, well, really pathetic. The other is that I generally aim to do clear "inviting" in the message itself in reference to the text. I don't fault anybody for being really "urgent" in their invitations, but I think "really clear" is the more important quality... often enough, I'm up to my own standards on that scale either, though.
The upside: when somebody does make a decision, I never wonder if it's just because I dazzled them into it!)

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Switching Sides

But...if your comment earlier was correct, that the need for them is driven by a more Arminian understanding of the Gospel, their absence in Scripture must be considered significant.

In other words, if they are viewed as an important, even necessary extension to a successful presentation of the Gospel, that has huge implications for the way we understand the Gospel.

Not everything that is absent from Scripture has such major implications. Sunday Schools are absent from Scripture, but their addition to the life of the church does not impact the way we view the Gospel. But altar calls do. They reflect a Gospel perspective on the part of the evangelist that is weak at best, especially when they are considered essential, as is so often the case. And, they frequently confuse the sinner about what it means to receive Christ. "I came to Christ in 1997 at a 'Revival' meeting. I came forward to receive Christ. Therefore, I must have received Christ." Maybe. Maybe not. What does it mean to receive Christ?

G. N. Barkman

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Hang on

Quote:
Not everything that is absent from Scripture has such major implications. Sunday Schools are absent from Scripture, but their addition to the life of the church does not impact the way we view the Gospel. But altar calls do. They reflect a Gospel perspective on the part of the evangelist that is weak at best, especially when they are considered essential, as is so often the case.

Wait - how do we quantify this statement? That's a pretty sweeping generalization.

For the record, I have no interest in altar calls myself.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

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Quantifying that Statement

Jay,

If I understood what you mean by that comment, I would endeavor to respond to it. However, it does cause me to reconsider and add another reason many give altar calls, namely human tradition. If one ministers in a context where altar calls are considered standard fare, it may be difficult to stop giving them, even if the preacher has personal reservations. In that case, he may work hard at making them as "Scriptural" as possible, no small task for something that is not found in Scripture.

But if the preacher's gospel understanding is sound, he may do more to explain the gospel clearly (as opposed to merely making emotional appeals), and be clear that coming forward does not equate to coming to Christ. In this case, he will doubtless reduce the numbers of those who respond, but will assure his conscience that he has not mislead people who need Christ. What they do not need is a decision they can rest upon in the future as their assurance of salvation. "I know I'm saved because I walked the aisle at Community Baptist Church in 2007."

The preacher may be between a rock and a hard place. He doesn't want to create an uproar in his church by dropping a tradition many consider essential, nor does he want to mislead people regarding the gospel. Its a balancing act that some feel pressured to maintain.

The problem is in equating the sinner's doing something physical (raise a hand, walk an aisle, etc.) with what is totally a spiritual activity, the soul's repentant act of casting itself upon Christ alone. Just listen to the testimonies that flow from many raised in "altar call" churches. "I was saved when I was seven when I went forward in VBS, etc." Many times, there is not even a mention of sin or Christ. What we need to hear is, "As I listened to God's Word, I realized that I was a sinner deserving of God's condemnation. The Gospel became good news to me, and I cast myself upon Christ and His finished work upon the cross as my only hope of salvation."

Why is this so rare? At least in part, because we have for so long equated coming to Christ with some physical activity. The testimonies we hear are a reflection of what people have understood us to say. "Walk this aisle, and you will be saved."

G. N. Barkman

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