By Gerald Cowan
A certain preacher was charged with not being a “gospel preacher” and some wanted to fire him because he did not always issue a “formal invitation” at the close of each sermon, Bible class period, or devotional exercise. An invitation to or for what? An invitation complete with a review of the various points (the “five steps” so called) in the “plan of salvation,” just in case anybody needed to be baptized. Of course it must also emphasize the need to be faithful in living and serving the Lord, in case anybody needed to be “restored.” Apparently a formal recitation of “the plan of salvation” is an expected part – some might say a required part of our identity as “the church of Christ.”
Questions: Is it formal, form, or mere formality? Is it a convenience or a convention? Is it a tradition? Is there a scripture command, example, or inference to justify or necessitate such a formal “invitation” or “appeal” at any or every assembly? Is it a necessity or an identifying ritual? Does adding a formal invitation make it “a gospel sermon”? Is it the ritual and the words that save, or is it obedience from the heart by one who has been properly taught what to do and why he should do it? (Rom. 6:17).
Not all ritual acts are true necessities and many have no Biblical foundation. Like “crossing oneself” or “making the sign of the cross.” Like holding up a hand over the head of a baptismal candidate and saying, “By the authority invested in me as a minister...” Who gave ministers any authority? If one does not say, “Upon your confession that Jesus is the Son of God I now baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for the remission of your sins,” or other words to that effect, is the person not properly baptized? There are some “sacred traditions” that many are not willing to question – certainly not to abandon. The “formal invitation” to “obey the gospel” may be one of them.