Monday, March 03, 2008

Saying the "Sinner's Prayer"

Is a sinner's prayer a good thing or a bad thing? I've pondered this for some time now, and wrote about it a while back. (I think it is both.) My earlier thoughts are here.

I'd like to recommend an article by Dr. Larry Moyers, offered on the Internet by Sermon It is interesting and thought provoking, as are the comments that follow.

Appeals to make a decision to become a Christian believer are part and parcel of the spiritual tradition and practice of many of us who find ourselves (more or less) in the "evangelical" branch of Christianity. Sometimes these appeals are called an "invitation" and sometimes an "altar call" but every evangelical knows what is meant by a sinner's prayer. That is a prayer for forgivness of sin and asking Jesus to come into your life as Savior.

In my denomination some of us were even taught that we should never have a service that did not conclude with an "altar call."

There is much to think about in Dr. Moyers short article, but I'm specifically thinking about baptism. As one of the commenters noted, have we replaced the symbolism of baptism and "new life" with the sinner's prayer?
I've long been bothered by the fact that so many of "my people" wait so long to be baptized. Whatever your views regarding infant versus believer's baptism, I think we can all agree that baptism was never intended to be some sort of "add on" that occurred months or years after belief in Jesus Christ as Lord.


LoieJ said...

Both your old post and the Moyer sermon are well written explanations. You might probably guess that, from my denominational point of view, either "saying" a prayer or "trusting" in Jesus/God puts the action of saving on the person not on God's saving action. This could be just semantics or it could reflect something deeper. Unfortunately, it seems to be behind the atmosphere of "judging" that some of us feel emanating from some people in churches that talk about the Prayer or Personal Relationship.

Can you imagine how hurtful it is to overhear the hostess of a church dinner (at another church), to which I was invited, speaking to others about she invited a few outside people whom she hoped would hear the message?

Or my friend, in a long time interdenominational Bible Study group, hearing, "Well, there are SOME Christians at the Lutheran and Catholic church." Recently, an active youth member of our church has also been attending the youth meetings at another church where he has been hearing judging statements about how some people are "good Christians." Fortunately, he realized on his own that this isn't Biblical.

Some people won't accept another as a full fledged Christian if they were baptized before the age of 12, or if they can't name the date of their conversion, or when they said the "prayer."

[Just to be fair, I'm not excusing the stance of some liturgical churches for claiming or implying that they are the only true Church.]

The Holy Spirit works in any number of ways among the people of God. Luther said something about "judging by the fruits." I think that is what is wonderful about your 2005 posting: how is the person living out their faith in God? What shows? Would there be enough evidence to convict them?

The actions, like the faith, may come in baby steps, but it will be there to see. Unfortunately, our churches are too often in parallel with our culture and don't point out that we are to be "different."

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Well, if we baptized infants, like Lutherans, my question would be answered. ;-) Interesting thoughts, PS, and I might post again about some of it, depending on what else may (or may not) show up in the comments. I will say that I totally agree with your last sentence. More about that later.

much2ponder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LoieJ said...

I hope my comments weren't too harsh, but I think we blog-know each other well enough to be honest about feelings.

I have appreciated the sincerity of many of the people who who use the decision language because of their true desire to spread the Word and Love to those who don't know Jesus.

And decision people often have a better handle on how to minister to people who have no prior knowledge of God.

Most concepts have both positives and negatives, I guess.

We need a theologian who can write in a way that speaks to the average Christian, and who can bridge the gap between those who look for a definite conversion moment and those whose faith grew from a small seed in increments because of growing up in a church all their lives.

My husband was raised Lutheran but lost his faith, in part due to attending a very rigid cold liturgical church that held themselves higher than others, not even allowing their members to pray the Lords Prayer in public. (They still do, in spite of teaching the true Gospel.) When "God gave him his faith back" he not only had faith, but a sincere desire to know the Bible and especially to follow its teachings. There's a lot there that many American Christians seem to ignore.

I knew before he has faith again that if he were a Christian, he would be a Christian in deed (literally, very sincere and following the teachings), and that has been the case, especially with going to worship and the teachings in Matthew 25.

We are saved by Grace, but as Bohnhoffer said, it shouldn't be seen as cheap grace. The actions or the prayer or the repentance don't save us, but they are good indications that we have been changed. Praise God.

Crimson Rambler said...

These are eternal bones we are gnawing here, friends! So hard to keep a balance between the truths we know and teach...and keep moving forward too!