Baptist Vote to Keep “Sinner’s Prayer”

The Southern Baptist Church voted this week at their convention to keep the “sinner’s prayer” as a form of conversion. Some might think this an odd thing, but the there have been those Baptist Calvinist who have questioned the use of the “sinner’s prayer.” They have done so because it gives the allusion that by saying the “sinner’s prayer,” one is actually saved.

One is not saved by saying the “sinner’s prayer.” I agree with the Calvinistic Baptist and this in one of the reasons I left the SBC back in the 1990s. Too much emphasis is put on what we do as opposed to what God does in saving us. No where does the Bible ever tell us to utter this prayer, it truly is an invention of men, specifically that bastard of revivalism known as Charles Finney. Sorry but I must call him that. He did more damage to the church in American than a hundred liberal courts or seminaries with the implementation of his new methods, i.e., the sinner’s prayer. More churches have been led down a hell-bound path by adopting such practices as altar call than any liberal professor could ever dream of. It would boggle our minds to know the number of people who were led to believe they were saved by trusting in these damnable actions of their own, instead of trusting in Christ. You hear it today every time the sinner’s prayer is put forth, and once a person says this prayer, they are told to write the date down so they can remember when they were saved.

This is all focused on what the sinner does and not what Christ does. If we are truly to be saved, we must believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. We are not to “say” a prayer, although prayer will result after true belief comes about. We are not told in Scripture to walk an aisle, go to the altar or do any other thing in order to be saved. Simply believe in Christ and His work for salvation. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, and this is NOT of ourselves, but is a gift of God. We are merely passive recipients of God’s grace.

To take and add altar calls and sinner’s prayers to the gospel is no different than the Roman Catholics calling for indulgences in order to be saved. It is Christ plus our works that ends up not saving us at all.

So I am saddened by the actions of the Souther Baptist Convention. They have added works to our salvation. This should be rejected by all Christians, Baptist and non-Baptist alike.

Here is a bit from the story about the SBC:

The resolution was originally presented by Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi, though the version approved by the committee omitted language designed to refute the denomination’s increasingly Calvinist membership. (An effort to put much of the language back in was defeated in a floor vote, as was an effort to remove references to the phrase “Sinner’s Prayer.”)

Indeed, Hankins says his resolution was sparked by a talk from one of the SBC’s Calvinist stars, David Platt. Speaking at the Verge church leaders’ conference March 1, the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, said the emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer is unbiblical and damning.

“I’m convinced that many people in our churches are 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,” Platt said. “Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrase, ‘accept Jesus into your heart’ or ‘invite Christ into your life’? It’s not the gospel we see being preached, it’s modern evangelism built on sinking sand. And it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.”

Speaking at the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the Baptist’s annual meeting, Platt referenced his Verge sermon, lamenting that his messages “can become three-minute YouTube clips.” But, preaching from John 2-3, he reiterated his statements that believing in Jesus is not enough. “Many assume they are saved simply because of a prayer they prayed,” he said. “It’s not that praying a prayer in and of itself is bad—but the question in John 2 and 3 is what kind of faith are we calling people to?”

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23 thoughts on “Baptist Vote to Keep “Sinner’s Prayer”

  1. I grew up in a church that practiced sinners’ prayers, altar calls — and almost nothing else. Once people prayed the sinner’s prayer, they were said to be “born again” or “saved.” Though there were some efforts to follow up and get them involved in church, I never saw very much effort at discipleship — they were pretty much left to their own devices. To me, the problem with the sinner’s prayer is not that it’s “works” — it’s that it’s the ultimate, logical end of sola fide. In the sinner’s prayer, all one has to do is have faith — and not do anything else at all. Many times in that church there was a sinner’s prayer and not an altar call, not any kind of public confession at all — it was just them and Jesus and their private sinner’s prayer. They didn’t even have to tell anybody they prayed it. If that’s not sola fide, I don’t know what is. The sinner’s prayer, the altar call, is an invitation to have faith. I don’t see how that’s a “work” at all.

