Why the reluctance to call for a response?
There’s a popular saying often repeated by Christians. Maybe you have even uttered these words, commonly attributed to St Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” As Christians, we should live in such a way that our lives point to the person and work of Jesus. However, good intentions cannot overcome two problems with this quote. One, St Francis never said it, and two, the quote is not biblical. Everything history teaches shows that St Francis would not have even agreed with the quote. He was well known for his preaching and often preached up to five times a day.
The prophets, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul put a high value on preaching. The Gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. The Gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. The gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.
This leads me to ask, why the reluctance of some preachers to ask for a response? The real measure of the authority of Scripture in my life is not the respect I have for the Bible but the response I have to it. We may know little of the Bible, but do we respond to the little we know? If I refuse to submit to the Word of God, it has no authority in my life. If I respond only when it is convenient or agreeable, then I “use” the Bible rather than allow God to use it to guide me. I seize control. My power usurps its authority.
In any culture that lacks common moral authority, the outcomes are predictably diabolical. “Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.” This inevitably breeds chaos, division, confusion, dissension and disaster. If we could administer some kind of “biblical authority litmus test” to our lives, would it read favourably? Our failure to read, memorise, discuss, and apply Scripture might suggest something less than comfortable about us.
What’s happening with our response to the Word in our lives? Why the reluctance to call for a response after the preached Word? Are we afraid of lack of response so therefore we stop asking and calling for a response?
I am not saying we need to revert back to the Billy Graham call to come down the front to accept Christ, but that might be very appropriate at times. It might be as simple as standing, or raising a hand, or simply a prayer of response. Some people might be concerned that if we tell people what to say in prayer, they may just repeat it even though no genuine work of regeneration of the Holy Spirit has taken place. Having done that, they may falsely believe that they have become Christians. I have sympathy with this point of view and believe when we call for outward response it must be with love and care.
My son was reading his Bible in a public place when a work mate asked, ‘What are you reading?’ He answered, ‘The Bible’. Her reply was, ‘Can I read that book after you?’ As the conversations continued on he invited her to church and each week she heard the message and a challenge for response was given. Then one service she responded by raising her hand and repeating a prayer of commitment. This lead to follow-up discipleship which brought her to a clearer understanding and life change, that lead to her being baptised and committed to Christ and His church.
Every time we hear the Word of God and are convicted, we need to be moved to action and to be doers of the Word. Let’s not be afraid to ask for response. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? “ – (Romans 10:13-14)
Mark Wilson is Director of Ministries for Baptist Churches of Western Australia. Prac 12.