Many believers today hold that the giving of an invitation at the end of a service is inherently an unscriptural manipulative practice. They believe that this is especially the case if the minister instructs the congregation to bow their heads and close their eyes with no one looking around and then forcefully challenges people to respond to the message by coming forward. They often assert that Scripture provides little to no support for the giving of such an invitation.
Instead of using an invitation, some ministers end their services typically with a brief time of prayer in which people are encouraged to respond to what they have heard. Often, this instruction is coupled with a statement that the minister will be available after the service to talk with any people who are interested in learning more.
Does the Scripture support these perspectives about what should and should not be done in services after the preaching?
Heads Bowed, Eyes Closed?
Preachers routinely ask their people to bow in prayer with them in numerous contexts, such as before receiving the Lord’s Supper, ordaining deacons, and dedicating children. The (legitimate) assumption in these settings is that people will close their eyes when they bow their heads.
Scripture supports a sinner’s bowing his head (presumably with his eyes closed) in the presence of Deity, when approaching God, or encountering a messenger of God:
“And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant” (Gen. 18:2-3).
“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks: and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15).
“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17).
These passages (and others like them) support instructing people to bow their heads and close their eyes when they are approaching God in prayer. Telling lost people, many of whom have had no prior instruction about how to approach God properly, to do so makes perfect sense and is fitting with guiding them in approaching God with humility, as they must.
No One Looking Around?
Instructing people to close their eyes should make saying that no one is to be looking around unnecessary. These words probably, therefore, are spoken to put at greater ease people who want to respond but who also worry about other people’s seeing them respond to the message.
Is this a biblical perspective? The only passage in Scripture that actually records a church service taking place does not seem to support this notion:
“But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you [plural you] of a truth” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).
The act of falling down on one’s face and reporting to the congregation what God has done in your heart does not support merely making a private response. It also does not support putting sinners at greater relative ease for making a response. (For a fuller treatment of 1 Cor. 14:23-25, see my post The Consummation of Public Worship)
Telling people to come forward after a message is consistent with the response related above in 1 Corinthians 14:25 in which a sinner who is convicted in a church service publicly abases himself and publicly reports to the congregation that God has truly worked in his heart through their ministry to him. It is also consistent with other Scriptural teaching that God requires abasing oneself from those who would come to Him for forgiveness (2 Chron. 7:14; cf. Jonah 3:5, 6, 8).
Instructing sinners to bow their heads and close their eyes as they approach God in prayer is biblical. Informing them about pastoral availability after the service is one possible way to encourage them to go beyond praying.
Challenging sinners whom God has convicted in a service, however, to come forward is supported by epistolary teaching showing that a fitting response in such a situation involves publicly abasing oneself and informing the congregation about what God has done for them. Such a response is consistent with other passages about what God demands from sinners who would come to him for forgiveness of their sins.
Although Scripture thus supports the use of a “head bowed, eyes closed . . .” invitation, such invitations have often been misused in years past. A minister who uses such an invitation must do so with great care so that he is not manipulative in what he does.