Protestant Christianity has employed what is called Decisional Theology, also known as Decisional Regeneration (The New Birth), only in relatively recent history. With regards to Decisional Regeneration and Altar Calls, one may read thousands of pages of the history of the Christian Church without finding a single reference to the “old-fashioned altar call” before the last century. Most Christians are surprised to learn that history before the time of Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) knows nothing of this type of “invitation.”
The practice of urging men and women to make a decision for Christ and then to physically get up and walk to the front and pray the “sinners prayer” at the conclusion of a meeting was introduced by Mr. Finney in the second decade of the nineteenth century.
Finney became the revivalist preacher in what is known as “the Second Great Awakening” in USA. He departed from traditional Calvinist theology by teaching that people have a free will to choose eternal redemption. A major theme of his preaching was the need for conversion. Finney’s eschatology was post-millennial, meaning he believed the Millennium (believed to be a thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth) would begin before Christ’s “Second” Coming. This was an Eschatological and Philosophical believe that Christians could bring in the Millennium by ridding the world of evils and work to improve the quality of life in society. His preaching emphasis was always on the ability of men, and women to choose their own redemption (for eternal life), and to work for the general welfare, and to build a new society.
Finney was an advocate of perfectionism and taught that through complete faith in Christ believers could receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit and reach Christian perfection (a higher level of sanctification). For Finney, this meant living in obedience to God’s law and loving God and one’s neighbors. Thought: Perhaps Finney’s background in Law when studying to become a lawyer before his conversion experience has something to do with his mix of strict legalism, i.e. a believe in a God of justice and of mercy. Finney believed it was possible for Christians to backslide and lose their redemption. Finney was involved with social reforms, particularly the abolitionist movement, which in itself was good progress. He frequently denounced slavery from the pulpit, calling it a “great national sin”, and he refused Holy Communion to slaveholders. [source partly retrieved of Wikipedia]
The Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul never used an altar call, yet today some consider the altar call to be a necessary mark of an Evangelical Church. In fact, Churches which do not practice it are often accused of having no concern for the lost and being passive in their approach to “reaching the lost”. Neither Paul nor Peter ever climaxed their preaching with imposing upon their hearers the decision to walk to the front or not. It is not only with Church history, then, but with Scriptural history as well that decisional Theology – for regeneration (The New Birth) with the altar call is in conflict. Their preaching rather led to people asking what they must do to be saved (from the coming wrath in their generation), after which the water baptism was introduced to those who truly believed. Yet Paul hardly baptized anyone. The message of the Apostles was a combination of announcing eternal redemption by the Faith of Christ as a gift to all, and a strong emphasis on the fact that faith in Christ would save them from the then soon coming wrath of God.
There are differences of perspectives on decisional regeneration among Christian circles. Those who oppose the doctrine of decisional regeneration lean more towards a Calvinistic approach and hold that regeneration is a decision that God makes and is solely a work of God in those whom He selects.
What I have been showing throughout articles in this blog is that God is not going to redeem people by His sovereign decision and elect them for regeneration. They are not going to be redeemed when they decide to accept Christ. Neither of that is ever going to happen, because God already redeemed all of humanity 2000 years ago.
For reference sake remember that there can be a huge difference between the word’s redemption and salvation/saved. Though the words can be used interchangeably. For example, salvation can refer to the new birth and eternal life as well as being saved from destruction and or danger all at the same time. The usage is determined by the context.
Redemption comes from the root meaning of ransom or payment. We were eternally forgiven and therefore redeemed and ransomed.
Romans 7 King James Version (KJV)
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Through His death Jesus did not pay God the Father a ransom by means of receiving punishment of Him on the cross. He did not pay the devil either. It seems more likely according to scripture that Christ in His death fulfilled and satisfied what looks like a collective and individual human consciousness of sin and guilt.
Forgiveness of sin and the resurrection of Christ made the Birth of a New Creation possible.
Romans 4:25 King James Version (KJV)
25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Salvation/Saved; deliverance from danger and destruction and physically perishing.
Just like the first generation of the Hebrew people who left Egypt in the great Exodus all died except Joshua and Caleb, and only the next generation entered the promised land, so God elected those who would be saved from the destruction that came on Jerusalem just before 70 AD, and Christ received them unto Himself to take them back to heaven, John 14:3.
They were God’s sovereign election by Grace.
By the time the Neronic persecution broke out in 64 A.D. Christians could no longer meet publicly. They had to go into hiding for the most part. By that time, the Apostles had stopped writing their inspired writings. Not because they wanted to, but because they were killed in the Neronic persecution and were no longer around. The fact that their writings ended abruptly before 70 AD, and we hear no more from them after that, tells us that they must have died or were rapture’d and taken to heaven. If any of them had remained alive on earth beyond 70 AD, they would have continued to pump out more inspired epistles to the Churches about the fulfillment of their prophecies. Apostle John is a controversial example. If he were still alive on earth after 70 AD, he could easily have written more inspired scripture. And it would have been necessary for him to do that, in view of the statements of Church fathers such as Papias, Polycarp, and Ignatius saying that the Parousia was still future.