    What exactly are you arguing? What’s the way to be converted in your view? Baptists believe one has to be baptized to be saved — isn’t that “works,” too, by your argument?

    (For what it’s worth, Roman Catholics don’t “call for indulgences in order to be saved.” Indulgences don’t have anything to do with salvation at all.)

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    1. Hi Joseph,
      Thanks for stopping by.

      I think you are misunderstanding sola fide because it connected to the other five solas. We are saved by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. It means that we are believing in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, not any thing we do. But we do add that it is faith that is not alone. There are works involved afterwards, as Ephesians 2:10 indicates. We read Ephesians 2:8-9 to show how it is that we are saved, and that leads to 2:10, that God has prepared works before the foundations of the world for us to do.

      As for the indulgences, this is what led to the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Rent the DVD of Luther and watch that for a better understanding.
      Hope that helps.
      Blessings
      Timothy

      PS. Those things become works because far too many depend upon them for their salvation, as in, “I know I’m saved because I walked the aisle when I was 9 years old,” as one 92 year old woman told me in my first pastorate.

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      1. I understand sola fide and the other solas. The Catholic Church fully affirms that salvation is sola gratia, by grace alone, through faith, as Ephesians 2:8-9 states. But you’ll note that Paul doesn’t say here (and never says) “by faith alone.” And then in the next verse are works — Works are an essential part of it. Our works do not save us — indeed, we can’t even do good works apart from grace — but through faith and works, done only by grace, Christ saves us. You might check out this post of mine, “Salvation by Grace Alone.” That’s the Catholic view of it. But I’m not here to argue that.

        What I’m really interested in is how you think one attains salvation, by faith alone. One simply has faith in Christ. Isn’t praying the sinner’s prayer an act of faith and a confession of faith? If praying a prayer of faith is a work, how can you have sola fide without committing any kind of work at all? And if you acknowledge that good works, like baptism, proceed from faith, how do you know the faith in Christ, sola fide, didn’t come first, and then praying the sinner’s prayer and going down to the altar weren’t good works that followed from that faith?

        Regarding indulgences: I am a recent convert to Catholicism. I know about indulgences. Yes, the sale of indulgences was Martin Luther’s primary dispute with the Church that triggered the Reformation. But the Catholic Church does not teach that indulgences are necessary for salvation (and never did), or even a part of salvation. Indulgences relate to the doctrine of Purgatory — and Luther’s complaint was with the sale of indulgences, not the doctrine of indulgences itself, initially. The movie of Luther was good and I enjoyed it, but it’s not a very good source for understanding theology.

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      2. Hi Joseph,
        The issue is not that works do not proceed from our faith. We readily admit that with faith alone in Christ alone, that comes by grace alone for salvation, is not alone regarding works. Works will naturally proceed from a renewed heart.

        What I’m opposed to is a set prayer in order to receive salvation, or a set act in order to demonstrate salvation, especially given that neither of these methods, sinner’s prayer or altar call, are given in scripture and are inventions of men like Charles Finney. To support these things as the SBC has done is to adopt traditions of men and set them a part as “means of grace,” by which men are saved.

        As for your view of indulgences, springing one’s self free from the false doctrine known as purgatory, is a salvation issue. To say that the two are not related is a misrepresentation of that incident. To also say that the RCC never taught is a glossing over of history. Remember, the Protestant Reformation too hold because this was a practice and teaching of the RCC. So if you want to re-write history to ease your conscious, that’s your business, but not here.

        Blessings

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  2. So would you say that someone who prays the content of the Sinner’s Prayer and means it would not be saved? You are compare the Sinner’s Prayer to indulgences, so are you suggesting that prayer is not required or recommended? Or is it the inappropriate weight some place on that tool that disturbs you?

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  3. Stan, I agree that prayer is an outgrowth of faith. We can no more not pray as a new believer than a new born babe breath. What I’m strongly opposed to is the use of the sinner’s prayer at all, in order to lead someone to salvation. The idea is that we believe alone in Christ to be saved. Shall we pray afterwards? Absolutely. Let’s pray to Jesus and tell Him we believe, thank Him for His sacrifice, thank Him for His love, but to pray something so that a person knows they ar saved, or to lead them to believe that they are saved because they prayed such, is tantamount to works salvation. Scuttle the sinner’s prayer all together. Don’t vote it “in” as a means of salvation. That is absolutely detrimental to salvation.

