Today I spent some time studying church covenants. In the process I came across a totally unrelated but interesting little tidbit from Leon McBeth’s The Baptist Heritage. While relating the beliefs and practices of the Sandy Creek Church, McBeth notes some differences between General and Separate Baptists. The distinctions between these two revolved around their attitude toward revival, particularly with regard to the work and preaching of George Whitefield. The “General” Baptists were not enthusiastic about it, while the “Separate” or “New Light” Baptists were.
Anyway, with regard to the Separates, McBeth notes that they “apparently helped popularize what is now known as the ‘evangelistic invitation,’” and quotes the following in support:
At the close of the sermon, the minister would come down from the pulpit and while singing a suitable hymn would go around among the brethren shaking hands. The hymn being sung, he would then extend an invitation to such persons as felt themselves poor guilty sinners, and were anxiously inquiring the way of salvation, to come forward and kneel near the stand.
McBeth concludes from this that “the Separates thus devised a method of encouraging on-the-spot religious decisions, to the singing of a hymn, well before the revivals of Charles G. Finney, who is often credited with inventing the invitation” (p. 231).
Some closing points:
- Whether Finney was the originator of the public invitation or not, he definitely utilized and popularized it
- Whitefield preferred to wait and see fruit rather than claim converts, so he should not be blamed for this kind of aberrant practice
- Whether this is proof of “inventing the invitation,” we’re not told the whole story, so we should be cautious about the conclusions we draw from this (McBeth didn’t tell everything that the Separates were expecting or doing by this practice)
Anyway. It was interesting, I thought.