It would be criminal negligence for an inspired apostle to ignore that false teaching and let it go uncorrected. He should have spoken up and let everyone know that his book of Revelation had already been fulfilled during the great Jewish War 66-70 AD.
It needs to be said that missionary activity and the writing of epistles intensified in those last few years just before the Jewish revolt. The time statements in those last few books were also intensified, both in quantity and imminence. Thirty-five years before this, Jesus told his disciples that all these things would occur in that generation sometime, before all of them died. In the last dozen epistles that were written, the language of imminence is extremely intense; such as “the coming of the Lord is at hand”, “the end of all things is at hand”, “it is the last hour”, “the world(Age) is passing away”.
All their intense missionary activity and epistle-writing came to a sudden halt in 64 AD with the deaths of Peter, John, and perhaps Paul as well in the Neronic persecution.
We hear no more from any of them after Peter penned his final epistle (2 Peter), where he says that his departure (death) was at hand. The persecution and killing of Christians drastically intensified during the period of the 64-66 AD Neronic persecution and killed most of the Christians during those last two years before the war 66-70 AD. That is why there were so few Christians left alive at the time of Christ’s Return. Only the “elect” who watched for the signs, and understood Christ’s teachings, obeyed His instructions, would live and remain until the Parousia. Yet, being elected suggests that God had already predetermined (Election by Grace) who would survive the persecutions. The Jews were given forty years to make a decision to accept Yeshua as their Messiah. Those who did, would not come under the wrath of God. The wrath and judgment of God came upon those who actively persecuted the Christian believers. Yet, that did not mean Christian believers would not die as martyrs under the persecutions. Only those whom God (s)elected would survive until the very end and would partake in the rapture at the Parousia.
Though it appears that the resurrection of the dead and the rapture would have occurred at the beginning of the three-and-a-half-year period of the Parousia in 66 AD. The event of the resurrection of the dead out of Hades and the rapture of the believers who were still alive was an event which took place as instant as the twinkling of an eye. The tribulation that fell over Jerusalem and Judea afterwards lasted for three and a half years, which the book of Revelation 6 describes as the wrath of the Lamb of God. This explains how that believers were spared and saved before the cataclysmic end began.
Jesus said that there would be “elect ones” who would escape the tribulation, and not be confused or misled by the false teachers, and would remain alive to experience all the things Christ said they would experience at His Coming:
Matthew 24:22 King James Version (KJV)
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
And with Paul’s corresponding quote from Isaiah;
Romans 9 King James Version (KJV)
27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: 28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.
Though many but not all the pre-70 AD believers were killed in the Neronic persecution, nor fell away in the great apostasy. As per Jesus statement above it was the “the elect” group of believers who would not be killed, nor would they be deceived, confused or misled by the false Christ’s, false prophets, and other false teachers (such as the Gnostics, Judaizers and Hellenizers).
A decision to accept the Messiah and therefore not to Perish in the judgment
The Elect were made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jewish believers were the elect who were symbolically described as the 144.000 in the book of Revelation and were the remnant of which Paul talks in Romans 9. They were also the generation of Jews, which had to make a crucial decision. Throughout the New Testament we can see that the decision to accept the Messiah, was imposed upon the members of the Sinaitic Covenant, and came with the promise of deliverance from the wrath of God. The Sinaitic Covenant was binding and focused on external physical adherence.
Only death could provide an exit out of that Covenant. If a Jew under that Covenant would decide to believe on the crucified and resurrected Yeshua as their Messiah, the confession of their faith in Him with their water baptism amounted to their identification with His death and resurrection. Jesus promised them they would be saved from the wrath of God that was to come upon Jerusalem and Judea. They would not perish physically under the wrath of God that came because of the apostasy committed under the Old Sinaitic Covenant.
Remember audience relevance here. Whom was Jesus speaking to?
John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
And again Paul’s corresponding statement:
Romans 5 King James Version (KJV)
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 10:13 King James Version (KJV)
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (also take the previous verses 9-12 into consideration)
The Jews who actively suppressed the truth of Yeshua as their Messiah died in the Jewish war 66-70 AD during the Parousia. The Judgment of the Sinaitic Covenant according to the Law of Moses meant that they were going to perish physically in the fires of Gehenna outside the city wall of Jerusalem and perish as the city was sacked and transformed into one big lake of fire. Their horrible physical perishing (death) would ultimately and legally relief them from the obligations towards the Old Sinaitic Covenant.
Their decision to believe and accept Yeshua as their Messiah had nothing to do with eternal redemption but was a decision that would cause them to be delivered from the Law of Moses and wrath.
