The sinner's prayer

Discussion in 'Evangelism, Missions and the Persecuted Church' started by Pergamum, Feb 21, 2008.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I meet people that actually do not know how to pray. I lead them in the sinner's prayer. I explain to them how to pray.

    I tell them that if one knocks then the Lord will open the door to them.

    I encourage them to start a life of prayer and study and to repent and believe and ask the Lord to allow them to do this if they cannot.

    I give them Christ's invitation to sinners, "Come unto me all that labor..."

    If someone tells me that they want to accept Christ, I rejoice instead of telling them that this is such a wrong concept. I explain what it means to "accept Christ and receive him as Lord..." Sometimes I explain that we accept him only because he first loved us, sometimes I don't, but just speak of the way that God has provided in His Word for all sinners who desire salvation to be saved.

    However, when rubbing elbows with the "Truly Reformed" I hear many of them show bitter disdain for the sinner's prayer.

    What do you all think?

    Should we explain to people how to pray? When we do will or won't this resemble many "sinners prayers" when we do?

    And if we are to disdain the sinner's prayer, what do we do with people that desire to know the path of salvation?

    What is wrong with the sinner's prayer?
  2. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I don't know if one has to be "Truly Reformed" to have a Biblical problem with the Sinner's prayer.

    Why do you believe in immersion Pergamum?
  3. Sonoftheday

    Sonoftheday Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think that the sinner's prayer can be used in a proper way. However it is quite often missused and because of that many reformed folk dislike it.

    I think it is fine to use in a one-on-one counselling situation with an individual who does not know how to pray as long as it is used to teach them to repent, and not done as the means by which God saves them.

    Its totally wrong to use it as the youth evangelists at the camps I went to in highschool did. Theyd stand in front of the large crowd and say repeat after me all who want to be saved, now everyone who prayed that prayer you are saved and dont let the devil tell you otherwise. Now anyone who questions thier salvation because the lifestyle they live is the devil and they wont hear otherwise.
  4. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    So what is the Biblical problem with leading others in prayer and teaching them how to pray for salvation, in the manner of the following:


    I want to be saved. Grant me true faith and true repentance so that I might believe in you and be saved. Grant me understanding of who you are and keep me from my sins. Give me a new heart and change the course of my life..."

    And then telling them further truths about prayer and encouraging them to pray themseles to God.

    Note that this does not give them assurance THAT they are ALREADY saved. But if one prays and seeks the Lord with their whole heart, then there is an assurance that they will be saved.

    What's that have to do with immersion?
  5. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    First, answer my question: Why do Baptists believe immersion is the appropriate mode for baptism?
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I think I asked the questions first...what's wrong with the prayer?

    But...if you must: The greek hints at dipping and the baptism accounts in Acts hint at much water rather than little water.
  7. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The problem is the false idea which is being conveyed to the sinner's mind that the prayer is "for salvation." One would like to know something more about the situation. E.g., what has been said in order to encourage the sinner to join in such a prayer? or what is said after the prayer in terms of reassuring the sinner? It is usually the false assurance which is offered in relation to praying "for salvation" that causes all the problems.
  8. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Oh, so you're saying that you are looking to Scripture for an example of how baptism occurred in the New Testament?

    You apply that principle to your sacramentology - so much so that you don't believe you could responsibly serve in a Church that didn't baptize according to your convictions - but then you don't seem to have a problem with a soteriological approach that has no Biblical example nor didactic principle undergirding it.

    What I don't understand is why you have to insist that everything that a Reformed person might disagree with is because they're just stodgy and mean and don't have a Biblical reason for something. Yet, you insist something is Biblical and that anyone who disagrees with you is stodgy and mean.

    Why aren't you the imperialistic one with your convictions that the Sinner's prayer must be acceptable?
  9. Presbyterian Deacon

    Presbyterian Deacon Puritan Board Graduate

    Right. I agree whole-heartedly! I don't see a problem in leading someone in prayer, that God might be pleased to have mercy on their soul, but so much of the "four spiritual laws" and other modern approaches to evangelism become little more than a "formula for salvation."

    It's the "A-B-C, 1-2-3, now you're a Christian just like me" mentality that leads to so much of the false assurance, and what the puritans used to call "gospel-hardened hearts" of our time.:2cents:
  10. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    I've always found this to be effective:

    Romans 10:8-10

    8But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,

    9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

    10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
  11. aleksanderpolo

    aleksanderpolo Puritan Board Freshman

    In many cases, the sinner's prayer becomes the work a sinner performs to save himself. I think that's the biggest problem. Similar to walking the isle, or raising their hands when the evangelist call.
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Okay, so it sounds like you object to the abuses that occur when people are taught how to pray.