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  4. (Hmm, doesn’t look like I can reply below your reply above.)

    I’ll address your comments about indulgences in a post of my own, I think. Because that’s a doctrine that a lot of people (even many Catholics) misunderstand. I’m not trying to “rewrite” or “gloss over” history. In fact, I’ll show the historical sources to support what I’m saying.

    Regarding altar calls: Remember I’m not a fan of them either. But my problem with them is the complete opposite of yours. Praying a prayer or heeding an altar call doesn’t make one saved – because there’s no substance to it. It’s often an emotional gesture with no real commitment of the whole person. Your problem with it is that it’s a “work,” something one has to do in order to be saved. But I don’t think the proponents of sinner’s prayers or altar calls would agree with your understanding of them. They would say that the altar call or the invitation to prayer is merely inviting people to have faith in Christ and be saved, sola fide — to act on the faith that grace was birthing in them. Even the Apostle Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39) told those hearing that there was something they had to do to be saved. Doing these things (repenting and being baptized) was the product of the faith they already had through grace, from hearing the Gospel — but they still had to do something. Was Peter not teaching “works,” by your interpretation? You still haven’t answered my question: how is one saved by faith alone, without doing anything? If a tree falls in a forest, does anyone hear it? If a sinner has faith in Christ, but does nothing about it, is he really a Christian?

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    1. Tree answer: yes, God hears.
      Sinner has faith answer: yes God knows. He is a believer. If faith exists, he/she is saved. How many times does Jesus say to believe in the gospel of John, and He doesn’t require anything at all, other than belief? Yes, He is bringing us into the fold to produce fruit, but the fruit is not what brings us into the fold. Saying a prayer, and walking an aisle are put forth as those things that save the people and have been elevated to a means of grace, by which we are saved. We are not saved by those things, so why put them forth with denomination approval?

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    2. A person is saved by faith alone, because it is the inner work of the Holy Spirit. The question here is about Lordship. Can a person who is saved through the inner working of the Spirit, who convicts of sin and transforms the believer into the image of Christ, not walk in that image? In other words; If a sinner has faith in Christ, but does nothing about it, is he really a Christian? The biblical answer is No, he is not a true believer.
      Remember James words regarding faith and works (Our works are as a result of saving faith not for saving faith) in James 2:18-19. “But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well ; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Knowledge and belief is not enough. Does it mean they need more works, not according to the Word of God. They need saving faith that is caused by the work of the Lord in their life.
      Jesus speaks over and over again about fruit being evident in the life of the believer. This fruit is not works for salvation but is evidence of that salvation. The Love of Christ, repentance, walking according to the fruit of the spirit verses the deeds of the flesh are all evidences of the transformed life brought about by the inner work of the Holy Spirit. It is not because we work harder at being like Jesus or striving to be more like Him as Charles Finney would have suggested.
      An illustration is this; a person can have the best boat money can buy. It can have all of its sails up and be ready for sail, but if there is no wind, the boat is not going to move. The same is true about saving faith. A person can have all of the head knowledge, and be trying really hard to conform to the image of Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is evidence of true saving faith. Let me again answer the question, can a person be truly saved because of a prayer, but do nothing about it? The Word of God says no.

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      1. I think you have a basic understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about works. It has nothing to do with “trying really hard.” Trying really hard, by our own effort and apart from grace, we will always fall, as Scripture teaches and as the Church teaches. I agree with most of what you’ve said here – but again look to James. In the verse before that you did not quote (v.17), he writes that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith, already present, if it does not have works, is dead.

        To me, there’s no difference between saying that faith, by grace, saves the sinner – but if he doesn’t do anything with that faith, then it wasn’t really faith and he isn’t really saved (what you just said); and that faith, by grace, saves the person, but only if he does something with it (embraces it and grows with it), as we teach. See the link above that I posted for Tim.

