At every worship assembly, we generally provide the opportunity to respond publicly to the invitation. There are typically four general types of responses, each of which has a “public” nature to it:
1. Baptism. One important reason for a public response to the invitation is a person’s desire to be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. As Peter concluded his masterful sermon on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, the text informs us that “when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins…” (Acts 2:37-38).
Gospel sermons lead to baptisms, because this is the required act by which we have our sins forgiven. It is in baptism that we come in to contact with the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, (1 Pet. 3:21; Col. 2:12-13; Rom. 6:3-6). It is only natural that after the presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ, the sincere hearer should wish to appropriate the blessings of his death burial and resurrection. “What must I do?” is a natural question are following the preaching of the gospel. And the answer includes baptism for salvation. When a person hears a gospel sermon and responds to the invitation by requesting baptism, it is because their heart is convicted by the message of the cross, and they are ready to dedicate their life to Jesus Christ.
2. Confession of Public Sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 Jn. 1:9). The nature of confession requires that it be as public as the sin is known. If the sin is known publicly, a public confession of sin is completely in order.
When a person responds to the invitation, asking for the opportunity to make public confession of sin, it is because they have come to understand the nature and seriousness of their sin. They recognize our duty to confess our sins “one to another, and pray one for another,” (Jas. 5:16). They are humbled by their own wrongdoing, which stands in contrast to the pure, sinless example of Jesus Christ. They do not want any sin to stand between them and God, and they recognize that confession is necessary in order for forgiveness to occur.
3. Placing Membership. Often, the best way to manifest one’s intention to be identified as a member of the local congregation, is by a public response to the invitation. When the apostle Paul had obeyed the gospel, he saw the need to “join himself” to the disciples in a particular congregation, (Acts 9:26). He was not a “member at large,” as so many people seem to think they are today. He wanted to submit to the authority of the elders in a local congregation, and become actively involved in the work of the local church. And, he obviously wanted people to know that he was a member of the church.
“Placing membership” is a manifestation of intent, a public statement of one’s desire to be known as a member, not merely a visitor or transitory guest. What better time than the invitation to request the opportunity to make such a statement to the church? When it follows a meeting with the elders, during which the entire matter is discussed openly, placing membership in this manner is both expedient and eminently scriptural.
4. Request for Prayers. Sometimes the issues of life are so serious and threatening, a public request for prayers is appropriate. Prayers for strength and encouragement can be offered by a loving spiritual family, who has been made aware of the need through a public response to the invitation. Such opportunities are priceless and should never be abused or taken for granted.
Although there is always a need for the prayers of our brethren, sometimes the need becomes imminent or exceptional. The apostle Paul did not hesitate to make request that the church at Ephesus should pray for him, “that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak,” (Eph. 6:19-20). Responding to the invitation is a serious and sobering privilege. If the opportunity is used thoughtfully and in accordance with the Scriptures, it is productive of much good.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.