    I too do not like these abuses. The sinner's prayer is not an act that saves, it is a prayer for salvation. Even the Purtians spoke of "closing with Christ."

    There need be no altar call or mourner's bench associated with this.

    I gave my practice above. Instead of making up supposed abuses, use my example above and tell me if I am doing anything wrong.
  13. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    I abhor the idea of the sinner's prayer for a couple of reasons.

    For one, it's not Scriptural at all.

    Granting that though, it has been horribly misused and has been a tool to lead untold numbers of souls into the mouth of Hell with an attitude of complacency because they thought that the Holy God would excuse what we are in exchange for a mere "sinner's prayer" throughout a lifetime of God-hating and rebellion.

    Repent and believe, not accept and pray.
  14. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't object to prayer as a means of grace; but as soon as one associates the prayer with "closing with Christ" they have fallen into the very error that Puritan expression was designed to protect against -- formalism. "Closing with Christ" is the personal taking of Christ to be one's prophet, priest, and king, and can in no sense be equated with the repetition of a form of words.
  15. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Besides having no didactic support in scripture, I simply detest the sinners prayer. That said, I do believe prayer can play a helpful and encouraging part of presenting the gospel and after calling on the individual to repent and believe. First, the person sharing the gospel should pray. Pray that God will reveal himself to the individual you are sharing with. Ask God to give them understanding of the scriptures and to display to them his mercy and grace. Encourage them to begin a lifetime of prayer immediately. Basically I would instruct them and encouraging them to go the Father in prayer in the name of the Son. At no time would I ask them to verbalize their commitment to Christ in any way that could be misconstrued as a sinners prayer. I do not want hope placed in a prayer. Even if you provide a detailed disclaimer that saying this prayer in no way saves, some individuals will still view efficacy in the prayer itself. If they give a positive affirmation that they believe the gospel then I would do my utmost to get them into church so they can feast upon God through his word, sacrament, prayer and fellowship.

  16. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    I echo the above. People place their hope in the prayer, not in Christ. Rather than looking to the Cross as the time of their salvation, they mark it with when they said the "sinner's prayer".

    Moreover, I would argue that it is not important whether or not we claim to know Christ. What's important is that Christ knows us. When He seperates the sheep form the goats, the goats are going to be wondering what in the world their dear old pal is doing. I pray I'm not among them.
  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Peter told his hearers to repent. Obviously this repentance will take the shape of either a mental or a verbal repentance.

    This is not a act that guarantees salvation, this is a plea for salvation.

    My Biblical basis is:

    Rom 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
    Rom 10:10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

    Rom 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

    1Jo 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

    For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation ..." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

    "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)

    "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5)

    And the example of the pharisee and the Publican where he pleads, "Oh Lord have mercy on me a sinner..." Sounds like a prayer of a sinner asking for salvation to me.

    Of course, we all would oppose a formulaic approach where a person is assured of salvation after mouthing words, but we do have the duty to teach sinners how to pray.

    Instead of knocking down straw men, take my example I have given above of my own practice and evaluate that.

    More info for you to evaluate: Also, when I teach how to pray, I point to Christ's instructions on how to pray (his model prayer) and the prayer of this sinner in Luke, "Oh Lord have mercy on me a sinner.." as examples of how to pray.

    If the person still does not know how to pray or is afraid to try, I give them suggestions as to the elements of prayer: thanksgiving, to God, petition to God, and pleading to God for true faith and true repentance...etc. If they want an example I give them examples and I pray in front of them.

    It seems that to give the Gospel must entail inviting one to the Gospel and when one desires to come they must be shown the way in greater detail.

    Actually, I am shocked at the harshness of the responses here...

    Imperialistic? Are you trying to give off heat or light here? Remember, your the one carrying a gun on foreign soil where the locals don't like you. I merely opened up this post with my own practice and asked for thoughts.
  18. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    I think, Perg, there is a distinction between the formula prayer recited at some large youth conference and the leading of an individual who by all appearances is sincere in desiring to know what to say when praying. The situation you describe does not sound errant to me.
  19. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Am I to assume this was intended as a compliment to the members here:

    You habitually throw out terms like that as a byword.

    I like you. What I don't like is that you insult the community I keep here unnecessarily.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 21, 2008
  20. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    Allright, fellers - we are all brothers, here - let's remember to give one another grace and seek purity and peace - textual discussions sometime lack nuance and dilute the Christ-like charity we would use with one another in person.

