For many today the ministry of Billy Graham has come from memories to history. Billy Graham became popular for his evangelistic ministry. His crusades were widely attended and marked by his practice of the public invitation. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, public invitations were common among evangelists such as John Wesley, John Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody, and Billy Sunday. These men were not bashful about calling sinners to repent and accept Christ publicly.
Today the climate towards public evangelistic invitations has turned bitter and even hostile in some Christian circles. As I reflect on this change in attitude towards the public invitation I can only think of one reason why every church should practice a public invitation—it is biblical.
Old Testament Examples
- Moses. After Moses discovered the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, he stood at the gate of the camp and asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me” (Ex. 32:26). This appeal demonstrated the Moses was calling the Israelites to denounce publicly their sin and follow God.
- Joshua. When Joshua addressed the people of Israel right before his death he said, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).
- Elijah. At Mount Carmel, Elijah asked the people of Israel who they would serve, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). While no one responded, the invitation was clear.
Examples by Jesus
- Jesus publicly called his disciples. Jesus called Philip, Matthew, and the brothers Simon and Andrew with the simple phrase “Follow me.” It can be safely assumed that Jesus used a similar method when calling the other disciples.
- Jesus publicly called individuals. Most notably Jesus called Zacchaeus publically. When Jesus arrived at the tree He said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Upon Jesus’ command and in an act of repentance, Zacchaeus declared that he would give back to all whom he had wronged. Clearly, this was a call of salvation and public repentance because Jesus explained, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
- Jesus publicly called the crowds. In Matthew 11:28-29 and in John 7:37-38, Jesus invites the crowd to come to him. Each of these instances were invitations for them to come humbly and trust Jesus.
New Testament Examples
- Peter. In Acts 2:14-41, Peter delivered one of the greatest salvation messages ever recorded. “And Peter said to them, ‘repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). Peter preached for a response, and he expected one. By the end of the invitation, about three thousand people had been saved.
- Paul. The ministry of Paul displayed a pattern of evangelistic preaching with the desire to call for response. As recorded in the book of Acts, Paul preached in synagogues located in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, and Ephesus. In each of these situations, Paul proclaimed the truth of the gospel with boldness, presented the truth clearly and sympathetically, preached with respect to his hearers, and identified the difficulties that the listeners would encounter.
- Philip. Philip experienced the work of preaching the gospel when he led the Ethiopian eunuch to the Lord. After explaining the Scriptures to the eunuch, he demanded that he stop and be baptized in the passing water immediately. The invitation was public and immediate.
The call to ask someone publicly to repent of their sin and follow Jesus is a call that is biblical. The Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and the early church leaders all practiced calling individuals and crowds to follow Jesus. Pastors, call your people to repent publicly and believe the Gospel. Don’t allow the methodology of an altar call to stop you from giving a public invitation.