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?