Romans 7:6 King James Version (KJV)
6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
We must clearly distinguish here between eternal redemption, which provided the New Birth, and was the sole result of Christ’s faith on behalf of humanity, and the decision of the individual to accept Christ to be saved from wrath. Since the final abolishing of the Old Sinaitic Covenant with the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD, no decision to accept Jesus as the Christ is imposed upon anyone in order to avoid some form of punishment and wrath of God.
The wrath of God was linked with the broken Sinaitic Covenant only. The New Covenant set up between the Father and the Son can never be broken. The only reason why a decision to accept the Messiah was imposed upon the Jews from between the time of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry until 70 AD was because according to the law of Moses the decision to accept the Messiah was an Old Sinaitic Covenant requirement.
Moses told the Hebrew people this propehcy:
Deuteronomy 18:15 King James Version (KJV)
15 The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
Failing to accept Christ the Messiah, would amount to breaking the Sinaitic Covenant.
The phrase “like me,” in Deuteronomy 18:15 as in, just like Moses, is defined in Numbers 12:6–8 as being someone who speaks to God face to face, as opposed to other prophets to whom the Lord spoke in a vision or in a dream.
John 1 King James Version (KJV)
21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
Clearly they were expecting “That Prophet” of whom Moses spoke. When Yehsua revealed Himself many still rejected Him as the promised Messiah.
Decisional Salvation or regeneration?
Where a decision to believe on the Messiah was crucial for those under the Old Sinaitic Covenant to escape wrath, the decision to accept Christ for us today does not cause God to give us eternal redemption. So long as the Old Sinaitic Covenant and the Temple was still standing and those under that covenant were still alive they had to choose to accept the promised Messiah so they would not to perish physically under the wrath of God. However, a decision to accept Christ today does not make eternal redemption so. Redemption was already given to every human being 2000 years ago through the death and resurrection of Christ. When we rise to the awareness of this reality because we heard about it from a preacher or whomsoever, we can acknowledge it, and confess our faith in Christ, which is most powerful when do it because we have come realize it is already ours. Confessing to get what we believe we do not already have is counterproductive.
The New Birth
John 3:7 King James Version (KJV)
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye (you = plural) must be born again.
Of course, most will know the story around this verse. Yet, many have failed to keep this verse in context with the whole chapter leading all the way up to John 3:16 and further. Jesus spoke concerning the People of Israel. Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel, a ruler of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin and therefore a representative of the people of Israel. At certain points in the conversation Jesus spoke to him addressing his person. However, in the above verse the word “you” is plural. Here the word “you” is not referring to Nicodemus as an individual, but the people of Israel as a whole. Nicodemus understood that Jesus was referring to the people of Israel. Only modern-day Christianity has turned this into a responsibility that lies upon the individual to make a decision to accept Christ to then receive the New Birth of spirit.
Did mankind participate in God’s original creative act on earth? No.
Did mankind participate in God’s last spiritual act of redemption in Christ? No.
Did you make the decision to be born from your biological father through your biological mother? No. In that same way our spiritual birth out of God through the death and resurrection of Christ was God’s decision.
The New birth we know is a spiritual re-birth from heaven. It means being born from above, and more precisely: born out of God, born of the Spirit.
What Jesus taught Nicodemus here is not a general, timeless description of how the spirit of individuals are transformed or re-born from a personal decision to believe. This is not a generic picture of an unbeliever who gets converted to trust in God. Rather, it is a promise and prediction of a specific event that would happen to the nation of Israel first and then effectively followed by the rest of the nations of the world. Throughout the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the prophets presented Israel with the judgments of God. The nation had ultimately apostatized from God. But along with judgment and desolation, God would provide a new birth for the nation and through them the whole of humanity.
We have a responsibility to herald this awesome truth. Each in our own unique way as God shows us where our role of influence lies.
When we as believers came to the realization and awareness of the truth of our redemption, or anyone comes to know this truth then this truth will have a huge trans-formative impact on their whole state of being in many divers ways. The glorious testimonies of those who have come to the faith are endless.
There is a huge difference between physical salvation and eternal spiritual redemption
The physical salvation from the wrath of God could only be obtained by those of that first century, who were under the Sinaitic Covenant based on faith in Yeshua the Messiah.
Only the Jews who lived between 30 and 70 AD were given the mandate by both the Law of Moses (Torah) and Christ Himself to believe on Him and to accept Him as their Messiah.
Those who accepted Him were saved from the wrath of God that came on Jerusalem and Judea.
Those who 1) clung to the Old Sinaitic Covenant, 2) rejected Christ and 3) were involved in persecuting Christian believers, and 4) suppressing the truth about the Christ perished during the judgment that came on Jerusalem and Judea. They were killed physically during that tribulation, even though they were still eternally spiritually redeemed.
If altar calls are made to get people to accept Jesus to escape hell, it is based on an untruth. That approach is in the long term of that believer’s development psychologically extremely destructive.
An altar call and praying together, confessing faith in Christ and water baptism, can in fact be of great value if your expression is of the kind of faith that says I already have redemption and everything that is Christ’s, because I am one with Christ. He is in me, and I am in Him.