    Trust me on this... :)
  21. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    I think a rousing chorus of kum-baya is in order. :sing:
  22. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    This is not a matter of lacking grace in my response. I'm challenging Pergamum with the presupposition of his question.

    I want folks to reflect on the reasons that Confessing Christians believe a certain thing rather than assuming that their objections to it have a basis in disdain or even merely human tradition. Now, it is possible that the reason is rooted in this fact but none of the responses so far have argued merely from the Confession. Note that all objections are based on Biblical convictions and concern that the sinner hear the correct Gospel (which is my own).

    Now, we may disagree on Biblical principles but there's not usually a group of people sitting in a corner folding their arms on this board refusing to read the Word of God.

    I, and others, see no pattern or warrant for what is common approach of the sinner's prayer to "lead a person to Christ". That doesn't make me an un-Biblical Christian just because my "truly Reformed" convictions in this matter differ from the person making the original assertion that it is simply a matter of disdain.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 21, 2008
  23. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    I do simply disdain the practice, but I think I do so for Biblical reasons.
  24. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Pergy throws off more heat than half of the board combined. His m.o. over the past few months seems to be to slam Reformed practice any way he can and then cut the conversation short when questions are put to him that he can't or won't answer. Instead of seeking to understand, his typical reaction is to vent his spleen at anyone who differs with him. I asked him 4 or 5 questions in the recent thread on confessionalism and he didn't seriously answer any of them. My first thought was that it was a complete waste of my time to have responded, but hopefully it was helpful to others on the list or some of the many lurkers.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2008
  25. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    OKay, you call me imperialistic...I throw stuff at you too. Maybe Panta is right...let's try this question again without the tones and attitudes....I can delete the imperialism bit I wrote if you do the same (of course, you got the big guns as the admin, so you can delete both if desired).

    Many of those I run across do self identity as "Truly Reformed" and they do show displeasure for all forms of sinner's prayers. The replies I got from you and Mr. Winzer are much along those same lines.

    Here is the question again:

    If we are to teach an unsaved sinner who is seeking the Lord (if you buy into that term even) how to pray, how similar or how distant will your sample prayer be from many examples of the "sinner's prayer" - like the one referenced on the pCA web site on a recent thread.

    If displeaure is shown at these sample prayers, which are often clumped into the category of "A sinner's prayer" then what do we put in its place if we are to tell people to repent and believe and this repentance and belief is done either mentally or (after Romans 10) done even verbally in prayer.

    Again, for some reason, people assumed that I was advocating a formula, or giving false assurance that this prayer actually procures salvation as an act itself (though we are to be praying for our salvation). Another valid question if, why did the respondees assume this right out of the shoot instead of dealing with the example of my own practices that I gave. This certainly gives off the impression of a "knee-jerk" response, dos it not?
  26. larryjf

    larryjf Puritan Board Senior

    I really dislike the idea of telling somebody what to pray.

    If they are being drawn to Christ then they would probably be drawn to their knees in utter repentance. And i don't know how "real" the repentance would be if they were fed their lines.

    If my pastor told me exactly what to say to apologize to my wife it wouldn't mean anything to her...but if it came from my heart she would accept it.
  27. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member


    FYI as a fellow Baptist I appreciate your front line work. If you go back and read my first post in this thread I agree we should teach new believers to pray. I don't believe in a sinners prayer model, but we should teach them to pray. I believe it is YOU, the one who shared the gospel that should model that prayer. A new believer is never too "new" to learn how to pray. Why not consider the model presented in the Lord's prayer?

  28. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Rich, check PM.
  29. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Where do we find even one example in the Scriptures of someone praying something like the sinners prayer?

    In my humble opinion the only way you can find the modern idea of a "sinner's prayer" in passages like Rom. 10 is by reading current practice into the text. It says nothing about prayer. I think it points more to something like what we see with the Ethiopian Eunuch.
  30. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    I think there is an opportunity for grace from both sides.

    Someone may abhor the "sinner's prayer", but you cannot say that it is never a means the Lord uses to call His elect. I think folk get hung up on the whole "accept" deal, but look below:

    1 Corinthians 2:13-15

    13which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

    14But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

    Just as the the natural man cannot accept the things taught by the Spirit (the Gospel), the elect will accept the Gospel and Jesus as Savior and Lord as truth.

    Now, as at least a "Strongly Reformed" person, I personally would eschew the "Sinner's Prayer" in general as it is traditionally presented or at least caveat it with - "Just saying this prayer does not make you saved - your assurance will come from growing in Christ, honoring Him as your Lord and giving Him glory through a fruitful life."

    But is leading someone in a "sinner's prayer" de facto wrong or sinful? I'd say context and intent are everything...
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