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      2. Joseph,
        Let me ask a couple questions for clarification.
        1. Are you saying that people are saved by faith alone, and works are the result?
        2. Is salvation the work of God or merely an offer (gift) that man must accept for himself?
        Thanks,
        Charles

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      3. I present in this post the views of the Catholic Church on faith and works, in a way I hope clarifies: “Salvation by Grace Alone.

        No, I’m not saying people are saved by faith alone (sola fide). That is where we disagree.

        God saves by His grace alone (sola gratia), but man must accept.

        All I’m saying is that you’re being inconsistent. You’re saying that somebody who doesn’t produce works isn’t really saved. The works don’t save, but they have to be there or the person isn’t saved. Which is effectively the same thing I’m saying.

        I didn’t come here to have this argument, and I don’t expect to convince anybody, since Christians have been butting heads over this for 500 years. But if the effect is the same — if true believers produce works — then why can’t we agree on that and work together for the Kingdom of God?

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      4. Thank you for your clarification. You see the fundamental difference is between historic church teaching or Augustinism verses Pelagianism also known as Arminianism repacked for today. However, the traditional catholic view, from the time of the Ante-Nicene Fathers is the one that I propose.

        The true difference here is man focused salvation vs. God doing the saving. The dissimilarity between what you propose is true faith and works are man inspired not God given. We have a theological problem about who does the saving.

        As far as how people come to saving faith (apart from work based salvation) is what was the issue of Tim’s blog relating to the SBC resolution. We have many brothers in the SBC and other denominations who disagree with us on the point of how people come to that saving faith. We do have a common ground with these fellow brothers, all of who agree with a common statement of faith.

        The problem here is that you my brother, would not agree with any of those statement’s of faith (Baptist Faith and Message, London Confession, etc). Because of the doctrinal errors in the Catholic church our common ground is the same as it is with every other unbeliever. (I am not saying this to be harsh, I am only presenting the view that we have of the Catholic church today).

        I know from your Blog site that you greatly desire common ground and a hope that all churches might reunite. While that is noble, it is not possible. There will always be those who have soft theology, liberal and will easily align themselves with the Catholic church, just as they would with any other group (some would include Mormons in that group). It is all very ecumenical.

        But there is a huge gulf between what Bible believing Christians on my side of the aisle and the Catholics believe. Our agreement on the doctrine of grace will not remove the issues of Mary worship, the Eucharist and deep doctrinal issues. While there are some who support the possibility (myself included) that there might be some Catholics who are truly saved, the majority of the Christian Church views the Catholic church as a cult and it’s followers are going to Hell.
        Again, I seek to speak the truth in love. Please do not be anger and I would love to talk to you more about this via email.
        Blessings,
        Charles

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      5. Charles,

        I do not appreciate being called a “brother,” a heretic, and an “unbeliever” in the same breath. The Catholic Church does not believe and has never believed any of the things you are accusing it of. I believe the same Gospel you believe, and I do believe we are brothers in Christ. If you have any love of Christ in you, I urge you to look past your prejudices before you consign fellow Christians to hell.

        I’ve written a response to you. I think Pastor Tim is tired of me, and I didn’t want to spam his blog anymore, so I’ve posted the response in my own. If you have anything more to say, please reply there.

        http://lonelypilgrim.com/2012/06/25/against-a-charge-of-pelagianism/

        Best regards,
        Joseph

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      6. Charles,
        You keep saying that we believe the same thing, but we don’t. Roman Catholics for years have taught works salvation. You may be in a special sector of Catholicism, but by all accounts, from the Reformation onward, the call by those in the RCC has been salvation by works. That is why they have mass, etc., so they can store up extra grace. I know you keep saying otherwise, but again, what Catholic group do you belong to that makes itself out to sound like Protestants?

