The Sinner’s Prayer

This is our pastor’s next article for the local paper, The Stone County Gazette.

As someone brought up as a Southern Baptist, a recent debate taking place within that church body captured my attention.  Recently, much discussion has take place on what many call the “sinner’s prayer.”  For those of you unfamiliar with such a phrase, the sinner’s prayer is what most Baptists point to as when they were saved.  That’s when they prayed to God that they were sinful and asked Jesus to come into their heart to be their Lord and Savior.

So then, what’s the debate?  It’s that a goodly number of Southern Baptists have stated that you can’t find a single example of such a prayer in the entire New Testament.  And they are correct!  And so I have to agree with them.

The first sermon of the New Testament Church is the Apostle Peter preaching on Pentecost day.  After preaching a barn-burning sermon, the people cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  And what did Peter answer?  Did he say, “Come forward and pray this prayer with me?”  No; instead he said, “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).  Instead of directing people to pray a prayer, Peter directed them to repentance and baptism for their salvation.

So, how does a group that claims that they only believe and do what is in the Bible come up with something that isn’t biblical?  By a majority vote of around 80 percent, they cited Romans 10:13, stating, “Repentance and faith involve a crying out for mercy and a calling on the Lord.”  That’s true.  But then came the proper understanding followed by the improper conclusion: They voted that this was the source of the “sinner’s prayer.”

So, what does Romans 10:13 say?  It reads, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  What’s worth noting is that Paul quoted Joel 2:32, word for word.  Even more, Peter is his sermon on Pentecost quoted the verses right before that–Joel 2:28-29.  And yet, neither the Prophet Joel, nor the Apostles Peter and Paul, led others to pray such a prayer.  If anyone knew what those words meant, and how the meaning of those words was to be practiced, they would know!

Yet, what do we find Paul doing?  Let’s remember the account of Paul escaping prison in Acts 16.  When the jailer realized the prisoners under his watch had escaped, he was planning to commit suicide.  But the Apostle Paul and Pastor Silas stopped the jailer.  It was then the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?”  Did Paul say, “Pray this prayer with me?”  No; he said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

Now why am I going on about this?  Because, I find it sad that a church body–which claims to believe only what the Bible says–continues to follow their own traditions over the traditions (that is, teachings) of God.

The sinner’s prayer is only about 200 years old.  Imagine all the New Testament Christians for 1800 years who never prayed such a prayer.  Yet, somehow God had saved them.  Even more, it was only during the last 100 years when such a prayer came to prominence (before then, Baptists did not widely have such a prayer in their beliefs or practices).  It was the evangelists D.L. Moody and Billy Graham who brought such theological thinking into prominence during the 20th century.

The New Testament links salvation to belief, baptism, and repentance–but never a prayer.  Prayer is a response of faith, not the cause of salvation.  Read through the entire New Testament–removed from your individual tradition–and you will see that.  I ask for biblical honesty, so we may all know that what we hold to be true is true, and not based on some tradition that developed over the last couple of hundred years.