-- Martin Luther
I was visiting a local church in our town outside of Nashville, TN once on their first day in a new building. It was also the someteenth anniversary of their launch. The place was packed and the expectations were high. At the close of the message, a fellow took to the keyboard to play a invitational hymn and the preacher began to entreat anybody who felt moved by the message to come forward. I hadn't experienced a public invitation in many years and it took me right back to the church services of my childhood. So I was not surprised when, after reaching the end of the hymn and seeing nobody approach the altar, the keyboardist was instructed to keep playing. The hard sell began. Still nobody budged.
The church had baptisms scheduled at their old location (I can't remember why they couldn't do them at their new place), so the preacher excused himself to make his way there. But instead of ending the invitation he handed the microphone off to another pastor to keep it going. It struck me that they weren't going to stop until somebody came forward. What really got me was that in the middle of this tagged-in preacher's special pleading, he emphatically said to us, "People, Jesus died." Nothing wrong with saying that of course. It's part of the simple gospel announcement. But the tone with which he said it communicated this: Jesus died, and you can't even come forward?
He wanted us to feel guilty, to be leveraged by our guilt over Jesus' death into overcoming our reluctance to respond to the preaching. In one sense, this is completely appropriate. It is felt guilt of our sin that drives us to Christ. Yet this entreaty belied a distrust in the Spirit to drive repentance. It was not an invitation to come find rest in Christ but a guilt trip. And that's not the gospel.
Tomorrow many of us leading worship services will want public response to the good news. We will have put a lot into that service; we will want a return on our investment. On a few levels, that's not wrong. But how we call for the response can be. The gospel is not a guilt trip. Let's be faithful to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ and leave the work of stirring hearts to the Holy Spirit.