The phrase has become one of the most familiar in contemporary evangelical Christianity, but what does it mean? In most evangelical groups it has come to mean a personal response to the gospel. In evangelistic meetings or personal evangelism the enquirer is encouraged to make a response to a small subset of Bible doctrines often referred to as the gospel. These are sometimes reduced to 4 steps, the concept being that agreement with these truths and the praying of a simple prayer of confession and commitment effects a transaction in which the enquirer ‘receives Christ’. I came this way, as have many thousands of others. It was a starting place and not to be dishonoured. Every genuine response to God is of vital importance and not to be mocked.
It may come as a surprise to some reading this that this concept of ‘the gospel’ and of ‘receiving Christ’ was the product of the evangelistic campaigns of the 20th Century. This pattern of evangelism has no roots in the history of the Church as we read in the Acts, nor is it in any other part of the New Testament. “But it can be a real help” says the objector. Yes, it may. The purpose of these thoughts is not to undermine or attack any. My anxieties lie in the fact that counsellors or personal workers may ‘go through the motions’ and then declare that the seeker has ‘received Christ’. This then becomes like a Catholic sacrament which is effectual as long as it is in accordance with a pattern.