Decisional Regeneration by Jack Kettler
What is decisional regeneration? Is it biblical?
First, what is decisional regeneration?
Decisional regeneration is the teaching that a person must make a conscious decision to accept Christ. They are usually characterized by praying a sinner’s prayer, walking down a church aisle, raising a hand, thus signifying by a public action for what is necessary to be converted or regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
Second, is this methodology biblical? In this overview, this question will be answered in accordance with the consideration of Scripture. Does regeneration or conversion happen by following a formula? Can a formula cause God to act? If so, is this saying that a formula causes the Holy Spirit to react according to a methodology? Can the soul winner’s formula bind God and cause Him to act?
Others have advocated formulas like this, such as the Roman Church in its doctrine of transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration when priests pronounce the rightly worded formula. As a result bread, and wine is transformed into Christ’s actual flesh, and blood, and the water used in baptism causes God to respond with a regenerative action.
It is admitted that God is sovereign and freely acts in accordance with His will. God can indeed act in the regeneration of a sinner at the time of a humanly directed formula if He wills. Disagreeing with decisional regeneration formulas certainly is no way diminishes the need for public confessions of faith. Usually public expressions of faith are witnessed in church membership vows and not forsaking the assembly of the saints. See Hebrews 10:25.
It is altogether too common, to observe those who have followed the formula and never demonstrated any indication of a changed life or soon falling away. For example:
“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Matthew 13:20-21 ESV)
At times in formulistic revivalism, sufficient warnings are given warning those walking the aisle that they need to bring forth the fruits of repentance, which is good. See Matthew 3:8.
If Christ is in an individual, there will be some evidence of a changed life. Exceptions to this would be regeneration immediately prior to death.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19 ESV)
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23 KJV)
The evidence contrary to decisional regeneration is the biblical teaching that humankind is dead in sin and trespasses, and no individual is able to exercise faith in Christ apart from His redeeming grace. Following a formula can no more convert an individual than using a formula or visualizing can make a person monetarily rich, AKA, Napoleon Hill’s “Think & Grow Rich” philosophy. Hill is often credited with being the father of the “name it and claim it” theology.
The issue of grace plus works is an issue of utmost importance. That is why questioning formulistic methodology is not being contentious, but instead is an issue of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. The Christian should always be on guard against allowing a bad theology of works or human merit to enter into the life of the church.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2Peter 3:18 KJV)
In a similar vein, Paul and Jude tell the church: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)
“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1 ESV)
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 ESV)
Consider the following Scriptures that confirm that God’s grace does not follow a formula in the regeneration of a sinner. In addition, these Scriptures indicate that God works first in a sinner’s heart, before a response by an individual.
“And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.’ (Deuteronomy 30:6)
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you and heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
“And I will give them and heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)
“Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2Corinthians 3:3)
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” (Hebrews 8:10)
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” (Hebrews 10:16)
The Holy Spirit gives life. The verb tenses in the above passages that have been underlined are action verbs on God’s part. For example, “I will,” “And you hath he quickened,” “God will.” In the above passages, God’s actions result in a change in a man’s nature. See again Ephesians 2:1.
The conversion formula or method does not square with the above Scriptures in which God gives life to those dead in sin, thus, bringing them to life. The unconverted sinner is incapable of any meritorious work. Specifically, this methodology would make salvation dependent upon making a decision. Does walking aisle, repeating a formulistic prayer trigger God into action? If a person’s conversion is closely tied to a public formulistic conversion event, it must be asked, when did the conversion really take place? Before or after walking the aisle?
If conversion happens after following a formula, the works of a man enter in, a heresy:
To be consistent with the above Scriptures, one can argue that the real conversion happened before following the formula. Following the formula was a result of the conversion, not vice versa. Moreover, this issue is one of grace versus works. In this light, there is nothing trivial at all about questioning formulistic methodology.
Believers are to guard against false doctrine:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30 ESV)
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)
As noted, it can be argued by some that the above disagreement with decisional regeneration is quibbling about petty issues; all that is important is saving souls. Many people will testify that their conversion happened at an evangelistic meeting where formulistic conversion preaching was used. While this argument may seem to have some weight, it is a surrender to pragmatism and unsound doctrine in violation of the Pauline exhortations from Timothy and Titus. Is gospel preaching going to be reduced to a sales presentation, or going through the numbers to get responses?
Also, elements of emotionalism are used in formulistic evangelism. Emotionalism at these events usually involve testimonies and musical performances. While in and of themselves, these things may be permissible. However, to use them to stimulate the emotions in order to gain a response like walking the aisle can be dangerous and produce results that not reflect a true conversion at all.
Moreover, formulistic revival methodology, when used outside the church, is even more problematic. Where does the responder go for spiritual growth after walking the aisle at a crusade meeting? What is the theology of the counselors at the crusade meetings that talk with the responders? This is not a trivial issue. This writer has firsthand experience and has seen Roman Catholics and other sectarians used in large crusades as counselors.
In closing: “If you were to do a survey of church history, reading books and documents from the first century all the way to the early nineteenth century, you would find no mention of “decisions for Christ.” Similarly, one would find no reference to the altar calls, which are the culmination of every modern evangelistic crusade. Those elements, which are found in nearly every evangelical church today, were inventions generally attributed to evangelist Charles Finney who lived from 1792 to 1875. He emphasized the need for a decision, usually made by “coming forward” to approach the altar. Becoming a believer became synonymous with making a decision and proving that decision by taking physical action. It is important to note that this system is foreign to the Scriptures.” – Tim Challies, November 24, 2004, Decisional Regeneration. See the link below.
It is hoped that this study will cause contemplation and refinement of revival meetings, leading to a preaching methodology that is faithful to Scripture.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 ESV)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more research:
Decisional Regeneration by James E. Adams
Decisional Regeneration by Tim Challies