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      7. By “all accounts”? By whose accounts are you going by? I am citing sources to you from official Catholic documents, “from the Reformation onward.” This is what the Catholic Church believes and teaches. If this isn’t what you understood the Catholic Church to teach, then maybe you’ve been believing a lie. The Catholic Church doe not now and have never taught “works’ salvation.” We do not believe “the same thing” as you, but it’s a lot closer than what you’ve been led to believe.

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  5. Tim,
    As a Southern Baptist myself with a Reformed theology I have personally felt the pressure that comes from the desire by some to save everyone, especially using the sinner’s prayer. I am a student at Midwestern in Kansas City, and I cringed every time our former President would make such comments.
    Our Lord made a statement to the Pharisees that I think fits well with what many in the modern evangelism movement should heed. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:15. Many today spend thousands of dollars, and go to great lengths to have large numbers of people pray a prayer of salvation. Then they give them a false assurance of that salvation and in many cases doubly condemning them to Hell. (I would suggest people read Wasted Faith by Jim Elliff, which also has a Bible Study)
    Yet, on the other side of the equation, it is the work of God and He will save those whom He has elected unto salvation and what He has purposed will come to pass. But, that does not in anyway negate our responsibility to rightly handle the word of truth (The Gospel).
    I must say that I was disappointed when the amendments were defeated. However, I will agree with the resolution in that a believer, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit will and must confess his sins, repent and declare that Jesus is their Lord. This action is by nature a prayer of confession. While we agree that the sinner’s prayer for mass evangelism is wrong, we still all lead people in a prayer of confession and declaring their desire to follow Christ in faith (granted this is a work of the Holy Spirit and only God knows the true desire and nature of the sinner’s heart). It goes back to the pastor or person sharing the plan of salvation to use discernment and discipleship in leading people to saving faith.
    The resolution does indeed make room for both sides of the topic to add their theology to the text. Here is what the BP said “The resolution reiterated the belief that “repentance from sin and personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are necessary for salvation” and said such a “crying out for mercy and a calling on the Lord,” which constitute what is often described as a “sinner’s prayer,” are a “biblical expression of repentance and faith.”1 What we would add is that this action is not by man but from the work of the Holy Spirit through the effectual calling and saving faith wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit.
    “The resolution also said “a ‘sinner’s prayer’ is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the Gospel.”

    Thanks for the post.
    Charles Beeghley

    1. Strode Tom; “Messengers OK resolution on ‘Sinner’s Prayer’” Baptist Press, Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012

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  6. Baptists vote to keep the Sinner’s Prayer…again

    Preuters News Agency
    London

    Meeting today in London, a convention of the world’s Baptists narrowly endorsed the continued use of the Sinner’s Prayer as the hallmark act of Christian conversion. Here is the final draft of the convention’s statement on this issue:

    “Baptists today again affirm the Sinner’s Prayer as the act by which a sinner is justified before God. To be clear, it is not the recitation of the prayer itself that saves, nor is it necessary to endorse a set order of the words to be prayed, nor must the prayer be verbalized to others. What is necessary for salvation is this: A genuine, heartfelt prayer that 1.) acknowledges one’s sinfulness and hopeless state of perdition before God 2.) cries out to God with true repentance of one’s sins 3.) petitions God for his free gift of salvation 4.) asks Christ to indwell his heart/soul 5.) commits to abandoning his prior sinful lifestyle and promises to follow Christ and his righteousness.”

    Controversy over this statement simmered for the entire three days of the convention. A group of younger Baptists from the developing world pushed for the removal of the Sinner’s Prayer from the Baptist Statement of Faith, declaring that it was unscriptural and lacked any evidence of use in the Early Church. These young people read statements from the Early Church Fathers from the convention podium, noting that requiring a prayer (spoken or thought) for salvation was unheard of in the Early Church. This assertion created quite a stir as many of the older convention attendees were not accustomed to hearing appeals to the “catholic” Church Fathers as a source of authority for Baptist doctrine.

    The younger group put forward a new, brash, proposal as the new official Baptist Act of Christian Conversion:

    “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”

    This proposal prompted outrage from the majority of convention attendees. One prominent Baptist pastor from the United States summed up the majority’s sentiments by this statement:

    “Too Lutheran.”

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