More than one scholar has forwarded the position that Charles Finney (1792-1875) invented the invitation. To them the invitation system was an innovation along with Finney’s other “New Measures.” While very little may be written about an invitation in early American church history, last summer I came across a book on French church history which gave details about the invitation used by Huguenot preacher Claude Brousson. The following quote provides proof that public invitations to come forward did exist prior to Finney, and in this case about 120 years before Finney’s ministry began.
Claude Brousson was a French lawyer who was forced to flee from France when Protestantism was made illegal by Louis XIV in October 17, 1685 in the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Four years later Brousson felt burdened to leave the safety of his family and new home in Switzerland. He returned to France as a wilderness preacher to reestablish the churches that had been decimated by persecution. He made three itinerating trips, and established the “église du désert” in 1689-1693, 1695-1696, and 1697-1698. Brousson was hunted down, but it wasn’t until his third trip that he was betrayed and sentenced to be broken alive on the wheel November 4, 1698. Prior to being stretched, however, the judge secretly ordered that he be strangled first.
The following is a first hand account of the invitation Brousson gave to his hearers during his first trip to France, restoring “apostates” who had converted to Catholicism. It comes to us from Matthieu Lelièvre’s Portraits et Récits Huguenots, and from the book of French Baptist statesman Ruben Saillens:
When the sermon was over, the preacher asked whether there was any among his hearers wishing to be reconciled to God and His Church, and to re-enter the communion of saints . . . Then, any who were so minded came forward and knelt before the preacher, who began to remonstrate with them and showed them how enormous was the sin they had committed in forsaking Christ. That being done, they were asked to say whether they did repent, and would henceforth live and die in the Reformed faith, in spite of the allurements and threats of the world; whether they heartily renounced the errors of the Church of Rome, the Mass and all thereto appertaining. . . . (This was done in much detail.) They had to answer Yes to all these questions, each individually. After this, they had to promise not to attend Mass any more, and to take great care not to pollute themselves with Babylon, either by marriage or in other ways; not to allow their children to be trained in it, but, on the contrary, to instruct them in the principles of our religion. Each having duly promised, the minister then proclaimed the remission of their sins, saying, “In the name and authority of Jesus Christ, and as a faithful minister of His Word, I declare to you the remission of all your sins, and there is now no condemnation for you, since you are in Jesus Christ.” Then followed a prayer on their behalf. . . .
Forty-two of us were admitted in this manner, the rest of the flock having been received back at previous gatherings. The number of the communicants was about two hundred and fifty, men and women.
Tell our former pastor, M. Modens, that nearly half of his flock are now restored, and by God’s grace the rest will soon follow. The churches at Uzès, Nîmes, Sommières, etc., have all received the same blessing and are now restored. Our foes may say and do what they will, the Holy Spirit has had mercy on us and has reconquered our souls (from Matthieu Lelièvre, Portraits et Récits Huguenots, 274-82; translated and quoted by Rubens Saillens in his The Soul of France [London: Morgan and Scott, 1917], 85-87).
In the midst of the heartache of persecution in France, God sent Brousson as His servant to revive the scattered churches. In the process of reviving the church, Brousson gave an invitation, and “any who were so minded came forward and knelt before the preacher.” Praise the Lord that He is still holding out tenders of His salvation by the mouths of His preachers!
Thomas P. Johnston is Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO.