A Question

It is interesting of late that the “sinner’s prayer” used to usher millions into a relationship with Jesus Christ is being questioned quite prominently.  Two notable names come to my mind: Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love and Erasing Hell; and David Platt, author of the bestselling Radical.  Francis Chan has said that he cannot find a Biblical example of the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s my understanding that he lost his teaching position at Master’s Seminary because of these comments.  David Platt said, “There is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament.”  He went on, “”I’m convinced many people in our churches are just simply missing the life of Christ and a lot of it has to do with what we’ve sold them as the Gospel, i.e. ‘pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, invite Christ into your life,'” he said. “Its modern evangelism built on sinking sand and it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.”

In a blog posted later he also said, “I have also preached more than a dozen graduation messages and in each and every one I have shared the gospel, invited people to receive Christ, and even helped them as they surrender their lives to Christ by leading them in a ‘sinner’s prayer.” He wrote that to say he still supports using the sinner’s prayer.  Even though he questions the use of the prayer he still uses the method.  He shouldn’t be criticized for that.  He probably doesn’t have another acceptable method in his mind.

But I dare ask the question, if you are not going to use the sinner’s prayer anymore what are you going to use?  Is that the fall back method because you can’t think of anything else?  If the potential is there to lead so many people down the wrong path, as Platt suggests, then what can you use?  Question, what method was used before the sinner’s prayer became popular in the 1800’s? People before the 1800’s would be completely ignorant of this prayer.

George Barna (who has joined in the criticism of the sinners prayer), in his provocative book, Pagan Christianity, notes in today’s church conversion is separated from baptism by a long period of time.  One might say the sinner’s prayer at one time but are not baptized until months later.  This was unheard of in the first century church.  In the early church, converts were baptized immediately upon believing, or as soon as they were able (Just read the book of Acts).  Those who repented and believed were baptized.  David Wright says, “At the birth of the church, converts were baptized with little or no delay.”

In the first century baptism was more than a convert’s expression of faith, it was also the way they came to the Lord.  For this reason the exercise of baptism was closely linked with saving faith.  Barna notes that many New Testament writers often use baptism in place of the word faith and link it to being saved. (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21).  Baptism was the initial confession of faith for the early church.  Barna also agrees with Chan that no person in the Bible came to the Lord by being led through any kind of prayer.

Let’s be clear, water doesn’t save you.  Only the blood of Jesus Christ saves you and that blood is applied through faith (Ephesians 2:10).  The confession of that faith, and the appeal of that faith, was made through baptism in the New Testament and that ceremony was made as soon as possible, whether it be in a pond or in a church.

And let’s be clear again, baptism is not the magic ceremony that saves you (Just like the sinners prayer is not a magic saying that saves you).  What matters is the heart surrendering to God.  Peter says that a baptism that is absent of a pledge of good conscience toward God is just taking a bath.  Baptism though is the Biblical way to make that pledge of good conscience.

If you don’t use the sinner’s prayer anymore and you don’t replace it with baptism, then what other Biblical model is there?  Thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “A Question

  1. I love what Ray Comfort says about this. He makes the point that if a man has cheated on his wife and later repents, no one has to lead him in a “prayer” telling her how sorry he is for his sin and asking for her forgiveness. If there is true contrition in a heart and God has given a person faith to believe in the gift of the cross of Christ, a heartfelt prayer will naturally follow. The bottom line is (sorry to get a litte Calvinist)….salvation is of the Lord. It is a supernatural work of God. My belief is that we should exhort people to cry out to God to do a work in their heart (which may not happen overnight) with a heart of faith. We should encourage them that He will never cast out anyone who comes to Him, but also warn them that no one can fool God. He knows whether they are sincere. Then we should baptize them, if the fruit of their life shows evidence of conversion. If not, we should say with John the Baptist, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!”, if it seems they are doing it as a ritual.

  2. Interesting statements in both Kirk’s blog and Jason’s response. Concerning your last couple of sentences, Jason… what about the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip? Evidently Philip proceeded based on the guy’s profession of belief in Jesus instead of waiting to observe if the fruit of his life showed evidence of conversion. Since accepting Jesus (salvation) is a heart change, it is hard for us to be sure about someone else’s heart at the moment they say they believe, but maybe it is better to risk erring on the side of baptizing the person instead of on the side of not baptizing. What are yall’s thoughts?

  3. My first thoughts Janet is you are exactly right in your assessment of Phillip. After Philip explained how Isaiah related to Jesus and the Gospel he was baptized as soon as he believed. It was just that simple. In all the other baptism accounts in the New Testament a person was baptized as soon as they believed in the Gospel. The only exception would be Paul, who was baptized three days after his vision of Christ. In Acts 9 it says Paul was baptized as soon as the scales came off his eyes. In the commission Ananias gave Paul in Acts 22 he said, “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized and wash your sins away.” So even in Paul’s baptism there was no waiting period to see fruit or proof of worthiness.

    The early church in the 2nd -4th centuries (and beyond) took this idea of seeing the fruit of their belief before baptism to the extreme. In many cases a convert candidate would have to go through years of classes and training before they could even be considered for baptism.

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